SXSW Review: Tommy Stinson, March 14, Valhalla

At a festival like SXSW, with so many shows happening and a lot of moving parts, it can often seem as if things are flying by the seat of their pants at all times. And they probably are. But Tommy Stinson‘s Thursday night show at Valhalla was the first time I’ve seen a show materialize from almost nothing within a matter of minutes.

It all happened very quickly. Just minutes before the scheduled set time, there was no sign of Tommy and I was beginning to wonder whether it was time to bail and head out to try another showcase. But then the man himself appeared at the door near the stage, full band in tow, and proceeded to start setting up. Still, it seemed unlikely that this was going to be anything more than a very truncated set.

Then, all of a sudden, Stinson hopped onstage, plugged his guitar into a small amp and started playing a song before the mic was even on, all while the crew at Valhalla scrambled to set things up as best as they could.

“We’re improvising, it’s rock and roll!” he said, a mischievous grin on his face. Clearly Stinson was enjoying the idea of just winging it. Not too surprising considering the rag-tag reputation that his old band The Replacements had back in the day. And truly, it did make for a rather unique and memorable show, which ultimately is what you want at SouthBy. Playing most of the set solo on the guitar while everything else was still being built up around him, Stinson played seemingly whatever came to his mind at the moment, giving off a bit of a Bob Dylan vibe at times.

Finally, he brought up his band right at the very end – The Freedom Rockets, a group of very young-looking dudes clad in plaid vests, ties and white shirts with the sleeves cut off. I’m not sure how Stinson came to work with these guys, but they certainly made a strong visual impression and all involved seemed to be having a ball up there as they ran through the one solitary song that they had time to play – “Anything Could Happen” from Stinson’s days in Bash & Pop.

Actually, come to think of it, the phrase “anything could happen” is the perfect way to describe the overall vibe of this show. Coincidence? Maybe not.

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest