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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 14
3/26/04Diesel Island, Frederick’s. Last weekend in Austin, I saw three of these guys (as The Bottlerockets) rip through a set of original material in front of an adoring crowd of hundreds of fans. Six days later, they’re back in their hometown, playing 70s covers for maybe fifty or sixty people. There’s probably no profound irony in this, but it is funny how things go. Brian Henneman was characteristically at ease singing and playing these less obvious songs- stuff like "Think I’ll Just Sit here And Drink", "Sing Me Back Home’, "Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone?" and "I Can Help" all feel natural in his hands. Brian’s facility around the fretboard is always smooth and impressive. Drummer Mark Ortmann (who has played with Brian for as long as anyone can remember) is always right there with him, with equally understated ease. It’s fun to watch John Horton, who is also an accomplished guitar player (in many styles, in many bands) develop as a bass player. Kip Loui does well in a supporting role in this band too, adding rhythm guitar and the occasional lead vocal. He sang Creedence’s "Lookin’ Out My Back Door" and Merle’s "Silver Wings" while Brian took a (cigarette) breather.
They did the usual bunch of covers we’ve heard before, including a few Waylon Jennings songs: "Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt", "Only Daddy" and "Good Hearted Woman In Love With A Good Timin’ Man" (my wife claims the latter to be her theme song). They stretched the definition of their "seventies country covers" credo by doing The Stones’ "It’s All Over Now". (Brian claimed John Anderson once recorded it, just in case someone was gonna call ‘em on it) They ended the evening with an extendo-jam version of Johnny Bush’s "Whiskey River". The closing moments of this song found Brian going nuts with an overwhelming array of power chords, single-note runs, string-bending, harmonics and god knows what all. Some folks might say it bordered on gratuitous wanking, but anyone with that predisposition wasn’t here tonight.
3/27/04 Two Cow Garage, Frederick’s. I got there in time to hear the last handful of songs byGhostwriter. This guy scratches away on a somewhat muted electric guitar and baps a tamborine with his foot while doing this sing/chant thing, bringing to mind Hasil Adkins- Bob R. disagreed, but my comparison wasn’t exactly praise, anyway. His voice wasn’t especially dynamic and after two or three songs, I was ready for it to be over.
Next cameDexter Romweber, doing pretty much the same thing as Ghostwriter- a semi-primitive solo electric guitar/while crudely crooning thing. I liked it just fine (especially relative to the guy who preceded him onstage), but I missed the raucous clatter that his former sidekick/bandmate Crow once added to the mix when they performed together as Flat Duo Jets. The only song I recognized was "Lucky Eye".
But the most striking thing tonight was the news that Fred (this venue’s proprietor) and Kathleen are now engaged! The big day is still over a year away, but damn…she can’t say she doesn’t know what she’s getting into.
So, aboutTwo Cow Garage…there’s this Jimmie Dale Gilmore song in which he comes to a revelation when the girl he’s with says, "babe, you’re just the wave, you’re not the water", which essentially states that while his presence is enjoyable enough, he’s the form, not the substance. Two Cow Garage are three nice young guys from Ohio who take their cues from grungy country rock as defined by Neil Young and Uncle Tupelo. Once (or if) you get past the fact that they are traveling down a path blazed by these true visionaries, you can have fun drinking beer and bobbing your head to the hard punch and crunch they deliver. The drummer makes contact with all pieces of his kit, but mostly what he does is emphatically bludgeon his snare drum, while Shane and Micah roar through the power chords, often with that hard start/stop thing going. As always, it’s hard not to liken Micah’s voice to that of Patterson Hood of The Drive By Truckers. Shane sang a couple tonight, too. The covers I recognized were Neil Young’s "Fuckin’ Up" and The Beatles’ "Don’t Let Me Down". These guys draw a bigger crowd every time they come through town; there were more people here tonight than for last night’s Diesel Island show.
3/30/04Palookaville, The Cabin Inn (at The City Museum). Tonight we were celebrating the birthdays of Anne Tkach and Roy Kasten in this log cabin that has been reassembled in the City Museum parking lot. There’s a cool hardwood bar (also relocated from a previous location) along the back wall. The place was packed- the five band members tucked into a corner and fifteen or twenty of us filling out the rest of the floorspace. There was a chilly, light drizzle outside, but things were cozy (in all senses of the word) inside.
This room was appropriate for the warm, intimate feel of Bob Reuter and band. Kevin sat on a barstool, applying atmospheric fiddle while Joe leaned against the back wall laying on subtle guitar leads- a welcome adjustment from the louder heroics he was displaying last time I saw him/them. Mike played a single snare with brushes and Jenna bowed her bass with the usual rich tones…all bringing life to Bob’s great songs. Somewhere during the proceedings, Roy (the birthday boy) took over Mike’s snare drum for a couple of songs. A few songs I remember: "Me And Charlie Floyd", "Anna Lee", "After The Money…", "10% Of Nothin", "Good Night Irene", "Little Red Book", "Mr. Soul" and "Amsterdam". The ghosts of whoever lived in this log cabin long ago must have been pleased.
4/14/04 Marah, Off Broadway. I missed the first two of tonight’s four (how do they do it for a $7 cover?) bands, but caught the last half of the set byRough Shop. From what I heard, this band has developed into a more cohesive thing- where they once seemed like the post-Cheryl One Fell Swoop with Anne joining them onstage for certain songs, they now have clearly become a new entity. Anne played acoustic guitar throughout the entire set, freeing John to continue to hone his abilities on electric guitar and mandolin. Anne’s singing felt even more confident as she sang that Michael Freidman song about the hippie boy. Sally Timms is about the closest reference point I can come up with in describing the character of her voice. Andy’s dobro was especially expressive and Nate’s keyboards provided long, sustained soulful fills. John and Anne’s voices playfully mixed on a new song called "I See Shadows". They ended with another impressive original called "I’m Your Man" that has more of a pop/soul feel to it than the acoustic folk John & co. were once known for. They keep getting better.
At around eleven, Philadelphia’sMarah took the stage as the P.A. played the "Rocky" theme…these guys tempt me to use the overused phrase "hardest working band in show business". This five piece (B,D,G,G & lap steel) poured their hearts out for nearly two hours on a Wednesday night for maybe 150 people. Fronted by the brothers Bielanko, they play gritty, soulful rock and roll that reminds me of those first couple of Springsteen records. A couple of times, David Bielanko played a banjo, adding a more earthy texture to the mix. They played quite a few songs from their "Kids From Philly" CD, including "The Catfisherman", "Faraway You" and "Round Eye Blues".
OK, let’s see how many references I can use in describing one song: It started out with that hard hitting start/stop thing and a cadence like Uncle Tupelo’s "Graveyard Song", but was somehow given a pseudo-eastern treatment (ala The Stones), complete with bongos and trippy slide guitar, approximating a sitar sound…the band eventually settled into a repeated "Sweet Jane"-like groove while Serge Bielanko carried the mic out into the crowd to deliver an extended comedic monologue (The Sopranos figure prominently into his world view) in a falsetto akin to what Mick Jagger does on "Emotional Rescue". After wandering all over the bar (and even out the side door for a minute), Serge rejoined his mates on stage who briefly revisited the eastern-ized theme before seamlessly segueing into a muscular take on "My Girl". These guys know their rock and live it. The Who’s "Baba O’Reilly" might seem a bit too obvious and anthemic for your average indie-rock band, but Marah aint one of them- they did it up in all of its glory, power chords a-blaring. At various times, each brother would take a perch on one of the tables out on the floor and precariously play guitar out in the crowd.
They ended their extended encore with "Love Train". When they play Twangfest in early June, things will be different: a bigger crowd will squeeze into a smaller room, and the depth and breath of what Marah does will be condensed into an action-packed hour-long set…things could reach some kind of critical mass.
4/17/04 Nadine, Frederick’s. This was one of those shows presented by my Twangfest buddies to promote the 4-day festival next June. Even with a $10 cover charge, the place filled up pretty early tonight. The Nadine guys must have been hanging with some rock stars, because the Fredrick’s "backstage" room looked more like an official "green room" tonight- that round table had cut flowers, a bottle of wine and a dang fruit and cheese plate on it.
Eric Johnson(of Chicago’s Fruit Bats) opened with a solo acoustic set- nice enough catchy pop songs in a higher range voice. A couple of my Fruitbats fan friends were loving it, but being unfamiliar, I was up for something more loud and engaging, this being a crowded bar on a Saturday night, and all. The large crowd started off being fairly quiet and attentive, but eventually began to chatter. I’ll have to check out some full band recordings sometime.
Fortunately, "loud and engaging" came soon enough, whenNadine (the full five-member lineup) squeezed onto the stage and did it up. Apparently, things will soon be in transition for this band, but tonight it was nice to take in another set by the "here and now" incarnation- Adam’s warm and familiar songs, fully animated by Jimmy’s heroic leads, Steve’s keyboard fills and Anne’s bouncy basslines (I’ve seen ‘em and described ‘em a bunch before, so pardon any redundancy). It seemed like every time I turned around, someone was buying me a beer (or vice-versa) in this sold-out crowd containing lots of familiar faces. To the best of my cloudy recollection, song highlights included "When I Was A Boy", "End Of The Night", "Closer" (John W. pointed out a similarity to Neil Young’s "Out On The Weekend"), "Different Kind Of Heartache" and "Sleep With The Radio On". Toward the end of their set, Eric Johnson joined them on guitar as they covered a Fruit Bats’ song.
4/23/04Rough Shop, Dressel’s Upstairs. This was the first time I’d heard a band in this cool upstairs room above Dressel’s. There were only a handful of people in attendance as the band’s sound check evolved into their first set. Once again, they did a nice mix of songs, allowing each of the three lead vocalists to shine at various times. Anne sang "All That You Love…", as well as a new one that sounded like "Ode To Billie Joe" backed by CCR. Andy applied his gentle voice to a couple of songs, making his dobro sound more like a steel guitar at one point. John sang "I’m Your Man" and another newer pop/soul-sounding original.
Unlike the last time I heard them, I was not blown away from start to finish- a couple of mid-tempo songs seemed to just sit there, and the lack of clarity in the vocal mics didn’t help. If I’m remembering correctly a couple of days later, they did a nice cover of Dylan’s "You Aint Goin’ Nowhere" and "Tangled Up In Blue", the latter given a tone and tempo more akin to "Jack Of Hearts". They also did "Flesh & Blood" and the playfully stylized "I See Shadows", John and Anne’s voices mixing well. Family obligations sent me home after one set.
4/24/04The Highway Matrons CD release party, Frederick’s. By the time I got there, the Matrons were well into their set. They’re about as oddball a bunch as you’d care to witness…Mark Stephens always reminds me of Roky Erikson- from his unruly mane and bushy sideburns to the way his slurry/blurry guitar and dramatic vocal delivery build these grandiose, slightly theatrical rock canons. Fred Friction was in rare form, all animated and inebriated in his silver bra and black tie as he slung the sticks in surprisingly competent fashion.
It used to be that this pair of songwriters would alternate the lead vocal chores, with Fred occasionally stepping out from behind the drums to play spoons and sing a few songs. But lately, Mark has been doing almost all of the singing, even on songs written by Fred ("Little Baby Dreams" & "Whiskey I Drink"). I gotta say that I missed the change of pace (and tone) that Fred’s singing brought to the mix. Since I arrived late, I can’t say whether this was the case throughout their set, but eventually the tone of Mark’s guitar and vocals (often unintelligible through the P.A.) settled into a monochromatic sameness- a typical song features a whipped-up guitar buzz followed by a distinctive pause and lighter, more subtle leads. Nothing wrong with any individual moment, but I need more variety. As if they were reading my mind, they ended with a refreshing changeup- Chuck Berry’s "Sweet Little Sixteen". Now I have to see what their new CD is all about…