Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: live music (page 1 of 3)


I dragged myself away from (endlessly) hitting refresh on 538 long enough to enjoy last weekend’s ACL Fest. It was a good time. Our Galveston friends came in as usual, though they’d already been here most of the previous week due to Hurricane Ike, so in a way, ACL was kind of the last weekend of a good old fashioned hurricane party.

For once the weather was great. There was dust, though not like the lung-blackening filth permeating the air of 2005. It even got a bit chilly at night! The afternoon highs barely topped 90 making the whole thing so much easier than it has been in years when it gets to 108 and lingers in the upper 90s after dark. Here’s to the festival running a few weeks later in the month.

Offsetting the perfection of the weather was a lineup that was a little less exciting than previous years’.

On Friday we saw The Freddy Jones Band, M. Ward – both at the WaMu tent, though I guess by the time we showed up it had become the JP Morgan Tent if not in name than in fact. Hot Chip was next, an upbeat group that sounded like they’d grown up on New Order. That is high praise.

The highlight of the day, and for me the festival, was David Byrne. I grew up on the Talking Heads and they’re still one of my favorite bands, though I never got to see them except for a performance in 1991 when they played without Byrne – good, but not right. Byrne was amazing. He played some new material, but what really got the crowd excited were his trips back to Fear of Music and Remain in Light. Not just two of my favorite Heads albums, but two favorite albums. They played “Life During Wartime,” “The Great Curve,” “Houses in Motion,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “I Zimbra,” and my favorite, “Crosseyed and Painless.” I couldn’t have asked for a better show. With the sun setting at my back and the cool night settling over Zilker Park, I was in Heaven, amazed by how brilliantly those tunes, that style, hold up after all these years.

After Byrne, we caught Alejandro Escovedo’s set, which made me wonder why on earth I’ve never gone to one of his shows before. We ended with Manu Chao.

Saturday was good. Had I skipped it to watch UT paste Arkansas, though, it wouldn’t have been a loss. For me. It still would have been a loss for Arkansas. We saw The Nachito Herrera All-Stars, who were quite fun. Then John Fogerty for the CCR love, the Black Keys and finally Robert Plant & Allison Krauss, a good set, though I had to be told which songs were the Led Zep ones.

Sunday we enjoyed Gillian Welch, the Silversun Pickups, a taste of Blues Traveler, a band I’ve tried to like many times, but never quite “got:” A little of The Raconteurs and finally Galactic, whose set started late, but was, as usual, very good. We left before the Foo Fighters. I’ve seen them before and as a friend remarked after that show, “Oh, well, whatever, never mind.”

All in all, a good year. It was too light on good jazz and jam bands, and there were no great revelations like Gotan Project, Husky Rescue, Black Angels or Calexico, all bands I had discovered in years past. Still fun, though, and the weather was mercifully cool.

Next year, it’s in October. How cool is that?

Sonic Youth at Stubb’s

File this under I meant to blog about it a week ago…

A week ago Friday, we caught Sonic Youth at Stubb’s. Great show, as always, made even better by the fact that they weren’t touring in support of any album. Their most recent release was the brilliant (perfect, wonderful) rerelease of Daydream Nation (my favorite album).

I love seeing a great band with a long history free to play whatever they want rather than focusing on the new material. This time around, they played a few tracks from their most recent ’06’s Rather Ripped, “The World Looks Red” from Confusion is Sex and spent the rest of their show playing songs from Daydream Nation. To put it in perspective for me, this would be like going to see Pink Floyd and having them play Dark Side of the Moon. Sheer bliss.

For years, I’ve kept track of the Daydream songs I’ve heard them play (I haven’t missed an SY show in Austin since ’92). I’ve heard “Teenage Riot,” “Candle,” and “Eric’s Trip,” but Friday at Stubbs’s we were treated to all of those along with “The Sprawl” and my favorite of theirs “‘Cross the Breeze.” They even closed their set with all three songs form “The Trilogy.” Brilliant.

They sounded great, enormous like jet planes flying too close to the ground, their feedback noise jams drawing the thinnest line between order and chaos across the night.

I even bought a shirt.

The Meat Puppets opened. I’ve never seen them. but I’ve heard them. After the show, I wodered why I don’t have more Meat Puppets on my iPod.

ACL Fest Day 3

Yesterday was the longest day since we had to be there at 1230 for Yo La Tengo’s set. This is a band I love to hear, and they’ve never disappointed live. The selections from their new(ish) album I Am Not Afraid of You, and I Will Beat Your Ass, played well, but the closer, Painful‘s “I Was the Fool Beside You for Too Long” became an extended feedback drenched jam was the highlight of the set. YLT should have been the festival closer, but it was nice seeing them early before the heat and crowds got too bad.

STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector Nine) was a new discovery. They jammed for an hour. I would have happily enjoyed a second hour. Reminiscent of Particle, but without the Pink Floyd undercurrent (and covers). By the end of STS9’s set, the heat drove us back to the WaMu stage to see who was there. I was not disappointed.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals played a rootsy set with lots of space for extended jams. Charlie Musselwhite came on next with a set of old-school electric blues that got me out of my comfy chair.

We trekked out into the heat for Lucinda Williams. Good as always, especially her cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”

Wilco was next for us. This is the third time I’ve seen them at ACL, and they were solid. I haven’t heard the new album, but they played some cuts from it as well as from the previous three. I particularly enjoyed the Yankee-Hotel-Foxtrotization of some of the tunes from Summer Teeth, particularly “Via Chicago” and “A Shot in the Arm.” If not Yo La Tengo, they should have closed ACL.

Next came the much touted Ghostland Observatory, local boys done good. Their insane combination of dance beats, sampling, and keyboards made for a cool and energetic act, but only when the singer was playing guitar. He has a good sound and without that guitar it was all a little too techno-dance for my taste. The laser show was cool, though.

Bob Dylan was the festival closer. Why, I’ll never know. We saw him open for the Dead in ’95 and were left underwhelmed. Perhaps if I had been around in the late sixties, I would have more appreciation for him. I know his lyrics are good (best in the hands of others), but he’s just not much of a performer. Further adding to our early departure was the fact that at the back of the crowd, you just couldn’t hear him. You couldn’t even hear that there was anyone playing. A festival closer should rock, at least loud enough that the ticket buyers in the back can hear. As we walked toward restaurant row, heading toward the car, we could finally hear some of his set. We didn’t miss much.

ACL Fest Day 2

Yesterday’s schedule was such that we didn’t feel compelled to arrive until after four.

We started with Ocote Soul Sounds, a latin style jazzy funky operation that sometimes reminded me of Donald Byrd and sometimes like a Beastie Boys instrumental. Good stuff, and another act whose recordings I’ll have to check out.

We stayed in the shade of the trees behind the WaMu tent for the zydeco band Beau Soliel. Again, time well spent.

By the time Kelly Willis came on at 6:30, the day had cooled into a pleasant evening, and her Austin country was just the thing to bring down the sun.

After Willis, we went over to dig the Indigo Girls set, which turned out to be remarkably good. In fact, it was one of my favorites of the festival, so far. They opened with “Galileo” and played many of their hits, including everyone’s favorite (and mine) “Closer to Fine.” For the last third of their show, they were joined by 3-5-Human, the band that’s opening their tour, at which point they took the proceedings in a more rockin’ direction, propelling the show to a raucous close.

Then, we went home.

ACL Fest Day 1

We arrived along with the fire trucks, ambulances and Haz-Mat team, but went in anyway. By the time we were through the gates, the fire was out and the four injured workers were on their way to the hospital.

This year’s ACL schedule is short on artists that I really want to see, which is kind of cool because it opens me up to making discoveries. I am not among those wailing and gnashing their teeth because the White Stripes canceled at the last minute.

We started with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, whose music is impossibly upbeat and funky. Definitely the best banjo-sax-bass-synthaxe drumitar combo around. They wound their set down with a very cool cover of The Beatles “Come Together,” making them the only live act I’ve ever heard cover The Beatles.

From there, we went to the WaMu tent where over the past years I’ve learned to really appreciate old-school funk and gospel. Oftentimes, these bands are the most fun to hear live. The Dynamites with Charles Walker were no exception.

We caught some of Joss Stone’s set on one of the big stages and then went back to WaMu for some of Big Sam’s Funky Nation and then back for the rest of Stone’s set. She was good, polished and powerful and clearly having a good time. Hard to believe she’s just 19.

I walked past MIA’s angry-ranting-over-beats (some kind of political hip hop) and caught most of Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective’s set while waiting in Hoffbrau Steakhouse’s line. They were quite good, riding a spirited Brizilian native music meets funk kind of vibe that made waiting in line really easy.

Austin’s own™ Spoon played a decent set that was far more interesting than when I heard them at ACL five years ago. After Spoon, we saw Gotan Project, whose Argentina-by-way-of-France sound combined DJs and electronic instruments with tango-style guitar and concertina work to sound like something you might find on a Thievery Corporation record. Gotan was definitely the highlight of the day. I suspect I’ll be checking out their CDs in the near future.

We left Gotan to hear Reverend Horton Heat. I’ve seen the reverend far more times than I can remember, but it’s been a while. I’ve always loved the way he plays guitar, and it was a treat to hear him open with a string of my favorites including “Big Sky,” “Baddest of the Bad,” and “Five-0 Ford.” It was like ’94 all over again.

After rocking out with Rev. Heat, we caught the last of Gotan’s set and settled in for headliner Björk. I had never heard her or her previous outfit The Sugarcubes. What I heard was haunting, often beautiful, and definitely something I would check out on CD, but at the end of the day, my hunger and desire to be on my way were more powerful than her and her green laser that twisted out over Zilker park.

Overall, it was a fun day and thankfully the weather wasn’t bad. It was hot at times, but never unbearable. The only regret is that I wish I had stayed and caught more of Blonde Redhead’s set. I heard the first part as I was walking by, and they sounded good. I’ll have to check out their recordings sometime.

Galactic at La Zona Rosa

We caught the first set of Galactic’s show at La Zona Rosa on Thursday night. They were touring without the singer who appeared on Ruckus and instead performed an instrumental set, which I enjoyed. Jam bands don’t really need singers since the vocals tend to get in the way of exploration anyway.

Highlights included a rendition of “Bittersweet,” the only tune on which I thought I’d miss the vocals, but it sounded even better without. They closed the first set with a song that sounded familiar to me. My wife told me it was “Cashmere” by Led Zeppelin. Galactic, of course, is the far superior band and they managed to turn a Led Zeppelin tune into something funky and, to me, interesting.

Despite enjoying the music, we left early, feeling a bit defeated by the whole thing. Not the band, but just the sorry circumstances one has to endure to “enjoy” live music. When I add up the fact that there’s nowhere to sit, too many people in a cramped room, and the late hours, it becomes increasingly easy to walk away from a show after I’ve had enough.

Perhaps I’ve gotten spoiled lately, seeing bands that don’t draw much of an audience and so places aren’t crowded, but I realized that I just can’t stand in one spot for the hours on end that so much of the improvisational music that I love requires.

Mainly, I wanted to be outside in the fresh air, surrounded by fewer people, and, more than anything, I wanted a place to sit. Galactic was good, lots of energetic exploration of their funky grooves, and I’d probably have stayed if there were chairs or if it had started earlier or if my back wasn’t hurting.

I guess I’m getting too old for this. Damn.

ACL Fest 2006 on iTunes

The Tragically Hip at ACL 2006

Selections from the 2006 Austin City Limits Music Festival are now available on iTunes. The only acts I saw that are available are The Tragically Hip and The String Cheese Incident.

The sound at the Hip’s set wasn’t too good. Mostly the vocals were buried too far in the mix, and the iTunes selections reflect that, though the guitars sound great. There are seven Hip tracks available, the best being “100th Meridian” and “Courage,” which is about how I remembered the set. If you like The Tragically Hip, you’ll want these two at least. The rest are good, coming off better than they sounded in person.

I only downloaded one String Cheese track – “The New Pollution,” which was as good as I remember it being. Also available are Matisyahu, Gomez, Son Volt, Flaming Lips and a few others. Why, oh why, did they not record Calexico. I’ll never forget how good they sounded on “All Systems Red” and “Not Even Stevie Nicks…”

Still, it’s nice to relive a great weekend.

Karl Denson Trio at La Zona Rosa

On Saturday, we caught the Karl Denson Trio’s show at La Zona Rosa after an awesome dinner at Ranch 616. It’s a shame we don’t get more jazz shows around here – I guess Austin just ain’t a jazz town – but the ones that do come tend to be fun because the audiences are usually small. Probably why we don’t get many, but I digress. We saw Denson’s Tiny Universe band at ACL a few years back, but this was the first time we had seen his trio.

We arrived early thinking he was going to start at 9:00, but there were only about 30 people in the place so we got to wait and discuss the fact that there are never chairs at shows. While waiting, we enjoyed the opening act: Marvin Gaye’s brilliant What’s Going On? album played twice. Perfect music for people watching, and, well, perfect music for these times.

When Denson finally came on a bit after 10, the crowd was still small, but what was lacking in numbers was made up for in enthusiasm. Denson started off a bit slow, but on the second number he traded his saxophone for a flute and turned up the temperature.

Denson’s trio sound (drums, organ, sax and sometimes flute) falls somewhere between acid jazz and jazz funk. However you split the hairs, though, the music is great – sometimes funky, sometimes searching, always interesting. I enjoyed his flute numbers the most, partially because I’d never heard anyone play a flute with such funky intensity.

Denson’s trio found all the right grooves and pleased the small crowd that grew increasingly energetic over the course of the two hour set.

Day of Discovery – ACL Fest Day 3

Most of my ACL time this year was been spent seeing bands that I already knew and liked, but on Sunday, all I saw were artists that I had previously never heard. Amazingly, not a single one disappointed. For me, those discoveries are the best part of ACL.

We started our day with Austin’s The Black Angels. I hadn’t heard them before, but their mesmerizing psychedelic drone hooked us right away. The guitars shimmered throughout their set that at times evoked such artists as The Doors and early Velvet Underground.

Afterwards we checked out Finland’s Husky Rescue. Three very serious looking guys dressed in black backed up the charming singer who wore a red dress and some fabulous boots. The music was mellow and kind of quirky in a way that reminded me of early Talking Heads but it flowed like Air while the singer’s ethereal vocals floated on top. It was a fun set that had us all smiling.

The weather was nice when we arrived. Cool and overcast, but the sun started to come out and make things steamy as we headed over to see Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, another of Bob Marley’s progeny. Damian looks very much like his father and the set was groovy as reggae should be. We left while they were playing a very cool version of “Exodus” which seemed appropriate.

Afterwards we went to Waterloo for the traditional purchasing of CDs by bands we’d discovered. We picked up CDs by The Black Angels and Husky Rescue both of which sound as cool on CD as they do live.

Despite leaving, ACL wasn’t over for us. A friend had managed to secure tickets to an Austin City Limits taping of Sufjan Stevens followed by The Raconteurs at the KLRU studios. These are hard to come by so it was a real treat to finally – after eighteen years in Austin – get to see a taping.

The studio is very small, there couldn’t have been more than 200 people in there, and they serve free beer so we were all pretty happy when Stevens started his show. I’d never heard him before but I was highly impressed. He was backed by a full orchestra all of whom wore giant butterfly wings. Wearing gigantic bird wings, Stevens played a haunting set that fully captivated the audience.

The Raconteurs came on next. They rocked. I hadn’t heard them before either, but I was impressed with their sound and intensity. I don’t know when these episodes will air, but both of them will certainly be worth watching.

Finally seeing an ACL taping and getting to see two such talented acts was truly the perfect way to end yet another awesome ACL weekend.

The View from Our Chairs – ACL Fest Day 2

We arrived around 3:30. Missed Galactic, but we’ve seen them before. The heat was intense and the crowd was thick so we went over to the Washington Mutual Stage to hide under the big trees in the back until Los Lobos started.

While enjoying Sweet Leaf’s honey and mint green tea, we listened to some of The Long Winters set. I hadn’t heard them before, but it was solid indie pop. While they were playing, dark storm clouds took over the sky, blotting out the sun, but never giving rain. In short, the day turned perfect.

By the time we headed over to Los Lobos, the temps had dropped to the mid nineties and a strong breeze kept us cool. We set our chairs up in between the AMD stage and the AT&T Blue Room stage since everything we wanted to see was on one or the other stage. This made life easy since after each set all we ever had to do was turn our chairs around to face the opposite stage.

One passerby told us we were brilliant. That’s not true. It’s just practice.

Los Lobos was as always fantastic. I don’t know why I only have one Los Lobos CD (Colossal Head). I should probably do something about that.

Next came Calexico, truly one of the best working bands out there. I saw them at ACL 04 and several times since, and they were about perfect. The sound was as big and expansive as ever, their cinematic soundscapes shimmering like the Arizona deserts from which they come.

Beautiful. If I went home then and called it quits for ACL 06, I’d have been happy, but fortunately there’s more to hear, always more to hear.

We turned the chairs around next for String Cheese Incident. Now, I likes me a good jam band, and I’ve never seen String Cheese Incident despite the fact that they play ACL every year. Jam bands tend to need more time to explore than a one hour festival set provides, but they were good, and I’d go see them again.

Around went the chairs for Kings of Leon. I’d never heard of them before, but we didn’t want to move. Good decision. Kings of Leon were fantastic. The ACL Fest guide said their sound evoked the Stones and the Velvet Underground and you could hear both influences in the band’s music. Definitely something to explore further.

Finally, it was time for Willie Nelson. We decided to stay for Willie and try to catch Massive Attack another time. The crowd was thick at first and Willie was hard to hear. Too many idiots having private conversations and yelling into cell phones. I mean, just as you don’t talk in church, you don’t talk while Willie’s onstage. We moved up and the talkers and scenemakers dispersed until we could hear him perfectly. I think they turned up the sound as well.

Willie’s guitar work is amazing. The guy can just flat out play, and Trigger’s sound is as familiar and wonderful as Willie’s voice. He opened with “Whiskey River,” and his set was exactly what everyone wanted: all the classics. He closed with two new, very funny tunes: “Superman” and “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.” By the time he said goodnight, the crowd was happy and feeling that magic that only a master like Willie Nelson can supply.

Perfect end for a great ACL day.

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