AUSTIN, Texas -- Guards, a co-ed quintet, capped Tuesday's opening night of the South by Southwest Music Conference, and wiped away the mediocre aftertaste left by their predecessors.
The blues-rock of ZZ Ward and the "Up With People" exuberance of Youngblood Hawke had all the trappings of well-constructed imitation, but didn't resonate with much sincerity or soul. With 2,500 bands plying their wares at South by Southwest, it's instructive to see what lengths some of them will go to conform in order to get a deal with someone further up the music-industry food chain.
Earlier in the evening, bearded singer-songwriter Sean Rowe played at the Central Presbyterian church on 8th Street, a perfect venue for his emotionally transparent songs, marinated in blues and contemplation. Rowe is equally at home singing about fatherhood as he is covering the Mississippi hill-country great R.L. Burnside. With only an acoustic guitar, he turned church into his living room.