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Radio City / Rembering Big Star at SXSW 2012

Words // Scott Pingeton

Criminally overlooked in their own time, Big Star will be remembered as one of the most influential bands of the last 40 years.  They may well be the center of my personal musical universe, the sun around which most of my musical tastes orbit - power-pop, garage rock, soul, folk-rock.  Paul Westerberg famously dubbed Alex Chilton "a man who could sing in a visible voice", the phrase that gave this blog its name.

One of the very first posts on VV back in March 2010 was a memorial to Alex Chilton, which I wrote in stunned disbelief after learning of his untimely death just days prior to a performance at SXSW.  Last weekend, exactly two year later, I found myself in Austin aimlessly walking the streets looking for a party that would have us, badgeless as we were.  A well-timed tweet sent us in the direction of The Ginger Man - an unassuming bar on a quiet street, far away from the chaos of 6th/7th streets.  After waiting in a short line I found myself inside, feet aching but head buzzing with anticipation.  Members of The Posies, Eric Early (Blitzen Trapper), REM's Michael Stipe and Peter Buck crowded around the tiny stage along with countless other musicians I couldn't name.

Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer casually took the stage with Jody Stephens, Big Star's original drummer and lone surviving member, and invited Eric Early of Blitzen Trapper to join them.  The foursome launched into a blistering version of "Feel" - the first track off Big Star's debut #1 Record.  Three generations of power-pop heavyweights on the stage was enough to put a permanent grin on my face and raise goosebumps that didn't go away all night.

Over the course of the roughly 90 minute show a carousel of musicians shared the stage.  Peter Buck played 12-string guitar on "In The Street" and John Doe took lead vocals for an excellent version of "I'm In Love With A Girl" - plus a bunch of other artists that I admit I wasn't familiar with.  The entire ensemble shared the stage for "September Gurls" to close out the night, capping off a moving and memorable tribute to a legendary band.



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