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SXSW Last Night: Houston Hijacks the Austin Music Awards

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Ladies and gentlemen... the Judy's!

Since the ‘60s (at least), the Houston and Austin music scenes have had a thorny relationship too complicated to go into here, but in basic terms, Houston has traditionally provided the raw material and Austin the refinement. But Wednesday at the Austin Music Awards, the capital city’s annual pat on the back to the winners of the reader-voted Austin Chronicle music poll, Houston stole the show.

It wasn’t just one artist or band doing the pilfering, either. Save Austin native and Honeydripper co-star Gary Clark Jr.’s gnarly electric blues set – and remember, there would be no Austin blues scene if Houston and Dallas hadn’t laid the foundations - every performance Wednesday had some sort of Houston fingerprint. For a scene that has some serious self-esteem issues regarding our Hill Country neighbors, it was more than a little gratifying to watch Space City turn the tables for once.

Lyle Lovett began the 281/713 takeover when he stepped onstage to helm the tribute to late Uncle Walt’s Band leader Walter Hyatt, an ensemble that also included late UWB fiddler Champ Hood’s son Warren, longtime Lovett cellist John Hagen, UWB alumnus turned semi-Nashville star David Ball and fellow guest Jimmie Dale Gilmore, whose angelic voice reliably dazzled on "Georgia Rose." Rooted in the placid but penetrating country-folk of Townes Van Zandt, UWB’s sound was effectively born at Houston clubs like Anderson Fair and the Old Quarter, and Lovett brought the buzz of the sold-out Austin Music Hall to an absolute hush with Hyatt’s “I’ll Come Knocking.”

Next up was Porter resident Roy Head, fronting a band that included San Antonio sax legend Spot Barnett and Austin surf-guitarist supreme Burnin’ Mike Vernon, still every bit as energetic as his days sharing the pop charts with “Satisfaction” and “My Girl.” Head is still remarkably limber for someone in his ‘60s, as he proved by doing the caterpillar during amped-up closer “Treat Her Right.” Before that though, Head brought out his son Sundance, who showed he’s far too good for American Idol (Universal Records thinks so too) with an elegant “Stormy Monday.”

The real stars Wednesday were the Judy’s, who didn’t let a little thing like 15 years since their last public performance prevent them from delivering an airtight set. Their sinister New Wave – “Grass is Greener,” for example, is about someone who desires a gender reassignment – had people who were wondering “Who are these guys?” when they took the stage enthusiastically dancing and pogoing along moments later. Their longtime fans were even more hyped; Cactus Music owner Quinn Bishop was right up front, grinning from ear to ear. The pots-and-pans symphony “Right Down the Line” went over like gangbusters, and “Guyana Punch” – greeted by an audible shriek from the audience – kicked like a runaway mule. Obviously enjoying themselves a great deal, if Wednesday’s thrill doesn’t get the Judy’s to at least consider doing a show a little closer to home – Continental Club? Numbers? Warehouse Live? Come on, guys – then I guess nothing will.

Old salt Roky Erickson shows the whippersnappers in Okkervil River how it's done.

Houston can’t take full credit for Roky Erickson, it’s true, but his band 13th Floor Elevators did record for a Houston label (International Artists) and cut perhaps the essential psychedelic-rock album, 1966’s Easter Everywhere, at Walt Andrus Studios in town. Looking hale and hearty, Erickson and de facto backing band Okkervil River – who were pretty gripping in their own right before bringing Erickson out – barnstormed through all-time classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” every bit as feral as back in the day, a surprisingly toothsome “Starry Eyes” and a closing “I Walked With a Zombie” that balanced melody and menace in equal measure. Even Billy Gibbons was on hand to award Erickson the AMAs’ highest honor, Musician of the Year. All in all, not a bad night for the Bayou City – even if it happened 180 miles to the east – Chris Gray

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