SXSW Night 3; March 19, 2010; Momo’s, Austin TX
I got down to Momo’s as quick as I could after helping clean up after the Bloodshot party, but unfortunately I found a line snaking around the corner from Momo’s side door. The showcase tonight was sponsored by the local public radio station and they had pulled together a solid but random-seeming collection of artists to fill the bill. The 8 PM set was from a girl singer I’d never heard of, but who apparently is big with the kids. When she finished a good number of people left, and I moved tantalizingly close to the door but unfortunately didn’t quite make it in for Freedy Johnston. The biggest draw tonight was definitely Citizen Cope. I don’t think I’ve heard a note by him, but I was certain that most of the people in line were there to see him. I moved a few spots closer to the door just before his 11 PM set, and then a lot closer after 11 when the kids ahead of me realized they weren’t getting in. At this point I had been waiting well over two hours and should have given up long ago, but the certainty that I would get in before Jon Dee’s set kept me in line.
There were a few times I wondered why exactly I was waiting all this time for someone I see several times a year, and would see two more times before heading back home. After I was in, I grabbed a drink and moved as close as I could get just as his set started. About two songs in he spotted me, and I’m pretty sure it made his night. Oh yeah, that’s why I waited in line for three hours. Many musicians have fallen under the designation “the Fighting Cocks” over the years, but this line-up is my favorite. Since joining Son Volt, bassist Andrew DuPlantis seldom tours with anyone else, so these hometown shows are usually the only time I get to see his charming grin on stage with Jon Dee. Drummer Joey Sheffield has the energy and patience of a marathon runner which makes him a perfect counter balance to Jon Dee’s sprint energy. I’ve heard Jon Dee say more than once that Michael Hardwick is one of only two guitar players that he is genuinely afraid of. These are the Cocks I know best and love the most, and it is always a comfort to see them all on stage together.
The unexpected death of Alex Chilton two days before was still on everyone’s mind, and nearly everyone had a story to share and a favorite song of his to sing. The song was the heartbreaking “Thirteen,” sung as a duet with Susan Cowsill, and the story was so hilarious that it was still funny when he told it again the next day. I know first hand Jon Dee’s tendency to take artistic license but his tale of seeing a fistfight between Chilton and his band one song in to their set seemed true. After the band stormed off, “Alex sat down and played the most beautiful, heartbreaking version of “I Only Have Eyes for You” ever, and when it was over, he played the most beautiful, heartbreaking version of “I Only Have Eyes for You” ever, and then he played it again.” Jon Dee finished the story with a smile, “and then he yelled “Who’s paying me” and walked off stage.” Classic. As for his own set, he focused on his new release It’s Not as Bad as It Looks. When he tells you it’s the best thing he’s ever released, he might be right. From opening track “Beautifully Broken” about “the drugglers and the strugglers, God’s broken little birds,” through “I Said” which he wrote for his son after he got his heart broken the first time, to the love song for his wife Gretchen, this may indeed be his best batch of songs yet. Sure I miss “Airplane,” but I’m going to be happy with whatever he plays, and even happier he’s still here to play them.
The other thing that got me through the three hours on the sidewalk was the last artist on this bill and the other guitar player on Jon Dee’s list of two, Chuck Prophet. The coincidence of me being at a show with these two on the bill was not lost on me. I might never have gotten to know Jon Dee if not for the fact that once a long time ago I chose to see Prophet over him, and then made the even bigger mistake of telling him that. What I didn’t know then was that it wasn’t the first time that had happened. An even longer time ago, Jon Dee was Kelly Willis’s guitar player, but when his first solo record came out and he was missing too many shows she fired him, hiring Chuck Prophet to take his place.
I had just seen Prophet and his band the Mission Express in Chicago just a few weeks before, knowing that even though they were playing SXSW three times or more, that didn’t necessarily mean I would see them. Many of the showcases at SXSW give you just a taste of the band, the sheer volume of music on every bill keeps time constraints tight, but Prophet’s set was every bit the equal of the Fitzgerald’s show. He started at 1 AM, and didn’t stop till they made him. He’d been playing Chilton’s “Bangkok” as part of the encore nearly every night of this tour, but added two more Chilton songs to the list tonight. Chilton’s influence is obvious in many of Prophet’s original songs, like the silly “You Did (Bomp Shooby Doody Bomp)?” a song so deep he can’t help but ask if we are ready for it. I’ve seldom seen Jon Dee stick around for another band, and I’ve certainly never seen him spend most anyone’s set at the side of the stage, watching intently. I think it’s possible that Jon Dee thinks as much of Chuck Prophet as I do. I’ll even bet he’d have a hard time deciding who to see too..