Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Live Shots

DECEMBER 22, 1997: 


The only downside about an evening of Trance Syndicate bands is that, more often than not, there's a lot of between time; they take the "leave 'em wanting more" philosophy to an extreme. From the deeply sleepy sounds of Monroe Mustang, the openers, to the break-yer-eardrums assault of headliners Starfish, powerful and intriguing sets surge forward only to be reigned in before your equilibrium has time to adjust. Paul Newman, a local quartet scheduled to release its Trance debut early next year, played between these two last Saturday night, and fascinating as it was, 40 minutes wasn't nearly enough. To be fair, they were having technical problems and couldn't get their keyboards to work, which, judging by the dearth of mellower material in their set, really cut into their song list. Nevertheless, their penchant for longer grooves became immediately apparent, as did their ability to add razor-sharp edges and then twist and bend them with neck-breaking quickness. Want an absurd and meaningless hybrid comparison? Put them between Seam and Drive Like Jehu. They wield their guitars with a calm, meticulous abandon, working every riff for its last cry of life while pushing the songs forward until they can't go any further. They plunge from lush and built-up emo-platforms headlong into screeching jams with nary a moment's notice. The music is like a dream their first song; "Elements of Style" being a good example. Time doesn't make linear, waking sense. You note its passing, but it seems to loop around so much you wonder if it has really passed at all. You can shift from floating high and easy on a cloud of billowy guitar and loping drums to falling through the mist into the very fires of oblivion, perception changing from gentility to ferocity, as they carry over the main line only and turn everything else into an all-out attack. They are remarkably quiet, vocally speaking. Their mute introspections often don't require words, as the songs don't lend themselves to being structured around lyrics. Instead, the songs are about the intertwining of melody and hook and all the interesting places exploring that relationship can land you. -- Christopher Hess


Playing the Bates Motel presents a couple of challenges. The first obstacle is the sound system. The P.A. at the Bates is not good. Listening to anyone singing through it is roughly the equivalent of standing behind a thick sheet of ice and listening to someone sing through an electronic megaphone. So, if your band isn't too dynamic visually, like Halfwatt, with their crummy, noisy pop, then not even being able to at least give people something comprehensible to listen to is really a liability. Granted, it wasn't the band's fault, but it still made things that much less interesting. However, if your performance is loosely arranged, non-threatening mayhem -- like the Hamicks and their crummy, noisy punk -- then the fact that no one can understand you is not too important. In fact, the cruddy sound may have even been an asset to the Hamicks, as they lost the cheesy keys that inform the band's Ventriloquist Conartist album. The other problem with the Bates is the stage -- there isn't one. It might seem like nit-picking, but when people aren't right up front watching you -- like they weren't during Halfwatt -- you look that much more unimpressive, not to mention the fact that you're at a spatial disadvantage: "Gee, not only are people not rocking to the beat, but we don't even get the benefit of an elevated sense of importance by simply being two feet higher off the ground than everyone else." On the other hand, for the Hamicks, who had people right up in their face, the total lack of barrier between band and audience allowed a higher degree of crowd participation. In fact, it was about the highest degree of crowd participation possible, since on more than a couple occasions the members of the audience were actually playing the band's instruments. Sure both bands were facing a handicap that made them sound shitty, but at least the Hamicks shitty was damn fun. -- Michael Bertin


Witness the ruination of a band, Jonathan Fire*Eater, the object of a major-label bidding war last year, in which the fat-with-cash Hollywood cartel, Dreamworks, threw a bunch of cash at five D.C. boys living in the East Village because they sensed there was a killing to be made. And maybe there is; certainly the front room at Emo's was packed on a cold Wednesday evening -- more people than had been to see the band's last Emo's gig. Unfortunately for those gathered this time around, they saw a much different band. Then plugging their edgy, clangingly catchy Medicine label EP, Tremble Under Boom Lights, Jonathan Fire*Eater proved why they had just been scooped up in a bidding war; singer Stewart Lupton is one of those fairy-dust frontmen, a male equivalent to Stevie Nicks whirling in a dream world up onstage. Meanwhile, guitarist Paul Maroon was cranking out clean, echoed riffs while the band chugged behind him with a certain Railroad Jerk/Skeleton Key clank. It's a sound found on the band's Dreamworks debut, Wolf Songs for Lambs -- a lot of clank, but way too few songs. Still, it casts a certain charm, and two of its best tunes, the lead-off, "When the Curtain Calls for You," and "No Love Like That" came off live. Little else did. A good comparison is "The Search for Cherry Red," easily one of the band's best songs: Last time through it came off like what it is -- an instant radio hit. Here, it was as hollow and empty as whatever bottle singer Lupton drank before this gig. Drunk beyond all belief (and maybe it wasn't even booze, intimated one Emo's bartender), Lupton made it clear that mood-altering substances don't mix with fairy dust -- continually calling out "Austin, Austin" like some retarded puppy. He was a mess and so was the band's set, which ended a quick 35 minutes in. Contrast this to local trio Enduro, whose 40-minute supporting slot might not have been all that focused -- Jon Spencerisms firing blind -- but goddamn, they sure gave it 150 fucking percent. Not like the major label puff-boys Jonathon Fire*Eater. As the saying goes, they sucked.
-- Raoul Hernandez


In music, "odd" time signatures are so named because they use odd numbers, such as 7/4, and because they have the power to unsettle; they mirror reality -- a reality that's disjointed, unpredictable, and let's face it, just plain odd. Ant Man Bee also likes the odd. This local trio was the first of three bands to play a nearly full-moon Friday night at the Back Room, a bar that features big screen cable carnage, frightening promotional paraphernalia for beer, and a host of violent video games. In one game, you must kill hordes of right wing freaks to reach an Aerosmith concert at the imaginary Club X in Los Angeles. After you lay waste to everything with submachine guns and grenades, Steven Tyler reminds you that "music is the weapon" (I'm not making this up). Most bands that play the Back Room lean to the heavy side, but Ant Man Bee isn't your typical hard rock outfit. Taking inspiration from Rush and Primus but adding punchy blues-seasoned riffs, this band is very much at home with less-traveled time signatures. But this wasn't a simple case of prog plagiarism; the original tunes they played for a small but enthusiastic crowd featured funky bass lines, refreshing guitar chordal work, and crisp drumming. Unfortunately, too many healthy grooves got dropped in these jagged time changes. Perhaps the band seemed disjointed because of technical difficulties, and because the guitarist/singer had a cold that occasionally made his voice sound like Motorhead's Lemmy (okay, this could be a good thing). Yet there was more oddity during their less-than-an-hour set: Two meatheads broke beer bottles against supporting poles by the stage and some loser highlighted band members' crotches with his laser pointer (I'm not making this up either). A bad night for a good band? We'll see next time, but hey, maybe that's just reality. -- David Lynch


If Space Rock is headed anywhere, it will go forth on the shoulders of Spiritualized. Every genre has its limits, and it's safe to say that what Spiritualized plays qualifies as a genre and is no exception to this rule. To expand on and experiment with the boundaries of their turf, some bands will push toward other styles, while others reach down to the roots. Spiritualized reaches only up, staying within the lines but taking them to their extremes; their light show, for instance, is one of the best around -- looking remarkably like the bottom of a UFO. One thing about this music, though; at its worst it can sound like the ridiculous crescendo of just about any Styx song. During the highpoints of "Come Together," "Electricity," and the encore "Cop Shoot Cop," I actually thought I was rockin' the Paradise. Yet while Spiritualized hit this stride many times throughout their set, the intensity with which they were able to reach through thick, soaring guitars made sonic by harmonica and sax was so intensely sustained that it pulled you to a near outer-body experience. Yes, it is wise to come to Spiritualized in an altered state -- suspends the disbelief and accelerates the assimilation. Flourishes came fast and furious, though when they brought it down, they brought it way down. As overwhelming as these flourishes were -- coming thicker and stronger than even the herbal wafts traveling across the room -- so sedate were their slower moments that the kids laid out on the rear riser sure looked happy to be asleep. Live, this band is in a whole different galaxy than where their albums reside; while their latest release, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, peeks at the Pearly Gates, their live show gives the grand tour. Openers Acetone put together a strong set of their own: lush sleep-core, slow and lopey, with grooves that carried the faint odor of country, a quarter-speed urban high lonesome. -- Christopher Hess

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