By Jon Black
SxSW 2013 DAY TWO
For SxSW Day Two, we plunge back on the chaotic and crowded streets of downtown
Austin for some unique concepts, both musically and underlying bands themselves, as
well as some great revivals of classic sounds.
This Lubbock, Texas four piece gives the impression of ZZ Top, several members
sporting impressive beards and all in black embroidered shirts and cowboy hats. When
it comes to delivering raunchy, foul-mouthed gutbucket honky-tonk and roots rock,
however, The Beaumonts might have lesson or two even for the Texas guitar rock trio.
The Beaumonts are five-piece, led by Troy Wayne Delco, lead vocalist and guitarist,
belting out honky tonk his honky in a fashion that would do Hank Williams Jr., proud.
“Hollywood” Steve Vegas, handles lead guitar delivering a hard-charging country
rock—with a stylistic nod to 80s rock and roll guitar. The electric bass work of Don
E. Rosewood helps solidify the ZZ Top analogy in my mind, often reminiscent of the
sounds of Dusty Hill in his rootsier moments. Drummer Jimmy Ned Messer and pedal
steel player Chip Northcutt are both engine and anchor for The Beaumonts’ honky-tonk
The band’s up-tempo, riotous honky-tonk music is choc full of both twang and lyrics that
are an unabashed and joyous celebration of country music’s dark, seedy underbelly: tales
of casual hook-ups and prescription medication abuse. You can call The Beaumonts a
guilty pleasure if you wish—but they are a pleasure all the same.
Driven forward by the most magnificent pedal steel I ever heard at a live show, “East
Texas Girl,” tells the story of a “romance” between an east Texas girl and west Texas
Man, reveling in the worst stereotypes of each—revolving around the memorable chorus
line of “We can fuck until something better comes along.” Of course, it would be difficult
to count the number country songs have expressed that sentiment, only in softer, more
discrete language. In fact, deliberate or not, it’s hard not see in “East Texas Girl” an
audacious, lyrically explicit parody of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “Mississippi
Woman, Louisiana Man.”
The second song in the set is introduced with, “This next song is about girls.” Fair
enough—it seems like most songs, and certainly most country songs, are. The
Beaumonts’ take on that classic theme, however, begins with “She’s got big fake boobs.”
Again, I wonder how often, when you scratch the surface of a tender country love ballad,
is what the singer really saying, “She’s got big boobs?” The song goes on to humorously
relate a train-wreck relationship of convenience with a much older woman, including the
line that will haunt me forever, “She’s old enough to be my mom, and that’s coming from
a man of 46.” The song, by the way, is called, “Big Fake Boobs.”
“The Boots Stay On” is another pedal steel honky tonk anthem. It tells the tale of real
cowboy, defined in this case as “one who always keeps his hat and boots on.” Always.
Unlike “Big Fake Boobs,” this story ends on a more positive note, with the cowboy
meeting a likeminded cowgirl. Musically, in addition to the strong steel playing there is
some great bass work from Rosewood.
Country music has a long tradition of innuendo and allusion in treating uncomfortable
or unwholesome topics. The Beaumonts revel in showing their audience country really
sounds like when you rip those filters away. They’re definitely not music for everyone,
but I couldn’t turn away.
THE WARRIOR SPIRIT BAND
Every band has a story behind them. Few, however, are as distinctive and compelling as
the one underlining the Warrior Sprit Band. Formed in 2009, the members of Warrior
Spirit are all combat veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq or Vietnam who have suffered
physical and/or psychological injuries in the line of duty. After their injuries, several of
the band members were told they would never play music again. But, not only do they
play, they play remarkably.
Warrior Spirit Band delivers world-class original classic rock, with a sound that hovers
around the nexus point of Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd. That fusion is epitomized
by lead singer Levon Ingram, whose voice is strongly reminiscent of Bad Company’s
Paul Rodgers singing with the attitude and style of Ronnie Van Zant. Drummer Paul
Delacerda and guitarist Sean Foster reinforce a sound that is both classic and fresh. King
Burton both lends a solid electric bass to the band and serves as their front man between
Burton introduces the first number by calling-out the infamous Westboro Baptist Church,
saying, “They do some very ugly things at the funerals of our fallen warriors. We’re
pissed off about it, and I hope you are too.” The song, “WB Kansas,” expresses the
band’s anguish at seeing the funerals of soldiers disrupted by Westboro Baptist Church
If war is hell, it’s killing me,
that some people in Kansas
are protesting the pain of the families.”
The second and third songs in the set, “Heart in My Hands” and “Cross that Line,” are
classic rock songs in much more convention vein: the ubiquitous topic of relationships.
The lyrics of “Cross that Line” seem to reflect southern rock and country influences as
well as Warrior Spirit’s omnipresent classic rock.
The song, “Invisible Scars” chronicles the band members’ struggles with PTSD (“See
what I’ve become. You don’t know half the things I’ve done.”) Not surprisingly, while
still very much classic rock, the song is filled with dark, brooding overtones, bursting
through to the surface during the song’s haunting chorus, a repetition of “Help me! Help
me! Help me!”
“Prisoner of War,” is, musically, something of an anomaly in the Warrior Spirit Band’s
play list. Rather than straight-up classic rock, the piece leans heavier on country, with
lyrics that could have come straight from the pen of Steve Earle.
This is followed by “Not Easy Being a Soldier,” introduced by bassist King saying, “If
you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a solider, check it out.” The song’s introduction
is musically reminiscent of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” before settling back into
more Warrior Spirit Band’s more typical Bad Company groove.
The final song of the set is a more up-tempo and up-beat number dwelling upon the
simpler pleasures of life
There is a depth and poignancy that runs throughout the music of the Warrior Spirit
Band. Certainly, a lot of really great music has come from artists wrestling with issues
and concerns about mortality. As a young man in the audience, Jason Bell (himself, I
believe, a veteran) pointed out to me—this is an entire band that has experienced being
on the edge of life and death. The band has managed to turn that wisdom, and that pain,
in to a font of artistic inspiration.
Sure, this is a band with a unique and high-minded concept. But don’t let that obscure the
fact that this is amazing classic rock. Listening to Warrior Spirit Band is finding a lost
forgotten cassette tape on a dusty shelf. If you like veterans, classic rock or both, this is a
band that deserves to be checked out.
Moonlight Towers is an Austin-based band, named after a series of distinctive structures
that provided the city with public lighting during the 19th century and some of which
are still in use today. Enough with the history lesson: the band’s sound is much more
contemporary—a melodic indie rock that gives occasional nods to power pop and the
Their first number opens with dark, moody rock and roll driven by singer/guitarist
James Stevens’ string work and Richard Galloway’s percussion. Even when delivering
solid indie rock vocals, Stevens’ voice is smooth, almost velvety, creating an intriguing
juxtaposition when their instrumentation dives in the harder edges of indie-rock.
Moonlight Towers are a very tight band. While vocals are clearly intended to be center of
attention, they do not overpower the band’s high quality instrumental work. Most of the
songs alternate between harder and softer sides: the harder characterized by well-polished
energetic indie rock and irresistible power pop, with a softer side that is more ethereal
and melodic. Both faces of the band occasionally channel the sound and flavor of British
Invasion rock and roll, especially on guitar.
It is good for a band to be tight but it’s even better if they know what to do with it. And
Moonlight Towers does, drawing and building on their tightness so that each musician’s
output is well supported the others. The interplay between Stevens’ vocals and Schulze’s
keyboard is especially interesting, and impressive, to watch
Reinforcing both the indie rock and melodic aesthetics of their music, many of Moonlight
Towers’ songs feature ambitious bass lines, well executed by Jason Daniels. In addition
to his commendable vocals, Stevens is a very credible guitarist in his own right—
comfortably executing some nice higher-register riffs and earning guitar rock cred
through some quality shredding. Keyboardist Jacob Schulze alternates between melody
and harmony, using his electric chords to supplement the sounds of the rest of the group.
Drummer Galloway’s music and presence lend additional impact to the performance,
supplemented by the occasional guttural yell.
.As an impressive collection of press clippings suggest, Moonlight Towers is a band that
could go far. They take three popular sounds, indie rock, power pop and British Invasion,
and blend them together into a consistent and enjoyable yet often hard-edged blend
of rock and roll mellowed by the occasional nod to more melodic rock. Their biggest
liability may be the sheer number of bands currently playing in similar corners of music.
Unlike many of those peers, however, Moonlight Towers seems to have clear vision and
certainly have a distinctive brand for their blend. If they keep up the hard work, inspired
approach to their chosen genre and throw in a little bit of the luck essential for any band,
we may hear a lot more from them.
MISTER LEWIS AND THE FUNERAL FIVE
This Austin-based combo strikes a distinctive sound by taking cabaret rock and infusing
it with a multitude of sounds from jazz, lounge, Gypsy, punk, ska and roots. The resulting
cocktail (or, for a band called Mr. Lewis and Funeral Five, perhaps embalming fluid) is
delightfully unpredictable and musically unstable high energy exploration of the dark
corners of life that needs to be seen as much as heard.
Even potential analogies to the sound of this unique outfit are themselves relatively
esoteric, such as fellow cabaret rockers New Town Drunks, roots-cabaret outfit White
Ghost Shivers or “nuclear polka” practitioners Brave Combo. Perhaps the best label
for their sound is one which the band itself coined, “Macabaret,” a delightfully apt
portmanteau of “macabre” and “cabaret” that captures both their themes and the
dominant component of their sound.
Mostly clad in some variation of hipster mufti (fedora, dark jackets, and dark ties), the
band makes an impressive sight as they take the stage. “Mr. Lewis” is Greg Lewis, lead
singer and guitarist. The Funeral Five are James Sheeran on drums, Rob Metcalfe on
guitar and percussion, Danny Dervish playing a magnificent white lacquered standing
bass, Philthy Howard on keyboard and percussion and James Bonura on tenor sax.
The band leads with one of their most popular numbers, “Black Coffee Night,” which
supplies slow, undulating electrically-buoyed cabaret music, occasionally dancing on
the edge of ska music slowed to a dirge tempo. Lewis’s voice enters the fray with a
mournful, “May your soul rise to heaven.” His vocals, with their twisted intonation and
strange cadence, are almost hypnotic as he relays a tragic tale of love lost and the finality
of death. The pronounced minor chords of guitar and saxophone on this number are both
tantalizing and haunting, the sound of an anguished wail rendered into music.
Their second number focuses on a more traditional cabaret rock sound, if their can said
to be such a creature. Lewis’s vocals are wild and ever-morphing, both charming and
disturbing listeners all at once. Again, guitar and sax dominate the instrumentation, with
an increasing presence by the keyboard as the song progresses. Starting off slow and of
moderate volume, the song builds in tempo and volume until the band’s sound seems in
danger of bursting out of the moderately sized venue.
This is followed by “Count on Me” a delightfully cynical relationship song that could
depress the most jaded country musician (“You can count on me, until I let you down
again”). Musically, the number puts into port closer to true rock than most of the band’s
numbers, occasionally even sounding a bit Raconteurs-esque—if you slowed that latter
outfit down to one-third the speed. “Count on Me” also features great keyboard work and
guitar playing that perfectly match the dire and despondent feel of the lyrics.
Lewis introduces the next song by saying, “This song is about Sunday morning. Unless
you get really fucked up on Mondays, in which case it’s about Tuesday morning.” The
following nihilistic tribute to excess is slower though no softer than most of their work
and is supported by some of the best saxophone of what has already been a great sax set.
An element of melancholy and darkness seems inherent in the sound and imagery of
cabaret rock. Most cabaret rock bands play with that element a bit. Mr. Lewis and the
Funeral 5 embrace it fully, diving into the blackest of themes and lyrics expressed
through a sound that is distinct, even in genre a genre where bands pride themselves on
singularity. That won’t be to everyone’s taste but should hit a sweet spot for many. Plus,
they do give one hell of a live show.
WARREN HOOD AND THE GOODS
The 29 year-old Warren Hood, graduate of the Berklee College of Music, is a prodigious
fiddle player and a formidable performer on mandolin, vocals as well as a noteworthy
songwriter. In addition to Warren Hood and the Goods, Hood also fronts Warren Hood
and the Hoodlums, a nugrass/jazz band and plays fiddle for The Waybacks, a San
Francisco-based acoustic folk/American combo.
With Warren Hood and the Goods, Hood has built a top-notch alt-country band filled
with other talented young musicians, Emily Gimble on vocals and keys, Willie Pipkin on
electric guitar, Nate Rowe on bass and Corey Keller on drums. The band builds its alt-
country on a solid foundation of country, roots, bluegrass, western swing and even jazz.
The first song kicks off in a fun alt-country vein, dominated by great electric guitar
leaning on the country-rock side, good bass work as well as Hood’s solid tenor vocals
and blistering fiddle. It’s the kind of great roots music you feel as well as hear.
The second song in the set blends the alt-country notes of Hood’s fiddle with other
elements, especially Gimble’s keyboard, that are pulled from the jazz universe. Adding
another spin to the number is the slightest hint of funk on the guitar work. With this
piece, Hood really shows the audience his fiddle skills, not through speed but through
quality—delivering notes that are solid and sonorous. The song ends with a beautiful and
well crafted medley of fiddle, guitar and keyboard sounds.
For their third number, Warren Hood and the Goods up their volume, coming on like
a slow moving but violent story, with a down-tempo honky tonk number heavy on
western swing elements. The real star of the number is Gimble’s voice, as she takes lead
vocals for the first time in the set, she reveals a glorious jazz voice—a sweet melody of
powerful, throaty alto roars. These are contrasted by mellower sounds on the fiddle and
silky, even tones from Pipkin’s guitar.
The fourth son of the set, “Songbird,” is a popular number for the combo. It leads off
with some old school American fiddle playing by Hood, picking up the pace as the rest
of the band enters with a strong folk beat. Led by Hood’s fancy fiddle work, “Songbird”
echoes with sounds from another era, building tempo and excitement throughout the
This is followed by “Where Have You Gone?” another alt-country number with strong
jazz elements. The song features great interplay between fiddle and keyboards joined,
towards the end of the song, by electric guitar. Again, the beautiful strains of Gimble’s
vocals shine as she showcases some softer tones.
“Going to New Orleans” is built on a fun beat that invites clapping, even by the typically
sedate Victorian Room crowd. Hood’s fiddle work features a Cajun spin while the
keyboards turn out some funk as the number is carried along by the ambitious percussion.
Like many Austin alt-country outfits, it can be difficult to pin down Warren Hood and
the Goods any further, drawing, as they do, from a musical palette broad enough to
encompass tradition folk music, jazz and country rock. What is not difficult to do is spot
that is an outfit full of great musicians making great music.
I came to see Norman, Oklahoma’s BRONCHO (rhymes with “Poncho” and, yes, it is
spelled with all capital letters) through a rather strange and circuitous path. Last year at
SxSW, I saw another Oklahoma punk band, The Boom Bang. While still journeyman
at their craft, those enjoyable young punks embodied all that was best in the spirit and
sound of that genre’s early years. The week before SxSW 2013, I received word that The
Boom Bang was breaking up. With that on my mind, I took note when I saw another
Oklahoma punk band on this year’s schedule. I decided to give them a listen and see if
The Boom Bang was a fluke or if Oklahoma punk was something of which I needed to
BRONCHO is, nominally, a four-piece outfit. At their SxSW showcase, I only counted
three leaving me to wonder if one of them didn’t make the gig or if I have developed
some kind of musical myopia (this isn’t the only show this year where I ended up a
musician short of their count). Running with the first theory, that they were short a
musician, BRONCHO was represented at SxSW 2013 by vocalist/guitarist Ryan Lindsey,
bassist Jonathan Ford and drummer Nathan Price.
As the band does sound check, the first thing I notice is that their garb is more informal
than many punk bands, past or present, eschewing many of emblems of the genre, they
are unostentatiously clad in knits shirts and jeans. They are also exacting in their sound
check, suggesting a band that cares strongly about its sound.
BROCHO leads with song that is, admittedly on punk’s very relative scale, on the slow
side. The overall effect is a sound and presence that straddles the line between punk and
post-punk. Musically, Lindsey’s strong tenor vocals are a little too smooth for classic
punk. And (as much as I adore classic punk) the band’s musical cohesiveness invokes
post-punk more than punk. Thire energy and attitude, however, is pure punk rock. All
in all, BRONCHO’s opening number offers a sound poised halfway between the Social
Distortion and Green Day, but showing inclinations of a greater reverence for the first
part of that pedigree.
The second number leads with vibrant, undulating bass playing from Ford that is pure
West Coast punk. From this point onward in BRONCHO’s set, the post-punk influences
dwindle, revealing a band that is clearly most at home in punk rock territory. With song
titles such as, “I Don’t Really Want to be Socia,l” “Psychiatrist” and “Pick a Fight,”
thematically, BRONCHO also occupies archetypical territory for punk rock.
Vocalist Lindsay has great stage presence, with short, unkempt black hair, dark, brooding
eyes and an intense performance style. Oddly, his vocals remind me more of British punk
rockers such as Adam Ant than their American peers. And, while he can deliver some
polished vocals, he can definitely also belt out the mandatory primal screams and howls.
Ford really knows how to thrash sounds out of his bass, supplying a ferocious sound that
makes many of the band’s instrumental segments memorable. Price is a blur of energy
throughout the entire set, generating a percussive roar in the best and loudest traditions of
During the fourth song in BRONCHO’s set, the obligatory mosh pit erupts in front of the
stage. In a set characterized by such high-energy punk rock, I admit I am surprised it took
this long. And I need to give a special shout out to the forty/early fifty-something guy
with the pompadour that was holding his own and having a great old time in the pit. No
matter how much we deny it, deep down, I think all of us really want to be that guy.
Prior to South by, a friend and I had been bemoaning the loss of the influence of early
rock and roll, strongly evident in first generation punk, on later evolutions of the genre.
Many of the young punk bands I hear at SxSW this year appear to be brining that flavor
back to the music and BRONCHO is a welcome part of that trend.
My philosophy is that one band can be an outlier and two bands can be a coincidence but
three bands may be a trend. So, while I am still one band away from feeling I have a solid
grasp on Oklahoma punk rock, earlier indications are that those who think great punk is
dead may simply not be looking in the right place.