SXSW: Austin Music Awards at Austin Music Hall
Photos by Mark C. Austin
Austin is full of ghosts, and not just at the Driskill Hotel. (Say hi to LBJ's mistress for us, though, those of you staying there.) Some of the ghosts aren't even dead. Take the Dicks (above), Austin's early-'80s hardcore trail-blazers who reconvened to play Wednesday night's Austin Music Awards and be inducted into the AMAs' Texas Music Hall of Fame - by X's Exene Cervenka, no less.
Recognized today as one of the primary cornerstones of Texas punk, the Dicks' five-song set Wednesday night - incorporating shoutalongs like "Rich Daddy" and "Dicks Hate Police" - was pure, primal rock and roll: raw, leering and spawning the first mosh pit Rocks Off has been in for years. Ex-Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard provocateur David Yow - who, speaking of ghosts, looked a little like death warmed over - emerged to yowl and contort his way through "Wheelchair Epidemic," which is what might have happened had any of the diehards in that pit fallen and broken a hip.
Though he passed away in 1999, Doug Sahm was there too, via son Shawn Sahm's tribute that saw a stageful of Sir Doug's acolytes and former bandmates scare up some stinging San Antonio conjunto boogie on "Nuevo Laredo" and "Hey Baby Que Paso." Sahm's fellow Texas Tornado Augie Meyers' inimitable Vox organ had the packed house's hair standing on end while their feet moved of their own accord during "She's About a Mover."
Still, the spookiest song was multiple award-winner (including Musician of the Year) Alejandro Escovedo and youthful Austin roots-rockers the Fireants - who had already backed Bob Schneider; a clattering, Tom Waits-ish song was all Rocks Off caught of that set - for "Too Little, Too Late," a song Escovedo co-wrote with Sahm featured on Vanguard Records' brand-new compilation Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm. Lesser-known than the rest of the set's material, it was a deep cut that cut deep.
Closing out was another old/young pairing, Texas psych figurehead Roky Erickson fronting latter-day night trippers the Black Angels. Before the former 13th Floor Elevtor came out, the Angels did two songs of heavy graveyard drone and thud, distant as the Velvet Underground, mystical as Jim Morrisson, with an odd, aching beauty that was as all-enveloping as the womb. Then Erickson emerged, endowing "Home" with a forlorn tenderness that was almost Spectorian (as in Phil) and certainly spectorial.
Walking over one final grave, the ad-hoc group finished with a menacing version of the Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" that gave Erickson a chance to dust off his wolfman howl and Angels vocalist Alex Maas free reign to summon whatever nightshades he could standing in for Tommy Hall on electric jug.