Live Shots

Junior Brown at the Continental Club, December 29
photograph by John Carrico

Stubb's, January 7

You wouldn't really know it by the size of the sparse and weather-braving crowd, but Quatropaw's headlining gigs at Stubb's can and should fast become a regular occurrence at the Waller Creek venue. Like James McMurtry at the Saxon Pub, only more frequent, or Toni Price at the Continental Club, though much louder, Quatropaw play the Stubb's stage like they belong there. The expansive rock-and-brick overhead catches and throws the sound into the lower ceiling perfectly, and the stellar vocal interplay of Jason Richard and Beth Frydman resonates throughout the place like the walls know them. If there is an Austin sound -- some Southern amalgam of blues and rock with a discreetly funky back rhythm -- then Quatropaw do it better than just about anyone in town. No, that's not an over-enthusiastic exaggeration, Quatropaw work harder and play better than any regularly appearing band of the genre. They came out with "Texas to Chicago," a song that's fast becoming their trademark in that they never play it exactly the same way twice. Other familiar songs like "Leather Shoes" and "In the Process" stand up as examples of excellent songwriting, while their cover of Dwight Yoakam's "Drinking Will Kill Me" lets a bit of country in the mix. And their wanderings into country, when they allow themselves that angle, is not affected or showy at all, it's just another facet to their own sound. One highpoint of the evening came when the band broke into another Yoakam romp, which instead of putting a new hat on the band seemed instead to let them sprout a hidden taproot through which God and Hank only knows what could bubble forth. The transition was as seamless as the song was natural, revealing the depths from which Quatropaw can draw and would do well to explore. -- Christopher Hess


Hole in the Wall, January 8

When Peglegasus' summer sabbatical to Rhode Island extended well into the winter, many began to wonder if their unassuming Austin days had come to an end. Fortunately for their small legion of devotees, the quartet turned up again on a cold Wednesday night in January. Even better, this show wasn't marred by an ice storm like their release party for So Much for King Tut was at this time last year. Appearing rested and relaxed, the band's return quickly revealed that, musically speaking, they haven't missed a beat. Leading off with the one-two-three barrage of "Olive Loaf," "Chief," and "Bacon Square," the guys quickly warmed up the room with their high desert psych-out. The seamless guitar lead trade-off between John Voskamp and Berke Marye approached magic and completely belied their everyman demeanor. While the scepter of SST Records will never be too far from the band's collective heart, Pegleg's live prowess transcends the smug art of influence-pegging. Earlier in the evening, the Knievels did some warming of their own with a mildly frenetic set of melancholy pop songs. The Hole in the Wall's acoustics turned out to be a perfect showcase for the band's disturbingly unique harmonics and hollowbody rhythms. Onstage, the Knievels exude a strange, indefinable charisma that easily surpasses the hints of promise evident on their 1996 CD, ¡Que Sabor! Opening the show was Bloomington, Indiana's Intro to Airlift, a trio that delivered charming, avant-leaning Britpop with haircuts to match. Paul Weller would be proud. Despite the low-key nature of this weekday romp, by the end of the evening, the succession of solid sets had almost cleansed my mind of the fact that it was only Wednesday. -- Greg Beets


Antone's, January 10

It lasted for about seven minutes. That may sound like a fairly unimpressive set length, but about halfway through his Friday night set at Antone's, Kim Wilson picked up his harp, and for those few, brief minutes, gave himself sole possession of the stage for his birthday present. By the time he'd finished, people who don't even like harmonica playing had succumbed to yelling; and Calvin Jones, longtime sideman for Muddy Waters, stood with visible amazement stuck on his face. It went past proficiency, beyond mastery -- it was like witnessing the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn't quite as impressive as seeing an actual miracle, but there was something important to be learned from hearing it anyway. The doctrine? Just because your closest encounter with stardom and your biggest sales may be behind you doesn't mean you have to pack it in and become a has-been. The evening lasted much longer, but most of it was fairly standard rhythm and blues with a low originality quotient to it. The crowd rightly guessed that, and after Wilson's little musical-cum-religious offering in the first half of the set, they began steadily filing out. Sometimes all the satisfaction you need for one night can be had in about seven minutes. -- Michael Bertin


Victory Grill, January 11

A good-sized crowd assembled early at the Victory Grill for the Spotted Horse Singers, the Native American drum group headlining the percussion installation of the "Multicultural Music Extravaganza." Partial funding and impressive sponsorship went a long way in bringing in quality musicians of differing backgrounds, and the response proved that it was worth it. Steve Vidal and Co., a Latin-American combo from Brooklyn, explained that they would be playing conga just as they would when they gather in the parks of New York with drums and quarts of beer and hang out jamming until 3am. "We in the park, we in the bush, and we gonna play a rhythm, hope you enjoy it." Their quick, loose exchanges of lead breaks and natural tempo progressions provided the most improvisational drum work of the evening, with Vidal often leaving his drum to join the dancers on the small dance floor lost in out-of-body writhing. Next, Oliver Rajmani and two accompanying drummers played music from the Middle East and India before Keito St. James took the stage and explained storytelling in the South Pacific tradition; the Cosmic Drummers did the same for West Africa. Then Austin's East Babylon Symphony Drum Corps put together a jarringly experimental combination of traditional Philipino music and free-form jazz, and though their set was short due to the show running long, the combo proved a tough act to follow. Nevertheless, Houston's D.R.U.M. were what this show was all about -- drums to bring people together, make them rejoice, feel the beat; the same beat that all others surrounding you are feeling, the beat of your blood, the beat of your heart. And that's where the songs of D.R.U.M. hit you. After receiving permission from the elders (here, Brother Leon from the Cosmic Drummers) before they touched the drums, D.R.U.M. pounded into a funga, a welcome song switching time between call and response in praise to Jah and heavy, heavy beats. They ended the show, leaving all in a state of heightened awareness strong enough to launch the all-play finale with shocking synchronicity. It was a drum freak's paradise.
-- Christopher Hess


Hole in the Wall, January 12

The local weather forecasters certainly know how to lead the citizenry here into believing that venturing out into cold temperatures is tantamount to certain death. Still, despite icy roads, the Hole in the Wall was full for Sunday's homage to the Rolling Stones. In fact, the music consumers did a better job of showing up than the music purveyors as many of those billed (Del Dragons, Argyles, Buick MacKane) thought self-preservation a better option. So, after brief sets by Earthpig, the ARC Welders, and a Paul Minor "Stones only" mandate, a flotilla of rotating players -- primarily Minor, Jon Sanchez, Jimmy Witherspoon, Andrew Duplantis, Chepo Peña, and Miles Zuniga -- ran through the Hot Rocks and a few others. Good. Unfortunately, this amorphous part of the Circus began with a version of "Street Fighting Man" that was not only marred by some off-key caterwauling, but was also less coherent than Keith Richards expressing his more eloquent thoughts in Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll. The next few songs were saved only by Sanchez, who, despite his need to play his effects pedals as much as his guitar, actually knew the correct chord changes to "Paint it Black." Things got much better (you'd never guess it from listening to Fastball's Make Your Mama Proud, but it turns out Zuniga is quite the Glimmer Twins disciple), but not much cleaner. That's fine, because given the manner in which this town copes with conditions like the one outside, it was a Minor miracle anybody made it to the Circus, much less rehearsed. Besides, the Stones were never about precision, and watching the locals dink their way through the night wasn't so much evidence of the Stones' universal appeal and influence as it was a reminder of why the Stones will hopefully continue to be influential. See, the band's name isn't just the Stones, it's the Rolling Stones; similarly, it's not just rock, but rock & roll. There are tons of insipidly disaffected bands around that can rock, but none of them are the least bit schooled in what it takes to roll. It's tough to pin down exactly, but it must be something. Why else can you listen to "Sympathy for the Devil" for the 10,000th time and not be the least bit bored? Smell all the teen spirit you want, but if you really wanna be a rock & roll star, make sure you let it bleed every now and then.
-- Michael Bertin

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