What It Was Like: Baptist Generals, Red Red Meat, Mark Sultan, Herman Dune, Justin Townes Earle, The Tallest Man On Earth, Dinosaur Jr.

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Noah W. Bailey
The Baptist Generals' Chris Flemmons at the Sub Pop Showcase.
Band: Baptist Generals
Where: Sub Pop Showcase at Radio Room
What It Was Like: If you're ever seen the Baptist Generals play one of their "rug shows" then you know what a special experience these all-acoustic sets can be in the right room with the right audience. Thursday night's set opening the Sub Pop showcase at Radio Room was marred somewhat by the roar of 6th street coming through the windows, but Chris Flemmons and Co. still managed to hold a small audience transfixed, with most of the crowd sitting down on the dirty club floor to watch the band run through favorites like "Alcohol (Turn And Fall)" and "Going Back Song".
Verdict: The Generals' set certainly impressed the people actually watching it, but watching the band battle the crowd noise made me long for the full-on rock Generals that played the Ritz at SXSW 2004.
Random Note: There were many familiar faces in this crowd, including two former Dallas Observer music editors.

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Noah W. Bailey
Red Red Meat's Tim Rutilli and Tim Hurley at the Sub Pop Showcase.
Band: Red Red Meat
Where: Sub Pop Showcase at Radio Room
What It Was Like:
Red Red Meat only recently reformed for Sub Pop's 20th Anniversary Bash last year, and are currently playing three or four shows to celebrate the deluxe re-issue of their 1995 album, Bunny Gets Paid. Featuring singer Tim Rutilli on slide guitar, bassist Tim Hurley and dual drummers Brian Deck (also well known as a producer for Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse and others) and Ben Massarella, the band ran through a handful of their fractured psych-blues classics, with Rutilli's guitar work alternating between dirty slide work and squealling feedback. Rutili also announced a forthcoming album from his current project, Califone--which has featured most members of Red Red Meat at one time or another--before launching into a new Red Red Meat song, hinting at possibilities on the horizon for his old band as well.
Verdict: As a big fan of both Califone and Red Red Meat that's never seen either live, hearing Rutilli's distinctive rusty voice over the band's slow and steady plod was a treat. Definitely one of my favorite sets so far.
Random Note: I know several people that roll their eyes when a band sets up two drumkits, but if it's so unnecessary than why does every dual drummer band I see kick so much ass?

Band: Mark Sultan
Where: Sub Pop Showcase at Radio Room
What It Was Like:
Sultan is perhaps best known these days for his work as the meaty half of The King Khan & BBQ Show, but this set proved he can hold a stage on his own just fine. Playing a bass drum with one foot, a snare with the other and rhythm guitar, Sultan easily incited a dance party with his punk-tinged doo-wop.
Verdict: In the sea of hipster bullshit that accompanies SXSW, it was nice to hear some old fashioned rock and roll that wouldn't sound out of place on a bill with Dion and Southside Johnny.
Random Note: Everpresent Hold Steady front man was there checking out sets by both Red Red Meat and Sultan.

Band: Herman Dune
Where: Buffalo Billiards
What It Was Like: A duo of guitar/ukulele and light drums playing cleverly written folk-pop tunes with lyrics about  everything from Alaska to breakfast burritos.
Verdict: These guys are definitely French. At times it was clever to a fault, but it wasn't awful. If you like the Mountain Goats you should definitely check out Herman Dune's last record, Next Year In Zion.
Random Note: Comedian Eugene Mirman and singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding looked on from the back.

Band: Justin Townes Earle
Where: Antone's
What It Was Like: Steve Earle's son playing straight country songs with a humorous sideman on mandolin, banjo and harmonica (When Earle requested more guitar in his monitor, said sideman looked at the soundman and asked for "more mustache"). He introduced "Mama's Eyes" ( "I am my father's son/I've never known when to shut up//I ain't fooling no one/I am my father's son") with a humorous bit about how he wasn't "the result of some asexual experiment involving Nashville songwriter Steve Earle" and how his 6-foot tall mother once knocked his famous dad out cold.
Verdict: Justin Townes Earle may be even more of a born entertainer than his father (as evidenced by the between-song Grand Ole Opry schtick) and he's a formidable songwriter in his own right. It's hard not to hear his father when he sings in a lower register, but Justin Townes' vocals often hew closer to traditional honky-tonkers like Lefty Frizzell and Wayne Hancock.
Random Note: Sure, I've seen some great shows there, but I kind of hate Antone's. Maybe it's the strange horizontal layout. Maybe it's the big painting of Stevie Ray Vaughan that hangs by the stage. Maybe it's all the giant Bob Schneider posters. Or maybe it's all of the above.

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Noah W. Bailey
The Tallest Man On Earth strikes a pose at Buffalo Billiards.
Band: The Tallest Man On Earth
Where: Buffalo Billiards
What It Was Like: A debonair Swede (real name: Kristian Matsson) playing acoustic folk heavily influenced by early Dylan, with deft finger-picking and a voice that caused more than one girl near me to swoon. I was a big fan of last year's Shallow Grave, so I was front and center for this set. So close, in fact, that Matsson damn near incorporated me into the performance, posing inches from my camera and playfully peeking into my notebook as I jotted down song titles.
Verdict: With his movie star good looks--think Aviator-era Leonardo DiCaprio--and abundant charisma, don't be suprised if this guy's seriously famous one day. When he posed like a fashion model after songs, I seriously wanted to hate the guy, but he's just too damn good--I've only seen a few people command a room like that armed only with an acoustic guitar, and it's a very illustrious list: Dylan, Jeff Tweedy, M. Ward, Sam Beam, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, etc. And while Matsson has a long way to go before he matches their output (though Shallow Grave was a damn good start), he probably has more pure stage presence than all of them.
Random Note: Mattson's been busy this SXSW. At one point he asked the crowd how many bands they'd seen, before joking that he'd seen himself four times Thursday.

Band: Dinosaur Jr.
Where: Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans/Secretly Canadian Showcase at The Mohawk 
What It Was Like: Loud. Billed as the "Special Guests" from I'mlikeso, Hawaii, J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph rivaled the DB output of a jet engine at times, with Mascis surrounded by three Marshall stacks and a tube amp as he soloed into the night. Playing mostly classics with a song or two off their last album thrown in for good measure, the band incited the first mosh pit and stage dives we've seen thus far at SXSW, which seems to be a habit of theirs. Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew even joined the band for a massive karaoke version of "The Wagon".
Verdict: What?  I can't hear you. Huh? Oh yeah. Fuckin' awesome. Mascis is a god.
Random Note: I really regret not joining in on the most pit, but after seeing eleventy bands Thursday, I just didn't have the energy left.



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