SXSW 2013 Guest Blog: Churchwood Rock on Pawned Gear, Conquer Karma With Labelmates
[Editor's Note: So that we may better cover SXSW 2013, Diffuser.fm has asked several artists to help out and file guest blog posts. One band nice enough to say yes was Austin's own Churchwood, a spunky, punky blues-rock outfit critics have compared to Captain Beefheart and Nick Cave. In his second post, frontman, college professor and poet Joe Doerr share his experiences from day two of the festival. Enjoy!]
Adam Kahan is the bassist for Churchwood. Adam’s day job is at Cash America Pawn located just north of the UT campus and that stretch of Guadalupe Street known as “the drag.” For the past couple of years, Adam has been the mastermind behind a new SXSW tradition: Pawn Shop Rock. For seven hours during SXSW each year since 2011, a corner of the Cash America Pawn shop parking lot becomes a makeshift stage for several Austin bands that perform almost exclusively on pawned/used equipment currently for sale at the shop. It’s a win-win situation -- cool bands get to strut their stuff and the shop usually ends up moving a load of merch significantly discounted for the day.
Never mind that the signature sound of each band is oddly altered by the fact that they’re playing on the likes of Flying Vs, $40 amps and beat-up Bridgecraft drum kits. Never mind that, because everything still sports price tags that spin like lazy thaumotropes in the afternoon breeze, the whole scene looks like it sprang to life from the deepest recesses of a lysergically animated Minnie Pearl’s mind.
This year, Pawn Shop Rock III featured, as usual, an “Adam’s Choice” of music made entirely by members of a close-knit family of bands: Odd Family, Solid Goat, Dickins, Opposite Day, Mines, SEIZURES!, Churchwood and Mostly Dead. The act listed dead last is, well, if not exactly fronted by then at least co-fronted by Adam’s wife Michelle Born Kahan, aka. Mo. When she isn’t wrangling her and Adam’s toddler Ari, she multi-tasks on stage, handling bass, synth, flute and vocals; and she’s my current choice for the personification of the wildly interactive Austin music scene.
Another member of her band, violinist Phil Davidson, is an additional contender. Phil also plays in the Invincible Czars, a band that once featured Adam on bass. The Czars are fronted by another husband-wife team of musicians: Josh Robins and Leila Henley. Leila is a member of what we like to call “the Money Shot Brass,” that trio of horn players (along with Nick Warrenchuk and Shane Walden) who occasionally sit in with Churchwood (most recently last night at the Saustex/Cosmica Artist Showcase @ Karma Lounge). The point is that if it really “takes a village,” then Austin is currently raising one hell of a musical enfant terrible.
Seeing the Bad Seeds perform at Stubb’s was supposed to be a palate cleanser between Pawn Shop Rock and the Saustex Showcase for Cat and me; but as it were, it was all mutiny in heaven because there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that we were going to be looking up Nick the Stripper’s skirt last night. Word went out earlier in the week that “them with no stars upon thars,” the non-badge-holders, would be summarily insulted and ridiculed for even attempting to get into the capacity show; so we opted to ease into the rest of the night instead.
And ease we did, and for our patience we were rewarded. The Saustex gang did not disappoint. Earlier in the week, the Beaumonts, those swill-billies from “Central Lubbock, Texas” scored a song (“I Like Drinkin”) on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” segment. Last night they played like they had nothing to prove because they didn’t -- if only Terry Gross had been on hand to have her fresh air fouled. Hickoids, led by Mr. Saustex himself were up next. Question: who needs Nick the Stripper when you have Jeff Smith and (his own, please) microphone on stage? Churchwood (and the Money Shot Brass) followed and, if I do say so myself, tore great gaping holes of perception in the surrounding Karma. And that concluded the Saustex “old white guys” segment of the showcase; the second half of the evening was dedicated to our young Latin stable mates.
The Copper Gamins kicked off part two. Question: What if Jack and Meg had grown up in Mexico City and struck a bargain with El Diablo at some somber cruce de caminos? “The Red, White, and Green Stripes” might have been born and maybe switched at birth with Carmen and Claus. Up next was Gaby Moreno who sang her lilting Latina blues with a voice on loan from a mission bell, clear and plaintive. Her hot-shot guitarist, Austin native Davíd Garza, did not disappoint the crowd that continued to grow to near-capacity as the night wore on.
By the time Piñata Protest took the stage, the joint was packed. Alvaro Del Norte, his button accordion, and his band of chicos malos do for (to?) abuelo’s music what The Pogues did to the Irish air. These guys absolutely kill it every time they play. They’re on the road a lot, and if they come to your town stop whatever you’re doing and go raise hell with them.
La Santa Cecilia was the perfect closer—like taking 1000-grit sandpaper to a rough-hewn carving of their namesake, the patron saint of musicians. Marisol Hernandez’s smooth grito worked wonders and helped us all ward off any malos espíritus the rest of us may have conjured in the Karmic dark. When the dust settled, we were all better for having been there. And with that, it was time to put l’enfant terrible to bed.
Watch Opposite Day Perform 'Safety First' at Pawn Shop Rock III