Live Shots

Tosca at Cedar Street November 2.

photograph by John Carrico


Hogg Auditorium, October 25

The universe's supreme form is the circle; electrons orbit their atom's nucleus, Yin and Yang intertwine to form a ring, and galaxies rotate on their axes. So, too, did the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey spin holy circles in Hogg Auditorium, the first time the mystical group (seven dervishes, 14 musicians, and two officiants) has performed in Austin since 1978. The first 20-set consisted of traditional Turkish music, a brief whirling demonstration, and poetry readings of Jalaluddin Rumi, the spiritual artisan who founded the dervishes' order, the Mevlevi. The second set, 60 minutes or so, featured a sacred performance, "The Mevlevi Sema: A Sufi Ceremony of Remembrance." The mystical branch of Islam, Sufism comes in many different incarnations, and Turkey's dervishes are among the oldest; this particular ceremony is over seven centuries old. The dervishes always whirl counter-clockwise, left, toward the heart, with the right hand raised up toward God and the left hand down, acknowledging our mortal coil. In their flowing tunics and honey-hued camel hair hats, the dervishes struck a matchless sight. Even from a secular vantage, one has to respect the physical faculty needed to spin continuously and gracefully for an extended period of time, never once touching another. And while Hogg's Depression-era stage was crammed with 23 people, the Master of Dance walked untouched through the twirling center, a sun amongst heavenly bodies. Aural movement was provided by melodically cyclical music, featuring Koran reciter and master singer Kani Karaca; the kanun, a 72-string traditional zither whose pitch can be modified in microtones, producing sprinkled-like-manna phrases rarely found in Western music; and the ney, a reed flute whose ethereal airy timbre justifies its name as "the breath of compassion." When these and other melody instruments like the kemence (fiddle) joined together, it was like streams converging to form a thick symphonious river, all flowing over majestic frame and kettle drums. The zenith came in the third selam (movement) where the dervishes unfolded like spring flowers under the sun's spell. After the slower fourth and final selam, the dramatic denouement was silence. Per the troupe's request, no applause followed the ceremonial performance. The group simply requested that those in attendance take home the feeling in their hearts. It ended as it began -- dead quiet. Into being and nothingness. -- David Lynch


Emo's, October 24

Yes, a beautiful autumn night at Emo's, just cool enough for everyone to drag out their leather jackets. Toronto's Sadies took the stage and soon repelled a sizable contingent of the punk-rock crowd who showed up for the local openers Dead End Cruisers, leaving an audience that went from jaded to curious to enthusiastic as their set wore on. With two brothers twanging away on guitar, a drummer, and a bass man slappin' that doggone doghouse bass plum silly, they put down a largely instrumental, fascinatingly eclectic set that found Emo's regulars two-steppin' across the floor. While Dallas Good plinked a Tele, lank hair falling across his face, cigarette dangling from his slack lips, brother Travis put down his Gretsch at one point to show that he was equally adept on a fiddle. Their instrumentals called to mind Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, ranging from Sixties surf sounds to Memphis-style instros to spaghetti western themes to tremelo-drenched Link Wray-type numbers, always short, always concise, and always, always tight. There's a lot to be said for songs that end before you have a chance to get bored with them. What these fellas lack in stage presence, they more than make up for in precise playing. Their few non-instros featured the two brothers singing in Appalachian, Louvin Brothers-style harmonies, their reedy voices not quite soaring, but not falling flat either. Like Shadowy Men, the Sadies' strength lies in the diversity of their sound and their ability to pull off various styles while throwing curveballs at the listener that always find their mark. Are they the direction that instrumental rock and alterna-country will take in the future? Probably not, but they certainly are an interesting exit off of that highway. Headliners Deadbolt, striking their aging tough-guy stances and lobbing their verbal hand grenades at anyone who dared look them in the eye, eschewed their rumbling Wall of Bass Players idea that night for a more minimal sound, but you gotta love any band who tosses off such cheeky bon mots as "Hey, girlie! Oh, you're a guy aren't you?" or "Hey, where'd you get that fuckin' cowboy hat, ya pansy? Some gumball machine on campus?" My kinda guys. Run up and step on their toes, I dare ya, nancy boy. Deadbolt will kick sand in your face and steal your girl (and your beer) before you get a chance to call 'em fat old farts. -- Jerry Renshaw


Electric Lounge, October 26

For the rock-is-dead pundits, evenings like this are the spiritual equivalent of a garlic necklace. Though many of the Sixties Brit-pop affectations embraced by Northern California's Hi-Fives went over the cutting edge long before any of them were born, their dichotomous restoration combines East Bay punk energy with a happy-go-lucky bounce to make it all sound fresher than roadside peaches. Donning fine menswear stolen from the set of That Thing You Do!, the quartet seized the stage with nugget after nugget of quirky, hyper-driven pop. The Kinks/surf guitar hybrid of "Conversations Like These" and the up-and-out backbeat of "Welcome to My Mind" swathed the venue with a trashcan punch, beach party vibe. The Hi-Fives' abundance of bop-worthy originals was complemented by a flurry of covers that proved to be an influence-by-influence outline of the band's strategy. Speedy renditions of Larry ("Bony Maronie") Williams' "Slow Down" and Billy Childish's "Out of Control" were right on target. A sneering take on Ed Cobb's classic "Tainted Love" restored the tune to its original garage-punk roots and won the evening's biggest wave of adulation. Perhaps the Hi-Fives are 35 years too late for veneration, but you'd be hard-pressed to trump their well-weathered and finely crafted brand of fun. Austin's own Silver Scooter turned in a warm and hearty performance featuring plenty of songs from their forthcoming Orleans Parish LP. Songs like "Slight of Hand" and "So Long" faced down melancholy introspection without losing an iota of hollowbody buzz. Chalk it up to well-measured stage volumes and the simple but thick interplay between guitarist/vocalist Scott Garred and bassist John Hunt. The Kiss-Offs opened the evening's floodgates with a truly unique blend of infantilism and Lower East Side decadence channeled through fuzzy guitars and stark New Wave keyboard riffs. "Kiss Me, Slap Me" found guitarist Phillip Niemeyer viscerally acting out the song with keyboardist Katey Jones, who appeared happy to oblige. The local quintet's kooky masochism was further accentuated by a smoke machine, strobe light, and some of the cheesiest pyrotechnics this side of an Osmonds concert. It almost made you forget it was Monday. -- Greg Beets


La Zona Rosa, October 27

It was more than one could have hoped for, but if you had spent any of the last 25 years living with the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, a weeping, wailing cry from the Jamaican shantytowns of the Sixties, it was exactly what you really wanted. Brimming with bravado, yet bowed in prayer, the collection of songs that accompanys Perry Henzel's gritty film about the rise and fall of a street tough who dreams of becoming a pop star, has, for the most part, defined Jimmy Cliff's long, prosperous career as an international star. With good reason. Shaped and defined by Cliff's contributions, The Harder They Come is an uncontested pinnacle of reggae music and one of the finest soundtracks ever produced. Its impact in the early Seventies, spreading the soul music of a tiny island in Caribbean to the rest of the world, is as seminal as Bob Marley's emergence as the music's messiah. It was hardly surprising, then, when 20 minutes into his Tuesday night set at La Zona Rosa, Cliff hushed an awed crowd of 800 with the spiritual centerpiece from The Harder They Come, "Many Rivers to Cross." Eyes tightly shut, standing center stage flanked by his seven-piece backing band (drums, bass, guitar, two keyboardists, and two back-up singers), Cliff sang the timeless reggae hymn mustering every ounce of in-the-moment inspiration inside him. "Greetings of light and peace and love to you all," he intoned, the last notes of the song fading, arms still outstretched in a messianic pose. "It is good to be here in Austin, Texas." The words rang sincere, just as his voice, a delicate tenor, sounded remarkably preserved after three decades of service. In fact, from the moment the 50-year-old Cliff stepped out on the stage, he gave himself over to the music, imbuing every song with emotion dredged up from deep within tunes he's sung a million times. "Vietnam," a protest song from another one of Cliff's creative peaks, Wonderful World, Beautiful People, came next, after which the singer launched into one of his supplications to "Save Our Earth," an ecological chant. "You Can Get It If You Really Want," The Harder They Come's rallying cry, was every bit as inspiring as one could hope, if not too short. Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" came off as if Cliff had penned both songs himself, and had the enthusiastic audience in a cloud of heaven. The competent cookie-cutter "Reggae Night" ended the 75-minute main set, with Cliff returning to give a lesson on the meaning of "irie" (to feel good). "We are feeling irie, too," he said with a broad smile on his face. "We did not know we had so many fans in Austin, Texas." A penitent "Sitting in Limbo," rendered solo with a strummed electric guitar, brought the mood down to the sole spotlight on Cliff before a participatory audience chant ("what the world needs today is a higher and deeper love") preceding the title track to The Harder They Come. While his signature tune came off somewhat by rote, the same cannot be said for the evening's last tune, a seated bongo chant about ascending the promised land, which segued perfectly into "Rivers of Babylon," the divine complement to "Many Rivers to Cross." Sometimes, you can get it if you really want, and on this night, Jimmy Cliff seemed to want it just as bad as his adoring audience. -- Raoul Hernandez


Antone's, October 30

"I'm a bluesman," explained Pete Mayes, shifting on his stagefront stool. "Blues is my business, and we're gonna get down to business right now," he concluded, the spotlights gathering in the folds of a red satin suit that would have made Etta James blush. Simple enough, on the face of it, but Mayes' set -- the opener at Clifford Antone's come-one-come-all birthday party Friday night -- was a touch clumsy and a touch derivative, and finally not quite as shiny as that remarkable suit. Far from dull, it wasn't blinding either; call it a moderate glow. The wattage increased considerably when Doug Sahm stepped to the stage, Guinness in hand and shades decidedly in place, to lay it all down in front of the Last Texas Blues Band. Fresh from induction into the Texas Country Music Association Hall of Fame, the ever-versatile Sahm greased it up a little for the Antone's crowd, offering up an extended set of shuffle, swamp, swing, and old-time rock & roll. Did it in true showman's style, too, often laying aside his guitar for a bit of hip-shakin', scat-singin', smoky-vocaled crowd work; just look good and sing, Sir Doug, and lord god keep things festive -- this here's a birthday party. By the second song, Danny Osuna's "Talk to Me," he had half the crowd slow-dancin', a solid quarter of them with unchristian thoughts in their heads. What followed was a slew of vintage numbers, from "The Honky Blues" to Junior Parker's "Next Time You See Me Baby (Things Won't Be The Same)" to a special, just-for-Clifford rendition of the Mexican Hat Dance. All the while Sahm kept a running commentary rolling from the stage, wide-ranging at times, but finally reducible to one basic theme: the relative worth of anything is in direct proportion to the strength of its ties to south Texas. By that calculus, Austin and Antone's figure pretty good, and Sahm was clearly in his element, playing for a crowd filled with familiar faces (including WWF badboy Ric Flair, for what that's worth.) It was old-style R&B, and Sahm sang it like he meant it; you could damn near believe it when he moaned those classic curative words, "There ain't nuthin' in the world/The T-Bone Shuffle won't cure." -- Jay Hardwig

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