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Austin Chronicle Live Shots

PETER TORK, JAMES LEE STANLEY

Cactus Cafe, June 19

July 8, 1997:  For a lot of kids in the Sixties, the Monkees were every bit as magical as the Beatles -- perhaps more so, because they got to see their antics every week on television. For the bulk of the crowd at the Cactus Cafe, then, this show was the equivalent of having Paul McCartney play for them in a small room and then pose for pictures afterwards. First, though, James Lee Stanley, a pal of Tork's from the folkie, pre-Monkees days, performed a smooth set of well-crafted, touching songs. Stanley is the type of guy who makes it all look easy, the words and guitar notes just flowing without any noticeable effort. This didn't seem to bode well for the more clunky Tork, whose set followed. The teaming of opposites worked, however, with Tork's more forced playing on his tattered, ill-tuned guitar providing a nice balance to Stanley's muse-borne notes. Tork seemed at once comfortable and ill-at ease; while his self-effacing grumpiness was ostensibly comic facade ("Got any requests? Stuff 'em! I only know 11 songs!"), there seemed to be a bit of genuine bitterness behind it. Juggling his time between guitar, his trusty banjo, and keyboards, Tork had no qualms about including a few Monkees tunes -- and not just the ones he had written. A lovely version of "Daydream Believer" on keyboards showed that either his voice has gotten a helluva lot better in 30 years, or that the producers of the band's albums sold him short. The final portion of the show was unfortunately the low point. While the two complement each other as separate performers, the teaming of Tork and Stanley provided a rather uneasy hybrid. Mainly, Tork's relatively stiff solos stuck out over Stanley's smooth voice and playing as though they were indeed played with a sore thumb. Their voices blended nicely, though, giving yet more credence to Tork as a vocalist. Overall, a nice intimate evening with a friendly face -- and fortunately, unlike his shambling-corpse appearance on the recent prime time Monkees special, the 55-year-old Tork's face at the Cactus looked like it had barely aged a decade since that wacky show originally aired. -- Ken Lieck




Inkululeko at Ruta Maya, June 28

photograph by Jana Birchum


LINK WRAY

Electric Lounge, June 22

It must have been the pony tail. That and the sun glasses. And maybe the fact that he's a little guy. Whatever the case, the thought kept echoing back: Joe Satriani -- in 30 years. Which isn't really the way you want to remember the immortal Link Wray. That he's alive and playing the Electric Lounge is miracle enough, actually -- really -- but you always hope these affairs are good. You always hope they're great. And he was. People were going nuts. Lots of 'em. They were in heaven as the 67-year-old metal leprechaun in an armless
T-shirt and headband churned out one big tsunami riff after another like Godzilla thrashing Hong Kong harbor. It was big rawk show histrionics: amps on 10, tempo up, and keep the hits coming -- even if they ain't yours ("I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love With You," "Born to be Wild," and the Sun medley, "Train I Ride"/"That's Alright"/"I Got A Woman"). Who's the girl in black leather on stage? Wife and manager. What the hell is she doing standing on stage? "She's a handful," remarked a Lounge employee with a roll of the eyes. Oh, right. If the show goes one minute past 60, someone's watch is broken. "Anybody see Desperado?" asked Wray. (Is that Robert Rodriguez lurking in back?) "From Desperado, `Jack the Ripper.'" Ah yes, let's not forget marketing -- Pulp Fiction comes up later. And like Tarantino's film, Wray was occasionally ferocious -- particularly during "Fire," in which his solo became a screaming sinkhole Jules Verne never imagined. It was all worth it for that one solo (and his opening with "Rumble"), but still, something was missing -- a certain Fifties sensibility (there's Steve Wertheimer, he'd never miss Link Wray). When the Friends of Dean Martinez played the Continental Club recently, they summoned the Santo & Johnny era so well you'd have thought Eisenhower was still in office. Wray needed some of that, only darker, with more menace -- something that would have made you afraid to go to your car alone after the show, especially by the Lounge's train tracks under the red light of the Austin Power Plant. Where was that? Gone with another era, of course, leaving us with... Joe Satriani, in 30 years. -- Raoul Hernandez


SOULHAT 3

Stubb's, June 24

Soulhat 3, Bill Cassis nothing. And nothing is both what the former guitarist is getting and what he's missing by forgoing the long-awaited Soulhat reunion. With the first of three nights sold out, Cassis passed up a good paycheck and probably two more, but as for everything else, it was same ol' same ol'. Off stage, the place was predictably packed with the peaceful co-existence of frat dicks and hippie chicks. On stage, Cassis really wasn't missed. About halfway through the opener "Built It Up, Tear It Down," it became clear that the group's primary songwriter, Kevin McKinney, was completely comfortable being the lone guitarist on stage, which makes sense as he's had plenty of time with Shat Records to get used to being a frontman. Once or twice there were some sonic gaps (most notably in "Big Nose" and "Big Backyard"), but the absences had more to do with filling out the songs' full color than maintaining the big shape. The only thing remotely surprising was McKinney's range on guitar, as he slid easily from a Black Sabbath "War Pigs"-like bludgeoning to a Beck (as in Jeff, not Hanson) "Constipated Duck"-esque bounce -- something that may have been lost in the mix of shows past. Otherwise, start to finish, it was everything you could have gotten a few years ago at the Black Cat (except for the free hot dogs) or later on at Liberty Lunch. If you need a live fix, then Soulhat 3 is good enough as the missing ingredient, Bill Cassis, really isn't all that missed. -- Michael Bertin


TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE

Flipnotics, June 26

It's so nice when bands take the time to really explain their music. "All Irish songs are about how great it is to be alive, except for those about how terrible it is to be dead," Two O'Clock Courage singer Big Jyl revealed between two of those songs. Well. That helps a lot. It seemed only right coming from a band that almost broke into "Purple Haze" on bouzouki and bodhran, and whose guitar player had to helpfully point out "No, I'm not Jerry Garcia." There's a lot of ground between life and death all right, and the Celts (of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany) composed their jigs, ballads, and reels to have something to listen to along the way. Except their music did much more than just mark time passing; it marked their own passing. Heavy with themes of travel, soldiering, and separations of all kinds (from freedom, lovers, church, home, sobriety, childhood, family), lilting melodies and lively dances were often the only solace they could offer themselves. They took the air around them so heavy with sorrow and sent it to heaven with a buoyant push from their beloved pipes; by plucking strings wound tight as their lives, they found relaxation and comfort. The music gave them identity. It bound them together, got them drunk, kept them warm, made them a culture. Today, that culture has its own webpage, but it's still there, intact, because heirs like Austin's Two O'Clock Courage have room in their eyes for the mist of the old country and the twinkle of the new. Warming up for the next night's Austin Celtic Society fundraiser, Tom Delaney switched instruments like outfits, hopping from banjo to fiddle to a mandolin/bouzouki hybrid resembling Junior Brown's guit-steel, as Rees, Big Jyl, and percussionist Wolf Loescher wove harmonies, countermelodies, and tapped-out rhythms into a rich tapestry of Celtic tales and tunes. The land of the thistle and shamrock is a wee bit different from the land of mesquite and microprocessors, yeah, but it was still great music for anyone who knows how great it is to be alive, and how terrible it is to be dead. -- Christopher Gray


SUICIDAL TENDENCIES

Stubb's, June 27

It looked like the Backyard, it felt like the Back Room, it smelled like barbecue, and best of all, it sounded like 1997. That's pretty much the story on this adventurous Suicidal Tendencies/Stubb's match-up -- a legitimate triumph, both aesthetically and artistically. The aesthetics part is easy: Nobody today draws better people-watching crowds than Eighties metal bands (i.e. Ratt), and it was indeed downright surreal witnessing hundreds of folks kicking up a dustbowl in this outdoor venue's virgin moshpit. But given that it's somewhat surprising ST itself is still kicking, that this set relied so little on retrospection and so much on rhythm was ultimately more notable than the crowd. Ostensibly, the band (Mike Muir) is touring in support of Prime Cuts, a new collection of old hits from a band so previously redundant that by 1993, they'd had already seen fit to recut their entire first album (1983's Suicidal Tendencies). But here, almost in spite of a few classic chug `n' burn anthems like "Fascist Pig" and the opening "You Can't Bring Me Down," things seemed to move strictly forward, powered as much by a rhythm section of 20-year-olds as by Muir's believable and better-than-Rollins evangelical frontman schtick. And while the former seemed genuinely thrilled to be learning at the feet of the latter, there was unmistakable chemistry, particularly on the early, socio-political rants but also on newer, hardcore jollies. Fuck 311, Rage Against the Machine, and the Offspring, too -- this is and was the real deal. Hell, live Motorhead's about the only reference point left, only they don't funk. ST does, and so do Austin's Grooveline Horns (Ian Moore, Ugly Americans), the power behind a slinky three-song Infectious Grooves mini-set. The extra brass damn near turned the ST's into the JB's, yielding the kind of wicked speedfunk the Red Hot Chili Peppers trip all over themselves trying to replicate. And, of course, ST made it look easy. In fact, when the dust finally cleared it didn't smell like barbecue at all, but instead like one of the year's most thoroughly entertaining road shows. -- Andy Langer







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