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Austin Chronicle Live Shots

OCTOBER 26, 1998: 

ST. ELIAS MEDITERRANEAN FESTIVAL

11th & Trinity, October 9-10

Church festivals aren't uncommon, but it's unique when one of them features garbanzo falafel sandwiches and belly dancing. But as the name implies, the St. Elias Mediterranean Festival is anything but another run-of-the-mill beer and barbecue affair. In its 56th year, Austin's longest-running street festival brings together the church's congregation, folks of Greek, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern heritage, with fans of good food and music. Last year, to accommodate burgeoning crowds, the fest moved to Waterloo Park only to endure biblically intense rain. This year's festival returned triumphantly to its usual location, on the street in front of the historic Eastern Orthodox church. To the side, food and beverage booths satisfied the baby-to-babushka audience with delectable Ethiopian spicy lentils, Greek wine, and mouth-watering baklava. Demand for the home-made dishes was so great that much of it was gone halfway through Friday night (thankfully, more was available the next night). Bon vivants enjoyed the made-from-scratch edibles while conversing in the Octoberfest-style seating, an arrangement that purposefully left plenty of room for music and dancing. And we ain't talking about square dancing here, but rather Greek line dancing, circle dances, and brilliantly costumed belly-dancing in an epic shake-a-thon. Musical energy was provided by the Houston/Austin group Trans-Arabian Sound, a four-piece -- tambourine, derbakkeh (hourglass-shaped hand drum), keys and oud (lute) -- who've played together for 25 years. Adding fuel to the fire, local music mandarin Zein Al-Jundi (who sings with Austin's Kamran Hooshmand & 1001 Nights) joined on vocals for a few tunes. Some who weren't dancing took time out to chat with the full-length robed clergy; others took a brief tour of St. Elias church to gaze at the inspiring icons of Christ rupturing the kingdom of evil and the church's patron saint. What else could one want in a festival? Add it to the long list of reasons to be in Austin. -- David Lynch



DAMNATIONS

Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 13

Although there's always something different about seeing an Austin band outside city limits, it still seems fair to declare that you haven't heard the Damnations until you've heard them at the Bowery Ballroom. First, there was the sound itself: New York's newest venue is being hailed as the city's most acoustically perfect club. What good does that do a bar band like Damnations? A lot. The Damnations' repertoire hangs squarely on harmonies, and here, every line and every subtle cadence that left Deborah Kelly and Amy Boone's mouth sparkled. Despite the fact that local soundmen seem all too eager to let guitarist Rob Bernard drown out the vocals at times, both his banjo and electric parts were perfectly balanced at the Ballroom. In fact, the entire band, which included drummer Conrad Choucroun, sounded every bit as compact and focused as Half Mad Moon, the January 1999 Watermelon/Sire release they were ostensibly in New York to kickstart. And therein lay the other obvious difference between this and the average Stubb's gig: pressure. Not only were headliners Cake reportedly considering this pair of New York shows an audition for a longer trip, but there was also a guest list the size of Austin's White Pages full of Sire/WEA weasels who had yet to inspect the live goods. In place of jitters and self-doubt, however, the Damnations countered with genuine poise and confidence -- somehow transforming album rockers like "Things I Once Adored" and "Unholy Train" into roaring anthems and sleepers like "Black Widow" and "Half Mad Moon" into steady rockers. And just when a lazy reading of an already mediocre tune, "Catch You Alive," threatened to derail the whole affair while the Cake crowd was filtering in, the Damnations exploded with a pair of wonderfully sloppy and fully stompin' closers: Lucinda Williams' "Happy Woman Blues" and their own "Watch Your Step." It sounded like Bass Concert Hall, but felt like Hole in the Wall. If the set itself was above average, these seven minutes or so were downright adrenaline-driven magic. On second thought, the hallmark of the show wasn't the sound, it was the spirit. As they say, only in New York. -- Andy Langer



TRIPPING DAISY

Liberty Lunch, October 15

Three or four years ago, Tripping Daisy could pack Liberty Lunch. It's erring on the side of generosity to say the venue was one-third full for the band's Thursday night show. Take three years between albums, as the Dallas-based band did for I Am an Elastic Firecracker and its latest, Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, and that's the fate you risk. These days, few musicians have that kind of shelf life. So, what did all of those estranged disciples miss? Ehh, not much. Thursday's show was very much like those of three ago, which were always only slightly better than average. The band's semi-spacey melodies were agreeable, but not stellar. Its ultra-fuzzy guitar rhythms were prevalent, but not punishing. And the bandmembers were breathing, but not particularly animated on stage. Relying heavily on material from Jesus Hits, the quintet worked though "Geeareohdoubleyou," "About the Movies," and "Sonic Bloom" with ho-hum efficiency. The set's two lone standouts were "Field Day Jitters" and the near-hit "Piranha." Film loops helped alleviate the lack of anything visually stimulating, but being distracted isn't the same as being entertained. With something this indistinct, how can you blame people for either forgetting or just becoming indifferent? If not for the high-pitched nasal-draw of singer Tim DeLaughter, Tripping Daisy would be largely indistinguishable from dozens, maybe scores of other bands. That makes for a band that doesn't have the luxury of making people wait. As for Hagfish, another band which used to draw respectable numbers, the best thing about its set was that the sound guy played Van Halen's "Unchained" over the club's P.A. as the band took the stage. It was downhill after that, and they reached the bottom rather quickly. -- Michael Bertin



GARBAGE, GIRLS AGAINST BOYS

Austin Music Hall, October 16

It was easy to be cynical after Girls Against Boys' 35-minute opening set. Having gone from indie darlings with a lot of angst to major label freshman with canned attitude, the NYC quartet was as slick and bland as pre-show P.A. music, their hard, pulsing drone giving up the occasional chord-change and lines like "You look like trash." Think Psychedelic Furs without the hooks. Scott McCloud's raspy, nasal monotone and tales of big city sleaze set a bleak tone matched only by that feeling concertgoers get when the house lights go up and they realize they're surrounded by a sea of slippery, beer-sweating concrete, and thousands of drinking, smoking strangers. And it was a full house, alright. Nevertheless, nothing quite matches that rock & rollest of moments -- when the lights go out -- and the sudden surge of energy that accompanies it. Especially when that surge is for Garbage queen Shirley Manson. In those long first minutes of roaring darkness, when all you could see was the NASA-like bank of blinking lights on the musicians' equipment (keep in mind an amp has one, maybe two lights), there was nothing but a collective yearning for a spectacle. As a sole blue spotlight swept the black, empty stage, and the thundering mass threatened to drown out the ambient theme music signaling the band's entrance, it was as if some grandiose X-Files denouement was about to take place. When the theme music began skipping, then, and the frenzy grew, a moment's pause was just long enough to glimpse a figure standing center stage -- her silhouette lit by flashbulbs. "I tell you something," moaned the familiar voice, "I am a wolf, but I like to wear sheep's clothing." With that, up went the big rock show lights and wild went the wolves. All 2,000 of them. "Not My Idea," from the band's multi-platinum debut, pounded even harder than the opening "Temptation Waits," followed by another song from the band's '98 sophomore release, Version 2.0, "I Think I'm Paranoid." Like the rest of Garbage's 15-song set, this trio of songs was delivered with terminator studio precision, fitting since the band features three veteran producers backing Manson: Butch Vig, Steve Markes, and Duke Erikson. The latter two guitarists punched out a continuous stream of sugary hard rock riffs through a curious lack of amps, while Vig flailed along to a drum machine. "Hot in here isn't it," said Manson five songs in. "I've broken a sweat, which is unusual for me." Maybe for the whole band, who have made no bones about their studio confections/perfections, an irresistible melding of Seventies dance music and Eighties New Wave metal. The Blondie of the Nineties. Only "Hammering in My Head," sporting a lick not quite up to album speed, was reassuring in its live-not-Memorex feel. And Manson. Nothing canned about her, an indomitable hip-hop swagger that held the throng enthralled. "Stupid Girl," incorporating a bit of Spice Girls, the wicked "Wicked Ways," "Push It," and "Only Happy When It Rains," were all delivered with a sneer and a fist in the face. And 80 minutes later, when the lights went out a second time, the Exorcist bell tone of "Looking So Fine" giving the blue backlights an eerie glow, the audience's sustained adulation was for her -- the ovation at the outset of the three-song encore just for Manson. "Cut my tongue out," sang the sassy Scottish lass during "When I Grow Up," the last song of the show, "caught out like a giant juggernaut." A giant juggernaut yes, and Shirley Manson's was in the driver's seat. -- Raoul Hernandez



RANDY WESTON QUARTET, GERI ALLEN TRIO

Hogg Auditorium, October 17

On the surface a joint Randy Weston/Geri Allen concert seems like a simple pairing by Verve, home to new albums by both jazz artists: Allen's The Gathering and Weston's Khepera. This double-bill jibed on another level, however, because both bandleaders play what is arguably this century's most important performing and composing instrument -- the piano. Allen led bassist Ralph Armstrong and drummer Ralph Penland through sparsely structured compositions, most of them from The Gathering. Playing in a glassy and elegantly straight-ahead style -- not unlike Keith Jarrett or McCoy Tyner -- Allen danced gracefully over the ivories in a freely played, hour-long set. Communication between band members was so tight that Allen was able to signal a particular song's end with one raised eyebrow, yet her guidance permitted bassist Ralph Armstrong (displaying his custom--crafted fretless bass in the intro to "Sleeping Pretty") and skins man Penland (a spider in a web of polyrhythms) to fluctuate rhythms as needed. Beginning with Allen was a natural choice; the set woven by Weston and his quartet (Neil Clark on percussion, Don Pate on string bass, and Talib Kibwe on alto sax and flute) was more complex and seasoned. But you'd expect that from someone who has over 30 albums and four decades of professional experience to his name. In his introductory salvo, Weston toured the rapt audience through the history of jazz piano's pioneers, Jelly Roll Morton to Art Tatum, Thelonius Monk and beyond. The quartet then jumped into African jazz tunes from Weston's excellent Khepera, including "Niger Mambo," "Boram Xam Xam," and "The Shrine." The audience was also treated to the 6/8 groove of "African Cookbook," another Weston standard. The 6'7" pianist poured his commanding frame into every phrase, shaking the lustrous black Steinway concert grand in UT's Hogg Auditorium, a hall that was built in 1932 when Weston was five years old. Adding might was Neil Clark's scat percussion and harmonized rhythms and Kibwe's soulful, bell-full-of-honey sax and flute tones. Fans dug the evening's worth of world-class jazz, but the absence of either an Allen or Weston encore -- especially after less than full-length sets -- was particularly disappointing. In a perfect world, the attending music lovers would have been rewarded with a headlining piano duo. Still, some was better, much better, in fact, than none. -- David Lynch


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