Cedar Street, July 2
If ever there was a fast jazz ship going in harm's way, King Valentine is it. These guys lay down a keel of Dixieland and sinister night music, then loom up quickly at flank speed. In one typical selection, trumpeter Emphraim Owens trills and peals then negotiates octave and key changes as more speed is rung up. Barney Battista on sax follows suit in his response before Parker Valentine lets go with vocals tasting like Calloway. Bassist Michael Briones is the picture of joy as the whole affair roils forward. Finally, Owens turns to mute and delivers a delicate farewell from the fantail as the boiling wake recedes. Valentine plays a sax as big as god and shares writing chores with pianist Lily White. They have bounced about between California, N.Y., and N.O. for years, and now KVO is here in a club that some call too scene-oriented. But this band - and a big Sunday crowd that resembled a wildcat strike - is a trans-mongrelfied culture which swamps the best laid plans for pretention. - Stephen McGuire
Antone's, July 6
This certainly wasn't the loudest or crunchiest show Antone's has seen, but it may qualify as the strangest - from the entrance music (that Fugs tune that centers around bongos and the word "nothing") to the Jesus and Mary Chain cover (a faithfully rendered "Some Candy Talking"). In case you haven't been catching Dan Rather's show since Connie Chung's dumping, Chris Whitley is sounding less and less like the son of John Hammond, Jr., these days. No, Whitley hasn't left the dobro by the roadside, but he's more likely to ram it through processor after processor 'til it sounds less like a crying piece of wood and steel than window panes being shattered against a piece of steel. Whitley took the stage in the Fugs' wake with a rhythm section, spent as much time with a number of vintage electrics as with the dobro (proving to be almost as much a guitar roadie's nightmare as Rick Nielsen), and - to coin a phrase - (ahem!) rocked. Judging by the response from the mostly collegiate audience, Whitley's conversion to dark and moody opiate rock was neither unexpected nor unwelcome. Which ensured cheers and rapt attention every time Whitley leaned his ridiculously thin frame (damn near Biafran in its emaciation) into his tortured solos, pumping away at his pedal board lewdly, making his guitar arsenal speak in tongues owing more to Killing Joke than Albert King. Thankfully, unlike most effects-happy torture rockers, Whitley edits himself mercilessly. If more industrial jokers pledged as much allegiance to three-minute AM radio time restrictions as Whitley, every last one of 'em would be a fuckuvalot more interesting. One decibel-happy hour later, he was gone. The Dylan-at-Newport style showdown one might expect never happened (though to be fair, Whitley did offer a couple more Delta-ish tunes before disappearing). Coming soon to Antone's: Noted Little Walter impersonators Einsturzende Neubauten, plus the wailing Chicago boogie of Psychic TV. Be there!
- Tim Stegall
AZTEC PIMPS, FUCK EMOS, WOUNDED TURKEY
Emo's, July 3
Somehow, somewhere, this has got to stop. There are plenty of deserving bands around Austin that could play a Monday night gig at Emo's. But no, what we were saddled with Monday night made the ol' icepick-under-the-fingernails routine look enticing by comparison. It finally dawned on the Aztec Pimps around 1:15am that maybe, just maybe, they ought to play while the club was still open; too bad it didn't dawn on them to tune their instruments before they took the stage. Veterans of as many sound checks as Hunt Sales (ex-Iggy Pop, ex-Tin Machine), Keith Ferguson (ex-Fabulous Thunderbirds), and Will Sexton (still brother of Charlie) are, you'd think they'd at least have some idea what the hell was going on. Well, they didn't, and did it ever sound like it. Hard as it was to tell when they stopped tuning their instruments and started playing actual songs, it was even harder to stand there during the interminable minutes of jam-wanking. After all this, you'd certainly think they would have enough sense to stay together, right? Wrong again. Maybe the reason these things (calling them songs is like calling Little Golden Books literature) took so long to work through is nobody was quite sure where his other two bandmates were. A flurry of skronk from Sexton here, insensate pounding from Sales there, and Ferguson's barely-awake bass throb all over the place were just too much, so I left, as did those in the crowd still able to drive. Side projects are all well and good, but shouldn't there be a law confining them to basements and rehearsal studios? If musicians wanted extra, er, "recreation" money, they used to get day jobs. One thing is for sure: The Aztec Pimps shouldn't quit theirs. At least the Pimps made openers Wounded Turkey and the Fuck Emos sound like fucking Bach. - Chris Gray
BRANNEN TEMPLE'S ATOMIC SOUL
The Elephant Room, July 1
This was the first jazz club show I've ever been to where people yelled, "Fuck, yeah!" after each song as if they were at a Brothers of Cousins of Some Guy Who Knew Lynyrd Skynyrd show. Brannen Temple's Atomic Soul attracts the same brand of male hero worship that Eric Johnson gets, and it's easy to see why. Although Temple and his combo are well-schooled in intricacies of the jazz discipline, they can't escape the rock and funk that probably dominated their musical diets during the formative years. Atomic Soul's songs start out making you think you're in for run-of-the-mill fusion before bursting forth with universal energy that leaves you sitting gape-mouthed at the edge of your seat. Drummer Temple is the leader of the band, and he hits hard for a jazz player, but his action is quite tasteful compared to the overwhelming tendency of rock drummers. Bassist Yogi stands smiling at Temple's side, keeping the rhythm simple and funky. Throw in a handful of high-flying guitar and sax workouts, and you remember why there's more to going out every weekend other than drinking and pick-ups. - Greg Beets
HEALTH & HAPPINESS SHOW
Cactus Cafe, June 30
"Anybody seen Butch Hancock?" asks singer James Maestro mid-set, eyes shining wryly under the big gray hat. "Everyone we meet is like `oh, yeah, he was just over at the house,' but we still haven't seen him... If you see him, tell we have to rehearse." Yo Butch, your backing band is in town. They rock. "We're like Crazy Horse," laughs Maestro later, while all 20 audience members (should have seen the full house for ol' Chris Smithers) file out after the band's 60-minute workout. No kidding. That would make Butch Neil Young, and the upcoming tour, on which the H&H Show open for and back Butch, one hell of a Texas trailblazer. "Oh yeah," agrees the smile on Maestro's handsome face. A smile that knows his longtime friend (and recent addition to the H&H line-up) Richard Lloyd will be out there every night electrifying not only Hancock's songs, but, more importantly, his own. Songs like the on-album mediocrity "You Is Fine," which at the hands of Lloyd became a live, frigging anthem, and the slide happy "Anytime" (also from the new Instant Living) for which the mercenary guitar slinger and Television hero performed a screaming vivisection. Maestro is a good songwriter, infusing his folksy-countryish songs with enough rock & roll to move past Seventies Dylan closer to Nineties Jayhawks, but Lloyd makes those songs come alive in a way that will continue to bring a smile to Maestro's mug - the same smile that spread across his face everytime Lloyd and his Stratocaster reminded him that some guitarists play arranged chords, and others play everything else.
- Raoul Hernandez