Live Shots

Backyard, April 18

Majek Fashek at Flamingo Cantina April 25

A Socratic cross-examination that was more vitriolic and antagonistic than zetetic got me thinking the last few days about what it is exactly that elevates some songwriters and performers from the ranks of the average to the remarkable. Why is it that Freedy Johnston and Shawn Colvin are so respected and liked to the point where an overflowing Backyard-worth of people spent their Friday evening and their entertainment dollars on this show when other options included such quality acts as Ben Folds Five, Tarika, Kathy McCarty, and They'll Know Us by the Trail of Dead? What is it about the songs that has even the most discerning listeners, like KGSR's Jody Denberg, making every concordant emotion visibly manifest with punctuated hand movements and torso lunges for the duration of the show? Is it because both Johnston and Colvin, as songwriters, know how to tip-toe that line between being ridiculously inane and excessively glib? Is it because the songs they write are usually a little more intricate than they might seem on first, cursory glance? Is it because the time-honored mathematics of songwriting has taught Colvin that using that C-F-Dm chord progression in the chorus of "You and the Mona Lisa," sounds much more aesthetically pleasing than, say, a C-F-G#m progression? Is it because it was the end of the tour, so the band was as tight as they'll ever be; or was it that just because the tour was ending that everyone was cracking jokes because they were excited and relieved? Could it be that it was just a beautiful evening at an idyllic venue that made the night enjoyable? Beats me. Good show, though. -- Michael Bertin

Cactus Cafe, April 22

The lineup for "Songwriters in the Round" promised both great acoustic music and the introduction of three unique artists at different phases of similar careers. Kris McKay embodies the respectful swagger of the local singer-songwriter community of which she is an integral part; Trish Murphy has just released a highly anticipated debut, and has been thrust into our little limelight; and Kacy Crowley has a soon-to-be-released album that follows a SXSW scramble for her signature. Whether you focus on tradition, performance, or bankability, the pecking order could flip-flop directly. But, as the lights went down, the announcer informed the full house that "the role of Kacy Crowley will be played by Kelly Willis." A treat, to be sure, but it really changed everything. Now, instead of the brash newcomer/upstart occupying the third seat (with Murphy filling the role of host), there was the pure-country stalwart Willis throwing off the hierarchy. It worked, because she's great and because this wasn't about showing your chops or queuing up; it was about two beautiful sets of acoustic music put on by three of Austin's finest. Murphy drew heavily from her Crooked Mile, though "There's Nothing Wrong With My Heart," one that didn't make the cut, was her strongest tear-jerker of the night. Her music has become much more personal and soulful since the Trish & Darrin days, and her heart looks good on her sleeve. McKay played an even selection of her songs, other people's songs, and other people's songs that she's tweaked -- like the Matthew Sweet-penned "How Cool." Beyond the pop, though, McKay always shines in extending her range. In "Right Now," she would glide down into a low, whispery croon, before charging out of it and up the scale with fluid ease. It was Willis, however, who brought the two together, as Murphy would cautiously creep in with her guitar with McKay regularly adding harmonies from a distance. With the exception of the encore's chorus of "Weed, Whites, and Wine," Willis' songs provided the only interactions, though even those were tentative. The casual round-robin atmosphere of friendly one-upping is a good forum for these folks, especially when the sisterhood of guitars rears its lovely head and makes each take part in the other. -- Christopher Hess

Austin Music Hall, April 23

U.K. ambient pioneers and Eno-adherents Alex Paterson and somewhat recently added partner in soundcrime Andy Hughes have proved to me, finally and despite seemingly insurmountable odds, that the Orb can play within the confines of an established, wall-enclosed venue and still shake things up. I'd had my doubts, seeing as how their subtle, million-tiered brand of post-ambient soundscapes has previously connected best at terrifically huge, sprawling, soggy, hillside British festivals, complete with herds of lowing bovines, capering Druids, and gobs of little Madchester ravers creatively stuttering their way through the haze on heroic doses of questionable E. Either that or on headphones, lights off, Merlot sloshing about all over the bedclothes. Anyway, I slouch corrected. Touring behind album number seven, Orblivion, Paterson and his revolving-door crew of brainiac wunderkind programmers slyly managed to transform -- for a little while, at least -- the cavernous Austin Music Hall into an ethereal palace of unrestrained snogging and thud-heavy drum and bass lines. The Orb's sample-laden dreadnaught of funky, squirmy sounds came through very loud and very clear; things began slow and steadily mounted, tension releasing as Paterson and Company worked their way through U.F.Orb (a remixed, respiced "Little Fluffy Clouds"), Orbvs Terrarvm, and capped things off with Orblivion's "Bedouin," "S.A.L.T.," and the much-hailed "Toxygene." All this to a capacity crowd, not all of whom were young budding freestylers; there were also a gaggle of baking Ph.Ds and scruffy-looking zealots who probably should have been home working on their theses (this was, after all, a Wednesday night). Not quite as emotionally or physically draining as last year's Orbital soulblower at Liberty Lunch, the Orb still made waves -- big, wet, sticky ones -- with this outing, filling aural cavities with wild, sensuous beats, and sightlines with the sort of pre-shot 16mm eyecandy not seen since last year's Reading Festival. Mad crazy.
-- Marc Savlov

Electric Lounge, April 25

Sssssssssh. This night requires peace. Hush! This night, the radiant red Electric tube against shimmering metallic blue did nothing to interfere. "If I Think of Love." (Simple. don't think. insolent. confident. infinite. lay off. disconnect. subtly indifferent.) Kathy McCarty warrants her own entire review, here. Too many big words necessary to convey her incorporeal power. (Don't try. overturn. your insight. cutoff. so what. ultimate. deathbed. comfortable. into it. senseless. immature. way off. insecure.) Many women here to see Melissa Ferrick. Yode-lay-hee-hoo, Melissa E. Indigo G. vocals, simple chords, not my thing. Happy to see so many women together out at a club singing at the top of their lungs along with a performer they obviously know and love. (I think of you. wasted. afternoons. evenings. remembering. never. again. from here. never. again. from here. unconcerned. better off. shut off.) Lisa Germano played a keyboard with a black, stuffed kitty, and a white feather boa on it. She (Germano, not the kitty) was accompanied by this black-clad cowboy-for-a-night dude she called "Hicks... Glenn Hicks." Sad circus cirrus carnival calliope opiate music: Nico, Nino Rota, Edith Piaf, Dusty Springfield, whitegirl Billie Holiday. Sad, sad, cry in your black & tan sad. Perfect. These new, torchy twisted songs were from her freshly plucked from the blood and gut Love Circus. Many, too, from the now classic and much simpler Geek the Girl. New ("Reptile") and OP8 ("It's a Rainbow"), as well. And if her vitriol weren't conveyed with such distance, such emotional exhaustion, these barbs might not have hooked as bloodily: "Fucked up people. Bad attitude. Schizo friends. Alcoholic. Blame me, there's always me to blame. One word, one move, and you're not too cool. Shaky, shaky. We suck. So what if your hero never was?" Musicbox mandolin. Telecaster. Longhorn. Shell-shocking, way-high octavated bass sounded like a jet plane or a six-string at times. I heard "What Goes On" in my mind, I swear I did. I died a little inside. As she said, "It kinda sums up a whole phase of life" for us all, doesn't it? (Evenings. remembering. never again.)
-- Kate X Messer

Antone's, April 26

Rhythm & blues is still an old man's game. The youngsters may get their groove on, but it's usually somebody else's groove, like Stevie, Al, or Marvin. Not that Maxwell, Tony Rich, Dru Hill, Ginuwine, and Blackstreet don't deserve all the shouts and props thrown their way by VIBE, MTV, and so-called `urban' radio, but heaping such great expectations on these young performers' largely untested shoulders threatens to turn what has always been one of America's most salt-of-the-earth musical styles into one of its most myopic. Put another way, Afro-American pop music has yet to endure a `roots movement,' and is now R&B in name only. Enter the Holmes Brothers: drummer Popsy Dixon on high-end, falsetto harmonies; bassist Wendell Holmes on the low end; and guitarist Sherman Holmes' raspy-throated howl holding down the middle. Augmented by a mysterious white steel guitarist identified as "Brother Mike," the Brothers worked through almost an hour of exuberant, unabashedly soulful music. Shake-and-finger-popping like Isaac Hayes and David Porter were in the next room for "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," then sliding (as in guitar) into a pensive reading of "Amazing Grace" squarely in the Piedmont tradition of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and the Rev. Gary Davis, and culminating in "Start Stoppin'" and "Promised Land," where Pops Staples' sanctified soul met Sly Stone's psychedelic purple haze head-on, the Holmes Brothers' set had everybody wading in the water. Then out strode Texan Johnny Clyde Copeland, the "Texas Twister," ready to put the moves on a greased-up Saturday night crowd. Beginning with "Rollin' With the Punches," Copeland turned in a set of guitar work as sharp and striking as his scarlet blazer. Every single synaptic note crackled with electric boogie; somewhere, Copeland's fellow former Houstonian Albert Collins had a big ol' grin on his Frosty face. Backed by an interracial, cross-generational band that gave up the funk on "See Ya Later, Alligator" and especially "Hooked, Hogtied, and Collared," Copeland smoked, giving no indication he'd aged a day since him and Miss Lavelle were hanging out at Duke studios on Lyons Street. Except maybe one: his daughter, Shamika. Shaking the rafters down to the ground with her thunderous pipes, Shamika was every inch an old-school, gospel-fied, down-home diva with an unmistakable "you better recognize" attitude. Recognize indeed -- she's only 18. Aaliyah better watch out. -- Christopher Gray

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