SXSW Report #5: Roger McGuinn Soars Like The Byrds Again

Legendary leader of seminal '60s group takes fans back; fellow musicians honor late Douglas Sahm.

AUSTIN, Texas — It was a night of hero worship and honoring

ghosts Friday at the South by Southwest music and media conference.

At Waterloo Park, one young female fan in a crush of some 7,000 onlookers

likened watching Patti Smith perform to a religious experience. At the

Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus, 150 lucky pub

crawlers got to see ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn play his trademark 12-string

Rickenbacker guitar.

The party went on way past 3 a.m. at Antone's, where some of the region's

most influential Tex-Mex and blues musicians and their protégés

— including San Antonio's West Side Horns, blues queen Angela

Strehli and Lee Roy Parnell — gathered to pay homage to the late

Doug Sahm, leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Saint Patrick's Day celebrations, which took place on outdoor stages

along Austin's downtown entertainment strips and in the city's warehouse

district, made for a wild night for the thousands gathered here for the

annual music conference and showcase of hundreds of little-known bands.

McGuinn received reverential treatment from a standing-room-only crowd

at the tiny Cactus Café, where he sat on a chair and performed

solo on a small stage. Bob Bergland was one of dozens who could not get

into the McGuinn show, and instead, literally pressed their ears against

the door to listen to their idol.

"It's that connection to old English folk music and that jet-set sound

and space-age imagery," Bergland said as the sound of McGuinn's "Chestnut

Mare" spilled into the outer halls.

'An Originator And An Innovator'

Inside, Sony Legacy executive Randy Haecker, promoting expanded reissues

of three Byrds' albums — Untitled (1970), Byrdmaniax

(1971) and Farther Along (1972) — plus the new The Byrds Live at the Fillmore — February 1969, chalked

up McGuinn's enduring legacy to sheer talent.

"He was an originator and an innovator; that's what connects," Haecker

said.

McGuinn's stabs at John Coltrane–inspired licks on "Eight Miles

High" were mesmerizing. Dylan's "My Back Pages," which McGuinn has made

his own, received the biggest response of the night.

McGuinn drew laughs describing former Byrds member David Crosby's

reaction to Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" demo: He didn't like it. The

Byrds decided to "kick it up with a Beatles beat," McGuinn said.

Following a fiery set by San Francisco rockers Creeper Lagoon, Brooklyn,

N.Y., singer/songwriter Elliott Smith took the stage at La Zona Rosa.

He played more than an hour's worth of new songs. The crowd was shoulder

to shoulder as Smith sang dreamy Beatles-style pop songs similar to those

on his most recent record, 1998's XO.

Smith's recently assembled band included a keyboardist who gave Smith's

songs new sounds that ranged from melodic power-pop to borderline punk.

At Waterloo Park, Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, an expanded lineup that

this year included a string quartet, performed songs from Man Under

the Influence, a disc due in the fall.

He played "I Was Drunk" and closed with the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your

Dog," setting the stage for one of the most anticipated SXSW shows, the

return of Patti Smith to Austin after 20 years. Smith's new album,

Gung Ho, is due Tuesday.

Patti Smith Revered, Doug Sahm Remembered

"Patti Smith is a religion, and I wanted to be in the front row to feel

the energy," 22-year-old Kaitlin Dibble said.

For her part, Smith was loose, performing confidently and, at times,

wildly at this free show. She told jokes ("I just looked at my guitar

and it went out of tune," Smith quipped) and reclaimed her

left-foot-up-on-the-stage-monitor look from imitator Hole leader Courtney

Love. It's clear punk's high priestess remains one of rock's thoughtful

poets.

(For more on Patti Smith's performance, click

here.)

The late Doug Sahm was at SXSW in spirit, at the Doug Sahm Tribute at

Antone's. Sahm was the man whose Tex-Mex band with Augie Meyers, the

Sir Douglas Quintet, was Bob Dylan's favorite group during the day when

the Rolling Stones and the Beatles ruled.

"He refused to be put in a box," Parnell said at the tribute, also

confirming that he has officially stepped into Sahm's giant shoes with

the Texas Tornados, and that the band will record at least one more

album and continue playing.

"Doug Sahm had a drive that was unbelievable. There were more miles on

him than anyone," Parnell said. "The guy was 300 years old."

Hungry Newcomers

Hungry young acts made the SXSW scene Friday, too.

Southern California's Fu Manchu let flow a molten set of '70s-style

stoner rock at the Waterloo Brewing Company. Their roar breathed thunderous

life into a cover of the Blue Oyster Cult chestnut "Godzilla."

Taking their garage-rock sound to a brutish, sweaty extreme, Vancouver,

British Columbia's the Black Halos barged their way through a set on

the main stage at Emo's.

After mellow sets from Seattle's the Ugly Casanova and paisley-style

retro rockers Beachwood Sparks, the Vue mixed the mod rock of '60s group

the Faces with droning keyboard-driven punk.

On the main stage, the Murder City Devils paid homage to grunge. Around

the corner at the Velvet nightclub, London's five-piece Cinematic

Orchestra mixed free-jazz alto saxophone solos with turntable scratching

and dubby basslines.

Japan's Lolita No. 18 played a midnight set of cheery cartoon punk during

a Japan Night showcase. The all-female group mixed heavy-metal guitar

lines and posturing with Josie and the Pussycats–style power-pop.

(Director of Music News Matt Melucci and Senior Writers Gil Kaufman

and Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)