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Austin Chronicle Live Shots

MAY 18, 1998: 

LOUISIANA MUSIC NEW ORLEANS PRIDE MUSIC FESTIVAL

Ponchatrain Hotel, New Orleans, April 27

Can one review a conference attended only on its final day? Sure, why not. The day included panels, the trade show, a cocktail party, schmoozing and being schmoozed, showcases, and the closing party. Besides, it was in New Orleans, oh-so- cannily placed between Jazz Fest weekends. By all reports, the second Louisiana Music New Orleans Pride conference and music festival (LMNOP) kicked off smoothly with a marathon talent roster at the opening party, some rain for keynote speaker Ellis Marsalis, and a downpour on Tuesday during Dave Bartholomew's interview. When I arrived Wednesday, it downshifted to evening mist, but none of that had put a damper on the small but lively proceedings. One quick sweep of the Ponchatrain Hotel on St. Charles revealed the imposing Kim Fowley, never at loss for a high profile. In the bar banging away at the grand piano was Bill Haley & the Comets' pianist Joey Welz, accompanying a pink-and-black-suited Amy Beth, who was quite credibly "channeling" (not impersonating) Elvis with "My Baby Thinks He's Elvis." Gig magazine editor Diana Gershony and OffBeat publisher Jan Ramsey were chatting, legendary producer Cosimo Matassa was striding to his panel, and an endearingly dressed-down Susan Cowsill was pushing a baby stroller. Various New Orleans-area music scenesters rubbed elbows with a healthy contingent of Austinites, no surprise since LMNOP director Louis J. Meyers was a one-time South by Southwest director. In fact, the whole thing was a lot like a dress rehearsal for SXSW, except you could actually talk to the people and get into the showcases you wanted into. I watched a little of the "Moms Who Rock" panel, finding the subject a refreshing change from the usual music biz woes, and schmoozed my way through a happy hour with the best Bloody Marys ever. Racism and homophobia are alive and sadly well in Louisiana - a contrast to the city's other delights; a band manager complained to me that his act was typecast as dance music, and when I suggested that this sort of popularity might be worth promoting, he looked at me incredulously. "Fags?" He looked aghast. That night, after a succession of absolutely charming cab drivers of every possible type, I got into the cab of a silver-haired white man and asked him to take me to the Howlin' Wolf. "I was born and raised in Noorlins," he intoned sonorously, when I started my now-familiar queries. I launched into my favorite subject, the sale of the distinctive purple-and-white K&B drugstore chain. Yes, he allowed, in his 74 years of living and 52 years of driving cabs he'd seen a lot of changes and did I know, by the way, that the K&B namesakes were Jews? Yes, I replied, dumbfounded. Well, K&Bs went downhill when they hired black people, the driver told me, because they couldn't count or use the cash register properly. I felt ill, tossed a wad of bills into the front seat and fled the moment he stopped. Royal Fingerbowl and the Unknown Hinson oiled up the crowd for longtime N.O. faves Dash Rip Rock, who had Beatle Bob dancing in attendance (I'd missed Trish Murphy's opener), and music conference fixture Mojo Nixon. Not content with that, I went to House of Blues for the closing party. The party was in between performers Tiny Town and the Soul Rebels Brass Band - my cue to call it a night. New Orleans is an old city that changes very little on the surface; its respect for the past is enormous and commendable, its vitality is inbred rather than cultivated. May LMNOP always seek to enhance its truly unique charm. -Margaret Moser



GAOWS TRIO

Le Scat Club, Aix-en-Provence, France, April 30


Edith Frost at Emo's May 10.
Paris is one thing. Snaking your way through the city's labyrinthian maze of metro tunnels, you quickly find the world of music at your disposal; billboards everywhere, announcing acts who are, well, playing Paris: The Rolling Stones, Pantera, Roni Size, Pulp, Finley Quaye, Lester Bowie. In the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysèes, stickered CDs note local dates for incoming acts; no, no, I don't even wanna know when and where Nick Cave played here in April as that month fades from my watch calendar. This is vacation. I can do music the rest of the year. Here, it's early to bed, early to beat the lines at the Louvre and the Museé D'Orsay. An hour southwest of Paris by speed train, in Montbazon near Tours, where castles dot the rich green countryside of the Loire Valley like the many tracks of yellow canola flowers, music doesn't much enter into the picture, though a city like Tours probably sees its share of Rolling Stones. Three and a half hours south of that, in Provence, a stone's throw from the Mediterranean and the French Riviera, Marseilles is also a hotbed of musical activity. The Stones will be there in July, and tomorrow night, May 1, the closest thing to a modern-day John Coltrane, James Carter, will be there. That's what the roadshow board in the record store says, anyway. Now, I really don't want to look. Not that I can see that well through the window if I did; it's dark, raining, and the mini music mart here is closed - as is everything else on the main drag at 8pm on a Wednesday night in Aix-en-Provence, 20 minutes north of Marseilles. This is it. This is that semi-provincial town in the South of France you came to to get away from the hustle and bustle of Austin. Great, perfect. Only there's nothing to do. Well, after Brazil and Argentina finish their World Cup preliminary, there's nothing to do. It's 10pm. Why didn't I listen to the travel agent and go to Lyon? Except, wait, under the "Nightlife" section in my Fodor's '98 travel guide, it lists one live music venue in Aix-en-Provence, Le Scat Club, "a good spot for jazz." Hallelujah. Saved. Only, when I get there, soaked, lost, the club's Hole in the Wall-style calender lists the months acts, all with descriptions under their name: "soul rock funk," "soul funk reggae," "funk rock," "rock funk." Uh-oh. Whatever, just as long as it's warm inside. Only what wine cellar was ever warm and cozy? Nice underground bunker guys, really, but those stone walls ain't conducting anything resembling heat. And the pictures of Coltrane, Ellington, Billie Holiday, handsome. So why is there an acoustic guitar and synthesizer on stage? Fine, I don't care. Just play. Anything. One hour passes. Soundcheck. Another hour passes. Listen, Gaows Trio, there's plenty of your young slack kind where I come from. It sounds fine, already. Play for Chrissakes (God, this is worse than Emo's). And suddenly, at 12:30, the place comes alive, young bohos filling the place with their cigarettes and late-night drinks. Might as well be Lovejoys. On cue, the trio of young guys starts playing. The synthesizer comes up, the kick-drum tapping. "Lying in my bed at night, I hear the clock tick and think of you." Wait, I know that song. "Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new." Oh no, not... Cyndi Lauper. "Time after Time." No, please, one George Michael tune is enough. Alanis Morrisette, really? Billy Joel. Finally, on "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," I can't take it anymore, stumbling up the stairs and out into the cold, rainy night. Happy. Yes, happy. Sated. Okay, so maybe Aix-en-Provence isn't at the end of the world. On this night, though, for a foreigner in a foreign land, it sure seemed like it. And at the end of the world you take whatever music you can get. Gladly. "If you're lost, you can look, and you will find me, time after time." Indeed. -Raoul Hernandez



BEAUSOLEIL

East First Garden Theater, May 3

It was a fine night for dancing. May 3 handed Austin a delicious summer evening, perhaps one of the last before things get infernal; the East First Garden Theater offered a spread of green grass, Beausoleil, and the smell of boiled crawfish. What more could you rightfully ask for? Dusk was just giving way to dark when the featured act took stage, starting with a "menage a trois" of Cajun reels, and the dancers hit the dancepatch before reel un was complete. By reel trois, the patch was full, and it would be some time before there was much in the way of waltzing room again. Luckily, the footshufflers in attendance were already well warmed-up, courtesy of a fine opening set by the Panhandlers, a local collection of all-star sidemen (and women) who no doubt know their way around a Bob Wills song (and a few more besides). The night would have been a nice one on the strength of their set alone, but Beausoleil waited in the wings, armed with a tried and true collection of reels, waltzes, and two-steps - the Cajun repertoire that has made Beausoleil the global ambassadors of Louisiana folk music. "They're mostly in French," explained frontman Michael Doucet as the band took the stage, "so you might not understand them, but that's okay. They can be about anything you want." With that, he commenced to sawin' on his fiddle and singin' the plaintive, pitched songs of Acadiana, aided by David Doucet's nimble guitar and the ever-pleasin' wheezin' of Jimmy Breaux's squeezebox. Together with a bayou-bred rhythm section, they did their level best to bring a little bit of Eunice to Cesar Chavez, and the results were easily intoxicating enough to compensate for the Garden Theater's alcohol ban. Highlights included "L'Amour ou la Folie," "Sophi," and "Belle," an eerie ballad in 5/4 time that threw the waltzers for a loop, but was, according to Doucet, "a big hit when we visited Yemen." There was nary a bad song in the bunch, and nary a break for the dancers either. By the time Beausoleil finished with the enchanting "Seychelles," they'd been at it damn near two hours straight, and it was a palpable act of mercy on the exhausted two-steppers that they quit when they did. Over by 10pm, and no need to step outside for some fresh air. It was a fine night for dancing indeed. -Jay Hardwig



ROBINSON EAR MACHINE

Victory Grill, May 7

If everyone hadn't seemed so sober, this would have looked a lot like a hootenanny. Between 12-15 people spread in a circle around the main floor of the Victory Grill, illuminated by random lamps and candles, seated, standing, splayed on the floor, all manner of instrument and voice waltzing along to the direction of one Mr. Rob Halverson, the musical mind behind this gathering of "local pros," called the Robinson Ear Machine. This is the kind of show that makes you feel like you're in on something. Not necessarily something "big" (there were nearly as many musicians as spectators), but definitely something special. Halverson is some manner of local, ultra-low profile musical mad scientist, and when he brings his work out into the open, a celebration ensues. The music is a well-ordered jumble of all the traceable traits that make up the wonderful mutt called American music, ranging from smoky barroom blues delivered in a growl to straight-up gospel songs to new twists on gypsy-flavored pop tunes and everything in between. The songs were arranged simply enough for everyone to follow along, but more than that, everyone seemed familiar with the material. Harold McMillan and David Boyle (who played with Halverson in Ya Ya Stuff some time ago) played electric bass and Wurlitzer piano, respectively, and both seemed to have an intimate grasp of every song. Tawnya LoRae, guitarist for Morningwood, provided acoustic guitar and backing vocals in addition to leading the group through a few of her own songs - strong, traditional-sounding tunes that had nothing in common with her "regular" gig, but had strong ties to Halverson's music. Thor sat on the floor, playing tiny marimbas and xylophones and a number of bowls, pans, congas, and bells, while Doug Marcis held the drum kit (of course they would trade off before the night was through). Much of the gospel feel was inspired by the backing choir of local sirens Madeline Sosin, Patrice Sullivan, Gemma Cochrane, and Kat Murphy, as well as an impromptu appearance by Kathy McCarty. Halverson says he hopes to do this once a month, most likely on the first Thursday, at the Victory Grill. The Robinson Ear Machine, so named for the ears carved into the backs of Halverson's guitars, provides a rare opportunity to see what it's like when these musicians get together for the sole purpose of enjoying the music of one of their own, offstage, unabashed, and up for grabs. This is what makes Austin so great. - Christopher Hess



RAY DAVIES

La Zona Rosa, May 9

It's no surprise that left and right coast metropoli like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco get shows that folks down here on the farm can only get riled up about; from big, musician-studded Tibetan Freedom whatzits and Bridge School benefits, to any number of one-time occurrences like a Van Morrison/Bob Dylan double bill, or unannounced solo turns by the sainted likes of Tom Waits and Patti Smith. By all rights, this evening with Ray Davies should have been one of those shows. According to the liner notes from The Storyteller, a recently released live souvenir of this song 'n' story monologue, the Kinks frontman started performing the originally titled "20th Century Man" show in the spring of 1995 after several in-store book readings for his autobiography X-Ray proved that his life and songs were perhaps too intrinsically tangled to be separated. The following spring, Davies was getting rave reviews in The New York Times for his acoustic strolls down a personal history defined by a prodigious songwriting talent that has yielded some of the rock & roll era's most beloved songs: "Lola," "You Really Got Me," and "Waterloo Sunset" to name a scant few. That was two long years ago. So it was something of a surprise when a local date for the now-named "Storyteller" tour was confirmed some six weeks back, and never more so than on Saturday night when Davies actually walked onto the La Zona Rosa stage at the appointed hour, 9pm. Carrying his well-travelled, dog-eared copy of X-Ray and wearing a country bow-tie, Davies looked like a preacher, immediately putting the fear of God in the three-quarters full house by announcing, "We have a problem." Pointing to his three acoustic guitars, Davies said the green one represented his "poetic soul," the red one his "rock & roll spirit," and the blonde one a female who "should be back at the hotel." Laughter. This was decidedly not a problem. Nor was it one when Davies then picked up the green guitar for an opening version of "Lola," getting the albatross from around his neck early just as the Rolling Stones did on their world tour by opening with "Satisfaction." What followed was two and a half hours of Davies, accompanied by guitarist Pete Mathison, revisiting the front room of his childhood Muswell Hill home in England, where he and his little brother Dave ("No applause," he said with mock indignation, "he's just a minor character in this story") managed to observe the goings-on of their six older sisters and start a band. A fine story, too, full of the stuff that has immortalized Davies the songwriter: a keen eye for social convention, a wicked wit, and a romantic flourish that went so well with the Kinks' early love of ruffled shirts. The only problem was that it was almost exactly the same exact tale found on The Storyteller, save for a well-placed version of "Stop Your Sobbing" and a few others. That's what happens when a show has been around long enough to spawn a soundtrack; either the show or the soundtrack become rather rote by the time they reach middle America. Not that sparkling, magical half-versions of Kinks klassics like "Victoria," "Tired of Waiting for You," "Well Respected Man" and "Set Me Free," as well as new songs like "London Song" and "Art School Babe" weren't worth the two-year-long, ice-cube's-chance-in-hell wait. They were. But when Davies ended the evening with "You Really Got Me," played on the green guitar rather than the red - just like nearly all the 20-or-so song excerpts played this evening - it was clear that poetic soul doesn't quite quench the thirst of rock & roll spirit. - Raoul Hernandez


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