As F1 weekend approached, talk of nightmare crowds overtook Austin. Personally, I was worried about accessing the music. Surprisingly – thankfully – fears were unfounded. I heard the helicopters and saw pictures of the grandstand at the track, but otherwise there was little to inform me that a major international event was taking place in town.
Thinking I would run into the usual Friday traffic jam on I-35, I left my house early and headed to the Frank Erwin Center for the Cheap Trick/Aerosmith show. There was no traffic. None. I zipped into the parking lot a good half hour before I was supposed to meet someone. WTF indeed.
When Cheap Trick took the stage, the audience was mostly empty chairs, but that didn’t stop the 40-year-old Chicago quartet from filling an hour with its brand of playful energy and classic rock radio hits (an end-run of “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” and “Surrender”). The big moment came when Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler joined them for the suite of Beatles’ songs that ends Abbey Road, making for a scrappy duet with Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander.
The arena was about 75% full when Aerosmith got underway, unleashing some surprises like opener “Mama Kin” and late in the two-hour set, “No More No More.” Tunes from the new Music From Another Dimension (“Oh Yeah,” “Lover Alot”) came off convincingly, and ultimately the Boston quintet – same five guys from 1973 – made the arena seem small with the liberal use of a walkway that extended from the stage three quarters of the way into the audience.
They did the hits – “Love in an Elevator,” Walk This Way,” and the encore tandem of “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion” – while “Come Together” extended the Beatles theme. Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Brad Whitford, and the hard-pounding Joey Kramer looked a lot older than the last time I’d seen them sometime in the Eighties, but they sounded the same, a good way to kick off the big weekend.
The next night, I ventured downtown for a free double bill of Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears and the Bright Light Social Hour. Again traffic was light, parking was simple, and the bands sounded good. Lewis’ appearances locally have been slim in the past year and he acknowledged being a little rusty at the beginning. Apparently, the Honeybears have been reconfigured minus a couple of players, most notably guitarist Zach Ernst
Nevertheless, with a new drummer and horns that still pump, Lewis remains riveting. He plays guitar with his teeth and wound things up with a take on “Surfing Bird” that was the definition of punk blues. In between that and TBLSH, I caught Wild Child, a local, mostly acoustic outfit that won me over with a spunky stage presence and simple melodies.
Bright Light followed with a set that was just a tad lethargic. Being road warriors might have taken its toll as the locals arrived in town hours before the gig. Still, the new songs keep getting better every time I hear them. The audience was obviously more of an international one with tobacco smoke more plentiful than other recent outside events. They were appreciative of the Austin acts.
Sunday, the lack of madness continued. As I approached the Moody Theater, the only hint that an event was underway was the booming sound system and lights flashing on the buildings surrounding the W. Inside, My Jerusalem put on a brief yet extremely interesting set of post-punk with trombone. Austinite Jeff Klein has found his sweet spot with this quartet that raged and bounced to such an effect that I can’t wait to see them put on a longer, perhaps more intimate, show.
The Wallflowers, risen from the ashes, ended the weekend with 90 minutes of blustery Americana. Jakob Dylan’s phrasing recalls his dad more than ever and the new songs from Glad All Over, the band's first disc in seven years, possess more energy than one might expect.
Live, lead track “Reboot the Mission” came closer to Big Audio Dynamite than the Clash (it’s the opposite on disc), but hearing some of their older material like “6th Avenue Heartache” was rewarding. They closed the night joined by members of My Jerusalem for a blustery rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” a near perfect way to finally put all those F1 fears to bed.
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