In Austin and most of Texas (particularly Marfa), you wouldn’t think much of him to see him walking on the street. Brimmed hat, well-worn t-shirt and jeans, he might as well be a local. He defines the word, unassuming. And, other than the wiry strength his gait displays, it wouldn’t have you considering the man as too remarkable.
But all of that changes, not when Sean Scolnick – frontman and embodiment of his musical persona, Langhorne Slim – sets foot on the Antone’s stage, but the moment he starts to sing or speak or send what amounts to an emotional locomotive into a microphone. From the instant he begins his set, he is both a master storyteller and an powerhouse of sheer energy. His ‘sound,’ which has rightly been compared to Cat Stevens, is hard to quantify, but there is no doubt that there have been miles upon miles traveled to create it. His set, which occasionally meanders toward spoken word poetry, it isn’t out of character for his message or his demeanor. Yes, that ‘spoken word,’ – the kind that used to be backed by jazz musicians and performed in smoky bars.
In a coffeeshop in the Village, it might be at home, but one doesn’t expect it at an energetic concert where, when the songs picked up their full steam, even those without rhythm had trouble staying still. The driving rhythm of hits like “The Way We Move” and “House of My Soul (You Light the Rooms)”… are clear as crystal and move the room beyond the gloom and pessimism of a normal work week in modern America. This isn’t a concert for the pensive or the sullen. Not yet, anyway. And if they show, that particular mood is about three songs from changing. This is necessary, essential music for a pessimistic time, and there is soon a smile on every face. Even when the set list travels through “Changes” or “Wolves,” where he asks the audience to gamble with him as he’s “Got my money on that old, blind horse/She can’t see, but she knows the course/I know some people that have seen it all/Yet their hearts beat behind walls,” the mood is still ever upward. It is a trick of the frontman’s passion and the band’s unmistakeable talent to witness this feat.
It isn’t jam band moves as these tunes take turns toward massive crescendos of lap steel, bass and organ…but it’s not far off…yet somehow it never tempts indulgence. It serves the energy, the room and the people who desperately need hopeful sounds and aspirational lyrics.
And that is how the night seemed ready to go – all “up” until the energy poured out onto West 5th and into the work week. Until…
Until, cathartically, he and the story find “Song for Sid.” He explains the origin of the song, and how it remains an ode to his grandfather, who passed some time ago; and, by the time he’s bellowing at the microphone, begging the clock to turn backward, the entire room has grown both hyper-attentive and impossibly respectful. Even the bar has grown quiet, listening and pondering “where do the great ones go when they’re gone?” In that moment, it turns a formerly raucous room into hallowed ground. This is the magic of Langhorne Slim. The music transforms a seemingly native Austinite into a quixotic knight gallant, a simple stage into a megaphone to the world, and a rowdy audience into a congregation.
On a Sunday evening in Austin, Langhorne Slim made Antone’s into a much-needed church service for all our souls.