Live Shots

Dr. John

The Nightripper: Dr. John at Antone's June 18
photographs by John Carrico

26th Anniversary Weekend

Hole in the Wall, June 18-20

Even if they put in a Galleria downtown and finally finish tearing up South Congress, two things will never vanish from Austin: the Hole in the Wall and truck driving songs. Whiskey makes three. The Ex-Husbands rolled into town on Friday at about half past Jim Beam and stayed 'til a quarter past "Johnnie Walker Redneck." Blasting hard-boiled honky-tonk hell-raisers like Chris Rock cussing a blue streak, the scraggly Nashville trio betrayed more debt to ZZ Top, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath (even doing "War Pigs") than the dearly beloved Grand Ole Opry, but still found room to work in Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen" and Billy Joe Shaver's timeless chaser "Georgia on a Fast Train." Breaker, breaker, here comes "Truck Drivin' Man." Ten-four, good buddy, got that cup of coffee all ready; how 'bout a little "Eastbound & Down" and watch old Bandit run? Perfect. And even after all that, the most indelible song was one of their own, "Off the Wagon," a brilliant ode to whiskey, wild women, and everything else worth writing a song about -- even the dire consequences of such backwoods bacchanalia. Said consequences finally wore off Saturday, in time to witness Oklahoma's Billy Joe Winghead leveling the Hole like one of the Sooner state's patented Category 5 tornadoes. A sort of Iggy & the Strangers, Winghead squeezed five guys, several guitars, and a theramin onto the minuscule stage, and plenty of pent-up road rage and trailer-park temerity into selections from their new Be Your Own Boss CD. Afterward, some in the bursting room could still actually hear, but the Sons of Hercules took care of that. San Antonio's finest laid to rest any lingering plans for Sunday afternoon with a crude, exquisite set that mixed in old favorites like "Used to Be Cool" and "Too Late" with brash new ones from the Get Lost CD. The resulting tinnitus finally cleared up not long after the Astros beat Montreal Sunday, so it was down to the Free For All for one more night of insanity, and of course more truck driving songs. The usual debauchery was a little slow in starting, due to Choking Ahogo's overly introspective collegiate rock, which could use less pondering and more melody; and Troy Young Campbell, who writes impeccably crafted, literate songs more suited to the Cactus Cafe or Flipnotics. But things were bound to right themselves, and did so once the mysterious Honky Tonk Man and a motley group of musicians (Jon Sanchez, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Cotton Mather's Dana Myzer) made their way onstage and sounded the familiar lead-in to "Six Days on the Road." They followed up with a sassy "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and an absolutely s-s-seething "Burning Love," firmly re-establishing the truckers' supremacy. The mellow locals of Lil Cap'n Travis were up next, their hardcore country by way of Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, and the Orange Mothers sounding mighty fine on "Flattened by the Good Times," "Rodeo Clown," an affecting cover of George Jones' immortal "Loving You Will Never Be Better," and -- naturally -- "Truck Driving School." It was up to Superego to close out the weekend, and they delivered, even though "Two Tickets to Paradise" was as close as they ever came to a trucking song. Nevertheless, they evoked past Hoot Night honorees Tom Petty and Neil Young on the new "Lack of Experience" and "Nothing in Return," and had the whole joint rockin' with choice selections from their bottomless grab bag of covers, this time the Who's "The Kids Are Alright" and the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" (sadly, there was no "Convoy"). When the lights came up, Superego launched into Roky Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me," and another year passed into the books. Erickson's jagged sentiments don't even begin to cover the void that would exist should the Hole ever get filled in, so here's to at least 26 more years of truckin' for Texas' rowdiest, raunchiest historical site. --Christopher Gray

Tosca String Quartet Plays The Music Of Graham Reynolds And Peter Stopschinski

Hyde Park Theater, June 22

"Hope y'all like it," was all Graham Reynolds offered by way of introduction to the full house at the small and steamy Hyde Park Theater. Onstage, four young women dressed in black were seated in a semicircle, the last tunings of violin, viola, and cello still ringing faintly. Reynolds is the nucleus of Austin's Golden Arm Trio, a shapeshifting avant-rock-jazz project whose only constant is leader Reynolds doing double-time on piano and drums. Peter Stopschinski, seated next to him left of the stage, plays in Brown Whörnet, the local experimental rock band that all but defies categorization. The two of them put pen to page and composed a series of 15 single-movement pieces for the string quartet of Tosca, the locally lauded tango band. A soft and thin violin melody floated over long, slow notes from a viola at the beginning. Quiet and simple, the first piece was much more delicate than expected, though that would change. The second piece started with a sprinting violin line that was suddenly halted, then followed by an exchange of quick bow-stabs, one each, from all four players, in a twisting and only slightly cacophonous bounce through a short tune that elicited giggles from audience, musicians, and composers alike. Stated as the highest form of compliment, this was cartoon music, pure and simple. Intricate and overwhelmingly joyful, again and again the songs here evoked action and movement, a story full of pratfalls, explosions, and dramatic shifts in mood and tone. Stopschinski's compositions, though fewer, were no less a part of this show. They were more operatic, layering long and wavering melodic lines one atop another, a gypsy fiddle sound dancing mournfully over the deep bottom of the cello. Bumblebees in flight traded time with campfire spirituals; galloping horses, dire prophecy, births, and funerals all jockeyed for space in the mind's movie screen during the course of the hour-long set. The musicians -- Sara Nelson on cello, Ames Asbell on viola, Leigh Mahony and Lara Hicks on violin -- played impeccably, though the temperatures grew oppressive as the show went on. One can only hope that the Hyde Park Theater gets a quieter air conditioner and that Reynolds, Stopschinski, and the Tosca string quartet do something like this again. Collaborations that reap results of this level are not common enough. --Christopher Hess

Ron Sexsmith, Ana Egge

Cactus Café, June 24

According to Ron Sexsmith, whose most recent release Whereabouts is his most accomplished, his music has gone from black and white to full color over the course of three albums. Along the way, the Canadian popsmith has impressed the likes of Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, and Paul McCartney, songwriters who influenced him with their craftmanship. That said, Sexsmith attempted to impress a rather large crowd at this haven for singer-songwriters and ultimately failed. He tried, honorably, with a self-effacing stage presence and a variety of settings for his songs, Sexsmith on guitar accompanied by drummer Don Kerr and bassist Tim Vesely. Unfortunately, muddy sound reduced the songs and set to pop sameness, obliterating his lyrics and dragging any melodic qualities down with them. For many, Sexsmith's vocals are part of his appeal, the singer possessed of a deep, yet reedy baritone that lends his songs an aching beauty. In the absence of a sound mix that highlighted this, it grew one-dimensional quickly over the course of 90 minutes. To Sexsmith's credit, there were moments of inspiration, such as his paying tribute to fellow Canadians Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot by performing a song from each, or when his rhythm section picked up cello and accordion and accompanied him on a moving version of "In a Flash" from Whereabouts. Overall, one came away with the impression that Sexsmith possesses talent, yet has not discovered a way to transfer it from the studio to the stage. Austin's Ana Egge opened the proceedings in fine style with her own sad, passionate songs. Like Sexsmith's, Egge's songs cover territory in and around the heart. She continues to show growth in both stage manner and musicianship, while her guitar work continues to stun, and her tunes hold up to repeated listening. Egge is one of Austin's folk treasures and proved it once again on this night. --Jim Caligiuri

The Old Waterloo Jazz Band With Special Guest Johnny Gimble

Donn's Depot, June 27

"We're having a good time," said Old Waterloo Jazz Band leader and pianist Tom Griffith at the conclusion of the band's first set. "We hope you'll eventually have one yourselves." Too late for that, Tom; the Sunday afternoon throng at Donn's Depot had been whooping it up an hour already. Ending with a rambunctious version of "That's a Plenty," the squirrely clarinet evoking a chase scene from an early Woody Allen comedy, Griffith & Co. filled the dance floor once again. With the smooth and steady rhythm section of Griffith, string bassist Bob Alexius, and drummer George Harrison driving Austin's longtime Dixieland institution, a frontline chorus of cornet (Larmon Maddox), clarinet (Jim Ivy), and trombone (Barry Irwin) blew billowy clouds of turn-of-the-century New Orleans jazz befitting their setting: Donn's converted railroad car. As the band's two-man brass section churned forward propulsively, Ivy's clarinet whistled like a train engine's horn blowing over and over. The set-up was the same for every number: one or two introductory choruses from the rhythm section, followed by Ivy, Maddox, and Irwin squaring off in a half circle and trading improvised solos. When the group added East Texas fiddle legend Johnny Gimble for the second of three afternoon sets, the piano bar and saloon's clientele were suddenly upgraded from coach to first class. Introducing Gimble as one of Bob Wills' former Texas Playboys -- a man who "has been fiddling around for more than 50 years" --Austin Traditional Jazz Society secretary Malcolm Rodman proclaimed the violin virtuoso the newest life member of the local preservationist musical society, and with that the band was off to "Indiana." Looking like a golf pro in his white sport shirt, Gimble immediately wove a lighthearted, sometimes deeply melancholy note into already spirited proceedings. Pulling out a mandolin next, Gimble soon became the focal point of that half-circle onstage, the others taking their cue from the broad-smiling fiddle player. Noting that this festive music would "make Bunny Berigan turn over in his Cadillac" -- a good thing in this context -- Gimble called for "It Had to be You" ("in the key of 'F,' my favorite key") much to the delight of dancers and anyone with a song in their heart. At the 30-minute mark, band, special guest, and crowd were all chugging along at a fine clip, "Faded Love" a particular highlight. "Texas Swing," announced Gimble. "Those guys were playing Dixieland." Ending the set with an explanation of why fiddlers always had big families ("their wives would do anything to keep them from practicing") and a warm version of "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," Gimble and his expert backers left the room awash in memories of a time long past; fitting for an audience predominantly of retirement age. "If we don't see you in the future, we'll see you in the pasture," said Gimble as his goodbye. Fortunately, Donn's Depot is smack dab in the middle of that pasture. --Raoul Hernandez

Will Oldham, Shannon Wright

Stubb's, June 28

In the commotion over a rare Austin performance by the ever-permutating Palace -- ostensibly leader Will Oldham and whoever's around at the time -- there was as much trepidation as there was enthusiasm. Folks who remember Palace's sold-out performance at Emo's two years ago weren't expecting a repeat of the bad sound and worse stage presence, but everyone was groaning over the venue. Being crammed into Emo's Jr. for a band that could sell out Liberty Lunch is unpleasant enough, but indoors at Stubb's, as nice as the stage and sound is, packed crowds are particularly unnavigable and good sightlines scarce. Ah well, those indie kids are suffering eternally anyway, so what's it to them if the venue is less than ideal? Turns out, not much. Two of the most distinct vocalists in the indie rock world took to the red-lighted stage and drew the audience in like a great film that makes you forget your front-row neck cramps. Opener Shannon Wright seemed bare naked and slightly disconcerting all alone onstage, trading between acoustic guitar and Wurlitzer organ for her set of writhing, elegiac songs from her solo debut on Quarterstick, Flightsafety. A barefoot Oldham boarded the stage an hour later in red cutoffs and plaid shirt, which was shed to reveal a black leather vest. With his porn-star moustache and closely shorn hair, Oldham looked very Freddie Mercurial: a wasted, warbling walrus, alternating blank, heavy-lidded stares with tongue-thrashing, eyes-rolling-back freakouts. The post-rock DuPont's propensity for name- and sound-tweaking has led his considerable fan base to expect the unexpected, and yet the audience probably wasn't anticipating Billy & band to rock out. Everything formerly subtle was turned loud, but the effect was never muddy or droney. Oldham, with Colin Gagon on keys, Bob Arellano on guitar, and Mike Fellows on bass, spent most of the 75-minute set on the ironically maudlin songs from the recent I See a Darkness as well as on newer, unreleased material. Oldham's vocals, which can be either sweet and sticky or burnt and cracked like a campfire marshmallow, were subdued, lots of his signature pubescent crackle, but hardly any venturing into his upper range. A three-song encore built "Cat's Blues" into a "Stairway to Heaven" kind of catharsis, followed by Arellano (stripped down to tightie-whities and a lobster-bib loincloth) kicking off "West Palm Beach" with a verse in Spanish. If the audience's cries for older favorites were any indication, Oldham's reliance on newer material was a bit of a disappointment. But wily Will sated them in the last 15 minutes, proving that he knows the old rock-star rigmarole as thoroughly as ways to revamp it. --Kim Mellen

El Maestro! Chucho ValdŽs
El Maestro! Chucho ValdŽs
El Maestro! Chucho ValdŽs

El Maestro! Chucho Valdés at La Zona Rosa, June 25

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