Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Live Shots

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997: 

CHEAP TRICK

Stubb's, August 23

It was as if the Eighties never happened. The only thing missing was some guy with a banner reading, "We Forgive You for `The Flame!'" Indie-fed youth and mature AOR brethren stood side by side in reverence, hoping to catch a ray or two of the Camelot-like energy that lathered the Budokan into hysteria 19 years ago. Instead of foreplay, Cheap Trick caught everyone off guard by jumping right in with a one-two punch of "I Want You to Want Me" and "Come On, Come On." While the dedicated tried their darndest to recreate the former's "cryin', cryin', cryin'" sing-along, it would've made more sense to hold off until the energy and sound levels were optimized. Shortly thereafter, Rick Nielsen delivered the dreaded "We have a new album out..." speech. About five or six songs came from the band's new self-titled release on Red Ant, and of those, only "Say Goodbye" really had a resonant hook. Everything between Dream Police and the new release was conspicuously absent from the set, which is too bad. It would've been nice to hear obvious-yet-perfect trinkets like "Baby Loves to Rock," "I Can't Take It," and of course, "She's Tight." Despite the paucity of the set (80 minutes) relative to the band's catalogue, Cheap Trick's inimitable stage presence is one hell of a trump card. Robin Zander in particular delivered a spirited and dynamic lesson in rock vocals that many of today's groups could stand to learn from. Then they played "Surrender." A wave of joy seized the crowd, and for just a moment, life resembled the concert scene in Streets of Fire. When Zander sang "Rolling numbers/rock and rolling/got my Kiss records out," Nielsen produced a vinyl copy of Kiss Alive! adorned with Cheap Trick guitar picks and flung it into the crowd. Then they topped the whole thing off with an encore featuring "Dream Police" and "Goodnight Now." The audience was sated, but far from spent. Nevertheless, one truly transcendent moment ain't bad for an evening's work. This was a solid "B" effort from a band that probably could've gotten away with much less. -- Greg Beets



Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha's at Generation Tex in Waterloo Park, August 31
photograph by John Carrico



MORNINGWOOD

Continental Club, August 25

Let's face it. As musicians, Morningwood are bad. In fact, physiological connotations not withstanding, if not for the bar chord, there would be no Morningwood, meaning that the selling point of this band is the smutty and audacious idea of this band: five cute chicks, trashy outfits, and songs that are all surface ("Supermodel," "I Dated an Asshole," "Morningwood," "Ice Skater"). Sort of like the Spice Girls as assembled by, say, Xaviera Hollander. The whole point of the band is to be ridiculous, but as is written in the gospel according to St. Hubbins: "It's such a fine line between clever and stupid." Apparently, Morningwood singer Stacie Smith and her friend Gabby are the subject of a TV pilot-to-be in search of a place to be aired, and Monday's Continental Club gig was merely a chance to get some more footage of Smith et al in action. And not only were cameras whirring for the pilot, the Austin Music Network was also there filming the filming. For the sake of ridiculous excess -- the unannounced theme of the night -- another random party was there getting it all on camcorder. The net effect of all this on the music, however, was more than slightly annoying. Put it this way, if all those little red lights come on and you want to look very campy and Phillys Diller for them, then go nuts and wear that large black feather wig thing. And if for the sake of your future TV career you want everything that comes out of your mouth to sound clever and humorous, then keep tapping that reservoir of witticisms 'til it runs dry ("Tipping is not a city in China"). But if you really want to be a rock & roll star, then don't make a joke out of your own joke. Smith is a natural performer, but for the benefit of the band, she should stick to one milieu lest the whole band idea becomes irrevocably stupid. Be a musician or a TV star (see Don Johnson), not both. -- Michael Bertin


1001 NIGHTS

Flipnotics, Aug 26

Screw that worthless unamplified MTV crap. There's no such thing as decent acoustic music on a show that's designed to hawk yet another citrus corn syrup drink or the latest overpriced athletic shoe. The real shit is found in places like Flipnotics. Can you imagine a band on MTV Unplugged asking the audience if they can hear the instruments? Me neither, but that's exactly what happened at this show by 1001 Nights, a local quartet that plays complex, soul-satisfying Middle Eastern music. Lead by the visibly talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kamran Hooshand, 1001 Nights wasn't notable solely as a novelty (you only need one hand to count the local groups who play Middle Eastern-flavored world music), but rather because this group did a first-class job interpreting standards of the style (Ashkabad) and penning original tunes ("Gypsy Nights"). Like well-played Celtic songs, these tunes are deeply mournful and moving, yet simultaneously uplifting and toe-tapping; the only electricity on stage came from the band's playing, not their amplifiers. 1001 Nights deftly demonstrated why hewn wood, stretched hide, and taunt strings are more than enough to entertain and inspire. The group's fine performance was undoubtably inspired by an engaged and enthused crowd, who shouted out requests, clapped along, and sang an occasional chorus. In fact, the band's two sets felt more like an open rehearsal than a gig. The downside of this spontaneity was some uncertainty when it came time to choose the next song to play, but the great cultural and physical distance the band traveled as they navigated from Lebanese standards to Persian love songs to Sufi devotional songs to Arabic pop tunes probably had a lot to do with this. While 1001 Nights are well-versed in the history of Middle Eastern music, they also add their imaginative stamp, such as using North Indian tabla drums in an Afghani song. This is how all creative forms develop and improve: by artists who are proficient in tradition and willing to experiment -- not by media-darling posers eager to capitalize on the next musical packaging trend. -- David Lynch


DIAZ BROS.

Electric Lounge, August 28

Sometimes, there are those shows. Those for whom seeing live music is an integral part of life know how rare it is -- how powerful -- to see a band that embodies everything that's been missing from pop music since Paul sprouted Wings, since the elder Stinson passed, or since the dismemberment of Jane's Addiction (depending on your frame of reference). To see a band that not only heightens your senses but engulfs you in its vision and slaps you with its innovation; a musical experience that challenges your mind and makes you see that all music is indeed connected. The Diaz Bros. are not that band. They do, however, take you just as far in the opposite direction, to a part of life when things were easy, when we really had no responsibility and not a care in the world besides having toys to play with and a nice day to do it on. The Diaz Bros. are those children that were always gathering up mom's pots and pans and plastic tubs and wooden spoons and old tennis rackets and broom sticks, and playing along to the radio or old 8-tracks or LPs with the complete understanding of the link that runs from verse to chorus to heart. Those kids have grown up, but they haven't abandoned or forgotten the firmly held belief that it's all about fun. Better still, they've learned how to play. Three-quarters of Prescott Curlywolf kick out the exact mix of power chords, bouncing melodies, and doot-doots that bring each tune to epic nursery rhyme proportions and provide the perfect backdrop for singer Phillip McEachern's pre-adolescent musings on Hot Wheels and the bullies who smash them. The songs give your pointlessly adult mind a break and make you realize that, if nothing else, all points in our lives are connected and we still have that appreciation for the joyfully mundane. In that sense, this was one of those shows. -- Christopher Hess


IRMA THOMAS

Antone's, August 29

What a difference a song makes. One minute Irma Thomas is channeling Whitney Houston having Oscar night fantasies with "I Will Always Love You" and the next she's giving Otis Redding the what-for on a knock-out version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long." Which would you prefer? That's right. So, the real problem was that those two songs were played at, oh, say 1:55am and 2:03am. That's just a guess, mind you, because by that time, after nearly three hours of Whitney -- no, Thelma Houston -- I was getting a little woozy. Set one featured a lot of material from Thomas' latest Rounder release, The Story of My Life, which she hawked hard -- and was fine; she even made sure one of the authors got her due: "This one goes out to Sarah Brown." Apparently, though -- these days -- no one seems to want veteran artists to do new material. Just the hits. And Thomas knew it, prefacing an oldie but a moldy "You Can Have My Husband but Please Don't Mess With My Man," (or whatever the damn song is called) with "Since you've been patient with my new stuff..." From there, it was Karoake hour as Thomas flipped through a huge book of standards on her mike stand: "What's that, baby? You want `Break Away'? No Problem" Flip, flip. "I can't find it." Flip, flip. "I'll do it when I find it." Flip, flip. And the Top of the Marc crowd ate it up, especially the "Antone's second line" hanky-wavin' "Iko Iko"-isms. And look, here comes "Simply the Best." Woo-hoo! Let's have another scotch! Meanwhile, the young and sober (decidedly not the majority of the packed house) were secretly hoping that the second-set-is-always-better rule was in effect. "Something to Talk About" leading off set two pretty much nixed that, with Thomas sleep-walking through "Time is on My Side" before hitting "What a Difference a Day Makes," and later, Whitney. The minute Thomas slid into Otis, though, that was magic. That, and the last 20 minutes of her set. Even the evening's ending, "Shout," clichéd though it was, came off rousing. The Soul Queen from New Orleans had taken control and her band the Professionals really dug in. At that moment, 2:20am, the show needed to go 'til dawn with folks testifyin' all the way. Unfortunately, at that moment, the show also ended. -- Raoul Hernandez


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