Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Live Shots

MARCH 2, 1998: 

THE CRYSTAL METHOD, BT

La Zona Rosa, February 13

Okay, so right off the bat it's Friday the 13th, and by 4:30pm, my Crystal Method experience is resembling something out of Spinal Tap. Having contacted the band and their management and been assured that, yes, Scott and Ken would be happy to do a brief cameo in a film, yours truly shows up at the venue, crew and freshly-rented gear in tow, only to find too many roadies and not enough Method Men. "Could you come back at sixish?" Do I have a choice? "Sixish" rolls around, and Method Man Scott Kirkland, in the throes of setup and soundcheck, bumps the shoot back to post-performance. I can work with this, even though my soundman is by now grinding his molars into so much enameline dust. And so, gear safely stashed in the truck, opener Brian Transeau (BT) takes the stage and La Zona Rosa's first foray into electronic pandemonium commences amidst a swirl of chemi-fog and ultraviolet strobes. BT's an odd pairing for the Crystal Method, full of quasi-ambient loops and jitters that snuggle up to your eardrums before taking an abrupt right turn into housey, big-beat anthems. It's a decidedly spiritual turn of events, sounding more at home on a pair of high-end Koss headphones, but the sold-out crowd responds nevertheless. The real Airwalked, Cyalume clubsurge is held in check for the sons of the Vegas desert, whose live show has earned deserved huzzahs. In a genre where the most exciting visual aspect of a performance is often the lightstick acrobatics of ecstatic clubkids sweatily breaking next to you, the Crystal Method go out of their way to torch the routine, attacking their Roland keyboards with all the flailing abandon of Magic Bus-era Pete Townsend. Poised on the edge of the stage, the duo hammered at their hardware like Mozart desperately in need of a Salierian Ritalin drip. Thunderous beats, yeah, but more important, the Method fuses actual melodies (!) into their sonic front end - a mad beat you can dance to and whistle tunelessly on the headachy slog homewards. And after the show? Backstage chaos, epic, goofball footage, and grinny, sweaty downtime. But by then, it's Saturday the 14th, isn't it? - Marc Savlov



MERL SAUNDERS
& THE RAINFOREST BAND

Stubb's, February 17

After an energetic and well-received set, Zuckerman Electric abandoned the stage well before midnight. Merl Saunders is not a man you keep waiting. Actually, it's you who has to wait. In fact, more than an hour later, the monolithic white Oberham keyboard setup at center stage had yet to be confronted. When the man from San Fran finally did saunter onto the stage in signature tie-dye and leather Harley cap, the friendly calls of "Merl" from the audience seemed more greetings from friends than cheers from fans; it's okay if Merl is late. Immediately, he broke into Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," the piano sounding like a carnival, and the whole room smelling like a bud. The choral call, sprinkled over the melody, accompanied a xylophonish keyboard and lead guitar that approximated Jerry Garcia better than everyone but Jerry. Not surprisingly then, the show's high points came when the band drifted into the mist to play selections from Blues From the Rainforest, Saunders' 1990 musical suite that featured Garcia on guitar (one of many musical partnerships and adventures involving Garcia, stories Saunders is not shy about telling). The title track was a long and wandering tune to say the least; it and "Blue Hill Ocean Dance" off the same album were by far the most interesting instrumental forays undertaken. A spirited rendition of "Tore Up" and a song about "Getting Stoned" (?) (of all things) had Saunders rolling his back on the keyboards and growling in call and response to the willing crowd. Then he played Dead. "Bertha," done straight-up, was fun only because it was familiar, otherwise it lacked life. "Sugaree," though, was changed up to a rousing New Orleans blues that made it shake it like it never has. An instrumental turn through "Imagine" was surprisingly touching, Saunders' keyboard turned into a piano, the notes rolling off in a cascade of sentimental tribute. Most people couldn't get away with that. Merl can. - Christopher Hess




Storyville's Malford Milligan eggs on the Mighty Zor's Doyle Bramhall II at Antone's February 20
photograph by John Carrico



GOUDIE

Steamboat, February 18

With his waif-thin physique, chiseled cheekbones, and jet-black locks, Johnny Goudie bears all the outward signs of a rock star waiting to happen. Further blessed with a silky, androgynous voice and a regular Wednesday night slot at Steamboat, you just know he's on his way. Until he can write a batch of songs as striking as his physical gifts, however, Johnny Goudie's wait will have to continue. After years in previous musical incarnations like Mr. Rocket Baby and Johnny Goudie, the new and improved just-plain-Goudie finds itself at a musical crossroads. Though tailor-made for fun, poppy rock, the more mature Goudie has the bags under his eyes and street cred to back up his fresh-faced appeal. Unfortunately, the 17 songs that followed on this night reflected more confusion over a lack of direction than personal conviction and individual style. At its best, Goudie the band unleashed a pop-glam style so sharp you could use it to cut out Nick Gilder paper dolls. Odes to cross-dressing ("Bitch"), to fame ("Superstar"), and to bacchanalian revelry ("Wasted") dared you to think Goudie's music is tightly crafted and always on target. Propelled by a wall of sound, the band made its case by ascending to a peak of pop-rock songcraft that felt dizzying in its sugary rush. But Goudie can't seem to ignore those little voices telling him that he needs to be "darker" and "edgier." Anyone who knows Johnny Goudie's back story knows he doesn't need anything in his life to be darker, so let's just leave it at that and crank up the pop quotient. Besides, now that Material Issue's Jim Ellison is out of the picture and Redd Kross continually render themselves irrelevant to a mass audience, the path is clear for Goudie to step in and claim his rightful place on the power-pop throne. Who cares if he looks like Bryan Adams' kid brother and sounds like Sweet's Brian Connolly and the London Suede's Bret Anderson rolled into one? If Goudie can concentrate on one sweet corner of the world, maybe he can find his true voice and triumph at his own game. - Sean Doles



THE DAMNED

Atomic Cafe, February 19

Southern California's melodic hardcore Man Will Surrender and L.A. powerhouse Tura Satana (led by Tarrie B, a fusion of Zak De La Rocha and Courtney Love), lubed up the Atomic Cafe's sizeable crowd for the headlining professional volume merchants. For the uninitiated, the Damned were the first British punk band to chart and tour in the U.S. behind punching tunes like "New Rose" from their 1977 punk classic Damned, Damned, Damned, and potent follow-ups like "Smash It Up." And like many other older English bands, The Damned have no qualms mounting a "no new song/post-farewell tour" tour. Unlike the Who and other glimmering British groups that take themselves too seriously, however, this is only rock & roll, and the Damned, blending self-parody with entertainment energy, displayed the carefree attitude of an older, wiser, and perhaps more sedated (medicated?) version of their younger selves - with the jams intact. This vigor was perhaps due to new members, as only vocalist Dave Vanian and guitarist/jester Captain Sensible remain from the original lineup. Replacing such delicately named previous members as Rat Scabies were former Sister of Mercy Patricia Morrison on bass, keyboardist Monty the Moron, and drummer Garrie Dreadful. In spite of early Spinal Tap stage problems, the band started heavy and kept it that way all night long, giving the all-ages noir crowd what they came to experience: a beer-splashed Damned "best of" show. "Dozen Girls" from their album Strawberries was delivered with appropriate punk cheekiness, followed by tunes from the lads' echo-drenched Bauhaus era. The group returned to its heavier roots with "Disco Man," whipping up the mosh pit like a bb pellet through a beehive. A perfunctory end to this string of tunes signaled the beginning of the second set - initiated by a Dreadful drum solo - and more classic cult cuts from the Damned catalogue. Sure, the bass playing was a bit stiff, and yeah, just about every song closed with the same drum riff. But it's only punk after all, right? Smash It Up! - David Lynch



DAVID MURRAY QUARTET

Bates Recital Hall, February 21

You could feel it the moment they took the stage. One minute the wood-paneled, wood-floored performance space at Bates Recital Hall - looking ever the cathedral with its enormous church organ - was still, and the next four very well-dressed men emerged from behind one of the walls like apparitions. Right then you knew it was going to be serious. On any given night in the "Live Music Capital of the World" you can be sure that whatever you're watching, somewhere, across town, there's a musical moment as good or better - happening that very second. The moment David Murray started playing his tenor saxophone, on a song he had written for his mother, "Morning Song," I can guarantee - guarantee - that nothing in Austin came remotely close to touching the minor musical miracles wrought over the next 90 minutes. Looking like a compact version of Fred Williamson, Murray began with a simple, pretty melody, and began loosening up, eyes closed and motionless at first, swinging and bending by the end of the tune. You could feel the band - D.D. Jackson on piano, Fred Hopkins on stand-up bass, and the legendary Andrew Cyrille on the skins - crack its knuckles, stretch its back; and in just that first song, in that simple warm-up, they were better than most of the "musicians" you've ever seen live. "The Picasso Suite" came next, and with a tip of the hat to Coleman Hawkins, the room lit up with Murray's warm tone, glowing and lulling its way down to Hopkins, who took one of his two bass solos for the evening. And you've never seen a bass solo until you've witnessed Hopkins make dead silence come alive with a minimilist grace that at times evoked the dread wonder of Ennio Morricone's score to The Thing. "Peace Song" found its author D.D. Jackson raining notes from Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and pounding high-end runs that made the microphone stuck in his grand piano bounce with delight. The evening's high point followed when Murray brought out his bass clarinet and introduced "Costeau Got the Funk" as a number dedicated to "a French guy that called me up one day and told me my bass clarinet was talking to his whales." Popping and tooting as if playing some primitive percussion gourd, Murray's slinky, stealthy, playfully Pink Panther-like romp through the tune could not have been a more fitting ode to a truly great human being. Almost nothing could have followed that tune, except Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and a drum solo by Cyrille, which began with his dropping a stick, flubbing a beat, found him then circling the drum kit playing every part of it including the floor, and ended with him beating out rhythm on his cheeks and mouth. Showboating, sure, but also unforgettable. Ending with Murray blowing like a fire engine racing down the highway, the entire set was about moments like this, provided by four individual soloists who are masters of their craft; four well-dressed men of color who appeared like ghosts from the walls and vanished like baseball heroes into a corn field.
- Raoul Hernandez


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