Liberty Lunch, June 14
Attitude. Everyone's got it and they'd love to give it to you. Especially from the stage... Yawn. What else ya got? Nonsense? Let's see it. Mmm hmm, five goofy-looking guys from Sacramento. That guitarist looks like an AV nerd from high school. But the sweaty little mongoose has got the chunky, hollowbody Gibson rhythm down, and with only the trumpet to compete with, the small crowd (150) is into it and moving. And that stripped down, rhythmic pulse is all John McCrea and his beat-up mini-Marshalled acoustic need for his funky, nonsensical raps: There's "Comance" ("come comanche, comance, comance come on, if you want to have cities you've got to build roads"); "Is This Love?" (You've got your grand piano, you don't even play piano); "Jesus Wrote a Blank Check" ("one I haven't cashed yet"), and the single "Rock and Roll Lifestyle" ("How do you afford your rock & roll lifestyle?"). A couple dozen songs in all, spread over two sets of 60 and 45 minutes. All the songs have some sort of stupid refrain that you find yourself mumbling along to at one point or another. Truckstop trash-looking McCrea has a way with the pop culture beat Beck-ing. My favorite is when he gets the small throng chanting "Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell" - an unreleased song, seven or eight more of which grace the set apologetically ("Great plug for the actual album, eh?" says McCrea). That nonsense sticks with you after the show though, and it quickly becomes an oasis in the dry, dusty desert of attitude - attitude from Babes in Toyland, Yo La Tengo, and Mudhoney. Not bad for five goofballs. What else ya got?
- Raoul Hernandez
CHARLIE BURTON & THE TEXAS 12-STEPPERS, HERMAN THE GERMAN
Flipnotics Coffee Space, June 23
In Texas, poets are usually treated with the same consideration given longhairs, Mexicans, and picante sauce from New York City. If we have to hear poetry, it damn well better be poetry we can two-step and swill Shiner to. Yep, if you're gonna be a poet in Texas, you better have a fiddle in the band, pardner, and you better leave all that ruffle-shirt-and-pantaloon crap north of the Mason-Dixon line. Charlie Burton is a poet, but unless you were looking, you'd never know it. Burton doesn't give himself away too easily (perhaps he knows the favorite response to poetry 'round these parts is, "Get a rope!"), cranking out git-tar driven, honky-rock along the Uncle Tupelo/Jason & the Scorchers lines - fine dayncin' music, as we like to say. But if you daynce, you might miss the lyrics. It's not likely your average Bubba uses words like "nadir" and "Orel Hershiser" in everyday conversation, less likely that he rhymes them, and even less likely that he cares. Friday night, Burton had a little something for everyone: fine dayncin' music for those in the mood to cut a rug, and intelligent, witty lyrics for those content to nurse their espressos and muse over the existential angst of "Spare Me the Details" and "Dear Diary." Who's needs are better served? Who cares? If people are having a good time - which in itself is hard enough to do these days - why ask why? For that matter, why ask why opener Herman the German's accent sounds like a cross between Col. Klink and LBJ or why his music sounds like Dick Dale doing the "Beer Barrel Polka"? Shut up and dance, or sit down and listen.
- Chris Gray
KERRVILLE FOLK FESTIVAL KAMPFIRES
Quiet Valley Ranch, Kerrville, May 25-June 11
Maybe it was loss that brought out the best in people, for the 24th Kerrville Folk Festival was the worst and the best of times. On the down side, it will be remembered as the year of the narcs. No two stories agree on why they struck this time, after two decades of looking the other way, but the first weekend, cops in tie-dyes busted six goers at the main stage and another 33 at roadblocks. You could just about see the gun at Peter Yarrow's head when he took the microphone to ask everyone to save the fest by flushing their dope down the nearest commode. He must have meant the one backstage, because it's the only flush toilet on the ranch. While Puff slipped sadly into his cave, though, songwriters frolicked. Newcomers like Iris Dement, David Garza, and Freeway Philharmonic blew fresh life into the moribund main stage, while a bumper crop of Right Coast songwriters made the campfires crackle. Jack Hardy, founder of the Fast Folk CD series, brought along the scathing wit of Wendy Beckerman and Tim Robinson. Down in the Shenandoah Valley, Andrew McKnight drew sweet, Mellensteen portraits of small-town life, like "Still Home to Me." Still further south, Annie Gallup of North Carolina wrote lush love songs without a trace of sentimentality. Ballad-wise, my favorite discovery was Chuck Henderson, South Carolina's answer to Butch Hancock. "Kokomo Dan" kept reminding me of "Split and Slide" in its convoluted plot and characters who spring briefly into being solely to satisfy the demands of a rhyme scheme. Texas came up short in the new song sweepstakes, but an honorable mention goes to Dentonite Jeff Glover. "Guess You Never Know," is one of those songs that keeps you guessing until the last verse, when one woman takes over a suicide victim's unfinished life. As if all that weren't enough, promoter Rod Kennedy is planning 25 straight days of madness to mark next year's 25th anniversary. At the end, rumor has it, he will step like Bilbo Baggins into retirement, going out on top of a glorious excess. Are folk music's favorite campfires about to go up in smoke? Stay tuned. - Steve Brooks
Hole in the Wall, June 20
If Squeeze were local artists, they'd still be playing crappy club gigs opening for some southern rock chump, and playing covers at frat parties to pay rent. Go see Laughing Dogs, then you'll learn. Watch as the kiddies dote on the styleless nonsense of the opening band, then desert the club as three unassuming guys climb onstage to set up their gear. Listen as they kick into the tightest bit of pop music you'll hear here or anywhere else, for that matter. Study as the brothers-on-vocals shoot for unusual - nay, difficult, even - harmonies; absorb as lead badass brother doesn't solo for days, but adds, dare I say, tasty guitar fills. Now, why little bro slaps that bass so damn much is befuddling. Certainly more melodic bass lines would fight less than the vocals. But that's nitpicking, really. These boys should be given a medal for edifying their audience rather than pandering to it, all the while keeping a sense of humor. Stick to your guns boys, you're right on the mark. 'Course you'll never draw more than 20 people in this town, but fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. - Mindy LaBernz
Liberty Lunch, June 23
It wasn't so incongruent an idea. Why not have Austin's finest garage band open for the biggest garage band in the world (or, as singer Mark Arm once jokingly said of Mudhoney, "We're a rented rehearsal space band")? The Inhalants managed to hold their own, too. It's unknown whether this was the biggest stage they've played, nor if they were even facing the biggest audience of their three-year lifespan. It was, however, the last Inhalants gig with Dana Barclay, who flew down from her new Seattle home for this show, and she handled it in classic form, slugging the drums with nervous authority, grinning insanely the whole nine yards. Drummers with actual stage presence are a rarity, here or anywhere, and Barclay will be missed.
The true surprise of the evening, though, was Clawhammer. Why anyone should be surprised at what a great band these Californian Beefheart blasters are is puzzling. Still, in all four of their Austin visits Clawhammer's never beenthis hot. They were just abeast of controlled aggression, and probably as close a glimpse to what the MC5 must have been like as one is likely to get. True star of the show: Bob Lee, a pulverizing, inventive drummer, wholistens to his bandmates and playswith them, a trait all members of Clawhammer share. And in a city where too many musicians seem focused on just making a din or playing lookitmee, it's a trait many locals could stand to learn. Following such devastation, Mudhoney unfortunately came off slightly ordinary. No, they didn't play badly. In fact, it was a pretty standard show for them, and the Mudhoney standard is to deliver a low-bullshit, high-energy rock & roll show. They were Mudhoney, basically: Mark Arm howled, Steve Turner fuzzed, Matt Lukin thumped, and Dan Peters slammed. And they were great. But perhaps the Inhalants should have played between Mudhoney and Clawhammer as a buffer? Or perhaps Mudhoney should've tried to work a little harder? Who knows? But it'll probably be easily forgotten that this wasnot a Clawhammer show.... - Tim Stegall
Steamboat, June 12
In most cases, side-projects are fruitless and pretentious - long on ego, short on entertainment. Somehow, with the pseudo-lounge Scabs, Bob Schneider's managed to balance both vanity and laughs. And oddly, this is good news for the Ugly Americans and their fans, in that it allows Schneider the same healthy outlet for hokey angles and solo breathing room he originally used the Ugly Americans for during the Rockhead-era. Just as the Ugly Americans gave him room for wanton discourse on "Dry Humpin'," the Scabs' forays into "Big Butts and Blow Jobs" and "Sir, I Fucked Your Daughter in the Ass," are similarly beyond acceptable Ugly American boundaries. And yet, as offensive as the titles and their companion lyrics may seem on paper, it's Schneider's sharp wit and non-chalant presence within the schmaltzy live texture that makes it more fun and danceable than pathetic and detestable. So if the Keidis-Schneider comparisons never worked because Keidis seemed too eager to believe his own hype, Schneider finally proves with the Scabs he's perceptive enough of his own love 'em or hate 'em hype to offer a quick wink of humility. Ultimately, the whole Scabs concept is a joke, but a surprisingly funny one at that. - Andy Langer