Live Shots

Vince Herman and Tye North of Leftover Salmon at Steamboat, February 8
photograph by John Carrico


Stubb's, February 1

Music journalists always hope they can be the first one to "discover" someone great, and since I can't recall seeing any write-ups on Damon Bramblett elsewhere, I'm calling first dibs on him. If I'm wrong I'll apologize, but until then, I'll plant the flag right square in the Stetson of this fine honky-tonker and claim this land for the Kingdom of Chronicle. For quite a while, I completely avoided Bramblett because he was a co-worker of mine at Waterloo Records, and reviewing co-workers can cause almost as much difficulty as dating them. Now that we're under separate employers, I'm off the hook -- and kicking myself for not having seen him sooner. Bramblett is one of the most solid honky-tonk singer-songwriters I've seen in a while, with a knack for a good line, an ear for good material, and a performance style with all the rough edges that Austinites expect from their dancehall bands. Vocally, Johnny Cash is the easiest comparison -- an outlaw kind of voice that makes you look up from your beer and say "Who is that?" Songwise, he can pop out a simple hook for some easy dancing, or he can go for a Dylanesque sense of the dramatic (his opening song was a reverent Townes Van Zandt cover). Opening for the Derailers, Bramblett was the victim of an unimaginative non-crowd; most of the Derailers fans apparently stayed in other parts of the bar or didn't bother showing up until the headliners were about to start. If they had gone to the stage an hour sooner, they could've gotten an early glimpse of an act that, a year from now, could be electrifying Austin as much as the Derailers have. That's why we have opening acts, folks, so you can preview new talent. Sure, that opener might not pan out, but if it's Damon Bramblett, you're cheating yourself out of a hell of a show. Get there early next time. -- Lee Nichols


Emo's, February 3

"Turn it up! Bring the noise!" Of all people, L7 should know that. The band that made "Faster! Faster! Faster!" a mantra in "Just Like Me" just wasn't itself on this last-minute booking (a day off from the Marilyn Manson tour). They were... tame. Hell, almost quiet. I didn't even need earplugs. Not that they were bad; the songs from their new album The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum are varied, well thought out, and almost -- gosh -- catchy in places, but they simply don't rock as hard. Like this show. People just weren't going to pieces like they should have at the feet of L7, whose shows usually make even the Titty Twister seem like Newton, Texas, on a Sunday morning. Last time they played Emo's (August, '95) they led off with the bludgeoning "Wargasm," from their 1992 masterpiece Bricks Are Heavy, and never looked back. This time it was "Andres," their loopy, 1994 semi-hit -- and the evening's only nod to Hungry for Stink (a wise decision) -- and from there things just never got going. They even ended early, after only an hour. Bouncy new ones like "Off the Wagon," "Nonexistent Patricia," and "Drama" sacrificed pulse-quickening stompers like "Scrap" and "Everglade." And what happened to "American Society"? That one makes even "Pretend We're Dead," which they rushed through towards the end of the set, seem like Candlebox. Sinking into the past, "Fast and Frightening," "Deathwish," and "Shove" all proved they've still got so much clit they don't need no balls, but still, something was missing. Maybe it was the crowd; excited, sure, but apparently feeling the long weekend and plain old listlessness. (It wasn't new bass player Gail Greenwood, who sounded great.) This is what I don't understand: When that band is onstage, nothing is more important than being rocked by them. You smell their magic. You make a shitlist and pack a rod. Ride on through 'til the wheels fall off. You fall off the wagon as far as you want, baby, 'cause L7 is in town and you're gonna need an IV of O-Neg to keep up with your bleeding ears. Or at least you thought so, huh? So did I. -- Christopher Gray


Cactus Cafe, February 4

It seems that Peter Keane and Slaid Cleaves have shared a number of local bills in the last year or so, although this was the first time I had seen them together. Both have recent recordings on Rounder imprints: Keane's Walkin' Around, on Flying Fish, arrived last September, while Cleaves' Philo debut, No Angel Knows, is just out. Live, they make for an interesting contrast in expressive efficacy, since Keane's songs say twice as much in about half as many words as do those of Cleaves. At his finest, Keane is a vibrant and distinct, if not particularly eccentric, bluesman; his best material features a deft blend of fingerstyle guitar and strong, unmannered vocals. Meanwhile, Keane's forays into other styles can be comparatively hit or miss. While he can turn tough Dylan tunes and even pull off a convincing Hank Williams, a "sensitive" singer-songwriter he is not. To my ears, a song like "Tylersville Road" (about some small town, working-class, drive fast anomie) adduced no more than the bland little suggestion it began with. Elsewhere, however, Keane ranged loose and wide across the American folk song landscape, with Emily Kaitz on stand-up bass a stalwart and urgent companion. In comparison, Cleaves is a rather milquetoast performer. His light tenor is a striking instrument and probably his greatest gift, for although a solid, if unspectacular strummer, Cleaves' songs seem hardly better than pastiche; cars, rivers, and burning hearts tangled in blue on the dark, lonely road. Imagine Springsteen-like sentiment absent of both rock impetus and a discriminatory eye for detail -- or country music without the gutshot fatalism. It would be easy to accuse Cleaves of schtick except that he's so palpably sincere that it would be wrong. Perhaps Gurf Morlix, who produced Cleaves album, and played electric guitar, lap steel, and sang some harmony vocals tonight hears something more. -- Brian Berger


La Zona Rosa, February 5 & 6

For guitarists like Eric Johnson, the essence of their music -- their being -- exists not in the song, but in the notes they play. Thus, some singer-songwriter can botch a song -- many songs -- then turn around and make the next one shine. For Johnson, a musician of uncommon ability, the measurements are much more minute. A vocal may be off here, a power chord dull there -- there might even be a total technical breakdown in the middle of a song -- then all of a sudden there's an eight-bar run of blinding brilliance that leaves you breathless. Such was the case during both nights of Johnson's two-night stand at La Zona Rosa, the local favorite's first headlining gigs here in years. Whereas the first night's tone was set by Johnson having to stop in the middle of the second song, "Righteous," because his favorite Strat Virginia, kept cutting out ("We'll just do that song again," he said between clenched teeth and a smile), he nevertheless came back with B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby," and floated some magnificent blues over the good-sized house. A slightly retooled "Soulful Terrain" followed, sounding a bit spiritless, then came "A Tribute to Jimmy Reed," a spry, new instrumental country gallop. "Zap" revved things up again, but already the show seemed a bit out of sync; Johnson, a consummate perfectionist, was no doubt still fighting off what for him must have been an inauspicious beginning. This, however, was not his biggest problem. Pacing -- that was his Waterloo. "Zap" had zip, but the new instrumental, "Hesistant," had none. "SRV" undulated with grace, but was followed by Roscoe Beck's momentum-killing bass solo of Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight," and a soggy, new acoustic number. The set closers "Venus Isle," "Pavilion," and "Cliffs of Dover" made up for a stop-start mid-section, while a still-untitled Herculean blues stomp apparently written for John Lee Hooker, John Mayall's swift "Stepping Out," and Johnson's shimmering "Manhattan" left the crowd hungry for more. Which they got plenty of the next evening, as Johnson was definitely "on"; where "Soulful Terrain" had been tentative the night before, it was liquid fire the second night. In fact, everything sounded fiercer, more passionate. Unfortunately, it was the same set-list (save for Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" in the encore), and the same pacing problems. Even still, the balance of brilliant to bum notes weighed heavily in his adoring fans' favor, particularly since both nights featured only three vocal numbers.
-- Raoul Hernandez


Liberty Lunch, February 7

Incense wafts onstage before the show. A charismatic moptop on lead guitar and vocals fends off a tangled crowd of teenage girls. Tablas and synth-sitars make occasional appearances. A figure with sideburns, furry moustache, and full-length aqua coat (wait, is that George Harrison?) takes to the keyboard. You don't have to look far to find comparisons to the Fab Four, but don't dig too deep comparing the new invasion to the old, or you'll miss the unique psychevedic allure of Kula Shaker, the latest British quartet to land in Austin. After an intriguing but tedious set from "chamber pop" cellists Rasputina and an agonizing 45-minute stage prep for a show that wasn't to last much longer, Kula frontman Crispian Mills needed to impress. And impress he did, moving through most of the material on the group's solid debut K with aplomb, driving through inspired performances on Brit-pop fodder ("303") and enchanting rock-mantras ("Govinda," "Tattva") alike. Off-album surprises included "Gokula," a takeoff on the aforementioned Mr. Harrison's 1968 "Ski-ing." In lyric and rhythmic tones, Kula Shaker plays revisionist homage to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Yes, et al; I haven't had this sort of fun since the early days of Living Colour and the Stone Roses. Their polished, foot-stomping R&B may not have raised the collective consciousness of Liberty Lunch's young crowd (800 or so strong), but Mills' spiritual journey onstage certainly turned some skeptics into followers, impressed with a solid set by a band just beginning to make their mark. Time will tell if these lads can shake their doppelgangers, but on this night in the shrine of Beatles-alikes, these guys made Oasis suddenly seem a bit, well, soulless. -- Laxman Gani

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