The Austin Chronicle

Live Shots

July 26, 1996, Music


Stubb's, July 13

The last time we glimpsed Alejandro Escovedo, he and his band were looking rather caught-in-the-headlights on the Conan O'Brien show. Still, by the end of their four minutes on network television, "Crooked Frame" was cranking on all cylinders, and Escovedo cut a charismatic figure in the late-night, sidekick chair. Four days later, true to O'Brien's plug, that familiar charisma was set against the stone backdrop of Stubb's stage for what was ostensibly just another stop on the Escovedo world tour. And what was in evidence besides a good haircut and perm was the same thing seen by locals on NBC rather than AM15 or cable access: a band that has undergone a subtle transformation since the release of Escovedo's Rykodisc debut, With These Hands. While Escovedo's band still plays the martyr on the melancholy cry of David Perales' violin and newcomer David Standefer's cello (the rhythm section of drummer Hector Muñoz and bassist Scott Garber is also new), this isn't the same band whose chamber orchestrations defined its live performances following the release of the Austin godhead's two Watermelon albums. Instead, it's the tearing-flesh riffs of Joe Eddy Hines and the bandleader himself that mark this current incarnation of Escovedo's band as the holy and righteous union of orchestra and Buick MacKane -- punk rock's true believers. Escovedo acknowledged this in kind when, after an extended version of "Gravity," he referred to it as the "Roundabout" arrangement. "Which Yes album is that on?," he asked. "Fragile?" All his songs received said treatment that night as they burned long, extended, and full of dissonance. If that wasn't enough, surly, set-ending versions of the Troobs' "She's Got" and James Osterberg's
"I Wanna Be Your Dog" marked a hose-me-down, after-hours set that
answered the prayers to those locals who've
always said Alejandro needed to rock more. He and band did just that. -- Raoul Hernandez


Back Room, July 17

In his 1991 book of lists, Stairway to Hell -- subtitled "The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe" -- music scribe Chuck Eddy put forth the theory that the future of music lay in the coupling of disco and metal. Of course this pearl of wisdom came two years after Nine Inch Nail's Pretty Hate Machine crossed that commercial chasm filled with industrial mollusks like Einsturzende Neubaten, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, and Front 242. Overlooking that, however, Eddy's mad genius was that he accepted this gruesome union as in-breeding rather than cross-breeding. Eewhh. Gross. Makes you wanna take a shower. Perhaps that's why a show such as this one, sporting the talents of two better-than-average N.Y. industrial reactors, Chemlab and Sister Machine Gun, satiated neither one's thirst for fuck-me disco glam nor fuck-me metal slam; in-breeding produces Mongoloids, not stallions. Thus, while both SMG and Chemlab fed their pulsing strobe lights with a relentless percussive attack that pitted drummer against drum machine, sooner or later this cancelled out the anvil riffs both bands produced with assembly-line precision. Because of this, Chemlab probably fared better simply because at 30 minutes, their set ended before drums and guitars achieved meltdown -- precisely what happened SMG. Don't get me wrong, SMG was clearly the better of the two bands, with their more tightly coiled tension-release mechanism. Chemlab, a local favorite over the past couple of years, may have trophied a better frontman, but they were no match in fire-power. Still, by the end of 60 minutes, even a cover of "Mama Said Knock You Out" couldn't save SMG's set from sounding like one crappy 12-inch mix after another. Opener Drill should have been so lucky with a shrill, crazed Kewpie doll frontwoman whose purgatory was in evidence when not one of the 50 guys in front of the stage raised an eye above her bare midriff and tight leatheroid pants. -- Raoul Hernandez


Broken Spoke, July 19

Sometimes country bands are wallpaper, just another decoration to go with the neon beer signs and red-checked tablecloths right out of a Cajun fish fry. It doesn't matter who they are, as long as they play plenty of Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Hank Williams, Jr. Something you can dance to. At the Spoke, which has one of the best jukeboxes anywhere, the bands are expected to duplicate this effect. Plenty of "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down," light on the originals. In a way, it's beautiful, especially when executed by someone of Libbi Bosworth's caliber -- who could ever tire of "Waltz Across Texas" and "White Lightnin'"? But these trips down memory lane often sell the performer short. Bosworth has a new album coming out soon, with nary a cover in sight, but only one of those songs made it into her set. And the only other song from her set written after 1970 was a fabulous Charlie Robison romp called "Bar Light, Bar Bright." Great as all those old country standards sounded, and as much as the crowd enjoyed dancing to them, the ultimate effect was somewhat hollow. It can't stay 1966 forever. Sorry. -- Christopher Gray


Southpark Meadows, July 20

"Thanks to Blues Traveler," said Lenny Kravitz, who, like every other onstage act during this long, hot day, paid his respects to H.O.R.D.E. brain trustee John Popper as if he were Don Corleone. "Thanks and respect to all the other bands involved with this wonderful festival. And thank you for coming out in this heat." With that, Kravitz launched into "Rock & Roll is Dead," proving, in fact, that just the opposite was true, and reversing the momentum of a festival that had thus far struggled in the brutal heat. The lazy psychedelia of his "Fields of Joy" followed, priming the crowd to sing every chorus of "Can't Get You Off of My Mind," and later "Let Love Rule," before Kravitz vanished into the wings after the burning riffs of his Hendrix "Live for Today" rewrite, "Are You Gonna Go My Way." And all that Kravitz's galvanizing set did besides validate his own existence was call into question the entire raison d'etre of a half dozen other bands on the bill. After all, Kravitz's albums have never been more than Black Crowes-like (last year's H.O.R.D.E. headliners) Seventies retro-rehashes, yet where else could this work better than in front of a crowd of nearly 20,000 heat-crazed, beer-drinking, pot-smoking rock-dudes and dudettes? Nowhere, that's where. Unfortunately, Kravitz made most everyone else on the 10-band bill look bad. Bronx-Style Bob and Super 8 could have been any faceless Chili Peppers knock-off, while Rusted Root was any faceless Dave Matthews rip-off, and Boulder's self-proclaimed "Cajun slam grass" band, Leftover Salmon, wasn't just any second generation Grateful Dead bad acid trip; they were the bad acid trip. Blues Traveler's 90-minute, main-stage set was directly proportional to Medeski, Martin & Wood's 30-minute second stage set; the former was too long, and the latter too short. Rickie Lee Jones' 40-minute set also seemed short, but where MMW took most of their allotted stage time to warm up, Jones was feisty and fierce from the moment her mouth opened, delighting the KGSR demographic who had shown up to catch a rare Austin visit by the original, beat version of Edie Brickell. Along with Kravitz, Jones' set alone was worth hassling with the Southpark Meadows parking lot gridlock, and a truly clueless events staff who decided in all their infinite wisdom that bottled water brought in by patrons might cut into their profit margin. Still, the biggest surprise of the festival came six and a half hours after Austin's ThaMuseMent opened the day with a rough-hewn and likeably raspy set of acoustic guitar/mandolin folk rave-ups. Dave Matthews' headlining slot, made inviting by a replenishing evening breeze and forest-hued light show, finally coalesced into something other than water-color folk rock. Whereas a previous Austin Music Hall gig merely showcased a blur of acoustic guitars and growls, Matthews' Southpark set both separated out and fused together percussive syncopation, acoustic guitars, violin, sax, and flute into a lively mix of eclectic groove-makers that are what every H.O.R.D.E. festival wishes it was defined by, but rarely achieves. -- Raoul Hernandez


Electric Lounge, July 22

I guess in the minds of the audience at Monday night's sludge-alt rock show, Mineral didn't look as mature or even as manly as headliner Idaho. And so, all 50 of the Lounge's paying customers had an attitude, a beer, and a seat, and had re-crossed their legs 20 times by the time the lithe quartet of Austin boys played their first squeak of feedback. Yet after Mineral's six jarring and magical songs, the audience had to believe -- if only momentarily -- that there's hope for the future of mankind! Even at this early stage, these boys have more balance, harmony, and presence than most boy bands can hope to sustain. Mineral's well-honed act intentionally plays up their visual goofiness, yet underscores the power of their existence with every note. Maybe sensitive singer Chris Simpson's baggy jeans look close to falling down, but musically nothing comes apart on stage. And so what if they resemble lightweight brats? Thanks to bassist Jeremy Gomez, the sound is heavy and dependable. The band grooves with pure confidence, even if they look like a bunch of wallflowers at a high school dance. And yet they are extremely entertaining -- especially Scott McCarver, who tends to pronate both feet simultaneously so that he's wobbling on the outside of his ankles while he plays weird and beautiful sounds on his guitar. In his over-long shorts and Converse sneakers, McCarver must look to Austin audiences like just a nervous kid -- and, maybe, for just a moment, he is -- but his band will wake you up, and remind you what a little testosterone can do! -- Melissa Rawlins

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