Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Live Shots

OCTOBER 6, 1997: 

And the winner of the Oasis vs. Blur sweepstakes is . . . Damon Albarn of Blur at Liberty Lunch, September 30

photograph by Minh


Southpark Meadows, September 20

Opening with "Rattlesnake," the first song on their most recent album, Secret Samadhi, Live wasted no time in setting their favorite theme of discontent; "Let's go hang out in a mall... or a morgue," sang Ed Kowalczyk in his terminally trembling voice. Like the song "Shit Towne" (absent from this set) from their far stronger sophomore effort, Throwing Copper, "Rattlesnake," with its chorus of "it's a crazy, crazy mixed up town," bridles with anger at generic small-town life and the powerlessness of youth. And yet for the better part of an hour -- and then a 20-minute encore -- Live did virtually nothing to distinguish itself from all the other faceless acts found in those terrible mall music stores. A good voice does not a frontman make, and try as he did, Kowalczyk just didn't cut it center-stage (close the shirt, Ed), dwarfed badly by an impressive backdrop that looked like a medieval forest fortress cast in gold. That left only a musically strong four-piece from Pennsylvania banging out generic grunge to a large, appreciative Southpark crowd. The slow, tingling, arpeggioed riffs of "Ghost" and the insistency of another new song, "Century," stood out, but the new single, "Freaks" ("way too much has been read into this song," said Kowalczyk) and would-be set highlights like "All Over You" and "Lightning Crashes" (dedicated to "Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, my mother, your mother...") sounded flat. The crowd was vocal -- into it -- but plenty were already streaming out when Live launched into one of its biggest hits, "I Alone" (okay, it was the final encore and there's always traffic to consider). Not helping alleviate the mall-ness of the whole show were openers Luscious Jackson and ManBreak. The former all-female quintet sounded like watered down "Lemon"-era U2 (any more liquidy and they'd have been mopping the ladies off the stage), while the Liverpudlian quintet known as ManBreak couldn't seem to decide between Gene Loves Jezebel, the Beastie Boys, and Guns `N' Roses. "You are free to do what we tell you" went the Bill Hicks loop that kicked their energetically annoying set off, bookended 30 minutes later with the shouted exit line of "Bill Hicks, another dead hero." Wonder if those mall stores carry any Bill Hicks CDs? Probably not, but they're sure to have plenty of Live.
-- Raoul Hernandez


Austin Music Hall, September 23

Foo Fighters are to be commended for a rock show of fine quality. The single most remarkable element of the whole night? Nothing. Not a thing. Instead of stooping to the cheap use of gimmickry or relying on the routine employment of effects, there was an adherence to the mid-Eighties AC/DC aesthetic: no laser shows, no troupe of choreographed dancers doing syncopated groin undulations, no lighter-use or mass sing-along inducing ballads. Well, okay, grant some leeway. If the Aussies can throw a couple of Howitzers onstage to fire once or twice and use sexually retarded double entendres ad nauseam, then the Foos certainly get to employ some schmaltzy "FF" lighting effects and a second drum kit that received two 90-second poundings by Dave Grohl. Beyond that the night was all about rock fundamentals: write some nifty songs, get some instruments and amplifiers, plug them in (a critical step), and play loud. It's simple, yes, but oddly enough very few bands actually do it well. And in a world cluttered with poseur flunkies, the Foos were more than textbook solid. Between the opener "This Is a Call" and closer "I'll Stick Around," the band squeezed in enough choice material ("Weenie Beenie," "The Colour and the Shape," "Alone + Easy Target," "My Hero," and "Everlong") to satisfy attendees in need of rocking, with the show's sole lowlight being a lethargic "For All the Cows." The only other thing for die-hard-core rockers to complain about was the fact that the show was over by 10pm. Could it have anything to do with the fact that Pat Smear's replacement, guitarist Franz Stahl, only knows 12 Foo songs? Apparently, but it still made for a nice, cozy 12- song set. A relatively short show yes, but, when you figure the amount of rock per unit time into the equation, Foo Fighters were well in the black. For those about to rock, do we salute you? No, on this night credit goes to the Foo Fighters not for preparing to rock but for actually doing so and doing so rather efficiently. -- Michael Bertin


La Zona Rosa, September 25

Expectations are everything. Expectations are what bring us back over and over again for just a little of that ol' black magic. And for one brief moment, before Marley's Melody Makers even took the stage, in that moment the house lights went out and the audience screamed in anticipation of what they'd been waiting for all day/week/month, this show could've been mind-blowing. Stepping into the lone spotlight, the band's tour manager introduced his posse of reggae's most wanted with an invocation in some African dialect. It sounded like the same tongue that baptises "Dreams of Home," the last song on Ziggy Marley's major label debut and probably still his best album, Conscious Party. That song, a dreamy, haunting evocation of paradise, not only echoes some of his father's best work -- "Time Will Tell" -- it moves beyond the same ol' riddems while encapsulating the spiritual and political activism that is at the heart of real reggae. Had this generation of Marleys opened with such a song and really gone guerrilla, delving into their strong catalogue of rebel love songs while challenging precepts of their father's legacy (as Charlie Hunter and Bill Laswell have done on recent albums) and delivered a long, intense, and groovacious set, Babylon, the empire of the oppressor, just might have started that fall Ziggy and his brethren are so intent on. Instead, the band, featuring Ziggy, his brother Stephen, the junior I-Threes (Cedella and Sharon Marley with Erica Newell) -- plus two guitarists, two bassists, two horns players and more -- kicked into a hard version of "Power to Move Ya" and then powered through a 70-minute main set that puts most reggae acts to shame. The new material from Fallen Is Babylon, "Everyone Wants to Be," "Postman," "Born to be Lively," "People Get Ready," and the title cut came off well, sending this reviewer back to the new album just like touring live shows are supposed to do. Unfortunately, few older nuggets as tasty as Jahmekya's "Rainbow Country" and Bob Marley's "Positive Vibration," which Ziggy introduced just like the old man ("the Rastaman vibration is positive!"), made it into the set, with true gems such as "Conscious Party" and "Tomorrow People" being thrown in at the end of the show almost as an afterthought. They encored with "Justice" and "Get Up, Stand Up/War," and overall the band played hard, the girls sang strong and sweet, and the two almost-indistinguishable Marley brothers -- each a strong enough focal point to raise the question of how much longer they can share the same stage -- were tough, charismatic, and funky. So, what was missing besides a few coats of paint at the new, packed-out La Zona Rosa -- freshly born and feeling a little like the Music Hall's early ancestor, the River's Edge? "Dreams of Home." -- Raoul Hernandez


Cactus Cafe, September 26

It's a look -- a glance, really. Shy, sly, maybe, but never coy. No, Jane Siberry is not coy. Clever, yes. Silly, yes. Self-obsessed, absorbed, immersed, drinking-in, drowning, and coming up for air, yes. But never coy. The set-up was spare, like her recent approach to recording and releasing her own albums; she either sang alone -- with or without a guitar flanged to all get-out -- or she sang along to accom-pianist Tim Ray, who tinkled and lulled like Ferrante & Teicher one minute and pummeled and pounded like Thelonious Monk the next. After years of mystery, wondering how she makes instruments beg like they do on her albums, it was a pleasure to see her play guitar live -- her strums simple but spot-on, a perfect expression for her odd pace and chord phrases. The 8pm show was elegant, poised, and perhaps a bit tense -- taut, professional, even when she stopped and sweetly asked sound guy Daryl to "tune the room" and "get that note out of my head." Perhaps my perspective suffered, because I was sitting all the way in the back. She seemed nervous -- nervous beyond her awkward charm. She even lost her place a few times, but always snatched it back with a vengeance. The 10:30pm show was more adoring, more sublime, with a warmer audience than the first. And Siberry warmed to us, too. "Intimate" isn't accurate, really. She's too divine a diva, too intimidating an icon, too broad a spectrum for that. No, her touch is more macro-personal than intimate -- up-close and personal from a remote place, from afar, as seen through a distant lens. Her choice of material ("At the Beginning of Time," "Oh My My," "You Don't Need," "In the Blue Light," "She's Like a Swallow") across so many of her albums seemed to reflect this recurring theme of the distant personal. I wouldn't be surprised if other audience members have experienced this mantra all week, "Walk! Walk? Where? There?" We're walking, Jane. Where to? -- Kate X Messer


Stubb's, September 27

From the opening film-reel flashing on the screen to the supreme and overriding importance of getting the costume change, Tokyo's Pizzicato Five showed that they can get away with pretty much anything in the name of pop and fashion -- even the ultimate taboo, the sure sign of a farce in any forum, the dreaded lip-synching. Lips moving when there were no voice and once missing a whole chorus, Maki Nomiya mouthed her way into the collective hearts of the capacity crowd all the same. The music, engineered (not played) by founder Yasuharu Konishi, drew on all things Western and taped down the pieces into a distinctly Japanese collage of electronic-disco-techno-funk that was absolutely true to their recorded material -- because it was their recorded material. But dwelling on the fact that they were not playing or singing anything, with the exception of a good deal of lead guitar overlay and the occasional added bass line, is like wondering at the fact that more professional wrestlers aren't killed in the ring. It's all part of the show, and the show -- in the what-you-see sense of the word -- is what's important here. This fact made it difficult to get the full effect of P5 from any vantage-point in the too-small indoor stage at Stubb's (had I booked the show I still would not be able to sit for all the ass-kicking I'd have inflicted on myself for not putting this show outside where the beautiful weather and visual smorgasbord could have been enjoyed by those constrained inside as well as the masses turned away at the door). The thick crowd and the band's diminutive stature had everyone rubbernecking at every costume change. A woolen cheerleader outfit, a square-headed android suit, a feather-backed showgirl, a beautifully traditional kimono, these are the things that will be remembered, along with the two dancing Teddy bears, Konishi's straight-man jogging and superfly garb, and the ultra-hip home movies unfailingly injected with the 1997 picnic slogan. The evening was a kitsch-eral feast with a pretty cool soundtrack. "Happy Sad" and the instant hit "Twiggy Twiggy" were easily the best musical moments, but even these songs were secondary to the spectacle. It was wonderful and ridiculous, something even those appalled by the idea of lip-synching should see once. Once. -- Christopher Hess

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