Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Live Shots

FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO

La Zona Rosa, February 1

In the beginning there was the human voice - homo sapien's first sonic tool. Thousands of years later, even in today's digital din, the focus for much of the world's music is the voice. Even so, it's hard to imagine that singing and singing alone could hold one's attention, let alone garner whoops and calls of approval from an all-ages, sold-out La Zona Rosa crowd. Then again, these were the mighty voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African a cappella ensemble founded over three decades ago and still led by the tender tenor of Joseph Shabalala. Popular? Sales of their 30-plus albums have made them the number one-selling artists in Africa. Maybe the group, which has popularized the mbube style of call-and-response, works so well together because all 10 dancing singers in the group are either a cousin, brother, or son of frontman Shabalala. On stage, the forcible familial ties showed; a wall of sweet harmony radiated with the power of a full choir. This vigor was especially noticeable on the first set's third tune, "Everything Is Stupid," in which the song's narrator, a child, begs adults to forego their silly differences. The second set featured the show's highlight, "Hosanna," and then "Kangivumanga (I Disagreed)," containing the lyrics, "Somebody was begging me to hate/one of my brothers and sisters/I said no no no never never never..." There is really no direct comparison to LBM, but think one part gospel music, one part precision stepping team, and one part Four Tops, and you'll get the picture. And speaking of visuals, the deft South African high-kick dancing (which has probably extended a few inches since Mandela's inauguration) was a definite plus. No wonder, then, that Shabalala calls this music, "Isicathamiya," which in Zulu means "to walk like a cat." The crowd got a chance to move their own feet during the standing ovation, occurring before the moving ode to Mother Africa encore. This final song brought emotions full circle as it wasn't that long ago that Shabalala & Co. were prevented from even playing outside of their South African township of Natal. - David Lynch


CORNERSHOP

Electric Lounge, February 2



"Questin Mark" sans Mysterians

photograph by John Carrico

Listening to either Hold On It Hurts, the debut on Superchunk's Merge Records, or Woman's Gotta Have It, the follow-up on David Byrne's Luaka Bop imprint, you had to think Cornershop's Pavement-goes-to-India Vishnu wave sound the most improbable of pop contenders. Thanks to radio's acceptance of When I Was Born for the Seventh Time, however, the curious came out to see what all the fuss was about, lined up long and early to get a brimful of Cornershop at the Electric Lounge. Of course, you also had to think that a band who's been getting booed at its other Texas stops opening for Oasis would be amped to see such an excitable audience (a guy standing next to me shouted, "I love you, Cornershop" with Beatlemania-like enthusiasm. No lie). But no, from note one of the opener, "Sleep on the Left Side," Tjinder Singh and his "bandmates" merely stood there and played, looking tired, stoned, catatonic, or some combination of the three. Nobody on stage even woke up to drift through "Wog" or even to deliver the hit. That's a damn shame though, because, anesthetized appearances aside, the band sounded great, much fuller with a more percussive jones than they evince on record. They did get help from some canned backing vocals and other sounds effects, but even without the sonic crutch they would have survived on their musicianship alone. Cornershop even got away with that 20-minute closing jam, which incidentally is an actual song with an actual name, "Jullandar Shere," holding the room full of one-hit suckers rapt for the duration. Just think what they could have done had they not showed up comatose. - Michael Bertin


ROY HEINRICH

Broken Spoke, February 5

If there's one thing as sure as Texas' violently incremental weather, it's that said weather will keep clubgoers at home. So it seemed on a Thursday at the Broken Spoke, a day that had started out spring and ended winter. That didn't stop Roy Heinrich from showing up with his long hair and earring, wearing a black hat, black vest, and dark, clay-colored boots. No sir. He also saw fit to bring along his deep baritone and plenty of songs from his last album, Listen to Your Heart - "Fayette County," "Do You Hurt as Much as Me? - as well as a few other people's: "Your Cheating Heart" ('course), "(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone," and "Six Days on the Road." And let's not forget his band, the Pick-Ups - steel guitar, upright bass, and all. Smooth. Too bad the rain and cold only brought with it 10 people and a guy that whistled for 20. Even among those 10, however, there were four pairs of dancers. One couple in particular was all the cozy warmth this empty honky-tonk needed; her, eyes closed, head tilted as if wanting a kiss, face sad; him, melancholy smile and bright eyes looking down at her. In circles went their two-step waltz, and when the song ended, her eyes opened and they looked normal - their expressions benign. When the music started up again, though, their faces became something out of a china cabinet. The longer they held each other and danced, the louder the sound of shuffling feet on the dance floor became. Within an hour, four couples had become 15, and by the end of the two-hour first set there were 30 couples doing laps around the rectangular dancing rink. "Merci beaucoup," said Heinrich at one point, and it didn't come out "Mercy buckets." Too much class for that (not too much vocal range, but that's the problem with good baritones sometimes), though one of Heinrich's new songs, "Take Me Drunk, I'm Home Again," cast a few doubts ("maybe we'll get around to recording a new album one of these days"). Not that anyone was paying attention; the steadily trickling crowd just kept coming in out of the cold. A second set beckoned somewhere around 11:30pm, but by that time this same old heartache was on his way home. He had to get out of the rain. - Raoul Hernandez


TERRI HENDRIX

Flipnotics, February 6

It was past 11pm, the bodies and the ceiling were closing in as the caffeine took firm hold of my peripheral nervous system, and onstage they were still tuning. More shoved in and still more, and soon I wound up playing doorman at the only bathroom for lack of anywhere else to go. People murmured, it was hot. Flipnotics on a crowded night. It didn't take long, however, for my mood to shift and for the fatally cheery and honey-voiced Terri Hendrix to bring the rest of the room around. The San Antonio native who's relocated to San Marcos infused the low-ceilinged space (as she later would her songs) with a punch-you-in-the-arm kind of charm, grinning her way through a surprisingly varied set of blues, country, and folk songs. Starting off with "Wind Me Up," a hopping blues number, and following it up with some more countrified blues, a Latin ballad, and even some gypsy-flavored music, Hendrix eventually finished up back where she started - on "Wind Me Up," along with a repeat of the slow and easy "Hole in My Pocket." Both were welcome. Throughout the evening, Hendrix showed that she was not afraid to go after any particular style of music and play it all-out rather than tone it down to make it fit together, and because of that it all did fit together. When she strummed the line between country and folk songs, she seemed most in her element, but when striding into a jug-beat stomp she didn't miss a note. Her voice conveys a certain husky drawl as convincingly as it does a glass-smooth intonation with a confidence that makes every word her own. She can play, too, picking her way through a bluegrass ride as smoothly as she does a folk stroll, creating through her music the heart of Terlingua, which is often what she sings about. That and humorous anecdotes about family and friends; her sense of humor is what cements her natural stage presence. During one especially tender chorus, Hendrix taunted, "If you're not feeling this you're dead." Everyone laughed, they were undeniably feeling it.
- Christopher Hess


PUSHMONKEY

Steamboat, February 7

Pushmonkey came to rock, and rock they did. And to a herd of adoring fans packed into Steamboat for a Saturday night throwdown, this could have been L.A.'s Whiskey circa 1989 were it not for the abundance of vintage clothing and slacker ennui in the room. Playing its last local show before heading into the studio to record their Arista debut, the band issued a strangely nostalgic invitation back to the future, to a time when the fusion of rap, metal, and funk was still considered innovative. In its faithful devotion to Austin's Great Metal Hope, the audience was more than happy to accept - never mind the tired, genre-bending material, which lost its innovative luster about a decade ago. If there is one hope for Pushmonkey, it's that in their more melodic moments they play metal for people who don't really like metal, replete with sweet harmonies and big, hooky choruses - all with a funky edge. Delivering everything you'd expect from a major label act, Pushmonkey's 15-song set plus obligatory 3-song encore clocked in at just under two hours and gave the crowd exactly what they came for: an honest-to-gosh rock show. Whether stomping out staccato trumpet blasts or displaying his mastery of the bullhorn, lead singer Tony Park and company issued an overdue challenge to rock or get the fuck out of the way. The band's signature harmonies, matching disjointed hip-hop phrasings, churning rhythms, and old-fashioned power chords, fueled their best work on local hits such as "Loner," "Caught My Mind" and the finale, "Crush It," transforming the crowd into something out of Triumph of the Will - pumping fists, gesturing and screaming along with every lyric. Whether that will translate to radio and album sales in 1998 is, of course, another matter. - Sean Doles


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