Bluesy Ike Turner Satisfies Curiosity At SXSW

Clearly inspired, the 70-year-old R&B veteran switched from roadhouse keyboard to scorch guitar as the mood struck him Friday night at Antone's in Austin, Texas.

AUSTIN, Texas — Curiosity. If you needed a textbook definition of that word, all you had to do was look around the room at Antone's blues club Friday night before Ike Turner played, as part of the South by Southwest music festival. That's assuming you had enough space around you to actually turn your head, as the place was literally filled to the rafters with curiosity seekers.

What Richard M. Nixon was to politics, what Andrew Dice Clay was to comedy, that's what Izear Luster Turner has been to music ever since Tina Turner spilled the black-eyed peas on their harrowing life together in her 1986 autobiography, "I, Tina." But how could you not be there, just to see? We certainly couldn't, even if we feared for our ears, not to mention our spiritual safety — especially when the stage was still empty a good 40 minutes past the stroke of the scheduled midnight-hour start. But then, suddenly, the Kings of Rhythm, Turner's eight-piece band, appeared — all outfitted in identical long black coats and red-feather-accessorized fedoras — and proceeded through the proverbial R&B revue warm-up intro.

Presently, the man himself, in a more outsized, appropriately '70s-centric version of the band's uniform (Superfly chapeau, white shirt collar stretching out far and wide on either side, etc.) sat down at the piano and commenced to some serious boogie woogieing. Both the audience and Turner seemed equally relieved at the end of the first raucous number. At age 70, he proved he could still bring it: After all he's wrought, a bona fide bluesman at last. The only remaining questions were a) for how long? and b) was there a new Ikette in the house?

In answer to the first query, the clearly inspired Turner spent most of the next hour confidently alternating vocal and instrumental numbers, switching from roadhouse keyboard to scorch guitar as the mood struck him. In the process, he and his crew played about as credible an old-school club blues set as you'd ever want to hear: Louis Jordan's "Caldonia," Freddy King's "The Stumble," Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy Mercy" and, naturally, his own fabled "Rocket 88" (RealAudio excerpt), recorded in Memphis by Sun-ny Sam Phillips a neat half-century ago, when Turner was a mere 20-year-old polecat babe in the woods.

As to the second query, well, this was Ike Turner, after all, and eventually it came time for the inevitable "protégé," in the form of one Audrey Madison, who looked like Lil' Kim's aunt, and sang like, well, you-know-who, in a thankfully brief medley of old Ike & You-Know-Who's hits — a medley that also included Melissa Etheridge's "I'm the Only One." Lest anyone thought this was a nod to feminism, though, Turner's final number was a soon to-be-released funk/rap thing called "Sex," whose lyrics clarified any fudging of Ike-important issues. "Sex — it's man's best friend," spouted Turner. "Without a condom, I ain't goin' in." To paraphrase Johnny Paycheck: Take this paternity suit and shove it.