Texas Union Ballroom, November 14
In the somewhat apologetic liner notes to Ani DiFranco's Living in Clip, this year's cluttered, all-too-live two-CD collection, the DIY diva gets off a line that's either a real statement or real cop-out: "We play music for people, not posterity." Maybe that explains why the whole of this Texas Union Ballroom show felt so disposable, why DiFranco so often came off as one-dimensional. The only difference between playing for people and playing for posterity lies in the performance itself. And from the looks of this DiFranco performance, she's too busy preaching to the choir to wage any further battle with the clergy. As such, this gig was a set of mostly predictable fare, save a stunning banjo-driven cover of Bob Dylan's "Most of the Time." Come to think of it, perhaps it was her recent tour with Dylan -- and the mixed reception she reportedly received from his crustier crowd -- that had her savoring the return to the safety of her own audience. Better yet (for her anyway), Austin's almost a hometown gig. "I'm inappropriately possessive [of Austin]... this whole fuckin' MTV Sports thing is really pissing me off," said DiFranco, who's made three records here in the last year alone. That rap was a nice enough gesture of goodwill, but let's hope none of these records include the new material she debuted in this set -- songs so hopelessly stream-of-conscious that it's doubtful anybody with a real record company or producer behind them would ever allow them to leave a home 4-track. The better material ("Untouchable Face," "32 Flavors," "Napoleon," and "Letter to a John") fared well, but was still just music for the people. The show ended as it should have gone all along, with the loose retro-dub intro to her "Shameless" encore and its fully funky finish serving as proof of DiFranco's real merits as a live performer -- her ability to improvise and experiment and thereby make each song memorable and posterity-bound. Here's hoping that next time DiFranco will care less about the people and more about the show.
-- Andy Langer
Lucy's, November 17
Used to be there was only one show down on Sixth Street Monday nights. Nothing happened until the fat man sang, and the fact that Don Walser still plays his weekly freebie at Babe's is one of Austin's natural wonders. Well, Don, there's a new kid on the street now. His name is Reckless Kelly and his name doesn't lie. He's all piss and vinegar, full of youthful swagger and rugged good looks. The gals just love 'im, and already it's probably gone to his head. What can you do? It's like a lite beer commercial: A rustic honky-tonk from another time (shot through a misty yellow filter) finds Walser and his Pure Texas Band spinning their timeless country music for a modest crowd of older folk with benign, yet truly happy smiles on their wholesome faces. The gents are wearing starched white shirts and hats (this is for the Texas market after all), and the ladies are in floral print dresses. Suddenly, somebody opens a Coors. A powerful gust of wind blows the saloon's doors open, and, through the use of computer animation, the dancers morph into a modern day Sixth Street frat throng, guys wearing flannel and baseball hats, gals brandishing their disposable cameras. Big daddy Don Walser is transformed into five young twentysomethings wearing flannel, bandanas, and overalls, kicking the shit out of their raucous honky-tonk rock & roll. (They tried to get Steve Earle to do the spot, but he said shove it, and instead the producers plucked some band off Sixth Street.) Somebody opens another Coors -- there's high-fives, smiles all around, and a toast. A group of girls is laughing like hyenas. Fade out. Yup, I can see it now. Only difference is that Austin's Reckless Kelly aren't gunning for Walser. They've got their own club, their own crowd, and their own Monday night freebies. And if they sound like just another cover band -- albeit a very good one -- it's because, yes, they do a lot of covers. So does Don Walser. You have to when you're playing all night. Besides, who in Austin doesn't like Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, and Billy Joe Shaver? The band's debut, Millican, contributes a good fistful of originals to their set ("Walton Love," "Back Around," "It's All Over"), and already there's plenty of people in the crowd who know all the words. Another Austin institution in the making? Who knows, but for now, there's a new kid on the street Monday nights. -- Raoul Hernandez
Fair Park Coliseum, Dallas, November 18
As the delicate strains of "Up the Ocean..." filled the darkness of Dallas' Fair Park Coliseum, 10,000-plus were stirred into a long-awaited frenzy of remembrance, and when the guitar erupted into "Ocean Size" the crowd came to life, pitching back and forth with the fervor of a typhoon in the making. The expectations were high, but they were also easily fulfilled; the recently reformed Jane's Addiction could have belched through a set of Bocephus covers and this crowd would have eaten it up. Not that the show didn't have its share of problems: The sound system was inadequate for the far reaches of the coliseum (the layout of which was anything but conducive to a big, raucous show), the obligatory titty-dancer platforms were in the way of the main stage, and it was all over way too quickly. Nevertheless, it's easy to forget these things when 20 minutes of "Three Days" is churning away on stage, and Perry Farell is becoming an erotic Jesus while Stephen Perkins slams out time on the toms and Dave Navarro is playing mini-skirted whirling-dervish of rock guitardom right in front of you. And that Flea -- there's no denying he's one hell of a bass player, but his sharp funk style didn't quite fill the space like the absent Eric Avery could. When Navarro was off on one of many full-glam tangents, the songs he left behind felt a bit empty, though rumors of the death of Farell's voice were a bit exaggerated despite the fact that his eerie caterwaul did give way a few times to a tired rasp or a non-present scream. He held up, though, and was still able to hit the clean notes on "Summertime Rolls" like it was 1991. A heavily-guarded trek through the crowd to a remote thatched-hut stage produced a solid acoustic "Jane Says," the primal-beat drug-dirge of "Trip Away," and then a lovely and strained "Classic Girl" before they returned to the front to pound through a violent "Ted, Just Admit It" that brought the house down. The single encore was acoustic and half-assed, but so what: We had been granted another chance to see and hear the songs of Jane's Addiction, and that's what it was all about. -- Christopher Hess
Cactus Cafe, November 20
Intimacy has long been the Cactus Cafe's defining characteristic, and never more so than with a small crowd of 30-40 people. In most clubs, a crowd this size is shameful, but at the Cactus, it's often perfect. That's just enough warm bodies to fill the place comfortably and more than enough good Texans to hoot and holler and make a performer feel loved. Not that Kimmie Rhodes has ever really had trouble in that department. With her golden voice -- sweet and delicate on CD (very Emmylou Harris) but stronger, more forceful, live (a little Linda Ronstadt) -- Rhodes could skate on that talent alone, but she's also a terrific songwriter. Taken together, her Lone Star stories and that fairytale voice have a powerful effect on fans. Starting her first set off with a couple of tunes from last year's beautiful West Texas Heaven, "Hard Promises to Keep" and "Wild Roses," Rhodes and her band -- husband Joe Gracey on bass, son Gabe on guitar -- quickly set a mood befitting that album and the evening's three-stool acoustic set-up. "Take Me Down," a new song about wanting to be a trashman, spun a tale with plenty of charm, and it wasn't long before it became apparent that this is what Rhodes does best: spin tales. There was the tale of Waylon Jennings recording one of her songs, the story behind "When We See Our Father's Face" (about the day that Blaze Foley died), and Butch Hancock's dream wherein Townes Van Zandt gets to heaven and wanders into St. Peter's Bar and Tavern ("Why the long face?" asks St. Peter). "Maybe I should let Butch Hancock tell his dream," Rhodes hesitated, but she told it just fine. In fact, she sounded a lot like Hancock. So much so in fact, that I did exactly as I had at the last Hancock show I saw: I fell asleep. Only for a few minutes, really, but the effect of having Hancock/Rhodes spin his/her yarns accompanied by the sweet sound of an acoustic was too much. I slept with a smile on my face. Here, I woke to find Rhodes still telling me more bedtime stories, this one about her daddy, or that one "written for Joe Ely at the intersection of 71 & 620." The second set, adding keyboardist Dan Hubbard, was even better, particularly "The Road to Jubilee" and a song written with Emmylou Harris, "Ordinary Heart." And round about midnight when the evening ended, Rhodes turned once again to her son Gabe, and as she had all evening, gave him a smile only a mother could give her son -- one full of pride and love. That's how Rhodes is live -- that's how her songs come across -- with pride and love. -- Raoul Hernandez
Alamodome, San Antonio, November 23
Is U2 getting better? Perish the thought. "It's been an interesting year on the Starship Enterprise," Captain Bono said Sunday. "Thanks for stickin' by us." If he seemed a trifle apologetic, he was probably covering the same ass he would so graciously wiggle later during a thundering "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me." And only he could get away with it. He was, after all, standing in front of a 100-foot-tall electric arch when he said it. And when the huge "PopMart" video wall wasn't showing cartoons or collages, it was showing him, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton, and the Edge. That's who everyone came to see, right? Commercially, U2 is currently getting a cold shoulder (Pop is only one-and-a-half times platinum, how awful), but they seem to have hardly noticed. With or without the big hits and giant props, they're still four Dubliners who've played together since their teens -- something readily apparent as the band opened with Pop's electronic throb opus "Mofo" and segued into "I Will Follow," both songs as urgent and explosive as the band's recent trips to Belfast and Sarajevo. The way Bono and Edge cavorted together, one in black and the other in white, during "Mysterious Ways," and stood maybe two feet apart during an acoustic "Staring at the Sun," gave them away cold: They were having fun. So were Mullen and Clayton, whose airtight rhythms were as delicate and polished on "Gone" and "Please" as they were booming and quaking on "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Until the End of the World." A stirring "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" went out to Michael Hutchence, wherever he is, and in both "Last Night on Earth" and "All I Want Is You" Bono slipped in a verse or two from INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart" (an a cappella "Waltzing Mathilda" was also conspicuous). Other highlights included Edge's solo acoustic reading of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a powerful rendition of "New Year's Day," and the first encore, "Discotheque," which found the band emerging from a huge metallic flying saucer/disco ball/lemon. Surreal. But even in these trying times, U2 hasn't lost faith. Why should they? As their third and final encore ended the evening with "One" and then "Wake Up Dead Man," all the super-sized gizmos and 21st-century irony just made it that much more obvious they love what they do. At show's end, it was just four Irishmen and a 50-foot tall red heart.
-- Christopher Gray