This is one of those bootlegs that is the stuff of legend. Passed among fans as 1995-07-01, the exact date of the recording is uncertain; in fact, the venue is disputed. Maarten Demetter’s tour guide indicates that Chris played Antone’s on July 5, 6, and 7, but provides no set list or other info, although those sets were likely with Lee Fox and Billy Ward. Dougie Bowne believes this set is from SXSW 1996:
Interesting to hear Dougie play this junk on two songs that Chris normally played solo: Phone Call and New Machine. Lots of other oddities here, but I’ll let you have a listen and then see if you noticed them. Oh, unfortunately the person controlling the soundboard seems to have been an amateur; but fortunately the result is that you can hear Chris’ voice and lyrics very clearly.
In another post, Dougie recalls the set and again identifies it as SXSW:
“Interesting story about this particular night. The promoters or the venue, whomever handles these kinds of things, forgot to rent a drum kit for the hit, It’s possible they thought Chris might be preforming solo. I was a tiny bit angry at this, but found an old, well beaten floor tom, went down into the basement of the place and got some pipes and other junk to wack on, and made up a little junkyard kit. I had done a bunch of stand up gigs, as I like to call them, with Chris and other folks before. This particular night was an angry, forceful take on the songs by both of us and it was indeed a pretty memorable gig for me. I suppose for other folks too, I get messages about it once in a while by folks who were there. …. I might have been wrong on the other post- the gig on which they didn’t rent my stuff was SXSW definitely. We only did it once, and I did not have a kit. I have no idea what the name of the place was. I did other stand up gigs with Chris though, Sine, which we did a kind of residency at, and I sat in at CB’s gallery once- didn’t have sticks for that one, used a kind of spackle tool and a paint brush on a pail, that one killed. The last time I ever played with Chris was just a snare drum. It was at the Knitting Factory with he and the guy from Alice in Chains, whose name I’ve forgotten just now, and am too lazy to look up.” [source]
BUT …. According to Metter’s Tour Guide, Chris played three dates at SXSW in 1996:
03/15/96 – State Theatre, Austin, TX (as guest with Psycho Sisters)
03/16/96 – Electric Lounge, Austin, TX
Source: soundboard DAT
Sound quality: ****
Duration: 30 min
Musicians: Chris Whitley: vocals, guitar
03/16/96 – Ruta Maya’s Coffee House, Austin, TX
Source: audience recording
Sound quality: ***
Duration: 56 min
Musicians: Chris Whitley: vocals, guitar
No info is available for the State Theatre. A review of the Ruta Maya SXSW show provides some clues:
Ruta Maya, 3am Sunday, March 17
Chris Whitley’s last album, Din of Ecstasy, was like a smashed clock; pin wheels, springs, and metal guts heaped in a tangled mess. Disturbing, restless — often grating — it took many by surprise because it was such a radical departure from the traditional blues found on the guitarist’s debut, Living with the Law. So it was appropriate that a song from that debut, “Big Sky Country” — played towards the end of Whitley’s hour-long, after-hours set at a packed Ruta Maya Coffeehouse corner — proved to be the missing link between the two albums. Like the set-dominating material from Din of Ecstasy, “Big Sky Country” was sung/shouted by Whitely in a raw — often grating — voice that accompanied the Bone Machine-like blues riffs he cranked out on a national steel guitar while percussionist Dougie Bowne clanged out his own primal rhythms. It was blues alright, 21st century, deconstructionist Blade Runner blues — as stark and as chilling as something Robert Johnson spooked out of his soul — and it unmasked Whitley for what he really is: a journeyman bluesman with a serious axe to grind.
— Raoul Hernandez [Austin Chronicle, Vol. 15, Issue 29]
Given that this Ruta Maya set is listed as running closer to an hour, while the “mystery set” provided here is closer to 30 minutes and that the set provided here is not Din-heavy nor does it include “Big Sky Country,” two conclusions seem feasible:
1. This set is actually from the Electric Lounge gig (@ 30 minutes).
2. It’s from Ruta Maya but is incomplete; that is, the recording captured here doesn’t include the BSC or Din-heavy portions of the play list.
Which is true? I guess we won’t know unless/until whoever has the 56-minute recording of the Ruta Maya set or the 30-minute recording of the Electric Lounge set makes the bootlegs available.