Joan Baez at the Paramount Theatre, February 23.
All Photos by John Carrico
Waterloo Records, February 12
Say what you will, but Billy Squier can still pack 'em in. To Waterloo Records anyway, where the ancient axe-man's in-store drew a thick but mixed crowd: For every true Squier fan clutching a worn vinyl copy of Don't Say No, there were at least two idle curiosity-seekers, anxious to rubberneck on what promised to be a spectacular crash on the rock & roll highway. The show was advertised as solo acoustic, but any worry that Squier would come out with some limp-wristed singer-songwriter shtick was abruptly chased by the opening chords of "Everybody Wants You," amped-up and delivered on a decidedly electric guitar. The old anthem set the flashbulbs a-poppin' as the crowd shifted satisfied on their heels and fathers perched sons on shoulders to witness the scene. ("This is the song that was playing when Daddy got his first piece of ass....") The singalong chorus was strangely lackluster, however, and as Squier worked his way through the rest of the seven-song set -- culled mostly from his new release Happy Blue -- there was little of the old magic in the air. It would take a tough critic to say Squier embarrassed himself, but neither did he establish himself as, say, the foremost interpreter of the modern anomie. Instead, the songs were not that different from those he built his castle upon: mildly urgent blues-rock with decent hooks and Squier's trademark nasal squawk. Between songs, he offered a bit of dismal patter ("life is a struggle for all of us"), a plug for higher education, and a surprising snatch of humility, but audience reaction was tame. We're not here for emotional honesty, Bill. We're here for "The Stroke." When "The Stroke" finally came, it did so on the heels of a meditation on the price of one-hit fame. "There's a time that you realize," said Squier with a heavy sigh, "that you're not gonna get out of a room without playing certain songs." Given that disarming introduction, it would be nice to report that "The Stroke" was transcendent, transfixing, or at least, as Squier clearly hoped, re-imagined, but in the end it played flat and lifeless. Even as fans lined up around the store to get their old LPs signed by the Stroker himself, it was clear that Squier had gone back to that well too many times, and that his continued appeal was running on fumes. --Jay Hardwig
Stubb's, February 14
Be afraid. Be very afraid. As the world hurtles toward the millennium, the dead rise from the grave like it was Judgement Day. On a quiet Sunday night at Stubb's, one of these rotted corpses rose from the stage like Iron Maiden's demon mascot Eddie punching up through the fresh earth of his tomb. Hailing from the seventh rung of Hell -- Los Angeles -- Buckcherry came to life as that which weak-stomached vampire slayer Kurt Cobain destroyed surely as he blew his own face off: hair metal. Post-punk hair metal -- the sort with short hair. Come to think of it, both Les Paul-slung guitarists and the group's bassist looked like nice Italian kids from Jersey. Vocalist Josh Todd, on the other hand, looked like he'd come straight out of the Axl Rose comic book -- 95 pounds of tightly-drawn 'n' tattooed skin, "chaos" stenciled across his mid-section, and a huge suicide king emblazoned on his back. The feather boa and a pair of jeans running down his non-existent hips must have been just for show. And the screech: Paul Stanley to the band's rudimentary Kiss riffing. Put it all together, as on Buckcherry's forthcoming release, and its IQ drops even lower than that of space Ace Frehley, whose army recently asked this fledgling fivepiece to open dates on its new tour. Buckcherry: Think Bang Tango, Faster Pussycat, or the progenitors of hair metal, L.A. Guns. Yet rather than lurking in the shadows of the Back Room like the rest of the pathetically retro Eighties metalcouldn't-get-arresteds (Warrant, Enuff Z'nuff), Buckcherry has the top-tier backing of Spielberg, Katzenberg & Geffen (Dreamworks), A&R big shot Michael Goldstone (Rage Against the Machine), and even Steve Jones (Sex Pistols). Let's not forget CAA. Opening with two of the better songs from their debut, "Dirty Mind" and "Lawless and Lulu," Buckcherry had all the right moves, but the scant local crowd was noticeable unimpressed. "Pull your pants up," someone shouted. "I get that all the time," replied Todd, "from my momma!" What ensued was pogoing, posturing, and proselytizing on the order of encore "Lit Up," the opener from Buckcherry, whose refrain is "I love the cocaine." Cocaine? Didn't that go out with disco, hair metal, and the Eighties? Even given the fact that Buckcherry's 45-minute set was energetic and even entertaining at times, there was no way to disassociate it from an era that peaked with Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Or was that Dangerous Toys' "Sport'n a Woody"? Seems the Sunset Strip hasn't actually been boarded up. So, despite the fact that bands like Honky and Nashville Pussy, modern metal groups whose somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach to the genre doesn't undermine their no-quarter musical precepts, the Buckcherrys of the world are creeping back into the mainstream. Be afraid. Be very afraid. -- Raoul Hernandez
Bass Concert Hall, February 16
The Mardi Gras performance began with band members casually walking on stage, adjusting their axes. Once the sold-out Bass Concert Hall audience realized no MC would be introducing the show, applause increased until bandleader and timbalist Ernest "Tito" Puente Jr. unassumingly walked on stage. The band (tenor sax, piano, flügelhorn, two percussionists, alto sax, electric bass, trumpet, and two trombones) then launched into two songs sampled from the maestro's 117 albums. These initial warm-up tunes gave the sound system and band an opportunity to fine tune. Afterward, a beaming Tito Puente said in a playful cadence "Muchos gracias, y'all," and proceeded to thank the Spanish speakers in Spanish for coming out to the show. He then greeted the gringos in the house -- but in Spanish also. That's Tito: Diz of Latin jazz; musician par excellence; happy huckster who captivated the crowd with his extroverted stage presence. And the all-ages audience ate it up, igniting the band by the third song, and later the chestnut "If You Could See Me Now." After showcasing his consummate musicianship on the vibraphone, the International Jazz Hall of Fame member brought out vocalist Frankie Morales to sing from the milestone album El Número Cien. Then it was back in time to New York's Palladium, crucible of the mambo, with a Mancini-sprinkled flute solo. Morales followed with a soulful version of "Beautiful Maria" from the film The Mambo Kings. The bandleader then went into his Santana shtick, with a tale about fans asking him to play some "Santana music." "I only play Puente music," he quipped. Until he got the hefty royalty checks from Santana's interpretation of the song that made them both famous. "I play Santana music," he laughed, before delighting the congregation with "Oye Como Va." After over an hour on stage, his signature song signaled the end of the show. A hearty host of handclaps enticed, Tito & Co. back onstage, at which point the four-time Grammy winner told the audience "It's time to dance," an invitation that got the crowd moving to the night's most energetic tune But that was it: No más. No amount of applause would elicit the band, but after a solid 90 minutes, that was understandable. Perhaps a tease too, leaving 3,000-plus fans hungry for more, but still in the palm of Tito Puente's golden hands. -- David Lynch
Hogg Auditorium, February 18
It's lunch time, 12:30pm, on one of the most radiant spring days you could possibly imagine. Thursday. Across the street from UT's Student Union, the Drag bustles with all manner of life. Do you know where your children are? In class, of course. Or rather in the dark, cool recesses of the university's ancient hall, Hogg Auditorium, just around the corner from the center of student activity. Outside, bright sunshine and bustle. Inside, it's night, still -- 300-400 heads that barely clear the seat backs motionless. Elementary school is in session; they're watching a cartoon. Suddenly, the cavernous hall erupts with laughter and cheer, children shouting and screaming with delight. The screen hanging above the stage goes blank for a moment before lighting with a black and white picture of a brown-skinned, handsome man in a suit: composer Raymond Scott. A dreadlocked man carrying a clarinet emerges stage left, followed by six other jazz musicians. Speaking into a headset, the nappy-headed black man in glasses introduces Scott as the man whose music plays behind many of the cartoons introduced into the public consciousness by Warner Bros. The band, Don Byron on clarinet, Uri Caine on piano, Charlie Lewis and James Zollar, trumpet, Bob DeBellis, alto and tenor sax, and Ben Whittman drums, fill the hall with a buoyant, bouncing sound. The children start clapping, a spontaneous reaction that fills Hogg with palpable energy and excitement. The musicians respond, smiling with surprise from behind their instruments. World-class musicians playing pied piper to a small house (literally) unlike any they've encountered in high-falutin' jazz clubs. Byron is clearly tickled, and introduces the next tune, "Powerhouse," from 1996's Bug Music: Music of the Raymond Scott Quintette, John Kirby & His Orchestra, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. "You guys know the Roadrunner?" he asks coyly. "Yeeeaaahhh!!!!!" goes up the cry. Again, Byron's clarinet skips merrily down a happy riff, the band kicking in behind him. "Siberian Sleighride" ("Show 'em the sleighbell," Byron orders his drummer) is followed by "Huckleberry Duck," which is introduced the way Byron introduces all the tunes: "You might have heard this one, too." Another cartoon is shown, but this time Byron's voice interjects from the wings, "There's 'Sleighride,' there's 'Huckleberry Duck.' Hear it?" "Yeeeaaahhh!!!!!" A picture of John Kirby, another populist, WWII-era band leader, is projected onscreen, accompanied by Kirby's arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy." "Now clap," says Byron, and again, the auditorium fills with enthusiasm. Byron explains "improvisation." Duke Ellington, pictured in a top hat and the suavest of smiles, comes last. "That's Duke Ellington," says Byron motioning to the familiar photo from the Twenties. "He's the most important composer of our country. Have you heard of him?" "Yeeeaaahhh!!!!!" Old movie footage of a scantily clad flapper flapping about the Cotton Club while the Ellington Orchestra churns out the "Cotton Club Stomp" elicits several knowing choruses of "Woooo" from the children when the scene gets too risqué. Byron and his band then play the light-hearted "The Dicty Glide," which later ended the real reason this septet was in Austin: a Saturday night performance at UT's elegant Bates Recital Hall, a predictably more adult (and sometimes staid) affair. In fact, Byron would have done well to introduce that evening's only encore the same way he ended this 45-minute enchantment for children: by saying, "Remember, a lot of the music you hear today is inspired by Duke. He is the father of American Music." He certainly is. Now, that's education.
-- Raoul Hernandez
LEE SCRATCH PERRY & THE MAD PROFESSOR
Flamingo Cantina, February 19
Although Lee "Scratch" Perry is an undisputed legend of Jamaican music whose twisted visions have rippled through the currents of popular music for decades, his genius has always been that of a producer, engineer, and most importantly, as a musical conceptualist. Perry was never particularly renowned as a solo performer and the eccentricity that fueled his musical creations all too often translated into unpredictability onstage. But there he was Friday night, on Sixth Street, for the first of two sold-out weekend shows. Basking in all his outlandish glory, sporting what looked like a metallic-encrusted gimme cap under which he proudly revealed a head of golden fleece, clad in a vest enshrined with CDs and other esoteric paraphernalia, and armed with a child's tricycle horn that flashed me back to Clarabell the Clown from the Howdy Doody days of my early youth, Perry didn't so much sing as he spouted an endless stream of rasta and worldly gibberish of which these ears could only pick out phrases here and there. In his between song banter, he alternately admonished the crowd not to eat animals, laughed about God instructing him to burn down his Black Ark recording studios, and seemed preoccupied with ranting about the product of a specific bodily function. This all would have gotten very old very fast were it not for the fact that Perry was but one ingredient in a mind-blowing dub explosion engineered by the masterful Mad Professor at the mixing board and driven by his lean 'n' mean four-piece outfit, Robotiks. Like Perry back in the days when he brought psychedelia to reggae, the Professor is a sound wizard who uses various technological effects to create a strange and luscious auditory phantasm of dub. Perry and the band connected best with the audience on the crucial riddems from Perry's days as reggae's foremost producer. Max Romeo's "War Inna Babylon," Bob Marley's "Crazy Baldheads," and Perry's own "Roast Fish and Corn Bread" were highpoints along with a showstopping rendition of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," which rode the Perry-produced Barrett Bros.-as-the-Upsetters' time-honored "Blackboard Jungle" riddem. Perry even managed to squeeze in the title track from his current Ras/Ariwa album with the Mad Professor, Dub Fire. By the nearly two-hour set's end, it was apparent that, although hidden from sight behind the sound board, the Mad Professor was the true star of the evening. But what a treat to experience the combined work of two spiritually connected reggae legends, on Sixth Street of all places, at the Flamingo Cantina. Praise Jah.
-- Jay Trachtenberg