State Palace Theater, New Orleans, September 20

Perhaps it was some sort of tempestuous millennial fluke that brought the feuding members of what was originally called Bauhaus 1919 back under one roof, but as with the decade's earlier (yet equally unfathomable) Sex Pistols reunion, the impossible has apparently, suddenly, become the norm. It's been 20 years since their formation in Northampton, England, and 15 since Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David Jay, and Kevin Haskins called it quits amidst a flurry of self-recrimination and insoluble ego washouts. Certainly, the intervening years have been productive, what with Murphy's solo outings and Love and Rockets ongoing attempts to define themselves and their Bubblemen alter egos. Still, the very idea of the original godfathers of gothic rock returning to the stage was until very recently a notion reserved for those imbibing a dram too much homebrew absinthe. And yet here they were. Again. As with all the dates on Bauhaus' "Resurrection Tour," New Orleans' State Palace Theater was sold out, awash not in the predicted squalls of tropical depression Frances, but thoroughly overcast in black crepe, mesh, patent leather, etc. Of all the American whistlestops on Bauhaus' tour, the ancient port city captures Bauhaus' existential gloom and black-clad debauchery more than any other, though judging from the 2,000-plus audience's somewhat subdued reactions, the dreaded "gother-than-thou" attitude was also apparent. On a dark stage lit solely by the cathode glare of a large black-and-white monitor showing the chiseled, cadaverous visage of Peter Murphy, Bauhaus opened with 1980's "In the Flat Field." Cheers and exultations greeted the band's arrival as the spots went up to reveal Haskins and Jay (cheerfully dubbed "Thing One and Thing Two" by a hennaed bombshell in front of me) and the perpetually cool Ash, whose blue-black, spikey-haired coif put one in mind of Captain Sensible circa 1982. Keeping the patter to the occasional brief "Thank you," Murphy & Co. ran diligently through most of the greatest hits featured on the new "Crackle" compilation, throwing in the occasional deep cut ("Severance," "Boys") for good measure. If anything, the Return of the Four re-established the waning adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. From the spare, funereal pace of "Hollow Hills" to the double encore of "Ziggy Stardust" and on to the inevitable closer, "Bela Lugosi's Dead," it was London's Marquee 1980 all over again, with nary a wrinkle or age spot in sight. The night's biggest surprise -- other than the lack of a full moon, which one suspects is part and parcel of the band's rider -- remains the sudden removal of David Jay's seemingly welded-on sunglasses, revealing not glowing, cataract whites, as expected, but normal, organic visual apparatus. Who knew? -- Marc Savlov


House of Blues, New Orleans, September 21

Looked most like Hank Williams: Roger Wallace

photograph by John Carrico

It was the song the seething, sold-out coven had been waiting the entire black mass to hear. A song whose first recorded versions, by Walter "Furry" Lewis in 1927 and "Mississippi" John Hurt in 1928, came at least 70 years after it had become part of the public domain. A song of African-American origin that became associated with New Orleans in 1959 after a native son of the state, Lloyd Price, based his version -- a number one hit -- on that of another of the city's singers, Leon T. "Archibald" Gross. A song about a cold-hearted killer leaving a bloody trail to hell: "Stagger Lee." Or "Stack O'Lee," "Stacker Lee," and even "Stackolee." For Nick Cave, on 1995's exorcism of demons, Murder Ballads, it was just plain "Stagger Lee." Just plain. That's a laugh. Without a doubt one of the absolute most profane versions of that song ever recorded, Cave's typically dark and ferociously feral interpretation includes lines like, "I'm a bad motherfucker don't you know, and I'll crawl over 50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole." And when he sang that line live, you could hear every word of it, because Cave, often compared to Leonard Cohen by way of Tom Waits, enunciates every single word he sings. Standing at the foot of the stage throughout most of the 90-minute performance, Cave spent the entire show punctuating every phrase with the index and middle finger of his right hand pointing into the audience like Stagger Lee's .45. The audience, looking up at him in awe from the floor, down on him with glee from the balcony -- the House of Blues built as if for the theatre -- took each bullet as if it were an honor to go in front of such a firing squad. The 18 songs, each of them murder ballads in their own way, heaved with Cave's bellowing baritone, whether they were the controlled cacophony of epic dramas like "Do You Love Me," "Tupelo," and "Red Right Hand," or more somber and reflective fare like "Into My Arms," "Lime-Tree Arbor," and "West Country Girl" from Cave's stunning 1997 prayer book for heartbreak, The Boatman's Call. At the halfway mark, when Cave introduced the thundering, crashing "From Her to Eternity" with, "This is a very old song -- the first song we tried to work on wasn't it, Mr. Bargeld?" the show went farther into the red than one would have thought possible. For one, Cave's longtime backing band, the Bad Seeds, anchored by guitarist Blixa Bargeld, proved themselves absolute masters of tension and its total and complete manipulation. Even ballads like "The Weeping Song" and "The Ship Song," played back to back, were taut. By the first encore, "Plain Gold Ring," featuring a haunting violin solo by the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis, the crowd was at near-frenzy. They called for "Jack the Ripper," but got Cave and Bargeld dueting as if lovers on "Where the Wild Roses Grow" then "Jack the Ripper." They stomped and screamed, demanding a second encore and getting "Henry Lee" before "Stagger Lee." And how did the last song of the evening go down? Like human sacrifice -- a person being torn in two -- Bargeld screaming bloody murder into the mike as the band pushed wave after wave of chaos through the stacks of amps. Finishing at exactly midnight, the first stroke of morning on Cave's 42nd birthday, the seldom touring band of hellions disappeared like a child's innocence, leaving one to walk home in a city where someone can point to some house on some dark corner of Royal Street and say, "That's the most haunted house in New Orleans." Like the original owner of that house, Madame Delphine LeLaurie, who was chased from the city for torturing and killing slaves, Nick Cave's version of "Stagger Lee," in all its dark and evil glory, belongs to New Orleans.

-- Raoul Hernandez


Antone's, September 23

Sit your ass down. Son Volt did and it was a revelation. The band came out for its Wednesday night acoustic show at Antone's and took to the chairs. And for a band that, based on its last two appearances in town, was in danger of irrevocably getting labeled the "bore corps," it was a wise move, because once seated the fact that Son Volt kingpin Jay Farrar has no stage presence to speak of became a non-factor. Of course, you couldn't see the band unless you were in a three-person radius of the stage, but with Farrar playing sideman to his own material, that wasn't a big deal. The "acoustic show" billing was a bit of a misnomer anyway, the only difference sound-wise from their usual show being that Farrar played an acoustic guitar. The Boquist brothers were fully plugged in and drummer Mike Heidorn rocked out as much as he has since No Depression. New material, including "Driving the View," "Dead Man's Clothes," and "Carry You Down" from the forthcoming Wide Swing Tremolo sounded far more vibrant than last year's flat offering, Straightaways. After closing the hour-long seated set with "Windfall," Son Volt then came back out for another six or seven song electric set sans chairs and demonstrated the other advantage of the partially seated format: They hadn't wasted any energy standing around for that first hour, so they actually looked alive during "Karyatid Easy" and "Route 4." The band did two quickie encores, one of which had them sounding more like (no lie) Black Sabbath than Gram Parsons, but anybody who bothered to look around the room at any point during the night had to know they weren't done. With Doug Sahm wandering around Antone's all evening, it was a given there'd be a reprisal duet of "Give Back the Key to My Heart" from the Uncle Tupelo swan song, Anodyne. Afterwards, Farrar almost, almost, almost cracked a smile. Who'd have thunk the smartest thing the band could ever do was simply pull up a chair?

-- Michael Bertin


Austin Music Hall, September 25

Over the years, starting with his 1989 debut, Let Love Rule, Lenny Kravitz has taken a lot of shit. Too retro! cry the critics with the release of every new disc. Spot the influence! they say. Sly Stone, James Brown, Prince, the Rolling Stones. Yeah, so? Everybody does that. "The same thing that I'm put down for, groups like Oasis and the Verve are praised for," said Kravitz by telephone days prior to his show at the Austin Music Hall. Selling out soon after tickets had gone on sale, Kravitz's first show in Austin since a mainstage slot at H.O.R.D.E. '96 was the hottest ticket in town on a fall semester Friday night that showcased nothing but quality shows (Mike Watt, Creeper Lagoon, a private Art Alexakis show at Steamboat). It couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that Kravitz held that Southpark Meadows' H.O.R.D.E. like Che Guevara come back to life to lead the revolution? Nah! The 2,000-plus people at the Music Hall, a drunken horde to make Hunter Thompson start hallucinating gnashing lizards wading knee-deep in blood, were obviously there to see the mewling Sean Lennon, who received the best response of his 35-minute set when he announced the last song; actually, the kid wasn't that bad, some of the harder-edged material from his debut Into the Sun soaking up a little of his milquetoastiness. Really, though, the boy didn't belong on the big rawk bill, especially not following opener Ozomatli, a 12-piece multi-racial Latin hip-hop collective from L.A. that tore a seriously groovacious swath through 30 years of funk. Then again, this throng was only there to see Kravitz, and when he stepped out in front of a dozen white spotlights, sans dreads and decked out in army fatigues and sunglasses -- the Mod Squad look -- fists in the air like it was a Black Panthers rally circa 1972, it was easy to see why. Backed by what looked like extras from a 20-year-old Pam Grier B movie -- a shirtless, weight-room swollen saxman and a guitar/drum tandem whose Afros were larger than most hedges, as well as a trumpet player, and a backup singer -- Kravitz wasn't exactly evoking the swing era. Establishing a continuous, analog groove incumbent on one decade in particular, the Seventies, Kravitz and Co. weighed down the show's first hour with one 10-minute tune after another, mostly jams like "Live," "Supersoulfighter," and "Straight Cold Player," all from the new album, 5. "Last night we went out to catch Hot Buttered Rhythm," said Kravitz before actually kicking out of that gear. "I thought [Austin] was all cowboys and shit. I was wrong." With that came one anthem after another, the show accelerating pace and building momentum: "Rock & Roll Is Dead," the swaying midtempo rock 'n' soul of "Don't Go Put a Bullet in Your Head," "Can't Get You Offa My Mind," and of course, "Let Love Rule." "This is the most rocking show of the tour," he shouted to his adoring mass. "I never want to leave." Thirty minutes later, after two full hours and encores including "Fly Away" and "Are You Gonna Go My Way," he did, amidst a roar rarely heard from Austin's jaded audiences. Too retro? Probably. But not one person in that sweating and sated mass cared. Critics be damned. "If I'm too new, if I'm too old, if I'm up the middle, wherever I am they're going to complain," Kravitz had remarked during our interview. "I'm just that guy." Yes, and that's why audiences love you, Lenny.

-- Raoul Hernandez


Waterloo Records/Liberty Lunch, September 26

It was inevitable that Elliott Smith, whose songs abet Matt Damon and Minnie Driver's libidinous gazes in Good Will Hunting, would become a heartthrob himself. "Awwwooh!" gushed a chorus of young women as Smith picked out the first few bars of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" at his Waterloo Records afternoon in-store performance. That Smith would cover John Lennon was also inevitable, despite his denials that the Beatles influence is threaded throughout his songs. The digital cameras were pointed at the aisles overstuffed with well-mannered fans as often as they were at the man responsible for this gathering; fitting, since Smith's ascendancy as a pop star is getting as much ink as the music itself, everyone asking whether he's worth all the hype. Smith performed alone and acoustic at the in-store, starting off, it seemed, a bit nervous; after both of the first two songs, he sheepishly asked everyone if they were doing all right. The songs, "Clementine," "Angeles," off of his earlier, sparser, drug-addled albums, were unsurprisingly stark and resplendent. In fact, Smith not only pulled off "Waltz #2" from his new album XO without the benefit of drums, piano, and strings, he did it more powerfully -- the guy's guitar playing sounds like three people playing at once. As the set wore on, Smith, upping the intimacy level with the sweaty and oxygen-deprived masses, started taking requests, and closed, as was only appropriate, with "Waterloo Sunset." Later that night, openers Quasi had the sold-out crowd at Liberty Lunch hooked even before Smith joined them on guitar and bass. Janet Weiss' drum kit and ex-Heatmiser Sam Coomes' Roxichord (keyboards-cum-harpsichord) were set up adjacent to each other, giving neither one more prominence. Their gimmick, though they downplay it in interviews, is that they're divorced, and their songs, presumably, are about each other; with song titles like "Our Happiness is Guaranteed," "I Never Want to See You Again," "You Fucked Yourself," and "I Give Up," what else are we to think? This Portland duo makes discord work for them, though; their high-strung pop is thick and mesmerizing -- Coomes' Roxichord recalls a little girl's music box, only the little ballerina inside is alternately twirling on overdrive and head-banging to Weiss' propulsive drumming. When the trio came back onstage, it was Elliott Smith in the spotlight with a calmed-down Quasi backing, playing more straight-ahead rock and repeating only a few of the songs performed at the in-store. The accompaniment was technically perfect: Weiss and Coomes' backing vocals matching Smith high note for impossibly high note, the drums and bass beautifully fleshing out some songs, but diluting others. Smith's intensity level, at least live, is optimum when it's just him. As if answering to that sentiment, the encore was Smith alone again, with a hollow-body, de-fuzzed electric guitar, finishing with George Harrison's "What Is Life?" No Beatles influence, my ass. People who missed either the Waterloo in-store or the Liberty Lunch show missed half of the whole picture of Elliott Smith, but either half answered the question whether he's worth all the hype with a resounding "yes." -- Kim Mellen

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