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With over 2,000 acts performing at the 2014 SXSW Music Festival, every conceivable venue in downtown Austin is being utilized in some way. That means modern halls like Austin City Limits as well as makeshift tents with portable sound systems. The festival also employs rooftops, conference rooms, bars, churches, hotel lobbies and everything in between. But for a more authentic roadhouse experience, South Austin’s long-standing Continental Club still serves as the place for greasy blues and hip-shaking boogie.
Diametrically opposed to the contemporary indie-rock/hip-hop standards of SXSW, Thursday night’s Continental bill presented an impressive showcase of blues-based roots rock with artists like Phil and Dave Alvin — best known for founding their old band, The Blasters. It’s been a decade since the two brothers have performed together and 30 years since they’ve collaborated on a record, so the forthcoming album Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy is both a rare and special event.
Put simply, the Alvin brothers played a blazing set of bona fide American music that raised the inside temperature of the Continental Club to a sweltering high. Performing classic Broonzy compositions like “Key to the Highway” and “Feel So Good,” Dave Alvin’s screaming Stratocaster guitar provided a dizzying, raucous counterpoint to the boisterous blues shouting of his dear brother Phil.
This much-anticipated family reunion whipped the Continental crowd into a sweaty frenzy, and the Alvin brothers responded by playing some of their old Blasters favorites like “Border Radio” and “Marie Marie.” Supported by the Austin rhythm section of bassist Brad Fordham and drummer Lisa Pankratz, the Alvins sounded like they had been playing together their whole lives, which they have, family feuds notwithstanding.
After the Alvins finally finished burning down the house, veteran swamp-rocker Tony Joe White took his turn. Joined only by a drummer and seated solemnly onstage like a Caucasian John Lee Hooker, White performed a truly lowdown set of blues ‘n’ boogie. Playing a howling overdriven electric guitar, White sang “Garter Belt” and his old swamp classic “Roosevelt and Ira Lee.” And when the club management tried to end Mr. White’s brief set, he simply ignored them and dove into an extended version of his big hit from 1968, “Polk Salad Annie” — much to the Continental crowd’s fevered delight.
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