Syd Straw & David Halley, Cactus Cafe, August 16

Live Shots

Syd Straw & David Halley

Cactus Cafe, August 16

Words may not suffice to describe this show. It was one of those things where you probably had to be there to fully appreciate it. It was a night that was highly entertaining, and its unusual nature made it more appealing, but at times it was like a car wreck; you know you shouldn't look, but you just can't help yourself. Syd Straw, in what was supposedly her first Austin appearance in five years, with David Halley acting as her "Ed McMahon" and guitar accompanist, occupied the Cactus Cafe stage for nearly three hours. She was, by turns, witty, outrageous, engaging, dizzy, bold, exasperating, and surprisingly, never boring. The nearly full house was both rapt and participant, enjoying her antics and proposing new directions for her whirlwind to wander. Straw and Halley occasionally traded songs, but mostly, the dark-haired songstress would go off on long, free-associated, absurd monologues. Her topics ranged from her experiences at home in rural Vermont and spending time with Joey Ramone in New York City to her relationships with her parents and her personal needs, which mostly centered on sex and smoking pot. At one point, she pulled a cell phone out of one of her bags and placed a call to her mother in California. At another, she popped what looked to be prescription pills with a slug of tequila. As for the music, there was a great contrast between Halley's songs and Straw's. The former, known originally as part of Lubbock's songwriter Mafia (and a longtime Straw collaborator), writes uncommonly somber tunes with heart-rending lyrics that are a perfect match for his smoky voice. They were presented in a serious, stand-up-straight kind of way that was appropriately warm, inviting, and remarkably unlike the rest of the night. While some of Straw's material was equally emotional, it had a jagged edge. She'd whack away at her electric guitar and dance around the stage, while her vocals were forceful and expressive, alternating between a whoop and a whisper. Obviously, this was not your ordinary night at the Cactus, and one that those in attendance won't likely forget.

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