Shy Guy: Dax Riggs at Cedar Door

By Niki D’Andrea

Dax Riggs is humble. Okay, that’s an understatement – the former frontman for indie sensations Dead Boy and the Elephantmen (championed by Henry Rollins on his IFC show), is downright soft and shy. When I shook his hand after a stellar set at the Cedar Door tonight, it was like stroking air.

Considering Riggs absolutely tore up the stage during his 30-minute set, manhandling his guitar with powerful arms that were first developed playing for thrash metal band Acid Bath, his softness was a surprise. But the fact that he never opened his eyes while performing a song indicates that Riggs is a man lost in the soul of his music. He was far from distant – on the contrary, he was so immersed in his stripped-down, bluesy, eclectic songs that nothing else seemed to exist to him until each song was over.

Joined onstage by extremely talented drummer Andy Mcleod (who didn’t use any cymbals, incidentally), Riggs opened his set with “Stop I’m Already Dead,” from the Dead Boy and the Elephantmen album We Are Night Sky. The crowd went nuts, and it was all love from there.

Riggs was only into his second song when an enthusiastic female fan behind me screamed, “I never want it to end!”

Most of Riggs’ set consisted of material off his phenomenal 2007 album, We Sing of Only Blood or Love: “Dethbryte,” “Dog-Headed Whore,” “Radiation Blues,” “Living Is Suicide,” and his cover of Richard Thompson’s “Wall of Death.” He also performed the Dead Boy and the Elephantmen song “Misadventures in Dope,” prefacing the performance with “This is a song about dope.”

It was the most copious collection of words Riggs offered the audience from the stage all night. He was there to perform and mesmerize, not showboat. In fact, I wonder if he could showboat if he even tried.

By the time Riggs’ set ended, dozens of people in the crowd were screaming for an encore – the first time I’ve encountered that after an artist’s set at SxSW, ever.

See, Dax Riggs rarely tours, and when he does, they’re short jaunts that cover one small area of the country. Although he’s signed to Fat Possum Records, he’s never shot a video for his album (not that I’ve seen, anyway), and he’s never played anywhere near my hometown of Phoenix. So this performance was a real treat.

After the set, a very cool SxSW volunteer named Thomas Nguyen escorted me backstage to meet Riggs (thanks, Thomas!) Riggs was swamped by admirers, including a promoter from England who practically begged him to come and perform in the U.K. (something Riggs has yet to do). One guy informed Riggs that he came all the way from Denmark just to see him. Several women insisted Riggs put their numbers into his cell phone.

Riggs seemed genuinely apologetic that he couldn’t give everybody enough of his time. When someone informed him that he was “a big star,” Riggs quietly responded, “Yeah, right.”

But it IS right, Dax. Wait and see. And please, please, please -- GO ON TOUR!

Check out Dax Riggs' performance of "Dethbryte" at SxSW:

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