The University of Texas football team’s home opener on Saturday may have been a disconcerting affair, but out on the LBJ Library lawn across from the stadium before the game, the new Longhorn City Limits live music series had an auspicious debut. We opted to bypass the game itself in favor of sampling other shows happening around town as the evening wore on. Video highlights are above; here’s the full recap:
4 p.m.: Longhorn City Limits with Jimmie Vaughn and the Nightowls at LBJ Library Lawn. It’s quality Austin music, it’s free, and it’ll happen before each home game this year: This new addition to pregame tailgating rituals is a no-brainer. The crowd was a bit thin early on — the Nightowls began at 3:30 p.m.; we arrived about halfway through their hourlong set — but the group’s horn-spiked soul revue set a lively tone for the day.
When blues guitar great Vaughan took the stage at 5 p.m. with his Tilt-A-Whirl Band, quite a few more people were in the crowd, about 99 percent of them wearing orange — including a few Longhorn cheerleaders who joined Vaughan onstage for a number early in the set. During the game later on, UT announced that country-rock band Reckless Kelly will be playing next week’s Longhorn City Limits concert before the USC game.
6:15 p.m.: Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel at Saxon Pub. A key member of Eric Clapton’s circa-1970 band Derek & the Dominos, Whitlock is one of those rock ’n’ roll treasures who happened to settle down in Austin, moving here many years ago with Carmel, his wife and musical partner. The duo generally plays every few weeks at the Saxon, and it’s one of the best gigs in town.
Whitlock’s prone to going off on tangents when he starts talking about the good old days, but those tangents are almost always fascinating. An integral musician who also played on key records by George Harrison and the Rolling Stones, Whitlock noted Saturday that “I hang my hat on ‘Layla,’ ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘Exile on Main Street.’ It’s a pretty good hat rack.” Indeed.
The pair played some songs on acoustic guitars before Whitlock moved to keyboards and Carmel picked up the saxophone. Both phases of the show were musically quite lovely, gradually building to the obvious yet still riveting finale of “Bell Bottom Blues,” the Whitlock-penned Dominos tune for which he’s most famous. Tagging it with the iconic piano coda that he added to Clapton’s “Layla,” Whitlock gave the crowd a smile, thanked everyone for coming and invited them back again soon. If you’re an Austin music fan and you haven’t taken in this gig yet, move it to the top of your list.
8 p.m.: Michael Nesmith & the First National Band at Paramount Theatre. A square peg amid our typically local-focused “One Night” itineraries, this touring show by the legendary Monkees member played up his early-1970s years playing country-folk-rock music. That focus made for quite a nice segue from Whitlock, whose heyday overlapped with Nesmith’s in the fertile Southern California scene of that era. (Groovers Paradise record store owner Greg Ellis noted that Nesmith even covered the Whitlock/Clapton tune “I Looked Away” on one of the First National Band albums.)
No other original First National members are aboard for this tour; only drummer Jonathan Ware is still living. But Nashville ace Pete Finney did a fine job re-creating the late Red Rhodes’ pedal steel runs and thus was a key member here, along with Nesmith’s sons Jonathan and Christian on guitars.
The most lovely moment, however, came mid-set when the band departed and left Nesmith to deliver three of his best-known compositions — “Propinquity,” “Different Drum” and “Papa Gene’s Blues” — just as he had done at L.A.’s famed Troubadour nightclub right after he wrote them. “Here I am, 50 years later,” Nesmith marveled, as the crowd basked in the special moment.
9:40 p.m.: Marfa Crush and Midcentury at ABGB. We caught only the last minute or so of Midcentury’s final song, but their closing instrumental jam was tight and impressive, whetting the appetite for catching them again another time. On this night, we were there mainly to see Marfa Crush, the new project of 19-year-old Marlon Sexton.
If you follow Austin music (or Bob Dylan, for that matter), you’re well aware of his father Charlie’s accomplishments. It’s easy to see a young Charlie in Marlon’s face, yet he’s a very different kind of singer, and the songs he’s writing with this band of similar-age friends have more to do with envelope-pushing atmospheric rock than anything Dylanesque. Marfa Crush is still in its infancy, but their charismatic performance on this night suggests this is a young band with enormous potential.
10:45 p.m.: The Mrs. at Lamberts. Celebrating the release of their new EP “Five Minutes,” this quartet featuring singer-guitarist Mandy Prater, singer-keyboardist Larissa Ness, bassist Jenny Mason and drummer Andra Liemandt drew a sold-out crowd to the small bar above Lamberts BBQ. Opening with the effervescent single “Hurricane” from the new EP, the group kept the mood in the room lively throughout.
A cover of the Lumineers’ signature tune “Ho Hey” went over well but seemed unnecessary, as the women write strong enough material on their own to let it carry them. They’re still relatively new (the group’s debut release came out last year) and perhaps are still building their catalogue, but the title track to the new EP suggests they’re hitting their stride and could become a breakout mainstream-pop act.