Live Shots

Bernie Worrell at Stubb's August 9

photograph by John Carrico


Alamodome/Hollywood, San Antonio, August 8

He played few of his own tunes, a little bass, and no guitar. Yet he allowed has-been rapper Doug E. Fresh to hijack his show for nearly a half hour. In fact, during a limp reading of Fresh's "La Di Da Di," the main attraction actually excused himself to make a cell call home. Really. But because few things in life are more exciting than intimacy, and fewer things are more compelling than legitimate mystique, it almost didn't matter that the Artist Formerly Known as Prince's after-party gig at San Antonio's Hollywood club wound up a musical non-event. Here, in this modest-sized dance club -- something like Austin's Toulouse -- nothing separated the fan from the Artist: no bouncers, no barriers, no egos. And for the opportunity to see Prince in a club, much can be forgiven. At first, when he entered and found his place at a piano for a five-minute Booker T.-style jam, it seemed as if there were no better funk band on the planet -- even if, in retrospect, it really was just a repetitive Stax groove. But then came Doug E. Stale, full of dated rhymes, unnecessary testosterone, and a set of pleas that masqueraded as chants: "Put ya hands in the air," "Who rocks the hardest? The Artist rocks the hardest!" Actually, the Artist rocked very little while he tinkered behind Fresh, particularly given the energy of his performance a few hours earlier at the Alamodome. In the huge arena, The Artist delivered a two hour greatest-hits medley, covering a lot of ground with perfectly concise arrangements, like his verse-chorus-long solo version of "Purple Rain" and a similarly skeletal "Little Red Corvette." Although a fluffy take on Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" threatened to derail the show's jukebox feel, a full-length version of Emancipation's "Face Down" played out like a classic anthem, earning the evening's best overall reception. Later, the same song wound up resurfacing momentarily at the Hollywood show, leading into an all-too-brief reading of James Brown's "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin." That too had been performed earlier at the Dome, where the larger stage (for Brown-style dancing) and longer treatment proved more effective. In fact, nearly everything at the Alamodome outfunked the club show, even if it was obvious from The Artist's wide smile following a club-only run-through of "I'll Take You There" that this casual after-hours jam meant more to him than the primary show's structured setlist and spectacle. Sure, the club show was something of a disappointment, but sometimes the price to pay for intimacy, not to mention artistry, is inconsistency. -- Andy Langer


Casa de Luz, August 9

The captivating beauty of talented vocalists and the undeniable energy of drum circles are part of our biological make-up as surely as our fingerprints; if the voice was humanity's first musical instrument, the drum was certainly a close second. Who hasn't found themselves unexpectedly humming a tune or tapping out a familiar beat? And why do you think the Madison Avenue troglodytes keep cranking out all those insidious jingles? Because good singing and a solid beat affect us -- we can't help it. Nothing was more illustrative of this than an evening of harmony and rhythm with locals Inkululeko, a vocal quintet, and Afrodite, a five-piece drum ensemble. The term Inkululeko means "emancipation" and unrestrained action was the theme of the night. This isn't to say that the musicianship was sloppy or out of tune (although a bit more organization at times would have helped), rather that it was replete with freedom of movement and thought. The all-ages crowd responded in kind as they danced freely to each new tune, even if they'd never heard the song before or couldn't understand the lyrics. Once again, this is the visceral power of music. Think about punk. Did any of it lose any of its impact just because you couldn't understand the words? No. Same thing with Afrodite and Inkululeko. The inviting vocal harmonies intertwined with the cowbells, congas, asafo drums, and gourd shakers, turning the utilitarian confines of the Casa de Luz auditorium into a sweaty swamp of swaying bodies and nodding heads. This is smilin' vibe participatory music, not for die-hard punk fans, but it's still damn effective. Is the opening spot for Sweet Honey in the Rock's September 12 performance filled yet? -- David Lynch


Emo's, August 12

Whoever said subtlety was a virtue? Subtlety doesn't exist at Emo's when it's one-in/one-out at the door, the bar is three-deep, the air hockey table doubles as equipment storage space, and the temperature inside is at least 15 degrees hotter than out. And it's certainly nowhere in sight when Ian Svenonius, looking like a wayward extra from Austin Powers, starts jerking like a sinister Pentecostal minister onstage, barely dodging his bandmates while he testifies. The message is loud and clear: They're the Make Up, and they came to party, baby. Taking their fashion cues from Carnaby Street by way of Star Trek, their musical cues from Prince by way of Jon Spencer, the D.C. quartet mellowed the steaming room out with 40 or so minutes of grooves as smooth as Svenonius was spastic. James Canty switched between propulsive Shaft-style ringing guitar lines (minus the wah-wah) and spacey organ tones that were a perfect bed for Svenonius' loverman soliloquies; bassist Michelle Mae -- a Marisa Tomei-lookalike whose delectable aloofness complemented Svenonius perfectly -- bounced her steady patterns off Stephen Gamboa's drumming, which never wavered despite the fact Svenonius almost knocked over his kit at least a couple of times. Opening with "Wade in the Water," the Staples Singers hymn that's converted many a nonbeliever, the Make Up's sermon was that it's okay to look fab and still feel that old gospel urge down in your groin. In fact, that may be the only way to do it. Signifiyin' ain't easy; there's lots of land mines a band who adopts such a shameless pose can stumble over, from cliché to downright insult. The reason the Make Up's all-too-short set was neither clichéd nor insulting was Svenonius, a living hormone whose personal mission was to make each and every person in that club as intoxicated with, and riveted by, his performance as he was. For the most part, he succeeded. Fuck subtlety anyway. Subtlety is for people who cheat on their taxes. Why wear nice clothes if you can't soak 'em in sweat? Why dress up if you can't get down? -- Christopher Gray


The Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, August 13

For someone who had the misfortune to be out of Central Texas while Prince was cavorting about, perhaps the consolation prize was seeing someone whose career came into its own with a cover of the petite purple one's "Nothing Compares 2U." Of course Sinéad O'Connor doesn't perform that song anymore. "I don't do any songs that make me miserable," she replied when someone called for the song towards the end of her mesmerizing 60-minute set. That would seemingly rule out about half her catalogue, especially since she purportedly won't perform anything from what's still her best album, 1987's The Lion and the Cobra. Somehow, she managed, however, like to the tune of this show being one of those could've-sang-the-phone books displays of talent which everything else pales against. Kicking off the second of two sold-out shows at San Francisco's posh Warfield Theatre (an old, 2,000-seat movie house much like Austin's Paramount) with "The Emperor's New Clothes," O'Connor at first sounded ordinary, the low volume robbing the song of its punch. "I Am Stretched Across Your Grave" faired better in its stillness, as did a couple of songs from the Irish singer's new Gospel Oak EP, "This IS to Mother You" and "This IS a Rebel Song," but it wasn't until about 15 minutes in, during "Thank You for Loving Me," that the Warfield's already-high ceiling began to reach for cathedral heights. Backed by four Irish lasses from the opening band, Screaming Orphans, the song and her voice climbed and climbed until they were ringing out like a sermon song. Crystal clear and pure, her voice suddenly had no equal. From there, she segued smoothly into an a cappella rendition of "In This Heart" -- another song from Universal Mother, the ad hoc theme of the evening -- and there was no looking back. It was impossible not to get lost in her powerful siren call -- even when the usher did something as distracting as seating Tom Waits at my table ("She's kinda in the fairy princess role," he rasped at one point). "Fire On Babylon" raged as apocalyptic as O'Connor gets, releasing its energy into an acoustic take on "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," which went big arena towards the end. And suddenly it was over, her voice no longer filling the hall. She came back for a couple of encores, including Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," but already the mass had been sung -- in all its rapturous beauty.-- Raoul Hernandez


Liberty Lunch, August 15

There's a great line in the flick PCU (actually, it's the only good line in the entire movie) where Jeremy Piven, upon realizing that his friend is going to see a band while sporting their T-shirt, says something like, "Wait, you're wearing the T-shirt of the band you are going to see to the show? Don't be that guy." Well, the Impossibles' gig was the kind of show where there were no less than five of those guys in the crowd. It was also the kind of night where, because of biology, not because of choice, no males in the audience were sporting stylish facial hair. Put it this way, Rollins-loving openers Animal Chin, from Minneapolis, said they were 15 days into a 30-day tour, meaning that school in the Twin Cities ISD must start no earlier than the end of August. If anything was impressive about the crowd, though, it was its size, which looked a smidgen bigger than that of Wednesday's Fishbone show. So, who are the Impossibles and why do they have such a large local following? Well, they're a local band, first off, and as for the latter half of that question, I can only speculate that they've got a lot of high school friends. Musically, the Impossibles are something between the Mighty Mighty Bosstones without the horns and Rancid without the bad hair. The knock here, however, isn't that the band was particularly unoriginal or even bad, just redundant. In the span of about three songs, you got the feeling the Impossibles had shown their entire range. The next 10 continually reconfirmed that suspicion. It doesn't matter how good you are (okay) or how much energy you have (plenty), if you do the same thing over and over, you become bland. Youth will be served, but if this is what they are ordering, I'd rather eat British food. -- Michael Bertin

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