SoundLand Kickoff Feat. M. Ward, Dawes and Jonny Corndawg at War Memorial Auditorium, 9/21/11

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M. Ward with Lambchops Kurt Wagner

Just one night into SoundLand, and goddamn — our elbows are already sore from all the rubbing. By the time we showed up at TPAC's Jackson Hall for the SoundLand kickoff party, all the best free grub had already been picked over, so we were left to gnaw on some sad kabob remains while schmoozing with a few dozen media and industry types. Nice folks in fancy jackets, sure. And we hollered at SoundLand honcho Jason Moon Wilkins for a bit about the shows he's most psyched to see — that guy's got his hands full, and we feel like he's doing a good job with it all. But it was a real treat to see several of our service-industry/day-job-havin' buds manning the photo booth and performing menial tasks all in the name of scoring a free pass. And it's those buds with whom we wandered the short distance over to War Memorial in order to catch another familiar face — that of Jonny Corndawg — kicking the whole thing off.

Jonny Corndawg
The constant murmur of schmoozers was still present in the wings of War Memorial when we walked in. The place wasn't quite full — maybe 60 or 70 percent, but definitely a comfortable showing for the opening night. We noticed off the bat that lovable trad country joker Jonny Corndawg was utilizing Dawes (plus fiddler Joshua Hedley) as his backing band throughout his set. Their pristine playing made Corndawg's tunes sound like real-deal, serious Nashville outlaw country — which made the absurdist, irreverent lyrics of tunes like "Trash Day" all the more uproarious. I mean, here we were in the swanky, fancifully adorned setting of War Memorial Auditorium, surrounded by M. Ward fans and industry types, and the guy on stage was singing about the mysteries of a woman's silver panty liners and the benefits of teaching your children proper grammar. And all while backed by a top-notch, harmonizing backing band. Deer Tick's John McCauley even came out to sing "Middle Brother" by Middle Brother — that's the band featuring McCauley, Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez (and occasionally featuring Jonny Corndawg). Anyhow, Corndawg and Dawes — or "Corndawes," as Jonny called it, hinting that they might do a record together — had some fantastic flourishes going on, and Corndawg name-dropping dudes like Billy Joe Shaver and Tom T. Hall lets you know where he's at.

Dawes proper were certainly softer, more traditional fare. They filled their set with sentimental and melancholy ballads — big-hearted, earnest stuff that doesn't frequently land in The Spin's typical taste zone. (We tend toward more cynical stuff.) Nevertheless, they were good players with good voices and a knack for a strong melody. "If you can give yourself to someone, then you should," they sang as the piano swept along. And — surprise! — McCauley and Corndawg came out for some harmonizing and guesting. These guys all love each other. Aw.

Throughout the front half of his set, M. Ward milled about the stage being a great guitarist, charismatic performer and passable harmonica player. He played his whispery, acoustic blues-folk ballads well, for sure. But where was the rock?! Oh right — it was over at the Ty Segall show at Exit/In. (More on that later.) Kurt Wagner and Tony Crow of Lambchop joined in for a tune — some lyric-Googling later revealed the song to be "Oh Lonesome Me," and Crow's piano playing was definitely our favorite thing about it. Then it was a ragtimey piano ballad, and some other piano ballads, and some more gentle blues-folk. Dawes finally returned to the stage (Surprise! Again!) for some full and luxurious folk rockin'. But it was just that: gentle folk rockin'. So we enjoyed a couple numbers and headed out, content to leave a little something in our tank for the remainder of the Weekend of Rock.

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