Playback – Carnegie Bound: Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. strips down on his way to Carnegie Hall, hardcore duo Street Sects kills the lights, and Savannah Welch makes her first public appearance since losing her leg
There's that age-old joke where a New Yorker, in need of directions, spots a musician on the street and asks, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The response: "Practice, practice, practice!"
Next Thursday, Austin's well-practiced blues superstar Gary Clark Jr. plays the vaunted Manhattan concert hall, the culmination of a six-date tour of solo performances that includes Sunday through Tuesday Downtown here at the historic Paramount Theatre.
"I kind of wanted to give my ears a break," reasons Clark about performing sans band. "For me, all these songs started in some broken-down form – on acoustic guitar, sometimes piano – so it just felt right to take a step back and play the songs real raw, just me and my guitar."
Though never at this scope, the homegrown 32-year-old logged time as a solo act. Inspired by renegade Austin songman Homer Henderson, Clark used to perform at the Continental Club and Antone's as a one-man band.
"Homer had this cool rig, and I tried to piece one together using tape on a beat-up bass drum and hi-hat," chuckles Clark. "It would slide and I'd be chasing it around the stage. So I gave up. I figured I would leave that to him."
Lately, some of Clark's most golden tracks have been delivered in a broken-down style. His soulful contribution to the Deepwater Horizon soundtrack is carried by acoustic strumming and harmonica. "Church," the best song on 2015's The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, strikes a similarly lonesome gospel folk embrace.
"When we were recording 'Church,' [engineer/producer] Jacob Sciba said, 'You know you got a song when you can break it down on just guitar and piano,'" Clark recalls. "That started the idea of doing these shows."
Asked for an artist he admires in terms of acoustic adaptations, Clark thought for a moment.
"We'd done shows with Neil Young, then we did the Bridge School Benefit in California and I saw him just walking around with his acoustic and harmonica," he says. "It definitely caught me, that vibe of just playing an acoustic and singing a song – changing the energy of the room. It was a beautiful thing to watch."
Even with career milestones coming a mile a minute – including a recently announced tour with Eric Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan – Clark dismisses the notion of Carnegie Hall as just another gig.
"Nah, it's exciting! Every time I think of Carnegie Hall I think of the Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble Live at Carnegie Hall record with him standing out front next to the sign," he says. "I think I'm gonna get a picture like that."
Street Sects' Extreme Electronics
Twenty minutes. That's how long the average Street Sects performance lasts. And while the local industrial punk duo is onstage, time stops.
Blinded by fog and shocked with pulsing strobes, an audience only gets momentary glimpses of vocalist Leo Ashline, stalking the floor in an Andy Warhol wig while screaming violently and often revving a chain saw.
"We wanted people at our shows to be immersed in something unsettling, slightly dangerous, and new," offers Shaun Ringsmuth, composer of the group's extreme electronic arrangements. "You don't see your friends, you can't take a picture, and the venue's been transformed into a strange place. That's when people start talking in that language after the show, like they went to a different planet."
Street Sects' caustic live shows, which are sometimes canceled by venues whose management didn't read the advance and consider thick fog a safety issue, aren't what put the Austin band on national radar. September's End Position, released by influential San Francisco experimental label the Flenser, arrived as a remarkably advanced debut – a true composition where tense sample overtures unfold into aggressive electronic blasts and cathartic emotional purges.
"It's pretty much about wanting to die, but you're too much of a coward to do it," reveals Ashline. "The 'end position' is depression."
For the two old friends with backgrounds in hardcore and angular rock, Street Sects' fully electronic melee was an unproven path, but one that's found traction nationally. Rolling Stone trumpeted the duo as a top new artist after heavy music tastemaker the Needle Drop buoyed it into the national consciousness with a pants-shitting review that immediately resulted in an influx of young fans at their tour stops.
"Originally we asked ourselves, 'How do we channel the hardcore music we love in a way that embraces electronic music?'" posits Ashline. "What we ended up with is something more open-ended. The experimental nature allows us total freedom."
Street Sects kills the lights at Sidewinder next Wednesday with Soft Kill, All Your Sisters, and Future Blondes.
Youngboy Never Broke Again, a burgeoning Southern rap star, was arrested last Sunday outside Vulcan Gas Company, where he was scheduled to perform. APD confirmed that the "NBA Crew" leader was picked up on a warrant from his hometown of Baton Rouge, but couldn't specify the charges. An Instagram video showed the artist, real name Kentrell Desean Gaulden, facedown on the sidewalk while officers pointed guns at him in what was obviously a preorchestrated apprehension. Venue owners didn't respond to an inquiry of whether they had advance notice of the arrest.
Black Pussy's performance last Saturday at Hotel Vegas was canceled due to an online uproar over the band's name. Austin's Violinda Lola, an African-American musician, began the social media outcry by denouncing the Portland, Ore., stoner rock quintet's moniker, which resulted in their performance being called off by venue management just hours before the show. In a statement, the band denounced the move as "censorship" and blamed "an extremely small minority of internet crybabies that feel they have the right to decide what kind of art is acceptable and tell [venue owners], 'Do what we say or suffer the consequences.'" The venue paid the band and a solid crowd showed up for quality local openers Greenbeard and Duel.
Dolly Parton's Pure & Simple tour hits the Erwin Center on Tuesday, but the country icon has another local "booking" in the works. Dolly's Imagination Library, a program that sends free books to children up to the age of 5, will now be available to kiddos in the 78721. The international charity's ATX chapter was founded by members of the High Road on Dawson nonprofit. "Our goal is to get every kid in the ZIP code signed up," said co-organizer Jen Philhower. They've already fundraised enough for two years and hope to expand to other areas of the city. Register at ImaginationLibrary.com.
Sara Hickman takes the stage one last time this Saturday at El Mercado South. The colorful singer/activist/children's songwriter is retiring – effective immediately. Hickman has maintained a golden career since the late Eighties, releasing 20 albums and notching a 1990 radio hit with "I Couldn't Help Myself." In a 2001 Chronicle feature, Hickman said of her success: "My music is a quieter gift between me and the people who like what I am doing. Instead of being the outsider looking in at a party, I'm having my own party in the street."
Savannah Welch sang in public on Monday for the first time since losing her leg in a freak accident last month. The singer-songwriter appeared at Monkey Nest Coffee for the monthly song circle/jam organized by photo shaman Todd V. Wolfson and featuring Austin music lifers Suzanna Choffel, Rosie Flores, Mike Flanigin, Jeremy Nail, Savannah's dad Kevin Welch and – quite amazingly – bassist George Reiff, who's been sidelined with stage IV cancer. "I'm here because of you guys," Welch said tearfully after singing a song with her father. "This community has got your back and they mean it."