Live Shots


A TRIBUTE TO JAMES POLK

St. James Episcopal Church, November 8

The Young Lions of Jazz did James Polk proud. On the first night of the Jazz at St. James concert series -- produced by Harold McMillan and River City Bluez -- the Southwest Texas State University professor had his crew of past and present students remind locals how disheartening it is that most of these young jazz musicians reside and study in San Marcos and are, for now, largely peripheral to the tiny and stale Austin jazz club circuit. The first set of this tribute featured Polk running the show from his grand piano, accompanied by Chuck Hales on upright bass, Ephriam Owens on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on drums, and an extended visit from Elias Haslanger on sax. They traded off on standards including "Misty" and "Freddie the Freeloader" as well as respectably restrained renditions of a couple of Haslanger's arrangements like "Stella by Starlight." The musicianship of everyone onstage was enough tribute to make any teacher proud, which Polk acknowledged as he gave up the piano bench to Ollie Jones for the second set, who inspired thoughts of McCoy Tyner as he effortlessly slid from slapping to tapping the keys, bringing smiles and sways of approval and respect from Professor Polk with every measure. Guest appearances by other Polk students brought the evening to a head with a rousing version of "Route 66." Sets by Gregory Boyd and Hope Morgan on Saturday and a jazz mass on Sunday with Will Taylor, Ollie Jones, Kyle Turner, and Martin Banks rounded out the weekend series, bringing yet another reminder: A lack of local jazz clubs that don't pander to the rich and disinterested makes events like this a necessity. Alternative venues, especially if the sound is as clean as at St. James, provide a necessary outlet for Austin jazz musicians. Let's hope this trend continues. -- Christopher Hess


Paul Stanley at the Erwin Center, November 5
photograph by Johnny Medina


PSYCHOTICA, IMPOTENT SEA SNAKES

Voodoo Lounge, November 9

A songbook with titles like "Fist Fucking" and "Circle Jerk" will only take you so far -- even if you're schtick is cross-dressing, sex-drenched shock metal. Perhaps that's why the Impotent Sea Snakes seemed so thrilled they'd found a club that didn't restrict their 20-person, X-rated stageshow; a not-so-spontaneous orgy that made Anchovies look like Disneyland. Musically speaking, a stale reading of "People Who Died" was as it good as it got, but mid-song, one audience member got it even better as the recipient of an all-too public, on-stage cunnilingus session. So, what to do if you're Psychotica and the opener's climaxed a crowd with a live buffet? After a summer of opening Lollapalooza's mainstage with a libido-driven cybersex stageshow themselves, here, Psychotica wisely opted to drop the props and sexual content altogether and concentrate on driving home their smart, hook-driven anthems. And while the venue's good sound system helped considerably, the real story looked to be frontman Patrick Briggs, outing himself as a natural-born rock star in the preening Bowie/Jagger mold. With backing from a basic guitar-bass-drums combo that looked like the misfit cast of Rent 2010, Briggs became the dramatic leader of an airtight outfit, as conformable with psychedelic ambiance as they were with retro-punk rantings. As such, "Starfucker Love," "Flesh and Bone," and the title track to their debut, Ice Planet Hell, didn't just sound big, they sounded refreshingly dangerous. And after a perfectly trim 30-minute set, it was clear Psychotica's career niche may just lay in embracing the challenge of genre-bending -- a far more fulfilling schtick than the Impotent Sea Snake's shallow gender-bending. -- Andy Langer



SON VOLT/WILCO

Liberty Lunch, November 13/November 5

Two sides of the Uncle Tupelo coin -- black and white. Jay Farrar and Son Volt have grown comfortable near the country-blues lifeline that runs through their music consistently, completely, and -- usually -- comfortably. They shuffled onto the Liberty Lunch stage, and with a sleepy `Hey' from Farrar, commenced churning out their rustic, weather-beaten rock & roll with all the deliberation and ponderance of a Mississippi paddlewheeler: slow, steady, and loud. Beginning with a brash new song that made generous use of the phrase "Cemetery Savior," then surging into "Loose String," "Catching On," and "Live Free," a trifecta of guitar-beaters from Trace, Son Volt came to rock -- sort of. Their rich, laden sound was uncomfortably sterile; they went for the eardrum, not the jugular. Farrar needs to get over his bout of indie-rock shoegazer disease, an all-too-common ailment that substitutes loud guitar playing and obsessively depressive/ironic lyrics for genuine heartfelt soul. Son Volt is an excellent band, but they need to learn how to make that vital connection with the audience, how to grab them, shake them, and not let go 'til the final reverb fades away into the night. (The more intimate trappings of Austin City Limits the next night humanized the band a little, but not much.) Dave Boquist's fiddle playing was poignantly captivating on the lovely "Windfall" and "Tear Stained Eye," but it took Texas boy Doug Sahm and the inspired second encore of "Give Back the Key to My Heart," for the band to break down its wall of sound and really connect with the crowd. Too bad it was the last song.
Wilco, the tails to Son Volt's heads, certainly didn't wait until the last song to let it all hang out. From the get-go, it was abundantly clear this wasn't the fey, retiring outfit that played the Lunch last year. Wilco wanted the brass ring. Frontman Jeff Tweedy, in a cowboy hat and bunny-rabbit pajamas, rocked all over the stage, this way and that, constantly bantering with the crowd and his bandmates. Uncle Tupelo classics like "The Long Cut," "We've Been Had," and "New Madrid" sounded as good as they ever have, and there was a long-overdue degree of swagger and verve to "I Must Be High," and "Passenger Side," two cuts from last year's underachieving A.M. Tweedy was a little out there with some new songs from the sprawling Being There -- "Sunken Treasure" and "Misunderstood" to name a couple -- but since he would segue from a slow one ("Say You Miss Me," "Someone Else's Song") to a rocker ("Monday," "Outta Mind (Outta Sight), "I Got You") in the blink of an eye, the feeling didn't last. What did last was this feeling of rock & roll exuberance -- that Jeff Tweedy got it. With Son Volt putting on an almost a note-for-note reprise of last November's Austin stop, it showed Jay Farrar hasn't quite gotten it -- at least not just yet. It's ironic that Son Volt's "Drown," written by Jay Farrar, contains the line `When in doubt, move on,' yet it's Jeff Tweedy and Wilco that have actually done it. -- Christopher Gray




7% SOLUTION, WOOKIE,
THE LIVING PINS

Hole in the Wall, November 14

Although the sophisticated audience of the Austin rock scene clearly came to experience the Living Pins -- a sequined side-project of Pam Peltz and Sixteen Deluxe's Carrie Clark -- the shining light of this triple bill turned out to be the opener. At night's end, the Pins' combination of rough-and-soft vocals, chords, and rhythms was pleasant, and interesting, but certainly not exciting. And just prior to the duo's performance (augmented by a keyboardist and drummer), Wookie consciously substituted decibels for creativity. Then again, they had a hard act to follow. Austin's most talked-about experimental rock group, 7% Solution, had transcended the limits of the Hole's electric wall sockets during their first-ever gig at the tiny club, and in the process carried the audience out into aural space. Guitarist/vocalist Reese Beemer and his three mates successfully theatricized their show during the first two songs with projections of amoebas swimming up a white sheet hung in front of the Hole's window, but in the middle of an ambient cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Waterfall," the power failed. And in true professional form, the guys didn't miss a beat. In the time it took the bass player to suggest that the audience entertain themselves by making shadow puppets by candlelight, the band got the visual equipment unplugged and the guitars humming. Soon enough, the bass, guitars, and drums were busy again, and the vortex of melody and noise in the darkness mesmerized the listeners. The fact that you couldn't discern a word Beemer sang didn't matter -- keyboards playing the part of his voice would have made the music just as powerful. Their show was one of those Wow!-ers that, by the time it ended, had inspired one man to raise his fists and cheer them on: "Cl-i-i-i-i-mb the mountain, boys, and I'm gonna cl-i-i-i-mb it with you!"
-- Melissa Rawlins



COOLIO

Austin Music Hall, November 14

At the Austin Music Hall, they were throwing signs up at Coolio. East Coast? West Coast? Bloods? Crips? Try "Hook 'em Horns." With their hands in the air, waving 'em like they just didn't care, 2,500 University of Texas Greeks uneasily embraced Coolio at an annual Silver Spurs party generally reserved for the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker, Chris Wall, or Waylon Jennings. Yet for a rumored $25,000 fee, the brothers representin' the Delt House got their money's worth: a deejay, a nearly two-hour set, all three hits, and Coolio's four-man posse. It was the Peach Pit After Dark come alive. But this was also a night of painful irony. Theoretically, the whole set-up reeked of exploitation. Is there any darker blaxploitation than 2,500 privileged white kids laughing at a guy from South Central? Not with Coolio's talk of a "revolution" and "final call" slipping right over their ballcaps and Friends hairdos. Nor did it seem enough when Coolio tried to sidestep the minstrel role he'd signed up for by taking a couple of not-so-subtle shots at the gathering -- from the mocking tone of a "white as the sun" chorus to a stern warning that "even your rich asses can get AIDS." Still, the social gap became most apparent when he threw the group a Sweet 16-style bone and attempted an on-stage talent show. First, he offset his own uneasiness by calling three of his stage guests "Johnboy, Bubba, and Gomer Pyle." Then, he got frustrated enough to ask the crowd "to quit that fucked up and embarrassing shit, this ain't Kriss Kross." True, but how would this post-Tupac, Newsweek-reading crowd -- there to get a peek at the gangsta mystique -- have known that?
-- Andy Langer



ARCHERS OF LOAF

Electric Lounge, November 16

The masses turned out at the Electric Lounge for the Archers of Loaf, and only the most jaded of the folded-arm, indie-rocker fans in attendance could have been anything less than giddy during this show (though they wouldn't dare let on). From the beginning, the dissonance and static of "Strangled by the Stereo Wire" that fed back on itself and then into the title track from their new album, All the Nation's Airports, established a control the Archers would have over the room the entire show. Eric Bachmann's voice turned (even for him) unusually gravelly and hoarse after the first couple songs, but seemed to work itself out, groaning clearer by the end of the show. The strength of their songs makes this band unceasing live; they could play anything from any of their albums -- there are no throwaways. And they bounced between the old and new at appropriate intervals, plowing through "Freezing Point" before seamlessly invoking "Vocal Shrapnel." A high point, "Bacteria" jammed with uncharacteristic but perfectly executed length (in the seven-minute vicinity). "Mutes in the Steeple" (homage to the slowly-deafened concert-goer?) precluded "Form and File" and "Distance Comes in Droves," which were lessons in sonic build-up, while "Scenic Pastures" and "Worst Defense" proved bookends of an adrenally-heightened series. The subtleties of each song and the lengths to which you can discern them are the pivotal points of most Archers' tunes, and though they were occasionally buried in the noise, they were on perfect semi-display in the instrumentals -- in the breaks and low lead guitar of Eric Johnson (no, not that one) on "Mark Price, P.I." and the jangly precision that made "Smokin' Pot in the Hot City" not only a rest for Bachmann's tortured larynx but the best song of the night. The layering of plodding, high-end picking over a thick and distorted undercurrent on differing time is just one of the tricks that make the Archers so interesting as a band. When their music is at its loosest is when they're most together. -- Christopher Hess

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