The Austin Chronicle

Live Shots

September 4, 1998, Music

Alejandro Escoveda (left) at the Continental Club, August 30

photograph by John Carrico


Portland, Oregon, August 20-22

"'Louie Louie' is the whole history of rock & roll in three minutes and 40 years," said moderator Dave Marsh at the outset of "The Real Story of 'Louie Louie'" panel. A bold statement in a mostly empty hotel ballroom, but then Marsh, still considered by many in the industry to be the dean of music journalism, has always been an outspoken bastard. And yet the way he said it was almost serene, an odd state for Marsh, a well-known crank who stomped off a South by Southwest panel two years ago. Then again, why not? He did write an entire book on the subject. And while he didn't plug it outright – nor even mention it, for that matter – this panel, a conference treasure for those few in attendance, not only illustrated the fertile soil of its subject, it easily confirmed Marsh's opening declaration. Written by L.A. soulman Richard Berry in the Fifties, "Louie Louie" became a Northwest phenomenon when Portland's Wailers cut a version that was in turn covered by two of that city's more popular bands, Paul Revere & the Raiders and the Kingsmen. In fact, the young bands recorded the song within days of each other, the latter band's take becoming a legendary hit only after some local convinced a deejay that the Kingsmen were a black band being ripped off by the white boy Raiders. Panelist and Paul Revere vocalist Mark Lindsay laughed at fate's slight of hand, betraying not one iota of bitterness, which his counterpart, Jack Ely, the man who actually sang "Louie Louie" for the Kingsmen, lacked any trace of as well. Saying he made a grand total of $3,000 for spawning what one panelist estimated was at least 1,200 versions of the song (said Marsh: "Richard liked them all except the version on [Iggy Pop's] Metallic K.O.; 'You know that guy?' he asked me. 'What's wrong with that guy?'"), Ely was an oyster giving up its pearl after a lifetime in its shell; among other things, the good-natured farmer revealed that the song's unintelligible vocal, which led to a thorough FBI investigation into its "obscene lyrics," was a product of his having braces and having his jaws held together by rubber bands. In fact, the panel, which ended with Marsh and his cohorts leading the audience in a version of "Louie Louie" even worse than John Belushi's turn in Animal House, was such a fascinating and inspired reaffirmation of rock & roll's historical richness, one almost forgot that there were some 300 bands playing this three-day SXSW satellite conference (organized by said local organization). Among the highlights were a Motor City-style punk band from L.A., the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs – purported to be a Marsh favorite – playing a searing in-store set at Portland's Ozone Records. Other notables: Dallas' answer to David Garza, Wes Cunningham, on the hotel day stage, proudly overseen by Warner Bros.publicity VP Bill Bentley, on whose label the 26-year-old's debut will appear later this month; Vancouver's ambient dance knockout, Perfume Tree; Richard Buckner, his electric guitar, and his demons; and Ft. Worth by way of upstate New Yorker Johnny Dowd's drunken avant-country spaz-out (seen also at SXSW). The buzz grew loudest around Northwest pop notables Marigold, who have yet to grow hair on their baby faces, but recently signed to Dreamworks; Sunset Valley, whose precise Pixiesish punch recalls Spoon; and Creeper Lagoon's dirge rock (coming soon to Liberty Lunch). With outdoor headliners like the Original P, featuring original Parliament veterans putting on what looked and sounded like a blaxploitation version of The Wiz, Austin legends/ unknowns like Daniel Johnston, the River City Rapists, and Matt the Electrician getting good word of mouth, and plenty of industry badge-sniffing going on, NXNW felt a lot like SXSW. Only smaller, cooler (weatherwise), more intimate. A good time. "I say a Louie, Lou-eye, ohh no, baby we gotta go. Ay-yai yai yai..." – Raoul Hernandez


Woodlands Pavillion, Houston, August 25

"Daddy," purred Milana in a demure, and for her, dramatically uncharacteristic manner, "will you take me to see the Spice Girls in Houston for my birthday?" It was a request that was hard to resist coming from an 8-year-old still wondrously naive to the wicked ways of the world but apparently intuitive enough to appreciate, at some level, the very basic if unintended principle of "Girrrl Power." So off we trekked to the wilds of East Texas for her first concert experience. Although we arrived hours before showtime, there were already thousands of hopped-up, pre-pubescent girls in all manner of Spice Girl regalia along with their (mostly) suburban-attired mothers anxiously waiting for the gates to open. My generation had its under-aged teeny boppers, but oh my, these were teeny-weenie boppers. For anyone who would condemn the arguably corrupting influence of this ritual of popular culture on the moral fiber of these unsuspecting youths, breathe easy; if nothing else, this particular event reinforced a major tenet of the American Way of Life – our God-given right to be consumers (I consume, therefore I am). The T-shirt/tour book concessions I expected, and of course, the endless lines for junk food, but this dad proved to be the naive one as I wasn't quite prepared for the inescapable multimedia blitz of advertisements that pummeled this captured audience with cyber-frenetic images and electro-hypnotic grooves from huge video monitors and stacks of speakers. These pint-sized innocents suddenly became nothing more than potential consumers of such "necessities" as cosmetics, pimple pads, the latest teen romance movie, the Sci-Fi channel, and oddly enough, Spice-endorsed motorcycles. By the time the lights lowered, the anticipation fueled by the blaring, thumping music had worked the squealing crowd into a near frenzy. Now, if I were a true cynic I'd go into a rant about the blatantly commercial nature of the Spice Girls and their frothy music. Sorry to disappoint you, but in all honesty, once the show began, my daughter and I shared a genuinely wonderful experience together. I wish I could capture forever the look of sheer and utter delight on her face the moment the Spice Girls stepped onto the stage to the robotic, bass-heavy barrage of "If U Can't Dance." From that instant on, she was transfixed, up on her seat, arm around her daddy, shakin' to the music and singing along to every song. This was her night to revel to her music. The well-paced show, spread over two sets (bonus time to spend more money during intermission), featured all the hits ("Spice Up Your Life," "Wannabe," "Stop," etc.), a couple of cool covers (the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go" and Sister Sledge's "We Are Family"), the flashing lights, the numerous costume changes, and the pretty dancing boys. It was your quintessential, high-energy pop culture extravaganza. When I was my daughter's age, my father took me to the first baseball game the Dodgers ever played in Los Angeles. It was an arousing experience I'll never forget. The Spice Girls won't be around in 40 years, but I'll bet the memory of this spectacle won't be forgotten any time soon. By either of us. – Jay Trachtenberg


Alamo DraftHouse, August 27

File this show under: "Things I never thought I'd see in my lifetime." On Thursday night, there were people outside the Alamo Drafthouse offering $25 a ticket for an ST-37 show. The local outfit can, under normal circumstances, be seen at, say, the Hole in the Wall for $4. The reason for the inflated ticket prices here was a one-time only show where the local band performed live musical accompaniment to Metropolis, Fritz Lang's 1926 epochal film about a bleak futuristic world where the vast majority of the population toils away manning machines for the benefit of a wealthy few – kind of like one giant, industrialized Kathie Lee sweatshop. It would be anachronistic to call it Orwellian, but that's the gist. And it's not an original undertaking re-scoring the film or performing live with it; in 1984, an edited version of Metropolis was re-released with Giorgio Moroder, who also scored Midnight Express and Cat People among others, doing original music. Even so it was an impressive thing to watch and hear. For two uninterrupted hours, the band synched themselves up to what was on screen and cranked out the Kraut rock. It was an exceptional marriage of band and film (especially in the scene where the good Maria tells the workers the prophetic story of the Tower of Babel), and a very bass-intensive experience. Everything began with a punishing pulse on the low end, then the two guitars kind of dallied around on top of that, going heavy on the aesthetics and completely eschewing any melody. The only complaint would be that there were times when silence instead of the thundering swirls of sound would have been the best soundtrack lest the movie turn into a two-hour video. On a couple of occasions, the music was more distracting than enhancing, but that's nitpicking. Incidentally, the one-time only show ain't so one-time after all, as interest was so high and space so limited that the Alamo announced it will do it all over again. Should you be dutiful enough to pick up tickets in advance, you can avoid getting soaked for $25. – Michael Bertin


La Zona Rosa, August 28

It was a homecoming of sorts at La Zona Rosa on Friday night, and a touch sentimental at that, but if things got a little mushy it was understandable: It's been almost a year since local fave Kris McKay left Austin for the great celluloid city of Los Angeles. There are natives among us who consider that a dubious move at best, but those suspicious of SoCal can take comfort in the knowledge that 10 months in L.A. haven't robbed McKay of her considerable entertainer's charms. They have not robbed her of stage presence: McKay was her usual spotlight self, slightly smartass, but endearingly so, quick with between-song patter and quicker still with her ironic eyebrows. They have not robbed her of her ear for good songs: McKay weaved two sharp sets, shifting easily from originals ("Testing 1-2") to covers ("When Doves Cry") to those in-between ("Save it for Later" segued seamlessly into an Abralicious "Four Leaf Clover"). And they have not robbed her of a rich and powerful voice: The trademark McKay pipes were in full attendance, their fine emotion most evident in the ballads that peppered her second set. Her take on Joan Armatrading's "Weakness in Me" – always a highlight – sent the requisite chills to the top of the spine. Throughout, McKay seemed to be having a genuine good time of it, croonin' the old tunes and hamming it up for an appreciative crowd. Things were a little loose up there, a little rushed at times, owing perhaps to an overflow film-fest party next door or to the emotions of the homecoming. It's not the best she's ever done, but it was good to have her back, and for her part, she was glad to be here. "L.A.'s a pretty cool place," McKay said at the top of her second set, "but it's not Austin. And it's not you guys. I miss you so much. I really don't miss the heat, but I do miss the warmth, because nobody loves me like you do in Austin, and I know that. I don't mean to get mushy, but fuck." Fuck indeed. Come back anytime. –Jay Hardwig


Scholz Beer Garten, August 29

Though we fair-weather fans may have chosen to wait out the green skies and tornado warnings of last Saturday afternoon before heading to Scholz Beer Garten to twirl about outside in loose cotton clothing, the Dead faithful did not. Heads of all ages in tie-dye of matching status filled the patio with their one-hitters and their funny hats, their Birkenstocks and their cell phones. This was a party, granted, but it still begs the question: Where does the idea come from that the only kind of music the Grateful Dead played was insanely long and pointlessly drawn-out rock jams with fragmentary lyrics and an obligatory percussion solo? Bluegrass pickin' had as much to do with defining Jerry Garcia's sound as anything, alongside folk, jazz, and blues. But, as expected, a tribute to him involved half-baked and completely unrealized covers of the Grateful Dead rock anthems à la Flounders Without Eyes: "Birdsong," "Terrapin Station," "Not Fade Away," "The Other One," and a particularly horrendous rendition of "St. Stephen." By the end of the show, I was sorry I had missed the first two bands – Richardson Seeds and Galapagos – considering that they may have had something more generous, sincere, and original to offer. Houston's Hightailers played sloppy roadhouse rock that wasn't near good enough to atone for their disparity. Except for a guest appearance by a woman who sang a version of "Wang Dang Doodle" that would have made Koko Taylor yell "Go girl!," the Flounders barely knew (or sang) any of the lyrics, and the guitar leads and overabundant bass fills alike were as sloppy as could be. As a tribute to one of the more inventive and influential guitarists in pop music history, this show came up short. As a party, however, it was a smash; tons of people having fun, dancing, singing along to the lyrics in their head, cheering when the singer figured them out – heedless of the actual performance – and remembering (or imagining) what it was like when the Dead would be back next summer. Kind of sounds like the last few years of the real Grateful Dead, come to think of it. – Christopher Hess

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