RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Southpark Meadows, September 6
It's the little things that separate good concerts from great ones, and it was a lack of these seemingly small, but crucial components (alternate arrangements, interesting segues, spontaneous jams) that prevented Rage Against the Machine's much-anticipated stop at Southpark Meadows from reaching its explosive potential. As white-hot as Rage's first album was, last year's Evil Empire burned slower, and it was at this tempo that songs from the group's debut were played. "Bombtrack" and "Fist Full of Steel" were more frustrating than exhilarating to hear, sounding like a Walkman with dying batteries (if anything these songs should be played faster on stage). Cuts from Empire, however, such as the opener "People of the Sun" and one of the encores, "Bulls on Parade," were more deserving of the band's name. One song not previously associated with Rage Against the Machine was Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad," which featured guitarist Morello alternating between the six- and 12-string necks of his double-neck guitar. That one sailed right over the predominantly twentysomething crowd. And it really wasn't until vigorous versions of "Freedom" and "Killing in the Name Of," played nearly at the end of the concert, that the fire had been really lit in the belly of the beast. Part of the credit goes to drummer Brad Wilk, who punishes his kit so thoroughly that he probably goes through one a show. As with Rage's short and disjointed San Antonio show last year, their Austin appearance was noticeable void of singer De La Rocha's directly addressing the audience (save a brief introduction for a Zapatista representative). This is no small thing for a band that puts so much emphasis on lyrics. Casual fans of the band were probably satisfied, but for those who expected more, the show was a tease. The Roots, who replaced Wu-Tang at the last minute and had to deal with an audience that was throwing objects, pumped the crowd up with a meandering set of call and response hip-hop, while openers Atari Teenage Riot hopped around in a quicksand of undifferentiated noise weakly supported by strobe lights in the early evening sun. Perhaps their music doesn't translate well live. Perhaps none of it really did.
-- David Lynch
SANGRE DE TORO, GOLD
Emo's, September 8
Gold could learn a lot from Sangre de Toro. The new quintet featuring two-thirds of Ed Hall (guitarist Gary Chester and drummer Lyman Hardy), Gold also sounds like two-thirds of Ed Hall: gargantuan riffs and tribal pounding, lumbering through long instrumental stretches until you get thoroughly lost in a groove. Problem is, for most bands this is called rehearsal, and certainly the 50-or-so people at Emo's caught on quickly as their numbers dwindled along with their applause. It was depressing to see what Ed Hall has devolved into, and about the best you could say about Gold was that Chester's white, patent-leather shoes matched his pants nicely. Sangre de Toro also doesn't seem to have any songs, relying instead on a hard metallic groove to get them through their sets. The difference is that there are no local trios, save perhaps Starfish, that are so goddamn tight. Led by ex-Scratch Acid guitarist Brett Bradford, Sangre de Toro are the bull that just won't die, charging, bucking, goring with every last fucking ounce of its crimson blood. While Bradford's singing style could best be described as passing a kidney stone, the group's mostly instrumental post-punk prog-rock is so fierce that you find yourself holding your breath until the band lets up -- something they never do. On this Monday night, with two red spotlights giving the front room at Emo's an ominous glow (take note youngsters, this is all the gimmick you need), Sangre de Toro were business as usual, putting their heads down and locking horns with their instruments as they've done at Blondie's a number of times over the last six months. They managed to entice back some of the scragglers that Gold has chased off, but by 1:30am on a school night, not many people were hanging. After a searing
40-minute set that felt like 20, Bradford looked up, said, "It's late, go home," and unplugged his guitar. Next time he plugs it in, make sure you're there.
-- Raoul Hernandez
IAN MCLAGAN & THE BUMP BAND
Saxon Pub, September 9
I've now checked out Ian McLagan's weekly gig at the Saxon Pub a few times, and I gotta say that one day I'd like to see him in front of an audience. Oh, alright, he and the Bump Band ("Scrappy" Jud Newcomb, Sarah Brown, and Don Harvey) don't play to a completely empty house, and those who do show up are more than enthusiastic, but after some press and lots of glowing word-of-mouth, their regular gigs still leave the Saxon looking like, well, a club on a Tuesday night when all the brew-pubs in town are celebrating their happy hours. Any resentment on my part doesn't appear to be shared by the band, as they use the intimate atmosphere to crack wise with each other, the patrons, and even the sound man. The result is a friendly, off-the cuff show -- between songs, that is. When the first note of any tune is hit, whether it be a Faces classic like "Cindy Incidentally" or one of the new tunes the band's been trying out, everything instantly coalesces into a solid pub-rock experience, dominated by Mac and his still-amazing keyboard abilities. Is this combo, led by someone who by all rights should be lost in the old "where are they now" file, truly the best rock band in Austin, as many semi-regulars have been heard to utter repeatedly? That's a tough call, but for a $3 weekday show, I'm not complaining. And I'm pretty sure I'll be going back for more. -- Ken Lieck
Ringside @ Sullivan's, September 11
Carmen Bradford's return to Austin was sure to be a classy affair, and Thursday's early set started in exactly that direction, Bradford in a floor-length sparkly gown, the band done up in jackets and ties even, and a three-quarter full room to welcome her back from Japan. The band (an impressive local lineup including John Mills on sax and Jeff Hellmer on piano) kicked things off with a few standards, done solid and brief, to build up for the diva's entrance. Quickly establishing the tone of the evening with "Them There Eyes," Bradford was the classic jazz singer, shedding most evidence of her foray into the straight-up R&B characteristic of her recent recordings. The space at Ringside provided the perfect backdrop, too: deep-grained, dark-stained wood-paneled everything, broken up by brass and steel fixtures, and a sunken bar surrounding an elevated (if vertigo-inducing) stage. And when the lady's singin' Ella, all seems right with the world. That's when I remember that there are other people here, people who vehemently insist on talking about the sons o' bitches they work for or about the varying quality of their shitty cigars. At more than one point, Bradford's demand for a little respect interrupted both her singing (and on a ballad no less), and the mood of the show ("We're learning how-ssshhhh!! to make the lo-o-o-oving last"). Between songs, she reprimanded them politely, though she should have just said it: "People, this ain't the Bitter End for chrissakes. You've taken Cedar Street, the Elephant Room, and any other new jazz-offering space, leave at least this room for those who want to listen to the music." She did rise above it, not breaking stride with her excellent and dead-on version of "Mr. Paganini" and eventually she even subdued the idiots with a stunning take on "Bird Alone." It's a shame she had to work so hard, but she got her point across anyway, and more than a few times was able to reach those who were there to be touched and not seen.
-- Christopher Hess
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK
Hogg Auditorium, September 12
"Sweet Honey in the Rock" is a sacred parable which describes hallowed ground so rich that when the rocks were cracked, honey flowed. The aged interior of UT's Hogg Auditorium became that promised land as D.C.'s famed a capella quintet (made six by a woman who signed the entire show) amazed and enthralled the sold out audience with over two hours of peerless music. Truly exquisite things don't need bells and whistles to shine and Sweet Honey in the Rock's traditionally rooted harmonies and hand-held rhythm instruments -- embellishing both originals and song jewels from a wide, but related stylistic spectrum -- were enough to lift my spirit out of the auditorium's crappy chairs towards the presence of the Maker. Each member of the group took a turn emceeing one of their "living history books," calling out and explaining the songs. As such, the show stayed lively and spontaneous, with the group chastising the audience for failing to sing and clap with the songs. While Sweet Honey is proficient in myriad styles that emphasize struggle against oppression through music, this particular musical voyage included a tear-inducing interpretation of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," a Thomas Dorsey gospel standard, Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," an African rain forest chant, a musical adaptation of "On Children" from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a traditional African ode to women's childbirth sacrifice ("Denko"), Leadbelly's "Midnight Special," an African planting piece, and a song about AIDS ("Patchwork"). The concert, co-sponsored by UT's Women Studies Program, also demonstrated that these six women, like their name denotes, exude maternal power but not at the expense of their maternal sweetness: one song would feature a solo part as tender as a mother singing a newborn to sleep, the next piece would feature five female voices in polyphony as potent as Mother Africa herself. The 23-year-old group is more of a process than a musical group, keeping a clear link between the history of struggle and survival through music. Quite simply, Sweet Honey in the Rock is nourishment for the soul. -- David Lynch