Off the Record
Merchants of Soul
Spoon's sold-out stand at Stubb's last weekend didn't exactly cool the furnace blast baking Central Texas. Just the opposite, in fact: Eight people were treated for heat exhaustion on Thursday's opening night alone, according to the South West Emergency Action Team. The handpicked openers did little to quell the discomfort but proved an engaging study in contradictions, beginning that night with the dark humor of Portland, Ore.'s Quasi, grounded by Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Local honky-tonker Dale Watson declared his intentions early Friday night with Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," while Alan Sparhawk delved deep into Low's depressive tension. Alone onstage Saturday, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter issued confrontational confessionals under the alias Atlas Sound, climaxing with a haphazard reimagining of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer." Likewise, Austin's the Strange Boys landed on the wrong side of a hard day's night, squeaking out a heatstroke scattershot of rhythm and blues.
For those sweating it out, Spoon rewarded in kind, performing on par with Wilco in terms of the intimacy and depth of the set lists – dating all the way back to 1997's Soft Effects EP with blistering renditions of "Mountain to Sound" on Thursday and Friday's "I Could See the Dude" – a feat that only improved with each passing moon. Since 2005's Gimme Fiction, Britt Daniel has bolstered his frontman appeal, evidenced by his repeated, strangled guitar deconstruction for "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" and sensual strut of "I Turn My Camera On." Grupo Fantasma's JewMex Horns jolted "Rhythm and Soul," "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," and "The Underdog" from 2007's crossover Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which, with the encore rendition of "Eddie's Ragga" on Saturday, was accounted for in its entirety. Most surprising was how well the evanescent allure of "The Ghost of You Lingers" adapted to the live setting on all three shows and the raucousness of the Rolling Stones' "Rocks Off" that closed the final two encores. And thankfully, there's no end in sight as the band previewed an album's side worth of new material – terse, jagged, and deceptively simple pop songs that had fans moving on first listen. Good luck topping this feat for the CD release.
Mean Old World
By all accounts, Little Joe Washington (pictured) should be a household name. The last of Houston's Third Ward bluesmen, the 70-year-old guitarist came up alongside the likes of Albert Collins, Lightnin' Hopkins, and T-Bone Walker but has spent most of the last two decades living on the streets, battling various addictions. Washington recently performed at the annual Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and occasionally holds down a Tuesday night residency at Boondocks in Houston, but the only way to contact him is through his longtime girlfriend, Mary. "It takes 24/7 supervision to hang with him," says Eddie Stout of Austin's Dialtone Records (see "Sheiks of Industry," Nov. 14, 2003), which released Washington's proper studio debut, 2003's Houston Guitar Blues. Backed by local session cats, including current Fabulous Thunderbirds Johnny and Jay Moeller, saxophonist Kaz Kazanoff, and Al Gomez Jr. of the West Side Horns, Washington's latest, Texas Fire Line, is a freakishly raw collection of gutter-blues, smoldering R&B, and instinctive street slurs, capable of sending Black Joe Lewis back to shucking oysters at Quality Seafood. "He's a walking songbook," Stout concludes. "If this cat cleaned himself up, wore a suit, he'd be every bit as popular as Buddy Guy. This guy can seriously play – when he wants to."
• Here's a little something OTR would like to submit to recent Austin transplant Kerry Miller's infamous PassiveAggressiveNotes.com collection: Local post-punk trio the Gary got banned from the Beauty Bar last Friday after leaving the bar manager a napkin note that read: "You were a total prick to us. Fuck this place we are never coming here again, and if I see you on the street I will pound your face into the mud." Relays Beauty Bar partner and booker Bart Butler: "Those guys could not fathom why we don't have bands play all night and why we have a 'stupid DJ' after the bands. That is my business model, and I don't think I need to explain that it works for this place."
• Longtime scene shutterbug Todd Wolfson hit a pothole on his bicycle early Saturday morning, splitting his right elbow open and fracturing his arm in two places from the subsequent fall. He received 16 pins and two plates in his arm and 11 stitches in his head from Seton Medical Center. A benefit is already in the works, and donations to help offset his mounting medical bills can be made payable to Todd Wolfson Medical Benefit and sent care of 1122 Colorado St. #2106, Austin, TX 78701. Get well soon, buddy.
• The Flatlanders kick up some dust once again on the Late Show With David Letterman on Tuesday, July 21, only this time without the Chronicle in tow (see "Right Where They Belong," July 26, 2002).
• Whole Lotta Rosie: AC/DC's relentless "Rock n Roll Train" for latest Black Ice pulls into the Frank Erwin Center on Nov. 6. Tickets go on sale Saturday, Aug. 1, 10am.
Paint Silver Gold
Despite achieving serious accolades across the pond from The Guardian and Mojo magazine, White Denim has stayed relatively low key here on the home front. The local trio made only minor upgrades for the recording of its sophomore outing, Fits, a kaleidoscopic concoction of heavy-soul, released last month in the UK on Full Time Hobby. "We moved from a 27-foot 1940s Spartan into a 44- to 45-foot 1950s Spartan trailer that's more like a living space," drummer Josh Block told OTR in March. "It has a kitchen space that we can use and a bathroom. That's what success will do to you." All that should change now, as the band recently inked a deal with Downtown Music, home to Gnarls Barkley, Cold War Kids, Mos Def, and Santigold. The deal has been in the works since late 2007, when White Denim licensed an exclusive EP to RCRD LBL – Downtown's ad-generated, online offshoot – and Fits will finally be issued stateside Oct. 20, coinciding with a full North American tour. "There are a couple more straight-up soul tunes, but for the most part we tried capturing what we've been doing onstage over the past year," prefaced singer/guitarist James Petralli. "The energy flow is a lot better."