Playback: Angel Dance
Robert Plant & Patty Griffin put the Continental Club in the mood
My alarm clock, apparently dialed in to 93.7FM, woke me up Saturday morning with Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll." The unmistakable voice of Robert Plant might as well have been a jackhammer, the way it tore me from a deep sleep. Hours later, he wandered past me at a nearby grocery store, and I was taken aback, as I often am, by life's mysterious connections.
My wake-up call, whose voice remains ubiquitous in the ear holes of every Westerner, also exists as another passing face around town. Robert Plant walks among us, sometimes pushing a cart full of bottled water. After shopping, I stop to eat some greasy counter food, and he's eating it too. As I load groceries into my bicycle trailer, I again see him – driving by in a car so modest that I could almost afford it. Our worlds aren't so far apart after all.
That very night he joined his squeeze, local folksinger Patty Griffin, for the first of two consecutive shows at the Continental Club. Like other Austin musicians, they do what they can to support their friends. The sold-out shows raised money for injured singer-songwriter Michael Fracasso and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
With David Pulkingham (guitar), Glenn Fukunaga (upright bass), and Dony Wynn (percussion) behind them Sunday, the couple harmonized on a tender duet of Plant's "In the Mood," Griffin's haunting song "Cold As It Gets," Los Lobos' "Angel Dance," and Zep's Hobbit anthem "Ramble On," among others.
The mood was lighthearted due to Plant's wicked sense of humor. Between each song, he bullshitted about his storied music career, joked about how old he was, and gently ripped on his backing band.
"I was in bands where it didn't matter about being in tune," he quipped.
"People don't have those kinds of drugs anymore," Griffin bit back.
Yet when the first notes of a song rang out, his eyes got focused and his physicality changed to familiar poses as he became the music. His voice, a trench lower than my morning jackhammer, sounded terrific.
Before they re-emerged for an encore of "Black Dog," Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer took the microphone and summarized the sentiment of the audience.
"Pardon my French," he said. "But how fuckin' cool was that?"
Christmas Riffs & Rocking Stuffers
Need a last-minute gift for the local music fan in your life? We've got you:
› Expert, eclectic rockers the Invincible Czars have turned five Christmas classics into zany prog jams. Highlights include the orgy of solos on "Mele Kalikimaka" and their epic, powerhouse take on Irving Berlin's holiday classic "White Christmas." Somehow Ornaments remains both family friendly and trippy as hell.
› If supporting a health care provider that serves musicians isn't compelling enough, buy the new Holiday HAAM Jam Vol. 2 for Guy Forsyth's simple and superb version of "Christmas in the Trenches." The John McCutcheon-penned tune describes the night German and British soldiers put down their weapons and celebrated the holiday together. The White Ghost Shivers' innuendo-laced offering about Santa's big ol' sac(k) provides giggly counterpoint.
› The Eastern Sea's seasonal LP, First Christmas, stands as a quirky-yet-sincere display of their patented prose pop sound. While peppered with holiday standards, Matt Hines' originals properly encapsulate the mix of feelings the holidays evoke.
› Local photographer Mathew Sturtevant's stunningly intimate portraits of musicmakers like Roky Erickson, Billy Gibbons, Billy Joe Shaver, and Junior Brown, with "Why I Love Austin" mini-essays accompanying each one, make The Sound of Austin a coffeetable book you can get lost in. Sturtevant hopes it will remind Austinites what a wealth of talent we're surrounded by. "The first six weeks the book was out, we sold it in 11 countries," reports Sturtevant. "These artists are recognized all around the world, and here in Austin you can see them for $7 on a Wednesday night."
› The Good Music Club, a monthly live music showcase that produces superior quality tapings of local bands, has collected 14 of the show's best performances on disc. The comp provides a great sample of local bands with live chops. Highlights include tracks by Frank Smith, the Sour Notes, Bobby Jealousy, and Quiet Company.
› The Candlelight Carols, produced by drummer extraordinaire John Bush, has a wealth of mostly original Christmas tunes, and features appearances by Edie Brickell and John Popper, who joins Patrice Pike for "New Year's Resolution." Matchless country guitarist Redd Volkaert sups up Merle Haggard's hard times ballad "If We Make It Through December." The compilation's beneficiary, Candlelight Ranch, helps special needs kids by exposing them to nature.
Grinding at the End of the World
"Everyone's throwing around the Mayan calendar prophecy," noted guitarist Trey Ramirez. "So we asked ourselves, 'If it really was the end of the world, how would we want to go out?' We decided we'd want to do it with all our friends." Friday's Party at the End of the World at Red 7 will feature reunions from four Austin bands that influenced each other in the early and mid-2000s. Post-hardcore rockers Recover, whose drummer Jimmy Vela now plays in the Sword, headline after politically charged metalcore quintet and initial Ramirez vehicle At All Cost performs its first show in three years. Hardcore grinders Employer, Employee also reunite, as do Ramirez's more recent metal thrashers Pack of Wolves, who will be playing as a six-member colossus. Also on the bill are Krum Bums, Visitors, Spiritual Wives, and Assacre. "This lineup represents a historic era in Austin music," says Ramirez, who also plays in Spiritual Wives. "I can't think of a better way to ring in the end of the year ... or the world."
› West Fifth Street honky-tonk Mean-Eyed Cat has changed ownership. The rustic bar, named after a gritty love song by the Man in Black, opened eight years ago and has since been a fixture for outlaw music. Chris Marsh reportedly sold the business to Matt Luckie, who's involved with venues Rattle Inn and Brazos Hall and various other bars and restaurants.
› Last week, celebrity gossip publications reported that actress Renée Zellweger is dating rocker Doyle Bramhall II after a photo of them smoochin' at LAX airport hit the Internet. Bramhall, an Austin native known for his work with the Arc Angels and as a solo artist, also plays guitar with a slew of well-known artists, including Eric Clapton, who loads into the Frank Erwin Center the Sunday of South by Southwest, March 17.
› While coffee shops are often havens for awkward open mics and frightening slam poetry, Strange Brew (5326 Manchaca) has gained a reputation for intimacy and integrity since it started booking shows in its Lounge Side room in March. "Just through word of mouth, this place has blown up and become an amazing scene," explains booker Kacy Crowley. Crowley, a veteran local musician herself, says the venue got its legs through weekly residencies by artists like Jeff Plankenhorn and Will Knaak, as well as a popular Sunday Gospel Brunch that features various Austin standouts. Now, owner Scott Ward plans an expansion to increase capacity and allow for the hosting of bigger bands. Until then, they've got a solid weekend with Ian Moore on Friday and Suzanna Choffel on Saturday. For those unable to attend, the concerts will be available in a live stream at www.strangebrewaustin.com.
› Soon-to-be-extinct music retailer Cheapo Records has slashed prices to 40% off until Saturday, when they drop to 50% off. The 15-year-old CD store says goodbye with in-store performances by the Well, Tia Carrera, and Scorpion Child on Friday and DJ Tropicana Joe, DJ Hucklebuck, Bobby Trimble, the Bellfuries, and Olivier Giraud on Saturday. Both in-stores start at 5pm. Cheapo locks up for good Christmas Eve.
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