Live Shots

Dianne Reeves, Pam Hart/Austin Music Festival

Paramount Theatre, June 4/Antone's,
June 5 & Backyard, June 6

Robert Cray at Stubb's
Robert Cray at Stubb's, June 12

photograph by John Carrico

Austin has more annual music festivals than Willie Nelson has picnics. On this particular weekend, two separate jazz events, one in its 10th year, the other in its first, proved age and experience often have the edge on youthful enthusiasm. On Friday evening, Austin's black middle and upper class turned out in strong numbers to celebrate the "Women in Jazz" Concert Series, which this year marked a decade of divaship by booking its most expensive and high-profile headliner yet, Dianne Reeves. Pam Hart, a gifted jazz vocalist in her own right and longtime producer of "Women in Jazz," came out and thanked the city of Austin and the Texas Commission for the Arts for providing crucial financial support before delivering an all-too-brief 30-minute opening set. Drawing mostly from her CD debut from last year, May I Come In, Hart and her sexy cooing led off with her album's lead track, Rich Harney's "That's the Way of Love" proceeding through James Polk's "The Memory of You" and Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," finishing up with May I Come In's title cut and the energetic R&B of her own composition, "Catch Yourself." Smooooth. Standing ovation smooth from a demonstrative crowd. Dianne Reeves got a similar ovation two hours later, the difference being that she and her command performance demanded it, whereas Hart's reception was as much for her organizational efforts of the event as it was for her set. A 20-year veteran of jazz, Reeves' 90-minute set demonstrated that she was on a whole other level than Hart as a performer. From the moment she stepped onstage, her earth-mother grandeur loomed large over the nearly full 1,300-seat Paramount Theatre. Opening with Cat Stevens' pop nugget "Morning Has Broken," Reeves and her four-piece band locked into a confident pace and groove, a cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," from the singer's new Blue Note album, Bridges, finding jazz a comfortable musical bed. "Good evening Austin," sang Reeves as her salutation, most of her evening's remarks scatted. "How's everyone feeling tonight? I don't think you're feeling as good as me." Oh, but they were, hungry for Reeves' deeply sensuous singing. Patsy Moore's "I Remember," dedicated to recently departed jazz legends Kenny Kirkland, Dorothy Donnegan, and Betty Carter among others, as well as Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," both from Bridges, swung with funky soul. Her 10-minute, set-ending ode to family, "We Don't Talk About Grandma Anymore," moved the audience to ecstatic glee, Reeves singing, " I think we played [Austin] a long time ago. I think. I'll remember this time, though. I'll be back." Not so certain to return, the Austin Music Festival, in its inaugural year, made an inauspicious debut the next night at Antone's with a "B3 Organ Summit." Featuring solid, if mostly underwhelming, hour-long sets from three verifiable organ pioneers -- Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Jimmy Smith -- the evening's highlights included the musical interplay between opener McGriff and guitarist Phil Upchurch, as well as Texas trumpet phenomenon Roy Hargrove trading solos with saxophonist Sherman Irby as part of McDuff's band. Headliner Smith's ultra-short set, marked by a series of technical problems, was notable in that the notoriously ornery jazz legend played a scant 20 minutes. The healthy Saturday night crowd was clearly disappointed. There weren't really enough people to be disappointed by the nonexistent turnout for the fest's second day out at the Backyard. "Good afternoon Austin," said pianist Dave Palmer of Dallas' Earl Harvin Trio, which opened the afternoon at 3:30pm playing to a crowd of not more than 50. "I feel like I'm on another planet." Midway through the band's tight, energetic post-bop set, Palmer tried to somehow get the Backyard's real big empty up. "How y'all doing out there?" Silence. "Drinkin'? Are you a drinking crowd?" What crowd? An extended, fiery workout of Ellingtonia, "Caravan," ended the trio's 90-minute set, a fierce drum solo by Harvin punctuating their performance. Roy Hargrove, this time guesting McDuff, paid no attention to the absence of audience, putting on a strong, hour-long set whose elastic groove on the gorgeous Sunday afternoon felt and sounded like Les McCann at Montreux. By the time Eddie Palmieri's twilight set played to 100-200 people, the venue's huge, open-backed stage, which looks out over a forest of foliage, made it seem as if the Latin jazz pianist and his backing sextet were playing in the jungle. It was rather magical, actually, as was Palmieri's sly, cerebral playing, motivated by a back-line Latin rhythm section. A time-stopping, hour-long set of truly inspired sounds. Music Festival headliner Tito Puente, who sold out the 3,000-seat Bass Concert Hall in February, capped the nearly eight-hour day of music with his own 60 minutes by playing to a crowd of approximately 350 people. Despite the fact that this visit to Austin found the famed big band leader and his dozen-piece orchestra not sporting the formal wear they'd worn at Bass, Puente & Co. were nevertheless as enthusiastic as if they'd been playing a full house. Better yet, this house, unlike Bass, had plenty of room for dancing, which is exactly what everyone did, including Palmieri, who at one point was leading people onstage to dance to his mentor's pulsing Latin jazz. "Can you feel it?" said Puente, the man of a 1,000 funny expressions. "I want you to feel it." They did Tito, they did. If only there had been more of them to feel it. --Raoul Hernandez


Silver Scooter, Paul Newman, Knife in the Water

Stubb's, June 10

The first notes that slithered from the stage during the opening set by Knife in the Water -- a local band not known for "rocking'" -- pushed the energy level up several decibels, as the five-piece lurched into "Johnny Lime," a long and spacious blues tune that spread organ and pedal steel over the Luna-like expanse of drums, bass, and guitar. "Swallows," "Come on Cotton," and "I Sent You Up," all off the band's debut, ... Plays One Sound and Others, were beautifully done songs in the slower-quieter mode, but newer tunes made strong suggestion that Knife in the Water is moving in a louder-faster direction these days. Austin's Paul Newman, who played in the middle slot, prove themselves more expert technicians with each appearance, which is especially dismaying since guitarist Craig McCaffrey follows drummer Tony Nozero to Chicago this summer, and the band prepares for a long hiatus. For the first few songs of their set, the quartet was nearly perfect. Nozero seems to have benefited greatly from his relocation to Chicago, which, while cutting down on local appearances, has elevated his drum playing to a level of speed and precision that's amazing to hear and stunning to watch. All members of the band, in fact, have arrived at some common perception of time that keeps them synchronized through the most elaborate of changes as if by instinct. The addition of an extra player to the former trio Silver Scooter was often a welcome bolstering of the local band's tight and fuzzed indie pop sound, but just as often distracted from it as well. In a trio, each musician's playing is right out front -- one bass, one guitar, one drummer. With nowhere to hide, the playing is more intense and expressive, but another guitar or a keyboard adds a cushion. While that completes the studio sound of "Morning View" and "New Orleans" and fills out the choruses of "Regret Sets In," in a live setting the extra tone only dilutes a rolling instrumental like "Long Fence." Still, from everyone, a great night of rock music. --Christopher Hess


Twangfest

Off Broadway, St. Louis, Missouri, June 10-12

As music festivals go, Twangfest is unique in many ways. Organized three years ago as a gathering for members of the alt.country Internet mailing list, "Postcard 2," it has grown into a three-night international event that has attendees traveling to St. Louis from as far away as Norway and Ireland. Twangfest has also displayed convincing growth, having spawned a nonprofit organization to organize the event (put together by eight folks in six cities), an accompanying CD titled Edges From the Postcard that features rare and previously unreleased tracks from a broad range of performers, and an online auction to raise money for production costs. This year's Twangfest featured 15 acts from such diverse locations as Toronto, Ann Arbor, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Nashville, and Philadelphia, though Austin, of course, remains the alt.country capital to most of the world, sending three local performers: the righteous swing of Jim Stringer & his Austin Music Band, the punk, funk, and pure country harmonies of the Damnations TX, and the reigning king of honky-tonks, Dale Watson. The current alt.country scene remains a big tent covering a broad range of music that has some relationship to the twang, yet distances itself from the mostly pop fluff some choose to call country these days. Despite the seeming limitation of booking a festival from a pool of bands associated with an online organization, Twangfest managed to cover all the bases well. There were the tasty bluegrass stylings and sweet female harmonies of Toronto's Heartbreak Hill, and the sexy rockabilly and honky-tonk blues of Pittsburgh's Polish Hillbillys, whose front woman Becky Corrigan possesses a riveting stage presence and vocal chops to spare. Jim Roll and his band from Michigan came on like a steamroller with their loud guitars and heartfelt lyrics. The Nashville underground was well-represented by the Ex-Husbands, whose combination of electric honky-tonk blooze 'n' boogie had the room shaking. Hayseed displayed an engaging lack of pretension, telling stories and singing engaging, rough-edged songs. Power pop and the jangly guitars connecting it to twang was evident in New Hampshire's Gypsy Mechanics and Knoxville's V-Roys. The latter band's performance was the high energy highlight of the weekend, the audience exploding with joy when they covered the Replacements' "I.O.U." -- evidence that while the alt.country crowd likes their country, they also get nostalgic for the glory days of punk. Dale Watson & his Lone Stars ended the festival Saturday night with a finely tuned blend of what the Austin icon likes to call "real" country and trucker songs. His disparaging comments on the current state of country music came off as preaching to the converted, yet his enthusiasm, gritty soul, and stellar musicianship were the perfect culmination of an entertaining and impressive event that deserves to continue prospering. --Jim Caligiuri


Truckadelic, Paul Logan Band, Drive-by Truckers

Red Eyed Fly, June 13

It's Sunday night at the Red Eyed Fly and the place is half full of people trying to drown any thoughts of going to work tomorrow with two-dollar pints of Lone Star. First up is Atlanta's Truckadelic: The singer emerges from a nightmare in which Clark Kent steals Faron Young's jacket and lurches around the stage like Frankenstein on crystal meth. The band delivers a half-bushel of corn and a Mason jar full of gap-toothed irony as they twang away on numbers like "You Stank up My Life" and "Jesus Has Got Call Waiting." The six-and-a-half-foot frontman jerks like a palsied marionette and the Les Paul man lays purty flowers of country licks over the whole mixture while a Fender bender plays stoic rhythm guitar and holds down a corner of the stage to himself. Country snobs might hate this, but how can you not grin at a band singing songs such as "She's Breaking My Heart (While I'm Drinking Her Beer)" and "My Girlfriend Ran Off With a Girl," not to mention a singer with a cowhide-trimmed sports coat. The good part: It's not just gimmicky song titles. Next up is Austin's Paul Logan Band, playing their honky-tonk Texas style with Logan's strong, smooth voice. As good as the Logan boys are, it's a mismatch pairing them up with two shitkickin' cowpunk bands. Logan never quite breaks through to the "rock" part of country rock, but his nimble guitar player is always worth a listen as he takes all the curves at 90mph and pulls 'em right through. Last: Athens, Georgia's Drive-By Truckers. Lead singer Patterson Hood is the son of Muscle Shoals studio vet Don Hood, who dates back to the days of Aretha, Dusty Springfield, and Wilson Pickett. Rather than take the soul stage, Hood the younger leads the Truckers down a road of trailer parks, cars up on blocks, cheatin' wives, and beer-sodden romances. Bringing equal parts humor and pathos to many of their songs, DBT take song structures past alt.country conventions and more toward rock and post-punk sensibilities. There wasn't too much in the way of high-octane rock theatrics or ferocious punk energy, but the Georgia boys made up for it with well-thought-out songwriting and good playing that never sounded too studied or noodly. Too bad it was a Sunday, because the half-full crowd at the Fly was very appreciative of three pretty great bands. What do you call this? Bands like the Eagles left a stigma to the term "country rock" 20 years ago, while "alt.country," "y'alternative," and "twangcore" are far too precious for my liking. Whatever the hell you want to call it, these bands are good practitioners of the form; as No Depression bands become more watered-down and languid, yet another undercurrent of bands tosses gasoline on the fire. --Jerry Renshaw


Goat Night

Shaggy's, June 13

That whooshing sound you heard Sunday evening wasn't the wind. It was Austin's live-music-going community breathing a collective sigh of relief, because the last piece of the puzzle is finally in place. As of Sunday, there's no time on any given Sabbath in the Capitol City when someone isn't singing somewhere, and doing so in public. Between church, the various gospel brunches (which, in true Southern fashion, are prone to last well into the afternoon), the twilight gathering at Guero's, the venerable Rock & Roll Free for All at the Hole in the Wall, and now Goat Night at South Congress eatery Shaggy's, it's currently possible to go from sunrise to well past sunset and never lack for music -- or shell out a solitary red cent, food, beverages, and tips excepted. Goat Night, the latest addition to this already-packed dance card, is only two weeks old, but already seems to be settled snugly into the 8-11pm slot. Hosted by Texas Monthly scribe/former Wild Seed Michael Hall, Sunday's installment featured Barbara K and Lisa Mednick, two talented but relatively unheralded Austin veterans, and special guest from Nashville Tom House. The format itself is unremarkable: The performers sit side by side on or near Shaggy's tiny stage and take turns (except House, who plied six or seven of his traditional, Dylanesque songs solo). Unexciting as that may seem, it works because there was nothing else for the small but attentive crowd to focus on but the songs. Highlights included Hall's "Beeville by Morning," a Lyle Lovett-like tale of lost love in South Texas; a pair of stirring waltzes from the ladies, Barbara K going the Celtic route for the forlorn "Defenseless" and Mednick heartbroken in South Louisiana on "Sad Cajun Waltz"; the big open chords of Hall's "You'd Have Found Her by Now," the lone tune of the night that cried out for bass and drums; Mednick's "Wrecker," which scored the best line of the night with "Loose lips never sink ships like a kind word unspoken"; and Barbara K's "Holdin' for Love," which mirrored Everlast's recent modern rock smash "What It's Like." Even so, the atmosphere was definitely more Kerrville campfire than 101X, and without the long drive. But it was time to rock, and Goat Night set a perfect table for the Free for All, a few minutes up Guadalupe and the natural next stop on the Sunday free-music line. Brian Beattie and Seela join Hall for Goat Night this Sunday, June 20. --Christopher Gray

Snoots Eaglin at Stubb's

Snoots Eaglin at Stubb's, June 12

photograph by John Carrico

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