Dancing About Architecture

Everything from 20+ years ago is coming back, starting with Elvis Costello.

Pump It Up: Elvis Costello at the Backyard, October 6
Pump It Up: Elvis Costello at the Backyard, October 6 (Photo By Gary Miller)

Elvis Has Left the Yard ...

Hard to believe it's been a quarter-century since Chronicle contributor Ed Ward split from Rolling Stone because of that magazine's indifference to a young rocker who called himself Elvis Costello. It was even harder to believe that it has been 25 years since the release of My Aim Is True, watching Costello pull out an endless stream of early classics from his brutal youth at the Backyard last Sunday. Tempering the sharp, throwback material of his new album, When I Was Cruel (as opposed to the really new b-sides spinoff Cruel Smile), with "Radio, Radio," "Watching the Detectives," "Pump It Up," and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," Costello put on a galvanizing two-hour show that left some 3,000 beaming in disbelief. Each selection came out more powerful and desperate than the last, through three encores that seemed less like applause-milkers than calculated pauses to allow E to change gears. Some shifts were monumental indeed; Costello's voice has gained strength over the years (it's almost Joe Strummer-ish now), and "Alison" would've been a tearjerker even without Costello's singing a verse of "Put Your Sweet Lips Closer to the Phone" and that other Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" midway through! Even the stuff not yet fully raised onto pedestals kept the crowd happy, though the band kept the country-tinged bitter ballads to a minimum. Perhaps the oddest moment was the last, when the Imposters (the Attractions minus one) slammed the full five gears into reverse and dropped the taut melody-punk of 1977-80 for the primal scream session of "I Want You." Screechy and seemingly self-indulgent in an almost prog-rock manner, it was one of those moments where you wonder momentarily what could possess the man to deliver such a finale. Then you realize it was part of the whole gestalt and paste that smile back on your face. For those there that had their appetite whetted, note that Nov. 1 is the Austin release date for Almost You: The Songs of Elvis Costello, a collection of national and local bands covering E's songs. Other albums have culled previously recorded Costello covers, but the makers of Almost You say this is the first Elvis tribute made from scratch. Contributors include Vic Chesnutt dueting with Jack Logan, Fastball, Hem, the Posies' Jonathan Auer, the Damnations, Kevin Russell, and Grand Champeen. Tracks were recorded exclusively for the project over the past two years in New York, Philadelphia, Athens, Ga., Oxford, Mass., Seattle, Dallas, and of course, Austin. To kick off the project here in town, there'll be a Costello tribute show at the Mercury Nov. 1 (lineup TBA). The album will be released nationally Jan. 21 on local indie Glurp with distribution assistance from Bar None, with a limited number of CDs available in Austin until then at the release party, Waterloo Records, and via www.glurp.com.

Acts on the Racks

One of the greatest albums in Austin music history arrived in stores this week. Besides Joe "King-- Carrasco & El Molino, I mean, which you might have noticed we have a Music feature on this week. No, I'm talking about the Freda & the Firedogs' self-titled Atlantic Records non-release, a record that was set to give major national exposure to the then-fresh outlaw country movement in Texas. The band consisted of Marcia Ball, John X. Reed, Steve McDaniels, David Cook, and Bobby Earl Smith, and in the early part of 1972 legendary producer Jerry Wexler, who'd already signed Doug Sahm and Willie Nelson, took a shine to them, and had them record an album for Atlantic. Unfortunately, says Smith, "We were trying to make sure and get a good deal, and we hemmed and hawed too long. We ended up putting Jerry in a kind of a bad light at Atlantic," and the deal was never signed. The album was forgotten, the band members lost their personal copies over the years, and then, not long before Sahm's death in 1999, Smith called him and got Wexler's number in hopes of finally releasing the album more than a quarter-century after it was recorded. Unfortunately, Wexler reported that the master tapes had been lost in a warehouse fire. "My heart sank," gulps Smith, but then Wexler added that he had managed to keep track of his personal copy of the reel to reel tape. (For the full story, check the Chron's Wexler piece at austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2000-12-01/music_feature.html .) Following a bit of EQ-ing and the limited corrections that could be made to the original recording, Smith has had a limited number of copies pressed up for Austin release, with national distribution to follow. And if you didn't guess that rumblings of a reunion are already buzzing, shame on you! Smith says he's talking to Ball this week about putting together some shows at the Broken Spoke, Gruene Hall, and elsewhere. With this and the El Molino reissue, it makes for a nice coincidence that the Big Boys' career-spanning rarities disc Wreck Collection is getting reissued in a couple of weeks, as well.

Call It a Kelly Deal

From the past and present, we now proceed on to the future of Austin music, and as a start, congratulations are in order for Reckless Kelly. They've been pursuing a deal with Sugar Hill Records (home to the Gourds, James McMurtry, and Guy Clark), since SXSW time this year, and last Saturday, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the local boys finally inked the papers. Band member Cody Braun says that the Reckless ones will likely head to Nashville in a couple of months with Steve Earle's better "Twang Trust" half, Ray Kennedy, to record the album, and plans call for it to hopefully hit the racks next March or April. The band's next few gigs are at Gruene Hall on Oct. 19, Hanovers on Oct. 25, the Backyard on Halloween, and yes, they will be showing off new material destined for the disc at those shows. Well, at most of them, anyhow; Braun says that Halloween may instead be something special, like an all-Gram Parsons show. "We know enough of his material already," he says, "the hardest part will be coming up with the nudie suits."

Take It Outside!

In previous weeks, I've given you the dirt on not one but two amphitheatre projects in the air for the Travis and Williamson county vicinities. Now, could the Austin area have yet another new outdoor venue on the way? Looks like it, and this one will beat those other projects to the gate, in fact. Coming at the end of the year with a "soft opening" Dec. 1 for the Texas Events Center, to be located on the site of the old racetrack south of town (some of us will never forget the Survival Research Laboratories show there a few years back). The site will be 45,000 square feet on 19 acres, according to the man behind the center, Farm Aid veteran Jack Yoder. Currently he's in the midst of seeking the proper liquor licenses and such, and preparing to get the building on the property up to snuff for shows. And then it's time to rock! Stay tuned for more details.

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