To conclude: Susan Cowsill and the Watson Twins sang "September Gurls," with the remains of Big Star playing loose and beautiful all around them. It shouldn't have happened; most of what happens shouldn't. In life, as with music, we only get so much say.
Alex Chilton's passing just days before Big Star's scheduled appearance on the final night of South By Southwest 2010 cast a numb disconcertion over the jammed-to-walls crowd at Antone's. Everyone wanted to see what would happen, who would perform, what would be said, and how the evening would make sense out of a complex, frustrating, pivotal figure in rock music.
Heather West (publicist and close friend of Chilton) cradled her iPhone on the stage and read a deep, long, beautifully unsentimental letter from Chilton's wife, Laura. Four surviving members of Big Star--Jody Stephens, Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer and original bassist Andy Hummel--guided the parade of friends and admirers who just sang, all joyfully, in their own ways, with little comment and few tears.
Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood struggled with "Don't Lie to Me," but Chris Stamey killed on "I Am the Cosmos" and "When My Baby's Beside Me." M. Ward captured the weird paranoia of "Big Black Car," drawing out the spittle from the phrase "ain't gonna lasssssssssst," and Mike Mills of R.E.M. had a blast with "Jesus Christ." John Doe sang "I'm In Love With a Girl" with twangy sweetness, while the night's youngest performer, Sondre Lerche, put everything he had (a lot) into "Ballad of El Goodo." Evan Dando said two words - "Thanks" "Fuck" - and then creeped through "Nighttime." No one had any intention of stealing the show. Chuck Prophet, however, did just that, simply by being the lovably and supremely hip presence he is, and by pushing "Thank You Friends" to edge. The relatively unknown Amy Speace made her own mark with an alluring "Try Again."
And though the performances were all moving and heartfelt, and Jody Stephens drumming alone could have provided hoped-for transcendence, a feeling of forced sedation, almost ennui, remained.
Understandable. It was also the last night of SXSW 2010. The buzz never lasts.
Here's more of what happened on the final two days of the festival:
#preppysoulfail. Motown revivalist Mayor Hawthorne, at a free day party at the French Legation Museum in East Austin, proved that you can make good-sounding soul records wearing an IZOD cardigan, but live you need a little more than trend hopping.
#threesongswtf. The Courtyard Hounds (aka Emily Robison and Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks) badge-only day stage set at the Convention Center ended before it began, though Emily slipped nicely into Americana soft country rock songstress mode.
Turn up the background singers. Jakob Dylan, backed up by Neko Case's regular band, and featuring Case and pal Kelly Hogan on background vocals, played a substantial day stage set, filled with apocalyptic songs about love and love songs about the apocalypse. He sounded both dogged and at ease, even if his supporting singers were barely audible.