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SXSW: Long live Shoes, long live Camper Van Beethoven

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Shoes, from Zion, Ill., kick off their SXSW week with a day gig
Wednesday afternoon.
(Thomas Conner)


AUSTIN, Texas -- Janice Greenberg actually teared up a bit at the Camper Van Beethoven show.

The 46-year-old mother of two from Sonoma County, Calif., stumbled into the Jr. club Wednesday afternoon, squinting from the bright-to-black transition and her jaw hanging down. The band was running through its well-known 1980s indie-rock standard, "Take the Skinheads Bowling" -- but it was, Greenberg discovered to her considerable dismay, their last song.

"I had no idea that they ... are they even ... I didn't know they were here!" she said, close to a wail. "I love Camper!"

cvb.JPGCamper eased onto the stage Wednesday afternoon and played a 10-song, career-spanning set that was plenty to justify their status as indie-rock grandfathers. What was extraordinary, though -- and somehow I always forget this till I'm faced with it -- was the skill of the five players. CVB's music can get complicated, not in a convoluted art-rock sense but in a self-taught virtuoso sense. While singer David Lowery wheezes and whines his weird, grumpy-ol'-stoner tales, you've got Jonathan Segel (elegant on violin, especially during "Sad Lover's Waltz," but also adding swooping third guitar to the new "Too High for the Love-In") and Greg Lisher (braiding melodies and countermelodies throughout like a pro). New songs like "Northern California Girls" -- from the recently released new album, "La Costa Perdida" -- were refreshing live, while old surprises like "Seven Languages" still packed a punch.

The best part, though, was when Greenberg got the good news: Camper's playing again two hours later, at 7 p.m. right next door at El Sol y La Luna, 600 E 6th St. I'd quote her reaction, but she was off like a shot to secure her spot.

Trusty ol' Shoes

Another legacy act inaugurated SXSW 2013 Wednesday afternoon with a show that was, at least historically, slightly more momentous. Beloved power-pop band Shoes -- the lions of Zion, Ill. -- played their first concert outside the Chicago area in 18 years.

Shoes, an occasional underground delight since appearing in 1975, reunited last year to record "Ignition," their first new album since 1994. Early Wednesday afternoon, at an annual showcase organized by Chicago native publicist Cary Baker (who shepherded the dB's into their comeback at the same place last year), singer-guitarists Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe, brother John Murphy on bass and drummer John Richardson blasted through their own career-spanning set.

Shoes is one of those bands with a consistency that's more than a little frightening. I was bobbing my head through most of "Say It Like You Mean It" before I remembered it was one of the new ones.

No one at SXSW has just one gig anymore: Shoes' play again (their official showcase) at 11 p.m. Friday at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, 512 Trinity St.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on March 13, 2013 6:32 PM.

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