KEXP at SXSW 2013, Day 2: True Believers

photos by Dave Lichterman

Alejandro Escovedo – that’s all I knew about the True Believers when KEXP’s lineup for SXSW at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop was first announced. OK, then someone mentioned it was his mid 80’s band, a crew that had a brush with fame, but never quite broke through. They had label issues, personnel changes, unreleased albums, the works, a near miss story we have heard all too often that left True Believers an idolized and idealized fond memory for their Austin hometown fans. Decades went by while Escovedo went on to attain solo success and acclaim, but as the heroes’ tale so often goes, an abrupt loss brought the original lineup of Escovedo, brother Javier Escovedo, Jon Dee Graham, Denny DeGorio, and Rey Washam back together again. The band memorialized Austin soundman Brent Grulke with a reportedly astounding and heartfelt reunion last fall, and the seed was planted.

As moving as the made-for-TV storyline is, it’s just a story to me since I did not get to hear them back in the day and didn’t have a point of reference. So when the three guitar assault of Escovedo, Escovedo and Graham hit me, I was knocked on my heels by the powerful Texas rock that defies simple categorization. There’s blues, country, punk, folk, roots, blue collar – but no simple label captures the complexity of this band’s identity. The three guitarists traded lead vocal duties several times, each delivering a soulful performance, while bassist Denny DeGorio and drummer Rey Washam provided backup. They played with the passion and joy of your uncle’s garage band from down the road, an image reinforced by the Mellow Johnny’s backdrop. But make no mistake, these guys are no mere garage band, and their relaxed demeanor belied the powerful soul unearthed by their reunion.

At the end of the show, I felt the emotional release like having been to a dramatic sermon, and by the jubilant faces of the crowd as they trickled out, I wasn’t the only person made into a true believer tonight. I sincerely hope after yesterday’s performance on KEXP, it won’t be long before they visit the Pacific NW. Wow, just wow.

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  1. Robert Fegley
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Hey, glad you got to hear for yourself what the Trubes are all about. I was at the show too, and can happily say that the sound and power and soulful conviction of this great band is virtually undiminished by the years gone by.

    One tangential but vitally urgent note, though. Brent Grulke, whose memorial you note inspired the True Believers first reunion in many years, was far more than an Austin soundman, as you describe him. He was a lead music writer and later editor for the Austin Chronicle, a founder of the South by Southwest festival and for years its creative director, responsible for booking all of the artists who have appeared there over the years. His work was instrumental in the growth of SXSW from a small DYI seat-of-the-pants event into a premiere international music and media conference, but one that still champions the heart and soul of the indie outsider. Most of all, he was a lover of music and a tireless supporter of Austin’s independent creative spirit.

    NY Times Obituary of Brent Grulke

  2. Chris Beiter
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Robert, thank you for the additional information on Brent Grulke. “Soundman” is definitely not enough to capture his years of work and influence. Looks like I hacked his last name spelling too.

    I dug up this article which sheds more light on his work, and also mentions the memorial fund set up in his memory, if anyone is curious.

    Ultimately, I think the True Believers reunion does a much better job of honoring him than our brief mention of him here does. Their set was probably my favourite of all 19 bands that KEXP hosted last week… even beating out Chelsea Light Moving, which is saying a lot from an old Sonic Youth fan.

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