Strong new albums from Milton Mapes and the Action Is, and the Eighties still won't go away.
Milton Mapes frontman Greg Vanderpool is a nice guy, soft-spoken, unassuming. His songs, on the other hand, are often bleak ruminations on mankind's innate fallibility. This comes out more than ever on the local roots-rockers' third album, The Blacklight Trap, their first for St. Louis-based label Undertow. TBT was recorded at bassist Britton Beisenherz's studio in Pflugerville. "We were joking that this is our Empire Strikes Back record," says Vanderpool. "It's a little heavier in terms of content." In songs like "Underneath the River Runs," "Craters of the Moon," and "When the Earth's Last Picture is Painted" (based on a Rudyard Kipling poem), Vanderpool uses the rugged imagery of landscapes to play up the conflict between human nature and the natural world. "Without getting too pessimistic, I think we're bound to screw it up," he says. But neither will he abandon all hope. "I see the record as a tunnel," he continues. "It's not always a pretty picture, but there is a light." Look for advance copies of The Blacklight Trap at the band's Cactus Cafe show Tuesday.
Turn on the Black Lights
The Action Is has been not-so-quietly rocking local clubs for nearly a decade (the first several years as Hotwheels Jr.), but bassist Kristina Recla thinks new album Forget the Alibi is where the foursome has truly hit their stride. "There's a maturity there coupled with a highly emotional year," she says. While recording Alibi, which trades the Sonic Youth steeliness of earlier albums like 1999's Head Driver for a looser, more organic Rolling Stones vibe, co-founder Mark Bradley left to become a full-time family man and drummer Jake Perlman passed through on his way to the Good Looks. Instead of leaving Recla and original singer/guitarist Adam Farina at loose ends, adding guitarist Paul Ali and drummer James Howell rejuvenated them. "As a whole, we're a stronger band," Recla says. "I feel really confident we'll get better from here." She also credits longtime friends and Young Heart Attack members "Frenchie" Smith and Steven Hall, who produced, recorded, and mixed Alibi at the Bubble, with helping the Action Is step up its game. "They support us and respect us as musicians, and they also challenge us," Recla says. "They believe in the band."
Check This Action
The Action Is open tonight's (Thursday's) "Highball Party" at Emo's with Young Heart Attack, the Good Looks, and Rockland Eagles.
Didn't get Duran Duran tickets? So sorry. From the home office in Shermer, Ill., here's a few other worthwhile activities that might help convince you Ronald Reagan is still president, because really, he is:
A View to a Kill
1) Scour eBay for A-Team action figures. Re-enact various John Hughes movies with Mr. T as Molly Ringwald: "I pity the fool who don't take me to prom!"
2) Outfit your friends as Emmanuel Lewis, Corey Feldman, and Macaulay Culkin to play Michael Jackson Witness List.
3) Turn on MTV and watch the nonstop music videos. But only if you're awake from 4-6am.
4) Buy up all the Members Only jackets, skinny ties, leg warmers, and retro sneakers at area thrift stores, forcing an entire city to rethink its fashion priorities.
5) Save your money for a SXSW wristband just to see Billy Idol and the Alarm. Never mind the other 1,200 bands.
6) Hire a private investigator to track down Front 242, Haircut One Hundred, and the other guy from Wham! SXSW 2006 will be taking applications soon.
7) Rediscover the wonders of the long-neglected "keytar."
8) Thrill to the acting talents of "rock legends" Phil Collins and Glenn Frey on the newly released Miami Vice: Season 1 DVD. If anyone was born to play drug dealers, it's these two.
9) Use the free evening to think up a decent name for the half-completed decade we're in right now.
10) Write a nasty letter to The New York Times for last Sunday's article pointing out that although Eighties nostalgia is omnipresent, none of the decade's signature acts including Duran Duran are selling any records. Nitpickers!
Texans enjoyed an unusually high profile at last Sunday's Grammy awards, starting with Los Lonely Boys participating in the opening five-act round-robin. Though no one thought to mention their name as they launched into "Heaven," Steven Tyler did when he announced the winner of Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals; the visibly kvelling Boys remembered to thank God, their dad, and manager Kevin Womack.
AND THE AWARD GOES TO ...
Tyler also saluted Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and recent South Austin immigrant Pinetop Perkins, who lost Traditional Blues Album to Etta James but looked dapper as ever in the audience. Bongo virtuoso Matthew McConaughey introduced the tribute to Southern rock by quoting Ronnie Van Zandt; Kris Kristofferson did likewise for the fiery Janis Joplin segment starring a shorn Melissa Etheridge and barefoot Joss Stone that, if not for Kanye West, would have stolen the show. Canary-clad fashion victim Sheryl Crow and "roadie" Lance Armstrong presented Record of the Year, for "Here We Go Again," to a passel of the late Ray Charles' associates and Grapevine's Norah Jones, who looked almost as out of it as Brian Wilson during the "Across the Universe" tsunami-relief embarrassment.
Texas' other, fairly predictable, winners were honored during the nontelevised portion: Steve Earle for Contemporary Folk Album, Brave Combo for Polka Album, the Dixie Chicks (remember them?) for Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals, and David Lee Garza, Joel Guzman, and Sunny Sauceda for Tejano Album.
Because Spoon didn't have a record out last year and ... Trail of Dead's came out too late, Lone Stars didn't fare quite as well in the Village Voice's 2004 Pazz & Jop poll, released last week. Dallas expats the Secret Machines placed highest at No. 49, with Earle at No. 62 and Houston-born Jolie Holland at No. 67. Actual Austinites placed lower still: Patty Griffin barely cracked the Top 100 at No. 98; Jon Dee Graham, who's currently without a record deal, placed The Great Battle at No. 123; and his Continental Club cohort James McMurtry landed at No. 195 with Live in Aught-Three.
Much closer to home, acts have begun confirming for March 16's Austin Music Awards at the Austin Music Hall: Lubbock old-timers the Crickets with youngster Nanci Griffith on lead vox; the Hardcore Country All-Stars with Alvin Crow, Pete Mitchell, James White, and Neil Flanz; and forthcoming rock opera author Daniel Johnston. Expect a special guest or two (dozen)
Yes, it's now less than a month away. As festival organizers feverishly match performers with venues, SXSW wristbands go on sale Feb. 24 for $110 at Waterloo Records only. When the first 2,000 are gone, or on Feb. 28, the price goes up to $130.
Bullet the Blue Sky
Shadow rockers I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness, who headline tonight's "official" Duran Duran Parish afterparty over the Arm and Canoe, will have copies of new Artikal 12-inch "According to Plan" available at the show. The band then leaves for a brief East Coast swing before SXSW dates with the likes of Death From Above 1979 and American Analog Set.
Still can't get enough Eighties? Try therapy. Or you could try out for INXS and maybe win the lead singer's role on this fall's CBS series Rock Star. Auditions continue all day today and Friday at the Back Room, and you don't even have to sing "Need You Tonight."
Del Castillo and Chingon compadre Robert Rodriguez appear as a wedding band on Tuesday's episode of ABC sitcom George Lopez. The show airs at Tuesday, Feb. 22, 7:30pm on KVUE, cable 3/broadcast 24.
KGSR is sponsoring a rock art show Thursday-Monday at Austin Harley-Davidson/Buell, 10917 S. I-35. Works by musicians including John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Ron Wood, Tom Petty, and Carlos Santana will be available; some of the proceeds go to the SIMS Foundation.