Junior Brown, Heybale: Continental Club, August 20

Live Shots

Junior Brown, Heybale

Continental Club, August 20

Quite a study in contrasts at the Continental Club this fine Sunday night. First up, what can be said about Mr. Guit-Steel, i.e. Junior Brown, that hasn't already? He was as hot as ever, rolling his eyes back in his head and making that face like he was chewing on something unpleasant. Despite an amp that didn't feel like cooperating, Brown and company steamrolled through a set of favorites and newer tunes to a packed house. That big, white-hot Fender sound rolled over the audience in waves as he pulled out every tool from his guitar-lick belt, then proceeded to pummel the crowd about the ears with them. Despite Brown's prodigious talents, however, his set felt like he wasn't quite connecting with the audience and had a "let's get it over with, get paid, and go home" feel. Once Brown and band packed up and left, about half the crowd followed, with the remaining half grateful for some dancing room for Heybale. Here's where the contrast comes in; Brown is a country/rock/surf-guitar ace and the centerpiece of the band. His flamboyant wild-man style is the band's signature, and it's what people pay money to hear. Heybale's Redd Volkaert, on the other hand, is an equally splendid guitar talent, but with a more restrained style, the new local being the regular guitar player for Merle Haggard's band. The band kicked off with a cover of "There Stands the Glass," singer Gary Claxton doing an eerie echo of Webb Pierce's high, nasal vibrato. The band proceeded to stroll through versions of "From a Jack to a King," "Walk Through This World With Me," and "You Win Again," among others. In other words, Heybale is a country cover band, but oh, what a cover band: Tom Lewis on drums, Kevin Smith on bass, Volkaert on guitar, and Earl Poole Ball on keys. Ball bellowed out "What Made Milwaukee Famous," putting his own twist on The Killer's voice, hammering the 88s of that digital piano and yelping like his foot was in a bear trap. Volkaert even put in his barrel-chested vocals on a song or two, working Christmas chestnut "Silver Bells" into the solo of George Jones' "Bartender's Blues" (a testament to the off-kilter Volkaert humor). The showstopper, though, was Volkaert and Ball playing pitch-and-catch on Chuck Berry's "The Promised Land," taking the guitarist's oft-imitated guitar style somewhere far, far into left field. Yep, only in Austin on a Sunday night can you see Junior Brown whippin' that guit-steel (though it's not a paltry $6 anymore) followed by a local country band as skilled as Heybale playing as casually as if it was in somebody's basement.

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