Live Shots

EVAN JOHNS

Hole in the Wall, September 3

It was like something out of a Krzystof Kieslowski film: Evan Johns doing a warm-up show for his Danny Gatton tribute. Gatton was a guitarist out of D.C. who achieved near-legendary status in small circles of guitar players and industry hipsters. He was also Johns' mentor. Not long ago, Gatton committed suicide, never having broken out of relative obscurity. Johns, a fixture around Austin for many years, hasn't really done much of late, helping him slide from local notoriety to semi-anonymity as well. With Johns' lack of recent productivity, generating excitement is problem enough, and when three of the four people who took the stage for his gig at the Hole in the Wall looked like they'd already put middle age behind them, it was tough not to think, "Oh, no. Has-beens recycling the same mediocre 12-bar crap." No way, no day. Johns tore shit up. Seated in a chair, he did it without gimmicks, just his hands. Johns may have been warming up for his Gatton tribute, but his part-dirt, part-twang playing was like a homage to a whole mess of other often overlooked greats -- Roy Buchanan, Albert Lee, Link Wray -- complemented by rhythm parts that ranged from straight Chuck Berry to revved-up Carl Perkins. It was loose with a thrown-together enthusiasm; and it was from the gut with a recklessness that just pushed the edge of sloppy. It was small-scale brilliance. Youngsters on the rockin' side of the country core thang should be this well-versed in their history, and this good with their chops. And to think, the whole thing was witnessed by no more than about a dozen people. "Alex, I'll take Parallel Lives for $1000 please."
-- Michael Bertin


THE DRAG

White Rabbit, September 4

It's tough not being English. Especially when you're from South Carolina and hurricane Hobbes (or whatever) is about to "destroy our hometown" as you take the stage in some empty club in the heart of Texas. Of course, The Drag's anglophile lead singer, Chance, didn't bemoan his American birth even as CNN was showing footage of Carolina storefronts being boarded up. No, it was the Quarrymen haircuts three-fifths of the young band sported that gave away their probable futbol dreams of grandeur -- the haircuts, a Mitch Easter-produced debut, Satellites Beaming Back at You, and 50 minutes on stage at the White Rabbit. "This is our first single," announced Chance, as the band launched into "Our Race Cars," but if radio and MTV don't care, why should 30 people fresh into a new semester at UT? Not that this stopped the skinny `n' scruffy, second hand store-bought, fashion-challenged band from shaking, shimmying and otherwise jangling their way through most of their debut. Chance, in particular, shook his mop top, tambourine, and bootie, as if he were following Pulp at some imaginary Wembley Stadium extravaganza, catching some glam on "Die a Little" and a lot of Oasis on "Super 8." Yet, at this point, the crowd couldn't even be bothered to put down their beers and put their hands together. The band were good sports about it all, leaving no doubts of their sincerity, but one question unanswered: Why were a bunch of pop-happy Anglophiles opening for Southern jam brain-wash guru Col. Bruce Hampton? Probably the same reason why another Island Records act, Gavin Friday, played to a similarly non-existent White Rabbit crowd a few months back. No-brain booking agents. -- Raoul Hernandez


SLEEPY LABEEF

Continental Club, September 5

This... is... Jeopardy! Today the categories are: Country, Blues, Rockabilly, Southerners, Big Guys in Black Cowboy Hats, Human Jukeboxes, and Potpourri. Please phrase your answer in the form of a question, and that question is Who Is Sleepy Labeef? Answer: A 60-year-old Arkansan, playing with guys young enough to court his 15-year-old daughter, and one who hasn't lost a step in kicking out the full-tilt Southern boogie he started back when Elvis fixed air conditioners and Chuck Berry was as old as his dates continue to be. Drawing on a repertoire that can skip from Buck Owens to Big Joe Turner to Ernest Tubb to Tony Joe White in a heartbeat, LaBeef doesn't repeat himself, ever, but his backbeats are always full of big rhythm and phat blues. He can still play all night long, too, just like he did at this Continental gig, twanging that six-string like an Indian brave's bowstring for hours on end. Easily one of the hardest-rocking, death-defying, gut-bucketing shows I've seen all year, and yet there was only a handful of people there to see it. Think I'll take "Crimes of the Century" for $100, Alex.
-- Christopher Gray


HOOTIE & THE
BLOWFISH

Southpark Meadows, September 7

"Hootie & the Blowfish Kicks Ass." That's the lighted message that scrolled across the underside of an airplane which started flying over the crowd at the Meadows just prior to the show. "Kicks Ass?" Uh, maybe not. Except for guitarist Mark Bryan's forced attempts to appear like he was "rocking out" late in the set, the band was notably unanimated on stage -- the innocuous-pop equivalent of shoe-gazers. But give the guys in the band credit for mastering the obvious. They realized that by doing A, B, and C on record, they've sold a bazillion CDs, so, by extension, it only makes sense to give them A, B, and C in concert. That's what they did: letter-perfect, note-for-note reproductions of the hits. Yet this common-sensical approach has unintended consequences. Hootie has gotten locked into this kind of hell where it's now held hostage by the expectations of its fans. In order to maintain any connection with the audience, the band could play only Hootie material and play it only as it appears on record; any deviation was unacceptable. For the Hootie hits, the crowd was up and singing, dancing, etc., but midway through the set, Hootie breaks into a decent cover of "(What's So Funny `Bout) Peace Love and Understanding." For the first time all night, people sat and got quiet because they didn't know the song. It happened twice. The band came out for its encore and covered The Reivers. The crowd became confused as they impatiently waited for the inevitable playing of "Hold My Hand." That probably says more about the crowd, though, than the band. Bob Dylan once suggested replacing concert reviews with informal exit polls, and, instead of printing their opinions, reviewers should just report the prevailing opinions of the concert-goers. Fine, using that method of assessment, maybe the band did kick ass. But that also probably says more about the crowd than the band. -- Michael Bertin


STING, JARS OF CLAY

Southpark Meadows, September 7

A couple years back, when hell froze over and the Eagles reunited, Glen Frey had some pointed remarks for the media, who were raising a stink over the band's charging upwards of $200 for concert tickets. They're the only ones complaining, he said, and they got their tickets for free! Well, I didn't pay $45 for my Sting tickets, but I'm gonna complain anyway. I'm gonna complain because it's shows like this one where people shell out upwards of $65 (food, beer, T-shirts, programs, etc.) that leaves 'em with zilcho the rest of the week to pay a $5 cover at the Hole in the Wall. And for what? Nothing they couldn't get from slapping the new Sting CD, Mercury Falling, on their home stereo. Certainly, there was nothing else remarkable going on here. First off, Gordon, get a real opener; not even God could help Christian rockers Jars of Clay turn their watered-down rock into wine. Second, what's this 80-minute main set? One hour from alterna-rocker-of-the-moment at Liberty Lunch is plenty, but with your back catalog, Sting? I don't think so. Consult the Rolling Stones about arena spectacles. You say you disbanded the Police for just such a reason? Why, then, did the "Aaaeee-oohs" and big rawk light show during "Synchronicity II" elicit the biggest cheers of the night? "Roxanne" sounded better from Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, and it was nasty pasting the intro to "Bring On the Night" onto "When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around." (The former is such a gem and the latter is befitting of the long, limp jam it received.) "Fields of Gold" and "Englishman in New York," were welcome delicacies, but "Set Them Free" and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" sounded like red-headed step-children. In fact, little but the new material sounded anything but perfunctory, and even those tunes sounded just like the record. This works okay with Rush, but with Mr. Sumner you might as well be watching VH-1. Only when he brought a random audience member on-stage -- Reza from Houston (greeted by a chorus of boos from the upwards of 8,000 Austinites in attendance) -- to sing "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying," was their a spark of spontaneity or fun. Otherwise, it was murder by numbers... one... two... three.... -- Raoul Hernandez


ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL

Broken Spoke, September 8

Coming from a family as steeped in the 12 steps as mine, it's only natural that every once in a while I experience a moment of clarity. Sitting in the Broken Spoke, listening to Ray Benson and company segue from "San Antonio Rose" into "Deep Water" and then "Ida Red," it happened: This is as good as it gets. This was Clifton Chenier at Slim's Y-Ki-Ki, the Dead at the Fillmore, Patti Smith at CBGB's. There was a little extra spring in the promenade of dancers' steps, the neon -- especially the Bud Light George Strait and the Miller Lite Texas Tornado signs -- seemed to have an extra glow, and the fiddle/steel/saxophone Big Western Swing Band sound was extra sweet. Two sets worth, too, of standards ("Long Black Veil," "Waltz Across Texas," "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette"), genre-benders ("Route 66," "God Bless the Child") and anthems, including my personal favorite, "Old Enough to Know Better, Still Too Young to Care." It was enough to restore my faith in music, Texas, Texas music, and the Lord God Almighty. I went to bed Sunday night praying my own version of the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom not to miss shows like this. Amen. -- Christopher Gray

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