Live Shots

Cornell Hurd at the Hideaway Lounge, November 29
photograph by John Carrico


Liberty Lunch, November 23

It's a funny feeling you get when you're watching a band or a bunch of bands and suddenly you get the inkling that you're seeing into the future. You just know that parameters are being redefined and things are gonna be different from here on out -- for better or for worse. Both sides of this evolutionary force were whispered and screamed into the collective psyche at Liberty Lunch on this Saturday night. Openers the Primadonnas proclaimed that "Rock is dead! Long live synth!" The cry was echoed by a small portion of the mildly amused early crowd as the joyfully unapologetic Brit-Tex trio pranced their way through a series of synth-songs about kids in clubs. Interesting as a novelty, but if this band finds an audience it could be dangerous. (Been to a Recliners show lately?) Denton denizens Comet were able to steer the evening in a more musical direction -- namely straight up and out of the atmosphere. Their well-crafted pedal rock allowed the songs to rule the set, the subtle, pop-guitar elements defining the sound instead of being smothered by it. If there is a "Space Rock" movement happening, those involved should pay attention to Comet. And if Comet is about the songs, the American Analog Set is about the bare essence of the song, stripped down to its basic tonal level and played out for all it's got. AAS play slowly hooking pop songs that build simple layers into beautiful melodic constructions. And when they decide to cut loose a little, as they did for the last song of the evening, "On My Way," from their recent The Joy of Watching Fireworks, the repetitive riffs and beats take on dimensions reminiscent of a VU instrumental. And then came the Furry Things. I have seen the future of rock and its name is -- well, that may be carrying it a bit too far, but this band has something going on. They sound like a lot of things, sliding from groove-laden dance rock to hummable power pop to the pedal-fuzz stew of the spacier stuff for which they're better known. When they find a space where they can mix it all up, however, they're at their best. The Furry Things can ride a groove with the steadiness of a veteran funk band, but when the guitar covers it all with a mix of riffs and sustained noise (sans fuzz) it all just screams "this is what I mean!" Mostly for the better, this gathering of the musical minds provided an interesting snapshot of the evolutionary road of music in Austin.
-- Christopher Hess


Austin Music Hall, November 27

You can't really say enough about Soundgarden -- except to say what's been said many times before: They really are Led Zeppelin. Oh sure, the cliché, but pages fall quickly from the musical calender, and people forget. Led Zeppelin were the biggest, loudest, most popular band for 10 long years. They put out one strong album after another, building a rock-solid catalogue that still outsells the shit out of most. Their tours set a standard for rock & roll mayhem that still embarrasses anyone who's ever heard the mud shark story. They were kings. Soundgarden's big dumb sex certainly fits its round peg into some of those square holes, and where it's most obvious is live. They owned the Music Hall -- had it shaking, sweating, panting. It was truly glorious in a stadium way that most locals forget about. For 80 minutes and two encores there was no other band in the universe except for Soundgarden. Part of the reason is they don't seem to buy into their own myth. While so many of their Seattle peers have succumbed to gargantuan success -- Nirvana (suicide), Pearl Jam (ego), Alice in Chains (drugs) -- Soundgarden continue in their workmanlike fashion, like the lumberjacks their flannel once evoked. No artifice, no pretense. The four of them just strolled casually onstage after Pond (scum) and Rocket From Jerry Lee's Crypt, and with Chris Cornell's "evening," set the night a-broiling with "Spoonman." After that, it was sweet riff, chorus, and hook after another into rock oblivion. On album, Soundgarden come off more Black Sabbath than anyone, yet the only time that was true here was towards the end of the set when the band rumbled through an earth-shaking version of "Slaves & Bulldozers," from Badmotorfinger -- an album that gets much respect from the band these days. Otherwise, they kept the tempo up, plowing through lean versions of "My Wave," "Outshined," and "Rusty Cage" ("dedicated to The Man in Black," noted Cornell). New songs -- "Pretty Noose," "Burden in My Hand" -- proved the band's recent album, Down on the Upside, is not such a wash after all. In particular, "Ty Cobb," with its raging "Hard-headed, fuck you all" chorus (replacing "Big Dumb Sex"?) seemed like a "Rock & Roll" moment straight off Zeppelin's Zoso tour before it segued into a doom-dirge version of "Helter Skelter." An MTV moment prior to the new single, "Blow Up the Outside World," temporarily halted momentum, but the band recovered with a song that's become quite popular to a new generation, Iggy's "Search & Destroy." It ended with Cornell writhing onstage to "Jesus Christ Pose," and if that didn't have every person in the sold-out audience running home to crank up a Soundgarden album (Badmotorfinger plays this very moment), then Led Zeppelin never meant anything. -- Raoul Hernandez


Frank Erwin Center, November 30

Never was a performance so defined by the music directly preceding it and following it. Nor a band for that matter. And we're not talking about Shirley Manson and Garbage, whose brief but biting 7:30pm opening chore might have been blown off by a less snotty band, yet proved this one up to the task of electrifying giant bat caves like the Frank Erwin Center. No, we're talking about Henryk Gorecki and Olivia Newton-John, two disparate musical sources that framed the Smashing Pumpkins' two-hour breakdown in Austin -- framed it and defined it. You see, neither Gorecki, a modern composer whose best symphony captures the sorrow of the Holocaust, nor Newton-John, whose best work captures the sorrow of disco era, should have been playing over the arena P.A. of a 12,000-strong rawk spectacle. Yet as roadies cleared Garbage's debris offstage and the intermission din went up, so did one of Gorecki's soul-wrenching symphonies. Huh? (Insert Tim Allen grunt here.) Where was "Won't Get Fooled Again" or "Behind Blue Eyes" -- some arena anthem? Between sets at Kiss, the Erwin Center shook with White Zombie and Motley Crüe, two bands that wouldn't exist without Kiss. Coincidence? Maybe. But the truth is many arena bands choose what gets played before their gig, often supplying a mix tape as another form of warm-up. So, it wasn't a stretch to figure that Mr. Pumpkinhead himself, Billy Corgan, had chosen the infinite sadness of Gorecki to precede his entrance. After all, Corgan's manic muse, when not on a blissful high, is nothing if not sorrowful -- even if it is caged in the colossal roar of Seventies guitar bombast. The Who, anyone? And like Pete Townshend, Corgan just lost an integral part of his group to a drug overdose; drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was fired after allegedly shooting heroin with Jonathan Melvoin, a touring keyboardist who subsequently died. Not good. Corgan and the Pumpkins have always been unstable at best, and this Texas date felt like they were collapsing. First off, Chamberlin's replacement -- on loan from Filter -- wasn't nearly as propulsive as his predecessor; mostly he kept time. And too fast, actually, as the band raced through "Zero," "Cherub Rock" and "Tonight Tonight" before the trouble started. "You're awfully quiet," announced Corgan. "That makes us nervous." Quiet? Billy, you got Austin at its demonstrative best, not the usual stoned apathy someone like Jon Spencer endured later that same night at a packed Liberty Lunch show. "You're gonna force us to play the mean, angry songs," he warned. Appreciative roar from the audience. "Okay, this will be the last happy song. Hope you like it." And with that the hall got "happy" versions of "Today" and "Thirty-three." Still, the reception seemed lacking to Corgan. "We're obviously not playing what you want to hear," he said, strumming the acoustic intro to a warm take on "Disarm." That turned out to be the last happy song. The rest was one long scream that ended on "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" at the one-hour mark. Sixty minutes for a band that's prolific enough to follow up the best-selling double album of all time with a 5-CD set of B-sides? Oh, there was more, alright: Try a tortuous series of encores that dragged on slightly longer than the main set, starting with second guitarist James Iha berating the audience for perceived complacence ("do something, goddammit"), and highlighted by a guy in a green, flying insect outfit (one of the Frogs' Fleming "brothers") rounding up audience members to sing "1979."
"I'm slightly shocked," said Corgan during the debacle of having each of the dozen-or-so fans give their name and home town. "I don't know what to say, myself. I can tell this one is going over real well." Ironically, it did after that -- for about 10 minutes -- when Corgan and Iha stepped out into the ether and just started jamming. For a brief moment, all was right in the Pumpkins' universe -- their psychedelic swirl sucking you in with the gravitational force of a dying star. For a moment, Jimmy Chamberlin was driving the engine again and the space ship lifted off stage. For a moment, Gorecki was in sight. And then it stalled, bassist D'Arcy beating a hasty exit out the back as the house lights came on and Olivia Newton-John came over the P.A. singing "Xanadu." Another Corgan touch? Given his penchant for covering treacly Seventies sap, probably. But never did reaching for the stars reveal such a long fall to earth. -- Raoul Hernandez


Liberty Lunch, December 1

Though the British electronic duo Spring Heel Jack have been labeled junglists, on their two import-only albums (the latest, 68 Million Shades..., will be available domestically from Island January 14) jungle's frenetic breakbeat samples are merely one element in a larger palette of sounds; dub's 3-D textures, not dance's forward propulsion, is the reigning paradigm here. Live, though the keyboards were bathed in as much echo as Augustus Pablo's melodica, Spring Heel can't quite get across the albums' subtleties, so they emphasize the beats more. At one point, they trotted out a vicious amen breakbeat (the most common device for snapping a jungle track to attention) and screwed with it so much I'm not sure they actually had it under control. No matter -- Spring Heel's Austin debut was a success; the last 10 minutes were particularly startling, as chords, squeals, and beats swirled around in a very up-to-the-minute version of psychedelia. Headliner siblings Orbital are slightly less ambitious, but even more catholic. Though their bald pates may remind you of Patrick Stewart, their musical strategy is closer to Captain Jean-Luc Picard's implacable enemies, the Borg. The Hartnall brothers look at techno, house, ambient, and jungle, and declare "You Will Be Assimilated." And once they get their omniverous groove going, well, resistance is futile. Again, Orbital's live strategy differs from their studio work. Where the records make for good bliss-out music -- every synthesized note is another potential sonic Spirograph, ready to be spun out into a rainbow of harmonies -- in concert, they emphasize their meaty beats. In a dance club that would make sense, but at the Lunch, where the packed crowd could do little more than jump up and down, it was invigorating for an hour, and then a bit wearing. One thing the Hartnall brothers have going for them is a sense of humor, something in definite short supply in this genre. On one song they superimposed the choruses of "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" on top of each other and then drove a breakbeat right between them. Another number, which began with a sampled voice screaming "Satan!," featured various aliases for the Evil Master (Lucifer, Old Nick) projected on a screen behind them. My sightline was partially obscured, so I'm not 100% sure about this, but at one point I could swear the screen read "Hootie."
-- Jeff Salamon

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