SXSW Thursday: Twang 'Till Dawn

Posted on March 14, 2014 | by David Knowles

Dawn Landes Still

From the afternoon "Twangfest" to Dawn Landes' gorgeous 1 a.m. set, Thursday at South by Southwest delivered more acoustic gems.

"It's good to be back here at Broken Spoke," singer and guitarist Robbie Fulks, who is tall enough that his head grazed the ceiling above the legendary honky tonk's stage, told the crowd during his Thursday afternoon set at "Twangfest." "All the spit on the ceiling from the other performers who have played here over the years. The brawls from drunken customers, the stabbings in the parking lots. Yes, it's good to be back."

Ignoring feedback problems, Fulks tore through a spirited set of material packed with his trademark sardonic lyrics about love gone wrong, and had the crowd hollering at every subversive turn of phrase (for more on Fulks, check our interview with him in the February issue). Rounding out the acoustic portion of the bill was the Haden Triplets, Della Mae, and L.A. singer-songwriter Elleni Mandell.

Part honky tonk museum, part dance hall, the Broken Spoke is owned by James White, who was happy to receive a copy of the April edition of the magazine that features his bar in our 50 Must-See Places article.

Back at the Convention Center, talks and seminars were held all day, the majority dealing with how musicians should attempt to go about trying to make a living at their craft in the digital age. I bumped into Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker guitarist and frontman David Lowery (who was also featured in the February issue) as he was on his way to participate on a panel on artists rights, or the lack thereof, in the Internet economy.

While just a fraction of the size of the NAMM show in Anaheim, California, SXSW does include a trade show. Both Taylor and Santa Cruz Guitar Company had booths, but no other acoustic luthiers were to be found.

As night fell, the evening showcases commenced, with some performers noting the tragic events of the previous night, in which two people were killed and dozens injured when a drunk driver barreled into a crowd. Simply put, SXSW is far to massive to simply stop after such an incident, even if the deaths dampened the mood somewhat, the show(s), literally hundreds of them, went on.

In the blur that is hopping from one venue to the next, the standout performances I caught on Thursday were courtesy of Ohio's Saintseneca, and New York's Dawn Landes. The former base their sound on acoustic instruments--guitar and dulcimer--and layer electric bass, guitar and drums to come up with something unique. There's a vaguely Balkan folk music underpinning that gives way to Sonic Youth-style aggression and chord phrasings, and the crowds at the Anti- Records showcase at Bungalow ate it up.

Landes is a fairly straight ahead country songwriter, but one whose melodies and delivery make you weak in the knees. Joined by a bare essentials band consisting of stand-up bass, background vocals, and pedal steel, her quiet, seductive set at the Victorian Room at the Driskill proved the perfect way to let the day wind down.

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