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SXSW: Emmylou, Elvis Perkins, and more

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Emmylou_l

Emmylou_lHowdy, PopWatchers! (Yes, I’m gonna keep saying “howdy.” I’m from Texas and can do whatever I want.) I am happily ensconced in a corner of the Driskill Hotel ballroom, where a celebration of the silky-voiced Emmylou Harris (pictured) is currently taking place. I am happy for two reasons: First, it is air-conditioned. (The sun has come out with a vengeance, making all the hoodied hipsters quite sweaty.) And second, I can’t think of any artists whose body of work has pleased me more consistently over the past couple decades.

And I’m not alone: This party — featuring performances from Allison Moorer, the Watson Twins, Charlie Louvin and more– is to honor her 15 million records sold, and the box set that’s coming out later this year. That 15 million could probably be upgraded a great deal if you take into account the artists she’s harmonized with over the years: Bob Dylan, Patty Griffin, and Elvis Costello jump to mind, and, of course, her longtime musical partner and occasionally wayward dead body Gram Parsons. Again, I’m not being tasteless. That’s just true.

Nothing’s happening here yet, so let’s talk about what I saw earlier today — and don’t forget to check the Flickr page for photos as they happen:

After I left Morning Becomes Eclectic, I headed to Antone’s, where a group of old friends called Dirty on Purpose were playing a minuscule set. I met the Dirty boys at SXSW last year, and — wait. Back up. To be specific, I met the Dirty boys in St. Louis, Missouri, where they were opening for Rogue Wave, and proceeded to join them on tour through the southern states, including a notable stop at a club in Oklahoma City with the filthiest bathrooms anyone had ever seen. You cannot comprehend the filth of these bathrooms: beer cans in the toilet, poop smeared on the walls, four years of grime on the gritty floor… it was really something special. Also, somewhere outside Denton, Texas, the wheels on DoP’s van started literally falling off. And then we made it to Austin, where we bonded on 6th Street. So it was good to see them back again, playing their heavily distorted and occasionally out-of-tune melodies, Joe Jurewicz’s reed-thin voice cutting through it all, but just barely. If you like My Bloody Valentine, you will enjoy this band, I promise you.

But here’s something great about SXSW: I was early for the Dirty set, and wandered into one of the best things I’ve heard in months. There were 5 boys — and I do mean boys — standing on stage, wearing white oxfords and pastel ties, and several pairs of glasses. This was Tally Hall, and they looked like a junior high A/V club. Except… well, you remember at the end of the High Fidelity movie, when John Cusack doesn’t want Jack Black’s band to play because there’s no way they can be good, and then they turn out to be awesome? This was that exact same feeling. All of a sudden, the A/V club opened their mouths, and out came these perfectly-pitched harmonies that fell somewhere amidst the Beatles, a barbershop quartet, and a madrigal choir. And then the harmonies turned into ska, and the ska turned into pop, and I don’t know what this stuff sounds like on their record — because they couldn’t find their van to go get me one — but it was like seeing the love child of They Might Be Giants and Fountains of Wayne, and I loved it, and I hadn’t even been drinking. Check them out here. Maybe I’m a lunatic, but I think these guys are way fun.

Finally, on my way over to this Emmylou party, I stopped off to see the man of the hour, Mr. Elvis Perkins, who captivated the tent outside Emo’s, backed by a standup bass, enormous marching band drum, and very enthusiastic trombonist. His long-in-the-works debut, Ash Wednesday, has been in heavy rotation on my iPod for a couple months, and it was the perfect soundtrack for a sweltering Thursday afternoon. I think the highest compliment I can pay to songs like “While You Were Sleeping” is that they sound like I’ve known them all my life. It’s the soundtrack to the barroom in my head.

And on that note, it’s time to go liberate a free cocktail from Emmylou. Tonight: More Pete Townshend, more Amy Winehouse, hopefully some Kate Havnevik, and then one of the bands I’m most curious about, Fair to Midland. This means I have to miss Bloc Party. I am conflicted. Maybe a beer will help.