Wednesday, May 22, 2024

SXSW Stories: The Year of Amy (2007) and a Killer Choir (2004)

Sarah Lewitinn and Brandon Flowers

They’ve gone on to sell millions of records and tickets, but not many people had heard of the Killers or Brandon Flowers before they played SXSW in 2004, three months before the release of debut LP Hot Fuss. The Las Vegas-based band debuted at the Caucus Club (now the Mohawk) on Thursday March 18, then played the Spin party at Stubb’s early the next afternoon on a bill headlined by the Hives and the Von Bondies. With the Killers’ new Island Dej Jam label CEO L.A. Reid scheduled to attend, the band wanted to do something special at the Spin party, so they recruited a group of local gospel singers to recreate the “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” choir hook from “All These Things I’ve Done” to end the set. The band’s agent Kirk Sommer of William Morris Endeavor found the Durdens through Stubb’s gospel brunch series and was on the way to help organize the day-of-show rehearsal when he received a phone call that a family member had passed away. “I wasn’t sure if I should be in a car to the airport or on my way to Stubb’s in the rain to greet these choir members,” recalls Sommer. Duty took him to the venue, just as the choir members started trickling in. Contacted on short notice that Friday morning, some brought their children.

“We took cover in some old, dirty storage shed with a tin roof and as the rain was just spilling off the sides, an occasional tear rolled down my cheek, as I thought about the loved one I had lost,” Sommer remembers. Stubb’s production manager at the time, Huston Powell, who now books Lollapalooza worldwide, recalls “a chaotic scene” at the rehearsal and a game-time decision on whether to scrap the gospel segment. “Thankfully Mark Needham (who mixed Hot Fuss) was in town, and he started working out all of the elements with these beautiful people,” Sommer says. The Killers and the Durdens pulled it off magnificently onstage that afternoon. Beaming from the front of the stage was L.A. Reid. “I’m not entirely certain the sun came out during the refrain of the song,” Sommer says, “but that’s how I remember it.”

SXSW 2007: Amy does Austin

Austin Chronicle photo by Felicia Graham

You heard this name Amy Winehouse, which belonged to some sort of British jazz singer, and you didn’t expect a tattooed danger doll in a girl group bouffant, who just sang like she felt.

March 2007 was in like a lamb and out like a lion for Winehouse, whose single  “Rehab” had been released about two months before SXSW and was on its way to becoming the song of the year. SXSW also solidified La Amy’s rep as an unrepentant  party girl. Scheduled to play 10 day parties in addition to her official La Zona Rosa showcase, Winehouse wasn’t having that and played just three or four, including Fader Fort. One night, she and some of her Dap Kings bandmates were whisked into the Stax Records 50th anniversary show at Antone’s. She was also spotted at a tattoo parlor on Red River with Paolo Nutini. The tattooist drew a diamond on the arm of Winehouse, who looked at it, said something about how she’s not getting that tattooed on her, and walked out.

With her every movement being studied, Winehouse mostly kept to herself at the Radisson or at the white house on Red River that C3 keeps for real VIPs. Everybody wanted to know what this Amy Winehouse chanteuse was all about and she just wanted to know if there was any more whiskey.

Those who were on hand for the La Zona Rosa show got the full range of that troubled musical genius, with a set high in drama. Winehouse seemed out of place when she walked onstage in wobbly heels, but by about the fourth song she was in a groove with her band, on loan from Sharon Jones. The love from the audience was intense and Amy seemed genuinely moved. Nobody who was there will ever forget the time they saw a legend who was jaded before her time.

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