Shannon Wright

SXSW Friday, March 19, 1999

Shannon Wright

with Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire

at the Jazz Bon Temps Room

Breaking away from her Crowsdell roots, Shannon Wright has started a solo career with much promise. Her showcase at South by Southwest, though plagued by technical glitches, proved to show her growth as a songwriter and performer. The set, which featured Shannon Wright on acoustic guitar and organ, had a haunting, P.J. Harvey quality far removed from the jingle-jangle of Crowsdell. But Crowsdell, with its sweet façade, featured some tough, heartbreaking, lyrics, and Wright’s songwriting continues in that vein. Though still painfully shy, and reserved on stage, Shannon Wright added a showy touch by hooking her Wurlitzer to a note display used in music classes that lights up the notes on a keyboard layout that punctuated the songs played on a darkened stage. Unfortunately, persistent and unnecessary microphone problems forced a premature exit. Shannon Wright has left her Crowsdell days behind her, and has a lovely future ahead.

Following the problem-plagued Shannon Wright show, another musician leaving a popular band behind for a stab at a solo career was Andrew Bird. His new band, Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, is the new project for Squirrel Nut Zippers’ fiddle player, Andrew Bird.

He sings and plays the violin though songs that celebrate the dark recesses of the bayou. Blending Dixieland, Cajun, swing, and good old fashioned honky-tonk, he creates a musical world of it’s own, a world Tennessee Williams may have been loathe to explore. You can almost visualize a shanty club on the bayou with this music piping out in an oppressively hot, steamy night. Bird has a lot of fun with his music and his lyrics, and is an impressive showman. The Bowl of Fire boasts some strong, confident, musicians who seem extremely comfortable with the music and can really cut it loose live. A fun act, with extremely intelligent music to play.

Western State Hurricanes

at the Iron Cactus

The Western State Hurricanes were one of my SXSW finds. I was determined during this year’s event to act like an A&R guy on a James Bond-like mission of streaking from venue to venue every night.

During previous years, seeing bands I was required to see due to my job as a publicist filled most of my Austin experiences. This year, I vowed to actually read the band descriptions for each night and go see those bands that sounded interesting. This method led me to this Seattle band, “upstarts with a charismatic stage presence, offbeat melodies and plenty of hooks.”

Mixing some of the rocking power of a Swervedriver or Magnapop with the quirky pop of the Seymores, Thin Lizard Dawn, or Buffalo Tom, the Hurricanes produced an amazingly catchy show. A standard four piece rock lineup fronted by a guy named John with his slightly geeky vocals – think Lotion with a touch of They Might Be Giants and Sunbrain – the group threw in some nicely placed and strong vocal harmonies courtesy of their exceptional female guitarist.

The music had plenty of variations in tempo and pop style, both inter- and intra-song. It was a mesmerizing blend that stopped me from visiting any other venues or seeing any other bands during their hour. I was impressed enough to stick around twenty minutes afterwards waiting for their misplaced demo CDs to show up.

Western State Hurricanes were an excellent band that aptly showed why they were reportedly one of the “big buzz bands” at 1998’s NXNW. Their CD doesn’t quite have the same hook and energy yet of their live show, but it shows plenty of promise. Especially since, amazingly enough, I was told by the lead singer that they had been together for less than a year.

Western State Hurricanes, simply put, was one of the bands that made my SXSW the musical experience it is supposed to be.

Mustard Plug

with the Nobodys

at Emo’s Jr.

Friday night’s Hopeless Records showcase was high on my must-hit list, mostly because I didn’t want to miss another chance to see Mustard Plug. The Grand Rapids-based ska-punksters have been a favorite of mine since 1993’s Big Daddy Multitude .

I arrived early enough to catch the last half of the Nobodys’ set. I was damned glad I had. The Nobodys have a classic, Ramones-derived punk sound, not unlike the Queers (who played later in the night), but harder and faster than those guys ever were. The Nobodys were catchy, melodic, and a whole lot of fun, dedicating “Best Damn Tits I’ve Ever Seen” to a girl in the front row, and ending their set with a perfect cover of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Woman.” I’d never heard the Nobodys before this show, but you can be sure I’ll be there next time they hit town!

After a quick set change, Mustard Plug hit the stage for a set largely comprised of tunes from their brand new record, Pray For Mojo , which continues their progress towards a more punk-oriented sound. That’s not to say that they’ve left the ska elements behind, but they’ve definitely gotten crunchier over the years, as new tunes like “Throw a Bomb” and “Everything Girl” provoked almost as much pogoing as skanking from the young crowd. I’ll admit I was hoping to hear some of their older material, but with only 40 minutes allotted and a new record out, it makes sense that they’d want to get the new stuff out there. Besides, by the time they closed with the raucous new sing-along number “We’re Gunna Take on the World,” I was as entranced as anyone. Another stunning performance from a band that never disappoints. By the way, they’re coming back through the Southeast this month, so catch ’em if you can!

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