SXSW Saturday… Southern Gentlemen And Loaded Dice

22 03 2009

When I was a kid dad Phillips took his brood on backpacking excusions into The Olympic Mountains of Washington State. I can still remember his giant red backpack. A mile into these trips he would often have to attach our little packs to it as we whined and complained about the Bataan Death March pace he set. I had to draw on that experience Saturday. Instead of hiking six miles to the Lower Lillian River camp though I was heading to Jovina’s south of downtown for a rousing SXSW wake me up with The Waco Brothers! I think it was a four mile roundtrip. Yes I could have taken a cab, but I’m cheap.

click to watch our interview with Jon Langford

The short hand description of The Waco Brothers is that they are a country band. That’s like calling the Pittsburgh Steelers a “sports team.” It’s true, but doesn’t really do them justice. Everything The Brothers do has twang, but they rock like hell. They’re cowpunks really. That’s not surprising considering the pedigree of band leader Jon Langford. Langford’s first band The Mekons started working country into their material back in the mid 80’s. After the show Langford says he discovered the music after an argument with an American friend. “Country is crap” Langford slurred. The friend argued to the contrary, telling Langford that The Mekons were already a country band even if they didn’t know it. After sending him a mix tape of classic country tunes, the argument was not only over, but The Mekons went on to put out classic records like “Fear & Whiskey” and “The Mekons Honky Tonkin.” Half the audience booed and threw bottles. Being true punks The Mekons laughed and rossined up the bow.

The Waco Brothers set was rousing and the between songs conversation was hillarious. Apologies were offered to any victims of the band’s late night hotel dice games. Better check them dice. Langford at one point announced that two members of the band would be fined for rehearsing. “We were rehearsing other bands’s songs” said Singer/Guitar player Deano Schlabowske thus avoiding a penalty. “Surely you rehearse” I said to Langford after the show. Estimates ranged from between five and 15 years since their last practice.

I bid Langford goodbye and secretly wished that I could be a Waco Brother too. To have that much fun without practicing sounds appealing. Rushing back into town I stopped for three chicken tacos as Jaime’s on Red River and then chatted up James Gulley of Modern Skirts. He was no doubt happy to converse because it got him out of helping set up in the hot sun behind The Side Bar. The band were appearing at The 40 Watt Club showcase. The venerable nightclub that launched R.E.M. showcases young Athens talent every year at SXSW. Modern Skirts are the best of this new crop displaying a grasp of pop and rock history far beyond their years. Mike Mills of R.E.M. is a fan and produced a track on the Skirts’ latest “All Of Us In Our Night.” The Skirts were as advertised, and more rocking than I imagined. Check them out they’re going places.

I’m eventually going places too… eventually. My flight’s delayed and being stuck in Dallas tonight is a real possibility unless I can make a 15 minute connection. The problem is my feet are killing me from all that walking. I think I rip a page from The Waco Brothers playbook, have a couple of beers, and hope that it all turns out ok. Peace.

Brian Phillips

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