SXSW ’09: St. Patrick’s Day in Austin

Written by Music, SXSW '09

Ian McLaganAlthough the SXSW music conference and festival officially begins today, a lot of the participants began arriving in town yesterday. I arrived in Austin at about 11 a.m. After grabbing a little rest (I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to catch my flight), I headed downtown.

My first stop was the Austin Convention Center for registration. The process went very smoothly. Although a lot of people were loitering around the center, there were lots of very helpful volunteers, and lines were non-existent. I suspect it will be a different story today.

Austin’s main drag in terms of venues for this event is Sixth Avenue, so I decided to explore the street for awhile. As I explored, I passed by a number of venues that I place on my schedule for the week. I had a vague idea that I was headed for the legendary indie record store Waterloo, but for the moment I was content to just check things out.

Of course it was St. Patrick’s Day, so a lot of the restaurants and bars were packed with revelers, particularly the Irish pubs. I wasn’t quite ready to plunge into that particular chaos though. What I wanted was some good Tex-Mex food. It’s one of my favorites, and this is the place for it, right? I came upon a place called El Sol y La Luna which didn’t seem to be too crowded. I think it’s new. After a really good meal (let’s face it, coming from NJ, any Tex Mex here would seem better by comparison, but I really enjoyed this), and a couple of local Texas Shiner Bock beers, I headed back out.

It took me some time to find Waterloo, as it’s at the far end of Sixth Avenue. I was told that I’d do a lot of walking this week, and that proved true yesterday. I spent my time in the record store diving into the used vinyl bins. They had some great stuff, but I only made one purchase; a copy of a 1968 album by The Rascals called Once Upon a Dream.

It was finally time to hear some live music, and I knew exactly where to go. The Dog and Duck Pub is near the University of Texas Campus, and there were a couple of bands playing there that I wanted to see. Magic Christian is something of a supergroup, consisting of members of the Flamin’ Groovies, Blondie, and the Plimsouls, and headlining was the fabulous Ian McLagan and the Bump Band.

I was a bit concerned because the Dog and Duck is very much a pub, and sure enough, the place was packed when I arrived, but since the festivities took place outside the actual building, in a large tent in the parking lot, there was no problem getting in and getting close to the stage. I managed to catch about half of the Magic Christian set. They were brash, loud, and compelling, reminiscent of seminal punk bands like Australia’s Radio Birdman.

I saw Ian McLagan and the Bump Band in New York City a couple of weeks ago, but this was a whole different story. Ian has been an Austin resident for many years, and clearly he is a hometown favorite. It’s hard not to love this guy, who is not only a brilliant keyboard player, but an endearing performer, and an underrated singer. He has put together a wonderful band that includes Mark Andes, an original member of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunn.

Ian had the crowd with him from the start, dancing, singing along, and waving their hands in the air like they just didn’t care. He played some songs from his great new album Never Say Never, as well as a number of songs from his days in the Faces and Small Faces. “Cindy Incidentally” and “You’re So Rude” were particularly memorable. Ian is determined to keep the memory of his friend and bandmate Ronnie Lane burning bright, and he always plays several of Ronnie’s songs in his set. The standout was a song that Ronnie never recorded, the slow-burning “Spiritual Girl.”

Somewhere near the end of Ian’s set, I just hit the wall. It had been a 20 hour day for me, and I knew that if I was going to be able to handle the rest of this week, I had to get some rest. So, it was back to the hotel for me.

It’s Wednesday morning as I write this, Day One of SXSW. I’m headed into town in a couple of hours to get this thing started in earnest. More later.

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