Written by Samuel Barker
Jun 13, 2009 at 08:00 PM

When I first met Kenny Pipes, within the first hour, he began raving about some dude named Malcolm Holcombe. A bunch of mumbo jumbo about how amazing he was and his life was changed after seeing him. I was skeptical. Kenny is like me, he’s a hardcore music nut, so that love tends to take performances most would scoff at into the stratosphere in our minds.

I purposely avoided video clips of Holcombe before the show, missed his interviews on KPFT but I did listen to his A Hundred Lies album I had a lot. I knew he was a damn good songwriter, but how would the songs come across live? I did not want to know until I saw it in person.

Walking up to Kenny’s place, I saw a friendly looking old codger smoking a Pall Mall, offering me a seat. If someone hadn’t introduced him as Malcolm, I’d never have thought this was the man behind the voice on his albums. A thin man with a warm smile and a small town soul, Holcombe reminded me of the men from around my hometown.

Before Holcombe hit the stage, Almost Austin favorite Wayne Sutton hit the stage for a 5 song warm-up set. Being the man who introduced Kenny to the music of Malcolm Holcombe, Sutton happily came down from Austin to warm up the stage.

As usual, Sutton captivated the audience and had them pulled in for the 5 songs he performed. He even broke out a new song to close out the set. While I don’t know the title of the song, I know it was an amazing tune that showed the depth of Sutton’s songwriting and musical skills.

After a short break, Holcombe took the stage. He leaned into the mic to thank Wayne Sutton for opening and proclaimed “Nowhere to go but downhill from that,” tossed his cap on the ground and kicked into Sittin’ Sad.

Holcombe is an intense performer, shaking his head, giving determined, almost depraved stares at everyone and no one at the same time and rocking in his chair or stomping his feet to keep time.


Outside of the intensity is humor. Holcombe took time between many of the songs to tell stories. Some tied into the song, like his tale of his wife’s passive/aggressive comment of “You haven’t written a love song in a long time…I love you…” that led into Baby Likes a Slow Love Song, other times, it just gave a little light into his background like the tale of thunder, beer and his girl at the time burning his clothes. All of them closed the gap between performer and audience to nothing. People commented back and he told stories. It became a group experience, which is exactly what it should be.

A broken string during To The Homeland led to an impromptu mid-set break, but as soon as Holcombe started back in with Who Carried You, the intensity and connection returned. Holcombe went through his catalog of classic like Back in ’29, Sparrows and Sparrows and The Shade before breaking another string on Marvalene’s Kitchen.

Not to make the audience wait for another break, Holcombe removed the last straggling piece of string from the bridge and closed with a 5-string rendition of I Never Heard You Knockin’. The set was stellar and that broken string broke my heart because it definitely signified the end after a solid 18 song set that felt like it flew by.

It is rare when you see a musician who can captivate you like Malcolm Holcombe. It’s even more rare when you hear a ton of hype and phrases like “changed my life” thrown around a musician and actually feel the same way when you see them. After the show, I looked around the internet for clips of Malcolm Holcombe and various other information on the man. In the end, I read the same conclusions to his performances that Kenny Pipes and various other friends gave me, and, ultimately, the conclusion I had after this night.

See, this performance by Malcolm Holcombe was life changing, I’d say. I haven’t been this excited about a show in a long time. The only down part of the performance was the realization that for the rest of 2009, it’s all downhill from here.