Lucinda Williams: Austin, Texas South By Southwest

The South By Southwest festival kicks off with a bravura performance from Lucinda Williams...

Austin’s South By Southwest can boast of being the world’s single largest forum for live music, boozing, barbecue and schmoozing. Over the course of the five-day festival, hundreds of bands jam into the city’s countless clubs as cell phones ring, publicists pitch and writers get drunk. Ostensibly a festival where new bands come to get discovered, you have to wonder what the chances of hopefuls such as Atombombpocketknife, Panoply Academy Legionnaires, and Noahlewis’ Mahlon Taits have when the likes of The Cult, Ike Turner, Ryan Adams, David Byrne and Stephen Malkmus are all in town.

More than any other state in the Union, Texas likes things big, so much so that the state’s diner menus frequently co-opt the word Texas as a synonym for big, offering items such as Texas omelettes and steaks (chicken fried and otherwise). The Austin Music Awards is no exception, with everyone from

Austin’s favorite bastard son, King Coffey of Butthole Surfers and local stalwart Bob Schneider collecting awards. In between the seemingly endless

slew of plaques presented, performers such as Alejandro Escovedo, The Gourds and Lucinda Williams play abbreviated three and four song sets.

Best known for their countrified cover of ‘Gin and Juice’, The Gourds ignore the calls for the same, sticking to originals that range from a traditional bluegrass sound to Irish jigs.

Lucinda Williams’ arrival on stage sparks a land rush towards the front, with photographers’ formerly exclusive space invaded by the enthusiastic throng. Williams takes the opportunity to debut four new songs from her upcoming album due out this June, ‘Essence’. Beginning with ‘Lonely Girls’, a melancholy musing on party girls late night doubts, Williams plays acoustic guitar and is joined by a backing band comprised of three guitars, bass, drums and a B-3 organ.

‘Out Of Touch’ and an unnamed, sprawling jazzy number featuring the chorus “rain turns dirt into mud” follow before Williams starts her final run. Earthy in a graceful way, Williams introduces her new album’s title track with an offer to give her audience tonight a version of the song that will get bleeped or blurred by hyper-conscious FCC officials. “It’s edited on the radio because it has the word the word “fuck” in it. Y’all get to hear the uncut version”.

Although much of her songwriting is cleverly concise, Williams closes her set with a stretched out jam of ‘Joy’, giving guitar solos to her two lead players and plenty of time for the rhythm section to show off its ample bottom end. Following Williams’ departure, it appears for a time that the awards won’t end – but shows, even Texas shows, eventually end. For the night at least.

Colin Devenish