SXSW Review: A.J. Croce at St. David's Bethell Hall
A.J. Croce and his musical sidekick Michael Bizar performed an impressive SXSW showcase Wednesday (3/13) that felt more like an intimate listening room than part of a massive music conference.
The San Diego singer/songwriter moved comfortably from piano to acoustic guitar throughout the 40-minute set at St. David's Bethell Hall, beginning at the keys with the bluesy "Rollin' On," which he recorded with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. That single will be one of the upcoming tracks featured on his innovative project, "Twelve Tales."
Croce explained to the small seated audience that he kicked off the "Twelve Tales" collection in January. He's working with six producers across the country, churning out two songs with each one and releasing one new single every month via iTunes.
So far, three tracks have been unveiled and are available for purchase, all of which Croce performed. A fully-acoustic rendition of the fast-paced, Jack "Cowboy" Clement-produced "Momentary Lapse of Judgment," the most recently dropped single, preceded a perfect cover of his late father's "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)." That song, which originally surfaced on Jim Croce's 1972 album, "You Don't Mess With Jim," incited a touching audience sing-along.
Though he channeled his father's folk to perfection, the younger Croce has his own swagger. His piano playing, which he began nearly 40 years ago as a young child, rivals some of the biggest names in the business. And Bizar is just as talented, transitioning from a twangy guitar jangle on one song to a bass line or electric guitar riff on one of Croce's blues-rock numbers.
Another show highlight: longtime friend/collaborator Steve Poltz joined the duo for "Once Again," which they co-wrote several years ago. The Rugburns founding member's spunky presence and signature scratchy vocals gave the crowd that little extra something indicative of memorable SXSW performances.