SXSW has come and gone, and for Adam Duritz, frontman for alt-rock icons Counting Crows, this year’s fest was a pleasant blur of music, friends, and questionable meat products. The Crows, who will release their new all-covers album Underwater Sunshine on April 10, headed to Austin to headline a free show and record a live session for Daytrotter. Here’s how Duritz remembers it:
Wed March 14 11:43AM
Driskill Hotel Rm 1106
Wow. I do not feel good. There is something on the bedside table that looks like a roasted dinosaur leg and the bad taste in my mouth leads me to believe I was smoking old tennis shoes last night. This is awesome. I have a drill-bit headache, I spent the night next to Fred Flintstone’s leftovers, and…and now I can only find one shoe.
Dated Tues March 13 9PM
We Are Augustines & Band of Skulls at Antone’s
We Are Augustines was freaking incredible last night. They knocked me out. I stood there in Antone’s with my pals Ryan Spaulding of Ryan’s Smashing Life (rslblog.com) and Chris “@ElectricPencils” Fullerton watching slack-jawed while their songs just smashed into us one after another. That was some seriously majestic shit from a 3-piece band. More than that, there were things at stake! When they lit into “Book of James” and Rob started smacking his snare drum, the look on Billy McCarthy’s face told me all I ever needed to know about what these songs mean to him and what they should mean to us. As he sang his keen to his lost brother, I thought of all the songs and all the shows and all the times I held my head up to a microphone to scream out at all the things that matter in the world to me:
“Storm clouds begin to form in his head
And crisscrossed his mind like a restless angry ocean
And the howling of hardship and heartache
Kneeled and grinned in his face
He stood there in his shoes
Unable to move
Kid, I drove all night here, to tell you
I love you”
It’s hard to sing “I love you” in a song and really have it mean something. What do those words mean? It’s just so much shorthand nowadays for a feeling we all collectively know but don’t want to take the time to really explain. For it to really mean something, the things that lead up to it have to make its truth so abundantly clear that the 3-word phrase is just shattering. When Billy sings it, the song drops out from underneath the words as if it was scared to face them. My breath catches in my throat.
What do those words mean?
To Billy, it’s clear. They mean everything. There are, after all, things at stake.
Afterwards, standing around the bar before Band of Skulls, Eric Sanderson from We Are Augustines walked by and we stopped to geek out on each other. He’s a pretty great guy and we have friends and bands and New York in common. Billy showed up a few minutes later, trailing a comet’s tail of people clearly as stunned as I was by how flippin’ awesome that show was. He’s flush with the just recent passing of whatever it is that gets behind your eyes when you play a set like that. You get a little lit up from inside. He’s still kinda on fire. It’s pretty great to see. I like these guys. This is something I understand.
I introduce them to Chris, who’s a big fan and says so. And they’re all happy to see Ryan again. He’s been championing the band for a long time, since they were Pela. He’s the one that played them for me. People are generally pretty happy whenever they see Ryan. He’s just one of those guys. When you’re packing your gear in & out of basement rehearsal spaces and white panel vans and driving the endless miles between tiny clubs, it means something very precious that there’s a guy who’s always there when you play who gets it, who shows up for it, and who goes home afterward to stay up all night writing about it so he can post it on his blog, even as 7AM is crawling closer & closer, dragging with it the alarm you’re already awake for and the job you’re going to fall asleep at. Ryan’s that guy. Now that I think about it, it doesn’t stop mattering when you get out of the clubs either because I’m pretty damn happy whenever I see Ryan too. Like I said, he’s that guy. I see that in Chris too. So does Ryan, which is why, later that evening, he asks Chris to do correspondent work in Austin for Ryan’s Smashing Life. Very cool.
We all drank a lot of beers. I know that happened. That much is very clear to me even now. Possibly footwear was smoked. Less clear about that.
Are you thinking “footwear” is some new cool indie codeword for the newest oh-so-hippest drug du jour? It’s not. This taste literally makes me think someone stuck some old Chuck Taylors in my face last night and I somehow thought it was a good idea to put them in my mouth and light up.
If I were a lesser man, I would start making promises to my future self about things I will never do again if only I could please feel better now. If only, if only, if only — blecchh. Boring.
What else happened after that? Let’s see…I got texts from my friend Dave Godowsky, who’s playing The Outlaw Roadshow on Saturday, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, who’s playing Cedar Street Courtyard sometime after midnight, telling me where they’re at and how to get in. Taylor’s text reads “All you gotta do is say travis york’s name at the door”. Cool. That sounds easy.
So we walked out into the Austin night and immediately ran into Kasey Anderson, our pal who is also playing The Outlaw Roadshow on Saturday (Counting Crows, incidentally, covers Kasey’s tune “Like Teenage Gravity” on our new album). Kasey has just come from a bar (*ding*ding*ding*ding*) where he was hanging with Phil Hurley, guitar player extraordinaire and former member of Gigolo Aunts, who I signed to my first indie label and whose lead singer Dave Gibbs was my housemate in LA for a decade. I hadn’t seen Phil in over a year so we stop there on the way because this is a very cool thing and Phil is a very cool dude.
From there, it’s on to Cedar Street Courtyard to catch Dawes (Counting Crows, incidentally, covers Dawes’ tune “All My Failures” on our new album – I could do this all night)
Dated Wed March 14 12:45AM
Dawes + Blake Mills + Charlie Sexton at Cedar Street Courtyard
As I mentioned earlier, Taylor’s text was very clear: “All you gotta do is say Travis York’s name at the door”. Here’s the problem: Cedar Street Courtyard is, as you might guess, a courtyard. There is no door. There are, however, three separate designated “places of entry” with three different very large “I don’t think so” guys manning them. Being a veteran “rock guy”, I suss out the likely “door guy”, saunter over, and, with a meaningful knowing look, say “I’m supposed to tell say “Travis York” to you”.
He gives me a far less meaningful look back and says “Why?” to which I respond “To get these people in” and gesture toward Chris & Ryan who, fertilized with beer, have somehow grown into a group of twelve.
“All these people?” he says meaningfully (not the good “meaningfully”, the other one).
“Uh…yeah(?)” I say somehow brimming with a lot less confidence.
“Is it a magic name?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so,” I said, “Why do you ask?”
“Because if it isn’t, you’re not getting in, and if it is, it ain’t working anyway.”
I took a second to digest the many levels on which the words “York’ and “Travis” had failed me, said to the guy “Listen, can you give me a sec?”, and walked over to confer with Ryan, Chris, & Kasey, who by this time are now elected representatives of a small nation of around 20 people. Luckily, before I had time to explain the situation, Dave Godowsky walked up and said “There you are. C’mon, everyone’s inside.” Then he walked up to the same door guy, who said “Hey Dave, what’s up?” “Nothing,” said Dave, “these guys are Travis’ friends.” “Alright,” said the door guy, “Just show your IDs and get your hands stamped.”
And that was that.
Soooooo… we went to the dressing room and Taylor got us some more beers, which I seriously needed. We talked about hanging out and how much fun it would be to all go out on tour together and then they went up onstage and just played their asses off. Blake Mills played the whole set with them and Charlie Sexton joined them for some of it too. Blake was killing. I’d never seen him play before but he was really impressive. He got the songs. That’s the best way to put it. He played like he was simply in the band. I hadn’t seen Charlie since we were label mates on Geffen back when he was in The Arc Angels. I love to watch Charlie play. His solo album Under The Wishing Tree made after they broke up was one of my favorite albums at the time. I got kinda choked up watching him after all this time. Man, to put it simply, Charlie Sexton can play guitar.
Having seen Dawes a few times, it’d be easy to start to take them for granted. They were great the first time I saw them. I remember singing along standing on chairs up in the Webster Hall balcony with Godowsky. And they were great the next time when me & Shawn took a break from mixing to drive down to SF and meet our drummer Jim at The Fillmore. And they were great last night in Austin with Chris crooning all the tunes behind me in Austin. So, in that sense, it was just another show. But that’s not really getting it. Here’s this band that’s only been around a few years and everyone’s singing along with all the songs every show. Since when does that happen? Watching them last night really brought home to me how crazy good their songwriting is. They’ve managed to lodge some 20+ songs so permanently in my brain over the past few years that I will stand in an audience singing along to myself for an entire show. There songs are such fixtures in my head that when we covered them I, for some reason, picked a song off a Daytrotter Session that isn’t even on any of their albums.
Wanna know one thing that makes sure people remember your band? When they remember your songs. For a young band, Dawes has me remembering a hell of a lot of songs.
And then, on top of that, they play loose. They comment to each other with their instruments and their harmonies. Griffin’s drums…I turned to Dave Godowsky during the show and said “I feel sometimes like Griffin’s drum fills are the punchlines to all of Taylor’s lyrics.” They’re just outrageous, the kind of licks you play, then look around to make sure no one caught you doing it. It’s like he’s fucking around with being Keith Moon but then- Naw, just kidding – never in a flashy way that interrupts the song. But it does comment on the song, as if Taylor & Griffin are bantering musically like the brothers they are in real life, telling jokes and bickering in the back of their parents car, all musically, all unconsciously, all without ever seeming to be doing anything of the kind. It’s what I love about playing in a band – the jazz of it – and it’s pretty amazing to watch them do it in these early morning hours at the end of our first full day at SXSW.
(A brief aside: there was this very nice, very pretty blonde girl named Emily standing beside me, right in front of Chris, during the show. You know the type? A few years out of college, totally cool, the one who lived down the street when you were a kid who was the prettiest girl in the neighborhood and was nice to everyone anyway even though she maybe didn’t have to be. That one. Anyway, midway through the show, after a particularly tuneful rendition of “A Little Bit of Everything” by Chris (and a decent one by Dawes in the background), Emily turned around and said very sweetly to Chris “Wow. You know all the words to every song” giving him an affectionate look that clearly said — [I want to admit here that I never know what a girl means when she looks at me or anyone else. I don’t know now and I never have known. I have no clue. Girls are fucking terrifying.] — then she tilted her head, smiled ever so sweetly, and said “Yes…that’s nice”.
I’ll say it again. Girls are fucking terrifying. That ability they have to be at once kind & warm, and, at the same time, to utterly paralyzingly…make your blood run cold…it is appalling.)
Possibly I was a little drunk and that’s what made everything seem so magical last night. But I’ve been drunk before and…this, upon reflection, isn’t going to prove my point in any good way. We ended up some hours later at one of the many food trucks that dot the late night Austin landscape, ordering BBQ Brisket sandwiches. I remember a very nice guy walked up to Chris and told him he loved our band, then paid for the food and walked away, after making sure the guy behind the counter knew to give us all BBQ Dinosaur drumsticks (or maybe turkey). I’m pretty sure that’s the thing on the bedside table. I’m not at all certain though and now, as I brush my teeth, I have to wonder why I’m wearing a blue & white baby bonnet.
Dated Wed March 14 2PM
Flights Daytrotter Session at Good Danny’s Recording Studios
So I’m watching a band play one of the most ethereally beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and they finish and I’m kinda shocked. Their album is stunning but it’s one of those records that could’ve been labored over, lovingly & painstakingly attended to until every last shimmering note sounded perfect.
Or, as I realize after watching them play the song crammed together in the tiny living room studio where Sean Moeller is recording Daytrotter Sessions during SxSW, they might have just tossed the whole album off in one live take. After all, that’s what they just did right in front of my eyes. One take. One take with all those gorgeous semi-dissonant harmonies. One perfect take.
“Brian,” I said to Brian Holl, one of their guitarist/vocalists, “That was…kinda shockingly good”.
“Oh cool,” he said, “This is really our first gig ever so that’s a relief.”
First. Gig. Ever.
Well, one song into their career, um…uh…good start!(?) Seriously, what else can you say?
Sean Moeller sent me an email a few months ago that said “You have to go to their website and check out this band Flights. You’re going to love their album.” He was right. I did. I do. Anywhere But Where I Am is a stellar debut. I bought the album and, after I wrote about it online, I got a letter from Brian Holl thanking me and saying hello. I called up Ryan Spaulding and basically gave him the same recommendation Sean gave me. He called back a few hrs later raving to me just like I raved to Sean. Better yet, he said “Let’s get them for The Outlaw Road Show.” I can see why he was so confident about it. By Saturday they’ll be salty old road dogs, veterans of god knows how many gigs – up to two or maybe even three. They’ll probably grow jaded to the whole thing by Sunday.
Meanwhile back in the present, the songs roll by – “Pillars”, then “So Many Foreign Homes”, “Taller”, and finally “Names and Races” – each better than the last. The arrangements alone are worth the price of admission. If they couldn’t pull them off live at all, they’d still be notable just as compositions, the swirling guitars and keys spinning through the weaving quartet of voices. But they CAN play them live. Of course by now they’re on their fourth song so, even though it’s still their first real gig, they’re a long way removed from those heady days about 45 minutes ago when they were playing their first public song.
The song ends and Flights drummer Nate pokes his head out of the iso-room he’s been sequestered in for the past hour: “Look, I can’t hear anything you guys are saying out here and clearly you can’t hear me at all. So just tell me when you want to actually start recording. I’ll be in my closet.”
Tomorrow, we play our Daytrotter Session but before us, Sean has Eric Burdon & Jimmy Cliff. After us, he’s got Diamond Rugs. I’m going to be here all day long.