Bombs Over Baghdad

Not every gig necessitates a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket as standard stage wardrobe, as the entertainment-starved audience dodges mortar and RPG fire. But it does in the "hot zone" of southern and central Iraq, where local honky-tonk thrush Danni Leigh and bandmates Adam Roach and Mike McKenzie spent two weeks last month.

Their tour was booked by Armed Forces Entertainment, which, unlike the USO, arranges shows in remote encampments, including places very much in the thick of combat. McKenzie says the band was never fired on directly, but some bases were shelled while they were there, and sometimes they'd take meals across from grunts just back from a 16-hour firefight.

"Their eyes were really wide open, I guarantee you that," he says as Honky steamrolls the Ego's stage.

Whether they were playing one of Saddam Hussein's palaces or a makeshift stage of two flatbed trucks in an airplane hangar, McKenzie says the troops were overjoyed to see them and eager for news of back home.

"There were a lot of people from Texas and Louisiana there," he says, "and they all wanted to know, 'What's it like in Austin right now?'"

The band learned to cope with the awful food, no-alcohol policy, and 130-degree heat that nearly melted McKenzie's acoustic bass, but coming to terms with the fate of the baby-faced soldiers they befriended – and sometimes visited in the MASH tent – proved much harder.

"We know faces; that's what's really weird," Leigh says. "We met all these people, and now we don't know if they're dead or alive."

Leigh, who is not included on the upcoming Iraq benefit CD, 13 Ways to Live, with exclusive tracks by Abra Moore, Alejandro Escovedo, Eliza Gilkyson, Butch Hancock, Patty Griffin, and eight others with Texas ties, says she hardly slept at all in Iraq. When she did, "I had the worst nightmares of my life."

Danni Leigh opens for Junior Brown at Antone's tonight (Thursday).

Illustration By Nathan Jensen

Nobody Weird Like Al

Laugh at "Weird Al" Yankovic all you want, because he's laughing all the way to the bank. Spoofing Star Wars characters, lunch meats, reality TV, and everything in between, the 44-year-old has sold millions of albums and become a top pop-culture pundit on VH1 fare like I Love the 80s. "TCB" found him pushing his Grammy-winning Poodle Hat in Maryleville, Ind. Where? "It's a little outside Chicago," he explains.

TCB: When's the last time you played Austin?

Weird Al: I couldn't tell you exactly when that was. I think it might have been a Thursday.

TCB: Is there a secret to a good parody?

WA: It's kind of hard to describe. Obviously, a good parody should be funny, it should be well thought out, and it should be funny even if you're not familiar with the original song you're doing a parody of.

TCB: How do your targets react?

WA: Generally, they're quite flattered. Certainly these days, I've been doing it long enough that people realize it's all done in good fun, and in fact people view it as a badge of honor. It's kind of a rite of passage. It's a sign that they've "made it" in the music industry to get a "Weird Al" parody.

TCB: Is America's obsession with pop culture out of control?

WA: That's a hard thing to answer. Certainly I'm obsessed with pop culture, and it's kind of a hobby of mine to study and analyze it. I think people are too focused on the wrong things. Let me just put it that way. I think there are more important things we can be thinking about and discussing than, say, Britney Spears' love life.

TCB: What's been the highlight of your career so far?

WA: Probably my appearance on The Simpsons. That was a huge deal for me.

TCB: You're the No. 1 most-requested artist on the Dr. Demento show. Did you get any kind of plaque for that?

WA: [Laughs] No, Dr. Demento never made me a plaque, but just knowing that is enough.

Weird Al dares to be stupid at the Paramount Theatre Friday.


After the Gold Rush

This year's ACL Festival aftershows, Sept. 16-19, offer no secrets but plenty of tough decisions; here they are Olympic-style. Go for the gold!

THE 4X100 SECOND-LINE RELAY: Rebirth Brass Band, Thursday, the Vibe

THE BALANCE BEAM OF HEARTBREAK: Neko Case, Thursday, the Parish

THE ALL RIGHT ALREADY 1,000-METER FLOAT: Modest Mouse, I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness, Friday, Stubb's outside

THE GRAVITY-BONG SHOT PUT: Critters Buggin, Friday, Stubb's inside

THE 100-METER ROCKPILE HURDLES: Nick Lowe, Friday, the Parish

THE RETRO-ROCK ALL-AROUND: Gomez, Soundtrack of Our Lives, Friday, La Zona Rosa

THE JAM DECATHLON: Particle, Friday, Antone's

THE JAM DECATHLON, CANADIAN DIVISION: Broken Social Scene, Saturday, the Parish

THE 400-METER INDIE-AMERICANA BROOD: Wilco, Calexico, Saturday, Stubb's outside

THE POLITICALLY CHARGED ACOUSTIC POLE VAULT: Mason Jennings, Saturday, Stubb's inside

THE PLATFORM DIVE INTO OLD MAN RIVER: North Mississippi Allstars, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Saturday, Antone's

THE DIXIE-FRIED JIM BEAM MARATHON: Drive-by Truckers, Centro-matic, Saturday, La Zona Rosa

THE (VERY) HIGH JUMP: Hairy Apes BMX, Earl Harvin Trio, Sunday, the Parish

Tickets now on sale separately at


Martin Banks 1936-2004

Martin Banks, the elder statesman of Austin jazz, whose career saw tenures with many of the all-time greats, suffered a stroke last Tuesday and was taken off life support Friday at South Austin Hospital. He was 68. Banks grew up in central East Austin and attended the segregated Anderson High School before relocating to the Bay Area, where he received a B.A. in music from the City College of San Francisco. He also met Dexter Gordon, the first in a series of jazz and R&B legends the trumpeter would work with: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Charles, King Curtis, Sun Ra, James Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie, who gave Banks his trademark fez after the Texan impressed him one night in New York. Banks also did time in the house bands of the Apollo Theater, Motown Records, and Walt Disney World, as well as the orchestra for the Broadway musical Hair. "He just made the rounds," says Chronicle jazz writer Jay Trachtenberg. "He was never a star, but he was always there." Banks moved back to Austin in 1988 to care for his mother, Rose, who survives him along with wife Leslie, three siblings, and five children. He soon became a fixture on the local circuit with the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, Worthy Constituents, JAMAD, Jazz Pharaohs, and the Texas Trumpets, while helping the next generation find its chops through private lessons and the Austin Jazz Workshop. "He was double-booked for Wednesday," says friend and colleague Alex Coke. "We had talked Tuesday morning about me covering one of his gigs." A memorial is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12 at Laguna Gloria Art Museum.

Bullet the Blue Sky

Li'l Cap'n Travis, Ghandaia, the Greencards, and 2004 AMA Best Kid Band Misspent Youth rock Waterloo Park Sunday for the Chronicle's Hot Sauce Festival. 11am, free.

Sadly, South Lamar Cajun chalet the Old Alligator Grill has discontinued its nightly no-cover live music, but the fried oysters are still to die for.

After 13 straight months, Los Lonely Boys have said no mas touring in order to get reacquainted with their families. San Angelo's pride and joy hop back on the bus after a Sept. 1 appearance at the Latin Grammys with Carlos Santana.

Proving just how ahead of the curve Austin really is, Kissinger's 2000 LP Charm recently hit the CMJ 200 and is still climbing. The sardonic rockers road-test songs from Charm's just-completed follow-up Friday at the Parish with the Real Heroes and Bedbug.

As Burnet Road karaoke palace the Common Interest celebrates 30 years of fostering office romances, the Longbranch Inn begins its second year of Eastside hookups and setups 6pm Sunday with the Bloody Tears. A very special "Hook 'em!" to LBI publican David Thomson's niece, incoming UT freshman Lauren Denton.

"TCB" Correction Corner: Moonlight Towers, who play a bon voyage gig Friday at the Hole in the Wall, are heading to New Orleans to make their second LP. 2002's Moonlight Towers is their debut.

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