Roger Wallace gets "Busted." (Photo By John Anderson)
Waylon Jennings Hoot Night Hole in the Wall, April 24
Carla Bozulich & Friends perform Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger Emo's, April 26
Waylon Jennings is gone now, but he will be forever etched into the public consciousness as fellow outlaw and duet partner to Willie Nelson. In that sense, it's fitting these two shows went down within a couple of days of each other. Beginning with Wednesday's Waylon Hoot Night at the Hole in the Wall, the obvious should be stated: Hoot nights are always a crapshoot. Depending on the bands performing and the material being covered, it can be smiles all around or "what the heck were they thinking?" Thankfully, Jennings had great taste in songwriters, while writing more than a few memorable tunes on his own. He also straddled the rock side of the country fence, which allowed some of the local talent here to play in their own style and still keep it in his spirit. Nathan Hamilton's band No Deal was a prime example, with guitarist Brent Malkus, one of the show's organizers, taking lead vocals and showing a deep understanding for Jennings' material. The Damnations put on a set featuring Nashville sideman-turned-local Earl Poole Ball on piano, and a properly rocked-out version of Billy Joe Shaver's "Georgia On a Fast Train." Those performances possessed an electricity that stood in contrast to the brief sets by the likes of Roger Wallace and Dale Watson, both of whom are country to the bone and played it that way. Overall, styles mattered little to the large and relatively young audience, who sang along throughout the evening and seemed happy to celebrate Jennings' songs and his memory. If Carla Bozulich's name doesn't bang a gong, her band the Geraldine Fibbers should. The Fibbers were on the edges of the alt.country class of 1995, with a decidedly harrowing sound. Given this, the Nels Cline Singers' opening set of space rock/moody atonal jazz was perfect. Cline, the Fibbers' guitarist, switched to lap steel for Bozulich's performance, which turned into a remarkably faithful, if slightly distorted, take on Willie Nelson's classic Red Headed Stranger
. One of the oddest country albums ever to sell three million copies, it's a decidedly low-key concept album, yet as this performance showed, one open to ambitious interpretation. Bozulich's strong, quivering vocals were well-suited for this story of the Old West. The highlight came near show's end with a torch style reading of "Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight," which drew a loud, appreciative response from a crowd that had been less than attentive through most of the languid arty mood that preceded it. It was a striking moment to which Bozulich responded with a warm smile, "Can you be my audience in every city?" Only if we can take country-loving Austin with us.