Going Underground at SXSW

"If you have a schedule, throw it out," joked "Little Steven" Van Zandt about an hour into his Friday afternoon Underground Garage showcase at Antone's. If the announced order for this four-hour celebration of raw, three-chord rock bore little resemblance to what the assembled crowd saw, that's in keeping with a musical form that puts a premium on spontaneity.

San Antonio's Krayolas got things rolling with an assured and spirited set powered by the Westside Horns. Drummer David Saldana carried the lead vocal on the ultra-melodic "A-Frame," and deftly handled the Spanish-language intro for the challenging "Corrido Twelve Heads in a Bag." Before that song's final chord had faded, Saldana's brother, Hector, ripped into the classic guitar lick from the Kinks' "Who'll Be the Next in Line," featuring keyboard work from Augie Meyers (who frequently played the tune during his long stint with the Sir Douglas Quintet). This made for a wild, let-it-all-hang-out finale to the band's set.

The sets were short, with bands hitting the stage, cranking out a handful of musical adrenaline shots, and hastily making way for the next group. HIghlights included: The Breakers, who played a kind of Scandinavian garage-soul, including a surprisingly effective cover of Aretha Franklin's "Since You've Been Gone," and an assault on "Shout" that suggested Otis Redding backed by the White Stripes; the poptastic all-girl Norwegian band Cocktail Slippers, who paid homage to their mentor Van Zandt by playing "St. Valentine's Massacre," a song he wrote and produced for them; and Memphis' instrumental soul band the Bo-Keys.

This showcase was pop-nerd paradise without a cover charge. If there was any doubt about that fact, it was answered shortly after the Bo-Keys brought Roy "Treat Her Right" Head onstage to join them for a couple of his old dance-crazy warhorses. At 67, Head -- who launched his recording career in SA more than a half-century ago -- is still one hell of a raunchy dude and he moved his midsection in ways that most twentysomethings would be too afraid/embarrassed to attempt. But only in pop-nerd heaven could a craggy-faced senior citizen take off his jacket in mid-song to reveal one of those big cowboy belt buckles your grandpa wears, and draw screams from the guys in the front rows. For all I know, I might have even been one of them.

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