After trekking a mile and a half to a renowned boots store south of the river in Austin — with a pit stop in between to peek at the bathroom facilities inside the Radisson at Congress and Cesar Chavez — no, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind to step into the store to actually look at the boots.
Instead, I sat on a sidewalk bench and busied myself with a giant, 150-page Austin Chronicle, awaiting my family to again join me in the Texan heat.
Having spent the long weekend ’til then in a small town named Wimberley about an hour south of Austin, Monday marked my only day to quickly soak up some South By before a plane ride north to Chicago and, you know, I was hoping to catch a memorable thing or two before that lowly drive to the airport.
I don’t think I knew it at the time, but would find out soon enough that spotting White Mystery’s name in a listing for a show that was to happen about an hour from the time I read it would indeed be the start of an interesting evening for me in Texas’ capital city.
We got to Beerland, and gosh, it was like a part of Chicago had uprooted itself and then touched down in a vaguely unfamiliar setting. Picture it: A sizable bunch of Chicagoans crowded into a room — with Austinians, Texans and others out and around the country I’m sure — championing good music from back home. About everyone, too, was sipping on pint-sized PBRs since Beerland, true to its name, was offering them over the counter for a buck a piece.
The White Mystery show, and the Netherfriends set before it, were I think my first times seeing Chicago-based bands performing outside city limits and, you know what, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such deep affinity for the music of my city. White Mystery played like they weren’t in the midst of a 70-some engagement tour in two months (they are), while Netherfriends totally surprised. Shawn Rosenblatt’s one-man project carried way more heft than I remember on recording, the recently released Middle America.
White Mystery plays this city all the time, and yet Monday was my first time seeing them live. I think I get it now. I like them a lot more up close than I do on record. And maybe that’s it: I had a hard time appreciating them the way I do now because I hadn’t yet seen them live. It’s a thing to be experienced.
You see, White Mystery plays what is maybe best described as the long song set. Tunes are strung out together, one directly after the other. No breaks. The casual listener, I presume, would think they were listening to a half-hour’s worth of garage rock medleys.
Alex introduced herself and her brother up front, said they were from Chicago and then slam. We really didn’t hear from Alex again until her and Francis’ thick manes of red stopped swirling around. About the same time Alex got the jumping out of her system, and Francis decided he’d given his drum kit enough discipline.
I’m hardpressed to think they have the energy in ’em to do this every time, but they must. As I wrote they’re playing an outstanding amount of shows this month and next, and yet Monday’s gig at a venue called Beerland made like their first show after a restorative hiatus. These kids are fun.
Not much more to add on Netherfriends, other than like White Mystery, Shawn seems more compelling under lights than on recording. He does it all — the guitar, the voice, the keys, everything — through a series of loops. I just don’t remember his beats hitting with such thickness on Middle America.
All done we returned to the streets, and through a fit of dumb luck I spotted “JC Brooks” on a sign outside Flamingo Cantina. A short chat with the guy outside confirmed that yes, it was the JC Brooks of JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, a Chicago-based band that got real popular real quick last year and was enthusiastically reviewed by Danny for their New Year’s Eve Eve show.
Around the time I published that review, I realized I might not get to see JC Brooks right away (or as intimately). They played The Vic a few weeks after ringing in the new year at Schubas and are expected to hit Metro by the end of April with another local, Gold Motel. So, large Chicago venues that command more of my coin. I usually don’t make it out for those.
Imagine my surprise, then, to get to see them both for free and in a room of about 60. Part of me had to fend off the urge to shake a handful of people standing next to me: “Do you even know what you’re in for here?!”
As I suspected from Danny’s review and the little I’ve read about JC Brooks, JC Brooks is a real entertainer. He shouts at crowds collected around him to shout back at him, and mixes in a few song-specific boogies. His demands weren’t read as annoying because he seemed to genuinely want us to enjoy ourselves.
Perhaps I’ve built up a bias after nearly two years on the job, but the Chicago I saw Monday was a good deal better than the three or four other bands I heard at neighboring venues post-JC Brooks. The reception at White Mystery’s show, especially, proved I wasn’t the only one having a time. And all of it before the music leg of South By Southwest officially begins, even.
- Check out Josh’s extensive coverage of last year’s South By. | SXSW 2011
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