JUNIOR BROWN, ROBERT EARL KEEN
Aqua Fest, Auditorium Shores, July 30
Everything you know is wrong. Who knew that nugget of wisdom from U2's Zoo TV
tour would describe the tale of two Texans making their way in the big, bad
world of country music? First up, you have Junior Brown, the urbane guitar
wizard, more hip than Trainspotting, ready to detonate Music Row with
his yarns of venom wearin' denim, state troopers, and wives who either think
you're dead or are too busy leaving to notice. Right behind him on the Aqua
Fest stage, under the fattest moon since House Party, is Robert Earl
Keen, patron saint of College Station and favorite son of those who enjoy
shaving their heads, singing about Copenhagen, bass fishing, and gringo
honeymoons. Brown is supposed to be the next big thing (somebody please retire
that term now), but the truth is, mainstream country music just isn't
ready for his sly, winking lyrics and guitar style that's as much Hendrix and
Dick Dale as it is Chet Atkins or Merle Haggard. The real star in the making is
Keen. Where Brown's pyrotechnics never fail to dazzle his audience, Keen's
"Front Porch Song,"
"Think It Over One Time," and a host of others actually touch people deep down in their most private emotional areas. The crowd certainly marveled at Brown's prowess, but they shouted every lyric of every Keen song ("Play `Corpus Christi Bay' again!" one particularly zealous fan hollered. "We missed it!") and danced like pagan dervishes during "The Road Goes On Forever." So when this Americana thing breaks -- and it will, buddy, it will -- Brown may have a couple of hit singles, but he'll always be a flashy novelty compared to Keen, who has the potential to be a core artist every bit as essential to his genre as Nirvana, the Beatles, and Dylan are to theirs. -- Christopher Gray
THE SEX PISTOLS
International Ballroom, Houston, August 3
We were creaking down Ben White, sneaking up on Manchaca, pushing 3am,
drenched, cramped in our microscopic Ford, bone-weary from one of the most
cathartic, visceral rock & roll experiences of our lives. Yet the four of
us had to look at one another, and somehow scrape together enough composure
through our sleep deprivation to ask ourselves: "Did we really just see
the Sex Pistols?" Well, yes and no. Yes, we saw the four guys who
were, indeed, The Sex Pistols, who wrote the songs and played `em
and created the mayhem and wrecked civilization and all that nonsense. And they
played all the classics -- all of Bollocks, all the best B-sides, and
the wonderful live-set filler like "Stepping Stone" -- with power, precision,
and brutality. It was a good, physical rock & roll show that left you with
that limp, drained, I'm-coming-off-weird-drugs vacancy the best rock & roll
shows are supposed to offer. A total success on that level, no doubt.
Still, what you got was the Sex Pistols without the anger and (on John Lydon's part) a hint of self-parody. For their part, original bassist Glen Matlock and guitarist Steve Jones were content to walk on, plant their feet solidly onstage, put their heads down, and get on with the job at hand. And yeah, they played the shit outta those songs, with the obvious hits like "Anarchy In The UK" and "God Save The Queen" coming off the best. But part of the visual joy of live Sex Pistols (and, admittedly, I'm getting this impression off archival video footage) was Matlock bouncing around like a mad little puppy, shuffling up in time for his off-key harmonies. And what's Steve Jones without his catalog of Pete Townshend leaps and axe god poses and silly guitar player faces? He's Steve Jones, still with the bravado, still the definitive punk guitar hero, but content to be a workman. And a Sex
Pistol should never be content to be a workman.
As for John Lydon, he's been flouncing around in front of one bad Public Image Ltd. lineup after another for so long, he's forgotten how to be Johnny Rotten. Johnny Rotten hung off a microphone stand, twitched and flailed like Bob Marley's corpse excavated and given electroshock, fixing one and all with the most murderous stare in the history of the eyeball, and screaming absolutely hateful street poetry with a rage that was positively inhuman. He did not flounce around with a wireless microphone, campily rub his nipples and wave his ass in the public's face, and sing in that annoying whine that makes you wish he'd never heard Arabic music. And he sure as fuck didn't wear a goddamned track suit! Lydon's fashion sense was shot to shit, and he was too good-natured, too chummy. Too safe.
Too safe: There was the standard Big Rock Show barrier between the Pistols and their public, with a nice phalanx of big `n' burly security goons in between to enforce that gulf. And the crowd was too willing to adore them and lie down and get its collective tummy scratched. The Sex Pistols need some tension to completely deliver. They nearly got it, with Lydon being greeted by a storm of empty plastic water bottles upon his entrance. But the crowd strangely obeyed the minute he snarled "Fuck off!" This bunch should've kicked the barrier down, crushed up against the stage, hurled insults and garbage, and forced the Sex Pistols to live up to their legend -- forced them to deliver, goddammit! Instead, they worshipped them. I bet these kids practice safe sex, too (if they even have sex!).
So, no, we didn't get the full Sex Pistols treatment. We did get a great rock & roll show, however, one of the most exciting in recent memory, one that owed much of its physical kick to Paul Cook, who slams his traps hard enough to recall John Bonham without insult or irony. But it was great the way it would've been great to see Elvis in 1971: no longer the revolutionaries and hellions of their youth, it was enough for them to just show up and play the songs, because it was still a mind-blowing experience. -- Tim Stegall
THE MATT POWELL BAND
Hondo's, August 6
This is not a band you'll stand in long lines to see, but that's only because you don't have to. Right now this little trio with a big sound doesn't have much glitz going for it, nor does it have any legends attached. Instead, there's Matt Powell, a 24-year-old guitarist from Virginia who moved to Austin last year to make those dreams come true. Within that time, Powell's found himself a drummer, Curtis Johnson, and a bass player, Robert Ramos. The rhythm section is certifiably skilled to support Powell's high-energy guitar work, and now all Powell needs is some seasoning. His inexperience comes off as nervousness, which he tries to downplay by dressing down. His jeans have holes in all the right alternative places, and his Stevie Ray Vaughan-style hat hides his face. But his songs -- and he's got a long list of originals -- open you up to having a good time. That's all that matters. One of his best is "That Ain't Enough," a slow, sorrowful love-gone-wrong tune that showcases Powell's flair for melodrama, stereo chorus, and some pedal work that aches with a dreamy guitar sound straight out of Peter Frampton. Powell's also got a way with classics; his rendition of Albert King's "Crosscut Saw" defines sexy. Paying attention to dynamics and switching from slow & steamy to roadhouse to country-style blues, Powell knows how to keep people happy. Now, where are those long lines? -- Melissa Rawlins
Another Cup Coffee Shop, August 8
Chisel's show was sorta like that Woody Allen bit where two little old ladies
are at a restaurant and one says to the other, "The food here isn't very good,"
to which the other replies, "Yes, and such small portions, too." Now, with
Chisel's set at Another Cup substitute "too loud" and "too short" respectively
and you get the idea. This Washington, D.C. trio can hardly be blamed for the
excessive volume, though. Who knew this coffee shop even hosted live music?
Trying to put a band requiring voltage in that place is a bit like squeezing
John Holmes into your baby brother's underwear. It might be physically
possible, but it's not going to be too comfortable to either watch or do. But
if Sturgeon's Law applies -- and 90 percent of everything is crap --
Chisel is in that minority creating something above the fray. As a result,
they're almost obligated to play longer than 30 minutes, even if it does means
causing semi-permanent hearing loss. Sure the guys looked like any Emo's band
du jour, with singer and guitarist Ted Leo sporting the requisite
neo-cool sideburns, but there was nothing trendo or formulaic about the sound.
Rather than wallow in their own ennui or adopt the cute guys with clever lines
posture, the band obviously channeled its anger and intelligence into its
songs. The result, a bit of Mission of Burma or even the first couple Joe
Jackson records -- something too volatile to be pop but too urbane to be punk.
By throwing in unusual chord voicings, abrupt tempo shifts, and intricate
melodies, Chisel proved that you can do things geek musicians love and still
make something that sounds badass to the technically illiterate. Now, if only
that ringing sound would go away....
-- Michael Bertin
Electric Lounge, August 9
It was beautiful. So pure. Four young hardbodies in black T-shirts and black
jeans hammering out clean, hard metal. Two guitars creating a stainless steel
wall of sound rarely in evidence over the Electric Lounge's notoriously jagged
PA. No frills, no bullshit -- riffs and songs -- and all presented with
a blue-collar metal ethic reminiscent of AC/DC. Only instead of Australian lads
(like the supporting You Am I), Therapy? are Irish boys. Same boyish charm,
too; you instantly want to buy 'em a Guinness or call for a soccer match. Yet
they've got some issues -- like rage, post-metal, teary-eyed, industrial rage
-- and it emanated from frontman Andy Cairns, whose piercing gaze went hand in
hand with his Charles Manson 'do. Not
AC/DC. Cairns is a product of Clive Barker's Hellraiser, not John Carpenter's Halloween. And towards the end of this Belfast group's 60-minute set, as Cairns bellowed "Isolation" from the band's moody, transitional new album, Infernal Love, you could hear traces of the band's early "Teethgrinder" music. Not AOR rock. (More like Big Black, according to Cairns himself.) But then the bass broke. As it had all evening. The band took it in stride -- as they had all evening -- and Cairns proved the consummate front man, killing time with jokes, song snippets -- whatnot. As a last resort, he called out for requests. Judas Priest, wouldn't you know. Not losing a beat, Cairns and trio augment Martin McKeegan (also in charge of a fierce electric cello), launched into "Breaking the Law." They chugged through it in good faith, but the more they played the worse it sounded. Finally, Cairns brought it to a halt, and wondered aloud "How did Judas Priest sell all those records?" Yeah, how? It sounded so hollow, so cheesy. Everyone felt it. Not so of the ensuing and impromptu version of "Teenager in Love," which every person in that room sang. And when the bass came back, and the band ended their truncated set (they jettisoned a four-song encore) with roaring versions of "Knives" and "Nowhere," from Therapy's more commercial bludgeoning,Troublegum, you knew you could never go back to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or Def Leppard. "Was anybody at Liberty Lunch last time we played here?" Cairns had asked earlier. About one-third of the 75 people present raised their hands -- half the Lunch crowd right there. They wouldn't have missed this show for the world. And if you were ever an AC/DC fan or a fan of post-metal "alternative" hard rock -- Girls Against Boys let's say -- you did miss out. Big time.
-- Raoul Hernandez