Members of [artist id="1009"]R.E.M.[/artist], X and [artist id="3133146"]She & Him[/artist] will join the surviving members of Big Star to pay tribute to late frontman Alex Chilton at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. The gig, which Chilton was supposed to play with his legendarily influential band, will take place just three days after the guitarist/singer passed away from a suspected heart attack in New Orleans at age 59.
The Saturday night show at Antone’s will feature original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and newer members Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies acting as a house band, with original Big Star bassist Andy Hummel expected to sit in along with She & Him’s M. Ward, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, X’s John Doe and Chris Stamey of the dB’s.
On Thursday, longtime bandmate Stephens told Billboard that he was still “numb” about Chilton’s death but that the show and a planned panel discussion about Big Star at the annual music industry gathering should go on. “Y’know, it’s a way of including people and sharing thoughts and feelings. Music’s about that. It’s not about excluding people. There are a lot of folks here in Austin at the moment that kind of share those thoughts and feelings; what a great way to remember Alex through stories in the panel, and that evening through music.”
Stephens said the show would be a cool way to share some of the music that Chilton was a part of over his 40-year career. “Certainly where Alex and I connected over the years was through music, either in the studio or onstage, so I think that’s a great way for us all to tip our hats to Alex and celebrate his life,” he said.
Tributes to Chilton continued to pour in on Thursday, including one from former Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, an avowed acolyte of Chilton’s who wrote the song “Alex Chilton” in his hero’s honor for the ‘Mats’ fifth studio album, Pleased to Meet Me in 1987.
“In my opinion, Alex was the most talented triple-threat musician out of Memphis — and that’s saying a ton,” said Westerberg. “His versatility at soulful singing, pop-rock songwriting, master of the folk idiom and his delving into the avant-garde, goes without equal. He was also a hell of a guitar player and a great guy.”
Another big fan, Hold Steady singer Craig Finn, told Entertainment Weekly that he was actually turned on to Chilton by the Replacements. “It wasn’t the song, though. ‘Nowhere Is My Home’ is a song he produced for the Replacements on the Tim sessions, and I saw that as a kid and went and bought one of his solo records, and then worked backwards and found Big Star,” he said. “I’m a huge fan. He’s one of my favorite guys. … There are so many songs that just give me so much joy. ‘Thank You Friends’ is one of my favorites. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about positivity in rock n’ roll, I think that’s about as positive a rock song as has ever been written.
Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland also reminisced about Chilton to Billboard, recalling how he used songs from the original band’s difficult swan song, Third/Sister Lovers, as lullabies for his son, Noah. “I think [Chilton] wrote some of the most beautiful songs,” Weiland said. “He was real special to me.”
Chilton was also honored in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, when Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee paid homage on the floor with a one-minute tribute that included lyrics from the singer’s first band, the Box Tops. “His music will live on forever,” Cohen said. “He is an embodiment of Memphis music: hard, different, independent, brilliant, beautiful. We’re lucky he came our way.”