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SXSW: Ending on a High Note with Darondo

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If I could only make it through the night in one piece, they swore they’d give me my papers and finally ship me home. So after refueling at an East Austin Mexican spot and something we’ll only refer to as the Taco Incident of 2008, I jumped into the back of a truck with only my trusty pen, paper and ear plugs. They were taking me back to the front line and I thought to myself, just one more night of this and I can go back home and see my girl.

The truck came to a screeching halt just west of I-35 and the driver yelled, “Koshkin! This is you!” So I attempted to jump out the back but before I could get one foot over the side, the truck started rolling. The driver hit the brakes and yelled at me to get out again, and this time I made it. Damn editors, I mumbled to myself as the truck sped away.

So I started walking the two clicks to Club de Ville, where I heard I could find a mythical Bay Area soul singer from the late sixties by the name of Darondo. Legend has it that he drove a Rolls Royce, wore luxurious furs and lived in a San Francisco penthouse stocked full of ladies. All of this while he claims he was a “janitor.” Others may say he dealt in rare North American skins.

He was supposed to go on 45 minutes ago, I thought to myself, surveying the late night crowd that had gathered. I had this mission planned for well over a month now and couldn’t bear to think I was going to miss my opportunity to see him play his second show in over 20 years. But then from the side of the stage, a slender black man emerged with a pompadour that would have made the Fonz envious.

Darondo wasted no time and immediately gave the packed house a lesson in his distinct sound of soul music. The man has a truly unique vocal style that lay somewhere between the range of Al Green but not quite as falsetto as Curtis Mayfield. A mere two songs in, Darondo launched into probably his most loved work, the ballad “Didn’t I,” which is probably the sweetest soul song I’ve ever heard in my life. And of course it’s about nothing else except treating your lady right in every manner and her still leaving you, hence didn’t I. He treated the audience to an extended version of the song, complete with exact instructions on just how men should please women. I’d write it all out here for the masses but it involves whipped cream and things that should only be printed in those magazines they sell in sealed plastic bags behind the counter.

He worked through one last song, probably his funkiest cut, titled “Legs.” You couldn’t help but dance to the scratchy guitar licks. Darondo stood on stage, working the people like a snake charmer. When it was all finally over with raucous filled applause, I remembered what a well seasoned SXSW music journalist had told me before I was deployed in this mess, that you should always end your night on a high note. I thought about the carnage I’ve seen since Wednesday and figured there’s just no way could this night get any better.

After walking out of the venue, a petty cab driver said “Hey buddy, you ready to get out of this place?” I nodded beaten and bruised. I tucked my tail between my legs and sunk into the back of the cab. It’s all over, I thought. I’m finally going home. – Brett Koshkin

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