Category Archives: sxsw

Laurie Berkner (and other kids’ rock)

Cole and I went to see Laurie Berkner with a group of dear friends yesterday. It was my first kids’ rock outing, the first time I’ve taken Cole to a show that wasn’t a festival. It was a beautiful day. In fact, without a drummer and enough amplification, Berkner couldn’t compete with the weather, the fun of playing with his friend Eli, and the joys of chasing bubbles. Cole sat with me for maybe two songs. Then I don’t know if he heard a word Laurie sang after that.

Berkner is a smart songwriter: not genius, but melodic and, as Cole would say, engaging. She’s definitely the most accessible of a slew of newish acts that are re-creating children’s music. I was on a panel about this at South by Southwest; I also wrote a story on it for the Herald in December. A couple of parents have been asking me if there’s good kids music out there. Here’s a list of CDs I recommended with that story. I would add to it both albums by Uncle Rock and the Sippycups’ CD (Uncle Rock, aka Robert Burke Warren, and Sippycup Paul were both on the panel).

* New Orleans Playground (Putumayo Kids): Includes such classic bayou tunes as Ya Ya and Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, for the young at heart.

* They Might Be Giants, Here Come the ABCs (Disney Sound): Educational can be weird.

* Wee Hairy Beasties, Animal Crackers (Bloodshot): Clever, fun, folksy, but not cutesy.

* We Are . . . the Laurie Berkner Band (Razor & Tie): Noggin-watchers’ favorite lady of song.

* Elizabeth Mitchell, You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folkway): Folk, rock and reggae songs by Neil Young, Francosie Hardy, etc., gently and smartly reinterpreted.

* Jack Johnson and Friends, Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George (brushfire): For the little jamsters.

* Dan Zanes and Friends, All Around the Kitchen (festival five): The former Boston rocker (Del Fuegos) pioneered the current wave of kid rock; his several CDs mix classics and originals.

* All Together Now: Beatles Stuff for Kids of All Ages (Little Monster/V2): Tasteful, modern renditions of Yellow Submarine, Birthday, etc., packaged with a book of poems and trivia.

* The Backyardigans, Groove to the Music (Nick Records): Some of the best musicians in New York play on these songs. Just beware of the munchkin singers.

* Lil Jams, Vol. 1 (GMG): Hip-hop hits sung by kids in not too cloying a fashion.

* Jack’s Big Music Show, Season One (Nick Records): A decent sampling of Nick Jr.’s favorites, including Berkner, Milkshake, and Sweet Honey in the Rock.



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Live from Austin

Doh: For some reason this didn’t publish last Friday as it should have! Here are my Herald blogs on SXSW, belatdly: Last night I finally got what I wanted at South By Southwest: A really great rock ‘n’ roll show. Thank you, the Paybacks. The Detroit quartet laid down big, crunchy, juicy punk grooves inside the stone walls of Austin’s Ale House. No schtick, no effects even: “If there’s any reverb on, take it off,” singer Wendy Case directed the soundman in her hoarse Janis voice. The interplay between Case and guitarist Danny Methric is classic rock’n’roll, what you wish Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye still had. Case’s voice loses some of its range live, but the songs from their great new album Love, Not Reason shot straight from the heart.

At Eternal, English singer Amy Winehouse belatedly took the stage at 1:20 a.m. with her hair swept up and eyeliner giving her long cat eyes: very Ronettes. With two adorable male backup singers and a horn player, the show was strictly old-school — Dreamgirls brought to life. Winehouse has a distinctive style, vocally and physically, and good tunes. She and compatriot Lily Allen are the most buzzed-about acts of SXSW (Allen’s shows were impossible to get into).

Earlier that night, David Byrne joined the Brazilian-by-way-of-New-York band Forro in the Dark for a set of fokloric party tunes in the courtyard of the beautiful San Jose Motel.  Strumming a guitar, he played a Hank Williams song with the ensemble for the select audience. With his white moptop, the erstwhile Talking Head is literally an eminence grise here.

(And posted Monday at

South By Southwest can be an exercise in frustration: Out of four days and nights of shows, why were three of the acts I most wanted to see all scheduled to play midnight Thursday? Why was my job making me watch local bands I could see back home while I was missing out on bands from overseas? Why was I so tired all the time? Here’s a few highlights I did manage to catch:

Bondo do Role are like the Beastie Boys meet Peaches in Sao Paulo. Signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent label, the three-piece new wave electronic group from Brazil played the Beauty Bar Friday night. They spin carioca funk out of samples of cheesy hits like “Summer Days” from Grease and AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” They’re as much fun to watch as they are to listen to, with Marina all vampy wiggle and Pedro goofy cute like Quintron. Perfect for a South Florida crowd, local promoters.

The Stooges’ closing-night set at Stubb’s was one of the week’s most anticipated shows, though if you’re a Miamian used to seeing Iggy Pop about town, perhaps it was not so thrilling. The old songs — “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “TV Eye,” “Fun House,” etc. — sounded great, but new tracks like “She Took My Money” sounded trivial, weak in comparison. Understandably not the debauchee he once was, Pop seemed to resort to cursing for shock appeal. But hands off to any 59-year-old who can writhe like he can.

With 20 percent of the thousands of acts from overseas, SXSW was more international this year than ever. Dimmer played its first shows outside of New Zealand. Shayne Carter has lost the pop sheen of his previous group, Straitjacket Fits, but he’s replaced it with a blues growl, and his guitar playing is better than ever.

Before Dimmer went on, Land of Talk, a group I had never heard of, went on. It was the only band I spontaneously saw all week that was any good, but this Montreal three-piece is a find. Singer and guitarist Elizabeth Powell sounds a bit like the singer of Bettie Serveert. She has a weird, pitched, almost jazz-like way of phrasing lyrics, but it’s not pretentious: Her lyrics are clear and smart. Just the kind of discovery you go to SXSW for, but don’t always find.


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