ENDURO, ANTEBELLUM, SWITCH HITTER
Stubb's, January 6
All things being equal (and we know they never are), last Wednesday's rock & roll show at Stubb's was a disappointment. This is not to say that the local bands involved didn't put in stellar and energetic performances (they did), or that the venue wasn't well-heated, adequately soundchecked, or the bar well-stocked (they were). The problem is that at some point during the last decade, measly 40-minute live sets have become the standard of measurements for a rock band's performance. Then again, all things are not equal. Opening act Switch Hitter, who have improved by superhuman leaps and bounds in guitar playing, song assembly, and drumming (especially drumming) over the last year or so, packed their 40 minutes with tunes that complemented simple fretwork with complex arrangements, coming off as sloppy math-rock (or intricate punk, perhaps). As their opening status allowed for their set length, so did it for Antebellum, another local trio with a heavy, heavy edge. Very metal. Singer and bassist Mike Flannery growls and yells like he's auditioning for Sepultura, intensifying (however incomprehensibly) the thick and meaty post-punk stew whipped up by guitarist "Pawnshop," and drummer Eric Conn, who pounded the shit out of his drums so mercilessly that it seemed both he and they would give out by the third song (they didn't). Enduro, two guitars and drums, rock like no other band in Austin does. Their version of R&B punk builds on slow grinds and barely controlled flailings, injecting plenty of thrust and gyration to an eventual dissonant breakdown at the hands of either guitarist. To compare them to the Blues Explosion is to scratch the surface; they share instrumentation and an irreverent love for the blues, but frontmen Chad Nichols, who also dabbles on the keyboards, and David Bucci have moves of their own (on guitar and in the hips) and a slew of great tunes, and thus have no need to cop anything from anyone. It would have been nice to hear a few more of those songs, since it was only 1:20am when they finished, but given the amounts of energy expended (especially by Nichols) and the fact that it was only $3 for three good bands on a Wednesday night, who could complain? -- Christopher Hess
TINA & THE B-SIDES, KRIS MCKAY
Continental Club, January 7
Kris McKay has always been a bit embarrassed by her lesbian following. After all, the longtime local singer-songwriter, who moved to Los Angeles two years ago, has never claimed to be lesbian. On the contrary, she is heterosexual. And yet over the past several years, a sizable portion of McKay's audience has revealed itself as lesbian. Not that she isn't grateful; anyone who pays a cover charge is reason enough to give thanks, and McKay's audience has proved a loyal one. Still, the singer's music doesn't target any one particular segment of society, let alone one defined by sexual orientation, so it's curious to find this specific demographic revealing itself in her fanbase. Is it McKay's considerable charisma? A voice at once delicate and steely? Songs steeped in emotional confessionalism that are disarming in their frankness? All of these, most likely; hers is a strong feminine voice in a time when strong feminine voices are at the height of their popularity in the marketplace. Finishing her short opening set at the Continental Club with her set-staple cover of General Public's "Save It for Later," which incorporates a snippet of Austinite Abra Moore's "Four Leaf Clover," McKay put to shame most of the B stage acts on last year's Lilith Fair lineup, charging up the predominantly female full house for headliner Tina & the B-Sides. Capitalizing on an off-night from a tour with Jonny Lang, Tina Schlieske, and her backing quartet, which includes her sister Laura on harmony vocals, didn't take the modern day Graceland stage proclaiming their sexual proclivity, but clearly, McKay's audience was there to see the Minnesota rock & roll band. They were not disappointed. Opening with the title track from the band's second major-label release, It's All Just the Same, Tina & the B-Sides (formerly Tina & the B-Side Movement) fired on all cylinders from the word go, and continued for two solid hours. Recalling John Mellencamp or perhaps Melissa Etheridge in her ability to deliver well-muscled, anthemic rock & roll without a hint of irony or self-consciousness, Schlieske stared intently at the mike while singing through clenched teeth, her guitarist hammering at a cavalcade of different guitars. "Well, alright," she said repeatedly between songs, but she and her band are much better than alright; they're made of the stuff begging to be showcased in arenas. When Laura Schlieske took lead vocals on one song, she too proved her mettle, stepping back into the shadows while her sister followed her solo turn with a soul-stripper version of "You Don't Know What It's Like." "Well, that was a Janis song, and Janis covered the Bee Gees all the time," remarked Tina, before bringing McKay back onstage for rousing encores of Lucinda Williams' "Howlin' at Midnight" and the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women." Lesbian rock? Well, alright!
-- Raoul Hernandez
Electric Lounge, January 8
Maybe it's the name. Maybe it's the Texas ZIP code. Maybe it's the songs about whiskey, murder, and barbecue. For whatever reason, in half a dozen years of touring the country, Denton cowpunks Slobberbone have picked up the country-rock label. Fair enough, as far as it goes, but in calling Slobberbone country-rock, the accent falls on the last syllable: rock. Certainly Marty Robbins never strangled his guitar like Jess Barr did Friday night, Naomi Judd never made love to a microphone like frontman Brent Best, and no Nashville session man wore out the skins quite like Tony Harper. The Grand Ol' Opry has to wait, for this here is rock & roll, from the drunken wobble of Best to the manic spray of power chords to the insouciant dangle of the cigarette from Barr's lips; Slobberbone's unholy tunes were amped up, spit out, and shoved off the stage with a swift kick in the ass. Rock & roll, then, plain and simple, except that every now and then Best turned loose with some spare bit of gothic melancholy, followed by a small shred of tear-in-the-beer balladry and the old creature comforts of a loping country bassline, and a sudden whiff of twang -- the ghost of Jimmie Rodgers rattling his chains. Country-rock, then, if you must, but ratcheted up a few times until the wrench starts to slip and the knuckles bleed a bit, and not even within shouting distance of the Eagles, or BR-549 for that matter. If a fella were to quibble, he might say that, despite all the affecting melodies and tight tempo changes, Slobberbone's songs start to sound a tad similar, or, more critically, that Jess Barr's leads smack of stadium rock, but quibbling hardly seemed in the spirit of things Friday night. If that spirit was ever in question, it was answered with the band's final tune, a faithful cover of Judas Priest's "Breakin' the Law," whose opening riffs moved more than one in the somewhat sparse crowd to flash the universal metal sign and indulge a spot of the ol' headbanging. It's been a while since George Jones got that kind of response.
THE GRACELAND REVUE
Continental Club, January 9
January 8, 1999, probably would have been a low-key birthday for Elvis Presley. Imagine him at 64, surviving the bloated Vegas period, perhaps finding spiritual peace by channeling Gladys or starting his restaurant franchise. Look at how Johnny Cash and Tony Bennett rode a trend late in life; surely Presley is the godfather. He would have looked beyond Las Vegas sometime with a hankering to get back to his roots -- can't you see Elvis as a secret showcase for South by Southwest? But Presley isn't here and Ted Roddy is, mining the King's soul for all it's worth twice yearly with the Graceland Revue, a semi-annual event of international fame. Like Presley, Roddy sought greater things and last August moved the event from the Continental Club to La Zona. It was a little like Elvis going from playing state fairs to Vegas. But when the 1999 Graceland Revue opened with "2001: A Space Odyssey" Saturday night for the third of four sold-out shows, Roddy brought Elvis Presley home in a way the King himself never experienced. There was no glittering polyester jumpsuit this year, just a tasteful white linen coat over black tie, shirt, and pants, and Roddy wore the ensemble with appropriate Presley panache as he slid into "CC Rider," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "Poke Salad Annie." This year's Graceland lineup included Brent Wilson on guitar, Jim Trimmier leading the horns, Sarah Brown on bass, and Roddy's vocal soulmate Janet Lynn, complementing Roddy's polished baritone through "Viva Las Vegas," "Surrender," and "Don't Be Cruel." New on this year's songlist was the Nashville-style gospel tribute to late Presley sideman J.D. Sumner, leading into the finale, "American Trilogy," "Suspicious Minds," and "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" that emoted appropriately. During the encore of "Patch It Up" and "Promised Land," the Continental Club's pool room was quiet but for six young men milling about, alternately playing on the vintage pinball machine and standing in the doorway listening to the timeless pop appeal of Presleyana. No film director could have cast them more perfectly, with Brylcreem DAs, cardigans and sportcoats, buffed shoes, and hands sunk in pockets. Their moody style was vintage Presley, a tribute not just to the music onstage, but to a club whose personality is defined by a subculture influenced by Elvis. The King should be smiling tonight.
-- Margaret Moser
OLD WATERLOO JAZZ BAND
Donn's Depot, January 10
Perhaps due to Dixieland jazz's infectious melodies and shuffling danceable beat, its golden age parallels America's failed experiment with banning adult potables, from 1919's ill-fated 18th Amendment until its wise repeal by the 21st Amendment in 1933. Dixieland was speakeasy music, individual and group improvisation over an upbeat cyclical rhythm that hopped and skipped like the dance crazes it fueled -- the Charleston, the Lindy. Naturally, jazz changed over the years, morphing into big band, bebop, and beyond, but thanks to the stewardship of the Austin Traditional Jazz Society, one can still hear the soundtrack of the speakeasies in the unique environ of Donn's Depot (depot and rail cars turned into a piano saloon). Even though most of the 120-plus people listening and dancing were over 50, and even though cocktails were served in glasses instead of the Prohibition-era coffee mugs, on a recent Sunday afternoon Donn's felt like a Twenties-era Kansas City speakeasy as a few younger couples tore up the parquet dance floor, hyper-skating period dances to the brassy acoustic band onstage. Like most groups of the style, the Old Waterloo Jazz Band features a front line of clarinet, cornet, and trombone, a string bass and drum back-line, and a floating piano throughout. While the local outfit's repertoire spans the earliest New Orleans songs to the West Coast replay of Lu Watters and Turk Murphy, this particular performance was a tribute to January-born trumpeters Wild Bill Davison, Bobby Hackett (who played with Billy Holiday's early collaborator and Austin's own Teddy Wilson), Henry "Red" Allen, Billy Butterfield, Roy Eldrige, and "Hot Lips" Page, and included such standards as "Royal Garden Blues," "At the Jazz Band Ball," "Jazz Me Blues," and "Rosetta." Set one came off a little stiff, like well-used joints loosening up, but sets two and three swung in that loopy, carefree Dixieland manner. As is usually the case, an open jam session followed with additional players joining in for more traditional jazz. Dixieland holds a spot in the jazz world like baroque does in Western classical music: a historical style deeply appreciated by a select group. Six times a year, the Austin Traditional Jazz Society organizes these concerts, and six times a year Donn's turns into Austin's Jazz Preservation Hall -- thankfully not Prohibition Hall. -- David Lynch