Live Shots

EDITED BY RAOUL HERNANDEZ

A BOWSER NIGHT

Continental Club/ Ruta Maya/Victory Grill, August 20

The august have died this month: Garcia, Mantle, Erbie Bowser. At the Continental, Steve Wertheimer started happy hour with a tribute to the legendary pianist. Voice trembling, he acknowledged what regulars knew: Erbie Bowser, T.D. Bell, and the Blues Specialists made the club's early shows the talk of the town. In turn, the Continental preserved an open line to R&B as it existed before, and on the cusp of, rock & roll. At Ruta Maya, I enjoyed a sidewalk show of drummers, belly dancers, a trio on stage, and a buck-a-beer fundraiser for a woman whose husband "disappeared" in Guatemala. Drumming and dancing by a tattered community while pop-up thoughts and buildings glowered down from all sides. That had something to do with Bowser. At the Victory Grill, I caught a Specialists reprise. T.D. Bell's vocals bore down hard like a first officer suddenly given the helm. I walked outside to burn one, and a friend complained "not in that lot, there's a dead cat." (Dead cats on East 11th? Why not soggy carpets on the Titanic?) But when I left, I saw that dead cat. Not repulsive, nor shocking, nor sad, it was nearly all white bones; spine and tail curling in a bed of its own fluff, below the moon, amid human detria, a thing of grace. Entirely Bowser.

- Stephen McGuire

CAROL HOWELL BAND, JIMMY GEORGE

Flipnotics, August 17

Mr. George claimed a few times during his set to be a "sick and bitter young man." But his songs tend to refute that. Despite bemoaning alienation, loneliness, and romantic futility, there's an underlying positivism in his material. Stylistically, his songs are often wandering and prosaic, but never defy listenability. The essence of Jimmy George is aural playfulness. He uses more special effects on his acoustic guitar - including raging distortion - than any other singer/songwriter this reviewer has ever heard. The results are remarkably ingratiating. His wokkachee, porno soundtrackversion of "Manic Depression" is priceless, managing to be simultaneously camp and homage. The Carol Howell Band is a very tight, full-sounded pop sextet. They are glowing and poetic, yet never hesitant to seduce the listener with a juicy hook now and then. Cast in the same mold and league as thinking persons' pop stalwarts Jayhawks, Silos, and Alejandro Escovedo, they cast shades of numerous other acts, too. People as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffet, and even Poi Dog Pondering show-up in the CHB mix. But this doesn't mean a lack originality. They're merely doing what all good pop bands do: synthesizing the pieces of pop past into something uniquely their own. Note to aspiring popsters: CHB is your textbook. - Joe Mitchell

PHAROAH SANDERS

Knitting Factory, New York, August 15

Unlike most other forms of music, jazz is stream-of-consciousness music: No lyrics to remember (unless, of course, you're a vocalist), no three-minute verse/chorus structures - no rules, period. Just musicians reaching deep inside and rummaging around to see what's there. No one proved this more clearly than legendary Coltrane sideman and tenor sax player Pharoah Sanders during his three-song, 80-minute set at New York's famed avant-garde hole-in-the-wall, Knitting Factory. In fact, the show itself didn't even seem so much like a "gig" as it did an accidental coming together of four musicians. Starting late, the show began with drummer Sam Ferguson's solitary pounding. Ten minutes later the bassist emerged stage left from the downstairs dressing rooms, and nonchalantly picked up his stand-up for his solo. Meanwhile, pianist William Henderson, who'd wandered in looking like he'd just woken up, slinked in and sat at the Baldwin cracking his knuckles and waiting his turn. When it came, the whole band exploded in unison, and the battle to be heard began. Finally, the 54-year-old, white-bearded Sanders appeared. He shook the sleigh bells at the foot of his microphone, and almost as an afterthought blew a solo. A 15-minute solo. A solo not wild enough to evoke the "he's ruined jazz" response from his mid-Sixties Coltrane stint, but one of controlled chaos and passionate depths. After the solo - and a half hour after the "song" had begun - the whole band was smiling, and the 100-person audience was ecstatic. Two more songs saw Sanders soloing hotter, his eyes half-closed, exposing their milky whites, while his horn descended into guttural honking, tremelo weaving, and all sorts of plunking sounds. When he'd finish he'd sit at the side of the stage looking contemplative, and once he even left. Upon return, he'd lift his sleigh bells again, give an unearthly yell into the mike, and command a presence, which his former employer no doubt saw when he hired the then-unknown. When it was over, Sanders held up a brass bowl to the mike, hit it with a soft dust-bunny brush, and let the fading reverberations ease us out of the timeless trance we'd just been under. - Raoul Hernandez

OZZY OSBOURNE

Austin Music Hall, August 19

It was during "Perry Mason," a song from Ozzy Osbourne's forthcoming Ozzmosis album - one of two new songs that got a preview at this sold-out, pre-tour show - that I found myself thinking "this sure sounds like Soundgarden." Then came the mental boot in the shin: Where do you think Soundgarden get their sound, stupid? Black Sabbath, of course. And it was during "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," (all the Sabbath hits were here: "War Pigs," "Paranoid," "Children of the Grave," "Sweet Leaf," "Iron Man"), that I flashed back to hearing that song for the first time (somewhere around the age of 15), examining the demonic images on the album of the same name, and knowing that it was bad - something that would make me bad. But when the song's acoustic break came, when Ozzy's voice sang "nobody will ever let you know/when you ask the reasons why/they'll just tell you that you're on your own/fill your head all full of lies," I knew that I'd been seduced by something dark. That same something that now informs "alternative" stomp music like Soundgarden and White Zombie much more than Led Zeppelin. And if anyone tells you metal is dead, they've never seen the Oz, and the frenzy he elicits from his crowd. Two hours, and 20-some-odd songs proved metal is, in fact, not a corpse, as did the 46-year-old former Sabbath singer, who's been rehearsing in Austin for his back-from-retirement tour - "Ozzy Osbourne will never retire," screamed the singer after the opening "Paranoid." He doesn't need to with this fan base (mostly from San Antonio?), and a canon of songs like "Suicide Solution," "Mr. Crowley," and "Flying High Again" (his first two solo albums are still his best, according to their song placement on his set list), that come back from the grave like long-forgotten relations wanting - no, demanding - their due. Now stop yelling "Go fucking crazy," Oz; they're already doing that, and they will as long as you're putting on shows of this caliber. - Raoul Hernandez

TED RODDY'S GRACELAND REVUE

Continental Club, August 16

So you hate Elvis. So what? In a society haplessly addicted to the exploitation of fallen martyrs, hating Elvis is like being a junkie who hates heroin. When Elvis Death Day rolls around each year, it just doesn't matter that the King's ascendancy to the throne had as much to do with racism as talent and hard work did. Like the agnostic who begrudgingly takes part in Christmas festivities just to score presents, you might as well gather 'round the corpse each August 16 to peruse the kitschy accouterments of Elvisdom. If nothing else, it's great ammunition. But all these pop sociological notions go right out the window when you see Ted Roddy saunter up to the Continental Club stage and deliver a one-two punch of "C.C. Rider" and "Burning Love." Roddy's Graceland Revue is a perfect demonstration why we love the Vegas Elvis in spite of ourselves: It's a spectacular show. Dolled up in a hybrid of lounge singer and strip-club hawker, Roddy didn't even need the rhinestone jumpsuit. By leaving glitter to the Ice Capades, the Graceland Revue illuminated the outstanding backup work of T.C.B. Band staples such as James Burton (played here by Brent Wilson) and Ronnie Tutt (Mas Palermo). Any consortium that can manage to make Elvis look coherent in the midst of a fried peanut butter and Percodan stupor can count on my vote. The Revue captured virtually every nuance of the Fat Elvis experience, from subtleties like the triangle part on "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" right down to obvious targets like Presley's frequent bungling of lyrics and shouting at the band to play faster or slower in the middle of a song. Retched cheese like "American Trilogy" came off with all the faux patriotic muster it deserved, and the five-piece horn section (who had to stand still in a crowded quarter of the stage) did arranger Joe Guercio proud. As for Roddy, his renditions were as solid as any professional Elvis imitator and his gait was that of a celebrated prodigy who'd stopped giving a rat's patoot years ago, but won screaming accolades in spite of himself. Which is to say he was a very convincing King indeed. - Greg Beets

TERENCE TRENT D'ARBY

Irving Plaza, New York City, Aug 14

"I'm honored you chose me, with so much going on in New York tonight," Terence Trent D'Arby said, breathless from a series of David Lee Roth-ish, mid-split toe-touches. But who wouldn't want to see D'Arby's first return to the States in two years? Eight years ago, D'Arby bought into his own Ali-style hype far too quickly for anyone but himself to care that he may have indeed been the first to both discover and master what binds together Michael Jackson and Prince - traditional R&B. Today, he's done declaring himself the "shit" and instead thanks the crowd repeatedly for even coming. Clearly, D'Arby's learned by experience that there's a fine line between ego and attitude, strut and swagger. One makes you look like an asshole, one a confident stud. But whether he was dancing his complicated, yet clearly unchoreographed steps, or crooning seated at a piano, D'Arby remained casually cool. And that's the type of cool it's tough to take your eyes or ears off of. Without a doubt, D'Arby's an entertainer. And yet for all of his eye-catching moves, made even tougher to ignore by his matching yellow short-hair and skin-tight pants, D'Arby's voice is still the show. Able to make shit concepts like "Supermodel Sandwich W/Cheese" somehow soulful, D'Arby's vocal command was astonishingly smooth in both the funk and soul modes he flawlessly switched between mid-verse. As a bandleader, re-working his own "Wishing Well" and a T. Rex encore with equal grace, D'Arby proved most deft in eliciting grooves that never overstepped his voice. With D'Arby's ego checked at the door, a star had been re-born. - Andy Langer

TODD SNIDER

Sixth Street Music & Heritage Celebration, August 4

Had Todd Snider brought out an acoustic, waded through an hour of songs, and finished with his hokey "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," he'd likely have died a slow, painful, outdoor festival death. We know this because Jill Sobule died just two nights after Snider, with her acoustic-lite band playing an hour before finally getting to the equally hokey "I Kissed a Girl" - too little too late. By the time Sobule got going, the festival fans had headed over to wait for a real festival attraction: George Thorogood. Clearly, festival fans want anthems, riffs, and beer, nothing cute, acoustic or low-key. Wisely, Snider was none of the above. On record, Snider's a Parrothead capable of turning a clever phrase, always one step away from complete novelty. But live, Snider came off more like Neil Young than Jimmy Buffet, with Snider's band Nervous Wreck sounding confidently like Crazy Horse. For over an hour, Snider sweated and staggered through the heat, playing as much to the crowd's back section as he did the fans up front - including the bum-rusher that Snider gladly stepped aside for until security dragged the drunk off mid-rant about his freedom of speech. All the while, Nervous Wreck guitarist Will Kimbrough offered leads that gave depth to Snider's songs, coming off as perhaps the weekend's best all-around guitar talent in light of a bill of flashier guitarists with lesser songs to compliment - David Grissom, Robert Cray, and Chris Duarte among them. And by casually ignoring his hit single, Snider re-affirmed his own effectiveness when the crowd that had originally come for "Seattle..." didn't seem to mind its omission, cheering Snider on for two encores.

- Andy Langer

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