Alamodome, San Antonio, October 31
"Not that funny is it?" spat out Lindsey Buckingham. "Don't know what it is. But you can't get enough of it. Not that funny is it?" No, it really wasn't. Except when Buckingham did the crazy man mix of "Not That Funny." Barking, twitching, and generally spazzing out, Buckingham tore into his acerbic Tusk tune and demonstrated some of the mad genius that crafted perfect pop/rock over the course of five or six Fleetwood Mac albums and made him the Seventies equivalent to Brian Wilson. More importantly, this tune, buried at the end of Mac's two-hour-plus extravaganza at San Antonio's Enormodome (rigged small for this show), demonstrated how stale Rumors has become with this whole reunion hoopla. Not only was the 25-song set-list dominated by the album (10 songs if you include the Rumors B-side, "Silver Springs"), it sounded almost exactly like the recent Rumors live CD spin-off, The Dance, and video, VH1 Cashcow. In fact, twice during the evening, Buckingham introduced songs word-for-word as he introduces them on The Dance. And because the band played the same set that's featured on the CD and video, the whole show went over like a repeat, or worse yet, like sitting at home listening to the album. The only surprises, then, were those tunes not on The Dance, namely "Gypsy," "Second Hand News," and a couple of solo tunes. Maybe just because they broke the stranglehold of the stale, Buckingham's stark acoustic reading of
"Go Insane" and Stevie Nicks' Eighties flashback, "Stand Back" proved to be high points. Overall, the band sounded tight -- Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are about as polished a rhythm section as any in music history -- with Buckingham reiterating what an amazingly underrated guitarist he's always been, and gravel-throated Nicks confirming her status as feminine figurehead and sex symbol (lots of twirling during "Gold Dust Woman"). In
another year or so, Tusk can celebrate its 20th birthday. Being twice as emotionally charged as Rumors -- and twice as long -- maybe that reunion/anniversary tour will be twice as good.
-- Raoul Hernandez
THE ROLLING STONES
Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, November 1
Meet rock & roll's Promise Keepers: The Rolling Stones. The only other non-helmet-wearing group capable of filling U.S. stadia (or, in this case, speedways) in 1997 is that all-male throng of chest-beating evangelical Christians. And Jesus can do it all by himself; he doesn't need Smashing Pumpkins, the Dave Matthews Band, or Matchbox 20 around to attract people born after Some Girls. On a chilly Day of the Dead (irony, anyone?) outside Fort Worth, the sight of Keith Richards center stage grinding out that immortal "Satisfaction" riff certainly had its share of religious overtones -- even a fireball. But pyrotechnics aside, the prime religified emotion stirred up by the Stones' only Texas rendezvous wasn't resurrection, rapture, or salvation -- it was doubt. Yes, the Stones were the Stones, but so what? Even Mick Jagger admits Bridges to Babylon is a retread, and the album cuts that made the set list -- "Flip the Switch," "Anybody Seen My Baby," and "Out of Control" -- didn't exactly make him a liar. Contrivance and routine are now the Rolling Stones' stock and trade: The rote titillation of two huge bronze naked women bookending the stage; the supposedly democratic, obviously rigged Internet voting (which again dragged "Star Star" off Goat's Head Soup over "All Down the Line" and "No Expectations," to name a couple); the obligatory give-Mick-a-breather part, where Richards' rasp took over for two songs that barely kept the crowd from making a quick concession stand/bathroom run; and the faux intimacy of their satellite stage set -- so they can still play on a club-sized stage; big deal. If this band has done anything in the past 20 years, it's elevated going through the motions to an art form. That's what made two unexpected guests from Sticky Fingers, "Dead Flowers" and "Bitch," so welcome -- and also what ultimately redeemed the show. Still, there's still only one band that can string together "Sympathy for the Devil," "Tumblin' Dice," "Honky Tonk Women," "Start Me Up," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "Brown Sugar." Those songs came crashing down in a torrent of clarity, history, and volume, finally cutting through all the hype, pomp, and circumstance. The Stones came to put on a show, and they kept their promise. It wasn't the first-time revelation that the Alamodome in `94 was for me, but in the end, it was enough. Just barely. -- Christopher Gray
Frank Erwin Center, November 2
In a day when just about anybody with a hotshot publicist gets called an artist, Prince truly is The Artist -- capital T, capital A. Without question, he's a singular and unequaled talent, a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter and dancer. Moreover, those folks that paid $15 to watch him schmooze at the Hang 'em High after-party say his pool game ain't too shabby either. Yet what's made The Artist such a enduring and compelling character is not just his raw and diverse talents, but also his legacy of eccentricity -- a distinction that makes each Prince album and tour an actual event. Undeniably, this Erwin Center appearance was eventful. In regards to song and spectacle, The Artist gave Austin a two hour-plus dose of vintage Prince. For those who had never seen him before, the "Jam of the Year" was all its name implied. Unfortunately, it was also sad proof that if you've seen one "Jam of the Year" show, you've seen 'em all; between this gig and his San Antonio show just three months ago, the set's undergone very little change. Without a record company to apply pressure, this tour should be showcasing free-form, improvisational sets full of the same eccentric touches found throughout Prince's body of work. Instead, it was merely the same stage raps, same choreography, same basic set list, and same high and low points. "Face Down," a Clinton-style bass-heavy track off of Emancipation, is still an awesome and undeniable centerpiece, while a soulless reading of Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" and an overblown "Do Me Baby" still threatened to derail the show. At least he finished "Do Me Baby," however. In San Antonio, the stop/start, verse/chorus/next song medley approach worked simply because it had been so long since he'd played Texas and he has so much material to cover. Here, the same approach was as annoying as having a friend seize your television remote -- constantly changing the channel just as something looked interesting. In a perfect world, Prince could have played half the songs, finishing them all, to better effect. Better yet, he could have sung a chorus or two, rather than passing them off to the crowd. And what's ultimately so disappointing is that rather than chance a hit-or-miss gig, The Artist stuck to impressing Prince virgins rather than trying something far more adventurous. On the other hand, perhaps by definition alone, there can only be one true "Jam of the Year" -- your first.
-- Andy Langer
La Zona Rosa, November 4
If David Byrne had been depending on his solo career to fill the house at his recent La Zona Rosa gig, this show would have been more appropriate at Bob Popular. With half of the 16-song set coming from his Talking Heads days, Byrne is clearly acknowledging the strength of his band's bouncy, lethal punk-pop while still trying to shill reedy, multicultural synth-prattle as his contemporary sound. Wearing an outsize fuzzy coat that could've been lifted from Mr. Fabulous' wardrobe, Byrne opened the show with "Once in a Lifetime," the funky, oft-parodied song that first got the Heads on MTV. But what was once daring quirk came off like contrived mime; "Did I really pay $25 to see Milli Vanilli do Talking Heads?" groused my friend Amy four songs into the show as Byrne pumped through "Take Me to the River." I shrugged and waved goodbye to an acquaintance, a die-hard Byrne fan, who was leaving halfway through. I mean, David Byrne has produced some of the most bone-chilling music in rock's history: the sensual lope of "The Great Curve," the desperation of "Life During Wartime" with its anthem-like reprise of dark anger where Byrne warns, "this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around." Actually, it was a party -- to the crowd of fist-pumpers who showed up to see Byrne solo; these were not the folks from Talking Heads shows all those years ago. David Byrne solo is not expected to be Talking Heads, but the irony is that his former rhythm section continues playing and recording today in a vein that is much truer to the songs that were bringing the biggest applause from his audience. The exception was the perky "Miss America," one of the best recent examples of Byrne's songwriting genius style at work. Imagine if that had been performed by a full band, not two synthesizers, a bass, and a double for Scary Spice backing up Byrne. But just about the time Byrne warmed the crowd, he was closing in with another chain of Talking Heads crowd-pleasers: "Big Blue Plymouth," "Road to Nowhere," and encores "Psycho Killer" and "I Zimbra." Once upon a time, David Byrne headed up the best, most important working band in America. This was just fooling around. -- Margaret Moser
Liberty Lunch, November 7-8
When you've been a pivotal player in the forging of a genre, you've got plenty of room to play around, and Jeff Tweedy took full advantage of that with the unrepentant swagger of an icon in the making. Staggering back and forth between sloppy irreverence and veteran precision, Wilco was everything a rock band should be, and these two shows were more than anyone could ask for. Frenetic emotion and a general weirdness permeated the air both evenings, but these final two dates of the tour saw Wilco pull out all the stops. Saturday's show, starting at 11:30pm, ran well past 2am, and became a marathon seldom seen anymore; even they didn't want it to end. The pure country of songs like "Don't Forget the Flowers" and "Acuff Rose" was surpassed only when the acoustic exploded in the later strains of "New Madrid" and in the one-two of "Red-Eyed and Blue" and "I Got You." An almost unrecognizable "Passenger Side" saw a raucous punk incarnation à la the Mats' Sorry Ma... and the limited time devoted to Uncle Tupelo songs was well spent with "The Long Cut" and "Gun." The two-night stand was chock-full of covers (often wisely aborted), the strongest being a rockin' turn through the Buzzcocks' "Falling in Love." Shirtless, shit-faced, diving into and surfing across an ecstatic crowd while not missing a beat of "Box Full of Letters," Tweedy embodied rock-star charisma. The image he creates and debunks with tunes like "Someone Else's Song" and "Misunderstood" has become his persona -- and with the band he's got, Tweedy's presence is all the more powerful. (Even the roadies rocked, as they took the stage late Saturday for an unexpectedly good version of "Ziggy Stardust.") Only the not-quite-capacity crowds could assuage any fan's fear about their beloved Wilco being too soon consigned to arena-only shows; this band belongs in clubs where we can touch them. ("We," not the moron who hurled a bottle at Tweedy Friday night and was brought onstage to be duly mocked, doused, and abandoned before being thrown out.) Alternative country -- and by extension, all of rock & roll -- is seeing the creation of a true star, and this time, we can rest easy knowing that the role is being played by a willing master. -- Christopher Hess