Artists like Anderson East, an Alabama rock-and-soul singer with a voice so startling and strong that it seems like the product of Greek mythology, are so singular that you almost have to grade them on a different curve.
For parallels, think of names like Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse or Freddie Mercury; singers with pipes coated in brass, polished with velvet and powered by Tesla coils. You’d drop everything to listen to them read assembly instructions to an IKEA catalog, so the songwriting behind their creative works could be so-so and no one would put up much of a fuss.
East – born Michael Cameron Anderson – has channeled his vocal talents in a heartland direction and at this early stage of his career is in a vein something like what we’d get if Joe Cocker had more finesse and was aiming for the lyrical style of early Jason Isbell. Which is not a bad place to be.
East kicked off his “Austin City Limits” television performance Friday with his cover of Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” a move that drew a distinct picture of where East is coming from stylistically. East’s interpretation turned Nelson’s sparse and forlorn playing into a more tortured picture of a singer turned inside out by his missteps, with backup singers and horns adding color and a church revival atmosphere.
From there much of East’s set kept with the white bread church singer feel, even if the lyrical themes dominated by romance realized and lost was firmly secular. Whether leaned back and roaring or bending forward for a smooth croon, East’s pure vocal power and control were the highlight early on while he mostly played the empty-armed romantic looking for The One.
Another highlight throughout the night was piano player Philip Towns, who grabbed the spotlight several times with colorful layered solos, including three of them alone on “Learning,” a song that stretched to nearly 10 minutes and proves the band would acclimate well in the jam band world if so moved.
The most thematically interesting turn of the 80-minute performance came in the last third, when a pair of minor-chord songs – “Girlfriend” and “All On My Mind” – saw the mood turn sinister and East taking on the role of the other man in a love triangle and a lover who knows he’s mixed up with a quintessentially bad girl. With a string quartet on hand to add even more dramatic tones, those songs saw East playing something of a villain or bad boy, showing even more swagger and confidence.
That change of tone made the night’s final few songs – especially a tune like “Satisfy Me” that is is an airtight example of how a rock-meets-soul song should be constructed – feel more human, like they were coming from a performer who can exhibit and embrace the light and dark of the human condition.
And, lest we forget, has the kind of voice to make just about anything work.
Released in 2002 on Interscope Records to immediate and overwhelming critical acclaim, “Source Tags & Codes” became the defining album for Austin art punks …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead before anyone in the band could really process what was happening to them.
Marked by constantly shifting soundscapes – languid and introspective one moment, aggressive and violently loud the next – it was an album that embraced a feeling of ambition and reach, and succeeded. It’s a record that felt capital-I important right from the drop. Although it hasn’t exactly overshadowed the rest of the band’s quality recorded output in the 16 years since, it’s the creative work they’ll be most quickly associated with for however long they remain an active unit.
Prepping for a string of international tour dates that start next week, the band called upon friends booking Beerland to throw a quickie tour prep show on Friday and used the occasion to perform their defining album in its entirety.
It’s an occasion that could have felt overly serious and grandiose, but with a mix of between-song levity from founding members Conrad Keely and Jason Reece throughout the night – lots of “Thanks for coming to our first show,” and “Here’s a new one”-type jokes – it instead felt like a celebration of a very specific time in Austin music.
The live presentation of the album’s 10 core songs – interstitial “connective tissue” passages don’t translate live – reinforced how sturdy and well-composed a piece of work it is. This reviewer has long felt that the opening in leadoff track “It Was There That I Saw You” – a slowly building guitar figure interrupted by a single gigantic bass note, followed by an immediate cyclone of distorted guitars and thunderous drums – is pretty much the band’s best base components captured in just 20 seconds.
That was born out on Friday, with band friend and longtime Austin music compatriot Aaron Blount filling in on second guitar and fitting in seamlessly. More aggressive songs like “Homage” and “Days Of Being Wild” galloped even faster and louder than on record, but the restraint and tension of tracks like “Baudelaire” and “Heart In The Hand Of The Matter” were also on display throughout the nearly hour-long set.
In all it was verification that … Trail Of Dead circa 2018 is comfortable with their master work and more than capable of keeping the material fresh and vital for listeners old and new.
After the performance Reece and Keely sat down to talk about the album’s legacy and inspiration, and where they’re headed.
Austin360: How does it feel to kind of live in those songs 16 years after the record was released? Jason Reece: For us it’s like going back in time. At the time we were very ambitious and thinking bigger picture. Not in a mainstream way, but we wanted to make an impression with an album that would go in a direction almost like what Public Enemy did with “Fear Of A Black Planet” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.” The mentality was “Let’s make an album that is connected.” Tonight was weird because we didn’t have the segues between songs that were the connective tissue for the album that link everything together conceptually, like albums did often in the ’70s.
Revisiting the album this week, it struck how cinematic it felt, creating these vivid scenes and landscapes lyrically and with the music. Is that what you were trying for? Reece: Of course. For us film is very important. Everybody in the band at that time was super into movies. The guitar player, Kevin Allen, worked at a video store before we got the “big money” from Interscope. Neil Busch was turning me onto these movies by (Rainer) Werner Fassbinder and we were weird arty punk rockers who were into film. Film was our common language and where we flourished. Lots of the songs were written off of inspiration from film and paintings.
The lyrics are absent any proper nouns or specific people and situations. Were you trying to make things more general and open? Reece: We were trying to be egalitarian. At the same time we were in the Austin scene looked at as kind of a bunch of (expletive). At that time there was the Stevie Ray Vaughan blues rock, then a bunch of noisy experimental music, and then you had us and we were friends with lots of arty college students along with crusty punks. We didn’t fit in any of that stuff at the time. We were too arty for the punks, and too punk for the art people.
Conrad Keely: We played the “Source Tags” material for the first time at a house party opening for (blues punks) the Crack Pipes. We were still writing the songs at that point.
When the record came out it had such a huge reception. Was there pressure from that? Keely: The kiss of death. There was never outside pressure because we always demanded more of ourselves. We wanted to make it ambitious. Sometimes when you do that you fall on your face, but that was the only pressure we felt. When we were writing it we were part of the rock scene here but I personally was part of the rave scene, before they passed the law that closed all the parties. I would go to raves because no one I knew would be there. I had my secret place with rave friends. That’s what I was into, with lots of house music. There’s actually references to that in the album. “It Was There…” is actually about a rave and one of the original lyrics is “I saw you at the rave,” but I changed it. So there were influences on the record from all over.
It’s such a product of where you all were at a specific time. It’s kind of a lightning in a bottle thing, isn’t it? Keely: Definitely. We’d been touring Europe and met the band Mogwai and that got in there. I’d have to say most of our influences were our friends’ bands here in Austin. I was friends with the Prima Donnas and I thought we were in direct competition with that band, and others like Knife In The Water. I loved the eclecticness of that time in Austin. I wasn’t listening to what was going on nationally because I was so focused on the music from around here.
This many years on, how do you feel about how the album represents you as a band? Keely: At first I disliked that. I would say at times that it was my least favorite of our records. When we were first asked to perform an album version of it about five years ago, I fought over it. But when we performed it, it felt really cool and felt good about the songs. I gained an appreciation for it that I’d lost.
What’s going on with the band creatively now? Keely: We’re working on our 10th album, doing it a little bit differently since I’ve got a home base studio and I’m working out at Mosaic Sound Collective and we’re doing it there. It’s coming together more in bits and pieces, which is sort of how we wrote (2005’s) “Worlds Apart.” I’m curious to see how it all comes together.
Maybe there’s something to be said for zigging when everyone wants you to zag.
Case in point: Jack White’s third solo album “Boarding House Reach” easily has been the most critically derided of his career, delivering musical and lyrical “What is he thinking?” moments every few minutes in what could be interpreted as a willing attempt to challenge as many fans as possible.
And yet, the Detroit native is at probably the most commercially successful point in his career, playing to packed arenas and amphitheaters around the country on a tour that looked close to selling out Austin360 Amphitheater on Wednesday night. Rather than turning away, White’s fans appear to be embracing his “We’ll try anything” approach, which has grown unchecked since retiring the White Stripes and saying farewell to his once-promising side projects.
If White’s fans were seeking a musical mystery tour he comfortably wore his captain’s hat on Wednesday, letting the material from his three solo albums squeal and sprawl all over the place and dramatically reworking material from the White Stripes’ catalog with a four-piece backing band that at times rendered the songs unrecognizable.
The degree to which White was willing to bend and reshape old material was teased early, with a medley that featured snippets of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldier” and early White Stripes favorite “Astro” swirled in noise, feedback and a cloud of other effects from his two keyboard players.
That those came after two new cuts – “Over And Over And Over” and “Corporation,” which itself is more a musical idea than a full song – provided a contrast that would remain for the bulk of White’s 100 minutes: The new stuff is pretty far out there and won’t get messed with too much, but everything else is getting chopped and shredded.
It’s worth saying that as adventurous as White was on “Boarding House Reach,” it contains a flat-out great rock song (“Connected By Love”) and a synthy thought experiment that was a somber highlight Wednesday (“Why Walk A Dog?”) that should keep their places in the meaty upper middle of his songbook. If they have to share a set with the rapping misfire of “Ice Station Zebra” and complete mess that is “Hypermisophoniac,” well, sometimes we’ve just gotta pay that freight as an audience.
It helps that White was able to regularly follow the curiosities with moments of delight, such when the instrumental guitar shredding of “Battle Cry” gave way to a honky tonk reimagining of “Hotel Yorba” that chugged atop a new upright piano feature, with a mostly straight playing of the easy pop nugget “My Doorbell” providing a welcome 1-2 punch of familiar but not rote material.
By the time the send-‘em-home-happy riff of “Seven Nation Army” rang out, with the audience overhead clapping to the tribal stomp of White’s most defining song, both artist and fans celebrated the moment and the journey. A Jack White show is certain to be chock full of moments unexpected, with enough of the familiar favorites to keep both coming back again and again.
Over And Over And Over
I Wanna Be Your Dog/Broken Boy Soldiers/Astro (medley)
I Think I Smell A Rat
Why Walk A Dog?
Trash Tongue Talker
Connected By Love
Slowly Turning Into You
Ice Station Zebra
We Are Gonna Be Friends
Seven Nation Army
You can’t call it a disconnect. But it was certainly an odd juxtaposition to watch couples embraced and swaying back and forth in reverie Sunday night at Mohawk while Waxahatchee front woman Katie Crutchfield spent a good chunk of her hour on stage reliving the tales of romance crashed on the rocks that fueled her latest album, “Out In The Storm.”
It says a lot about the power of Crutchfield as both a singer and live performer that she’s able to connect with her audience and stir their own emotions so deeply. And it helps that she seems to have put some emotional distance – or maybe just time – between herself and the parties on the other end of her “What went wrong?” lyrics. Her songs aren’t open wounds so much as scars that provide character and memories of things best left in the past.
Sunday’s concert – the band’s last of a tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff – came on the final night of this year’s reconfigured Levitation Fest, which put a few dozen shows in clubs all over downtown over four days.
With the festival’s expanded scope in recent years after its start roughly a decade ago as Austin Psych Fest, hosting distinct shows in different venues made it possible for a night of female-fronted pop-rock bands to seem of a piece with other Levitation attractions like industrial legends Ministry or Austin’s Black Angels.
Starting the night alone on stage with her acoustic guitar, it didn’t take long for Crutchfield’s versatile and arresting vocals to take the spotlight. Whether in a solo and sparse setting or cutting through the swirl of melodies provided by her bandmates for the majority of the show, the singer has one of the most distinct and impressive vocal instruments in music right now and she puts it to maximum use.
New songs like “Recite Remorse” and “Sparks Fly” seemed to shine the best – Waxahatchee’s latest 2017 is its most sturdily produced, feeling at times like the best possible marriage of Neil Young songwriting heft with Sheryl Crow’s pop ear – but there wasn’t a duff note on the evening.
Over the course of 60 minutes the band showed a strong, fluid control of the material and framed Crutchfield as a performer who should be regarded as among the best of her peers. And it didn’t hurt that she closed the night as she began; solo and acoustic, with a kinda raw run through “Fade” giving the lovebirds in the crowd one more chance to hold tight, to their partners and the moment they were sharing.
Over the past 12 months while outdoor clubs along Red River Street have enjoyed a trial period of later weekend noise curfews as a tactic to increase bar business, Austin city staff closely monitored noise levels in surrounding neighborhoods and kept a close eye on any increase in complaints of loud music.
In a fun bit of circumstance Thursday also happened to be the day that indie guitar hero Ty Segall wound up on the calendar at Stubb’s and delivered a majestically ear-shredding set so intense and just plain loud it’d be hard to imagine the folks up in Hyde Park didn’t get at least a little rumble and opportunity to head bang, if they were so moved. No word on whether the city’s 311 call center saw a spike on Thursday, but let’s all be grateful the later noise curfews are here to stay.
Wonkiness and wisecracks aside, the Segall/Parquet Courts double bill that was one of the opening volleys of Levitation Fest 2018 was as dynamic and energizing a touring show as you’re likely to have seen in Austin this year.
After a raucous opening set from local punks A Giant Dog – themselves afforded a spot in front of a sold-out crowd because of the later noise curfew providing an hour more of show time – New York quartet Parquet Courts spent an hour displaying the many hues of post-punk they’ve become adept in since their formation in 2010.
A key to their success is an absolutely enormous bass and bottom end sound in nearly all of their material, making it danceable and somehow more personal than most of the spiky and jagged sounds favored by bands who trace their influences back to Pavement, Modern Lovers and Gang Of Four.
The more aggressive, almost hardcore leanings of the band’s newer material has clearly bled into some of their back catalog as well, with an early, extended run through “Ducking & Dodging” turned up in volume and vocal intensity as a pit of roughly 50 crowd members churned and jostled in front of singer Andrew Savage as he barked out a small epic poem’s worth of lyrics.
With stylistic turns aplenty – a two-song suite featuring an Omnichord synthesizer turned things slow and trancelike near the end – the set was an example of the variety crowds can enjoy with Levitation Fest expanding its scope from its beginnings as Austin Psych Fest.
At various points throughout his 90-minute set, Segall hued a bit closer to straight psychedelic rock, but any languid and trippy moments were soon to be swallowed up by a tornado of violent and noisy guitar. Acclaimed as one of the most talented and adventurous songwriters of recent indie rock vintage, it was at times hard to fathom how Segall makes a coherent, unified sound in songs where layered melodies and Brian Wilson-esque pop hooks lead into a vortex of guitar distortion and feedback.
That contrast was on constant display Thursday but hearing the pristine beauty of “My Lady’s On Fire” braced against the noise-rock alto sax squawks and guitar shredding of “Can’t Talk To You” a few minutes later was a lesson in how performers can enrapture an audience by being willing to try anything creatively.
By the time Segall and his bandmates edged up to their close at 11 p.m. there wasn’t much sonic territory from the rock music canon that hadn’t been explored. As an indicator of what might be in store for the rest of the festival weekend, the show set an extremely high bar for the rest of the Levitation roster to try to reach.
For most the past 20 years Josh Homme has managed to cultivate one of the more consistent and readily identifiable sonic imprints in modern rock music. While he shifted creative gears with occasional side projects such as Them Crooked Vultures or a recent collaboration with Iggy Pop, Homme’s main gig as lead singer/guitarist of Queens of the Stone Age finds him and his bandmates locked into a brand of hard rock where their guitars slither and grind far more often than they rumble and pummel.
That sound was on full volume display Tuesday night at Austin360 Amphitheater, despite an often frustrating sound mix in portions of the venue not directly in line with the stage. But the real fun came later in the evening, when the band’s encore saw Homme shifting into the heavier sounds of his time with stoner metal pioneers Kyuss, which he helped found in the early ‘90s with long-dismissed former QotSA bassist Nick Oliveri.
Returning to the stage after roughly 90 minutes that saw the band venturing all over its catalog, Homme introduced the song “Regular John” as being the first song played at the band’s first show at Emo’s 21 years ago. Whether that is true or not – online concert archives don’t show the band playing Austin in 1997 or 1998 – it was a nice bit of myth-making as a way to ground the three-song finale in a far heavier and aggressive sound that showed the contrast and growth the band has managed over the course of its career.
The earlier portion of the two-hour performance was grounded in what has become the band’s signature sound, with Homme delivering bad boy come-on’s on songs such as “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire,” “The Evil Has Landed” and other material from the recent album “Villains.”
Such consistency is admirable but can turn into a wash after too long without a creative roundabout.
The John Theodore drum solo on early years highlight “No One Knows” was a nice detour, and the confessional, soulful tone with an extended crowd singalong outro on “Make It Wit Chu” felt like the most revealing portion of the night. One does wonder if a fun mid-set run through the drug reference-laden “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” – admittedly a quick goof of a song, but one that does its job very well – would have been a savvy move.
In all it was a thoroughly professional, consummate performance. Just one where the more revealing changes of pace and odes to the band’s earlier stylings provided some very welcome contrast.
There’s a decent argument to be made that Kim Deal has had one of the most free range, “do what I want, when I want” careers in music.
From a late ‘80s/early ‘90s string of classic records with the Pixies to soon after finding fame at the height of MTV’s infatuation with college/indie/alternative rock – that thanks to out-of-nowhere hit single ”Cannonball” with the Breeders – Deal has spent much of the past 20 years proudly and weirdly going her own way.
That could mean fans would be given sporadic, odd side projects such as the Amps, a Breeders record at completely unpredictable intervals, or the occasional Pixies reunion that was good for nostalgia and shoring up its members’ bank accounts.
Out on the road in support of the characteristically odd but charming album “All Nerve,” Deal and her bandmates – sister/guitarist Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs, drummer Jim Macpherson – took to the stage at Emo’s on Saturday exuding a carefree, shaggy sort of energy that quickly meshed with the crowd who viewed the Deal sisters as heroes who have turned a try-anything spirit into a multi-decade career.
That meant kicking things off with a salvo of standout cuts – “New Year,” “No Aloha,” “Divine Hammer” – from career peak album “Last Splash” within the first 15 minutes, moving a near-capacity crowd into singalong ease while Kelley Deal bended her guitar tones with a slide and joined Kim Deal on vocals that switched from a coo to accusatory angst in a flash.
A few words here about Kim Deal’s voice as a featured instrument: It’s distinct, in the most nontraditional way possible. Breathy and distant yet captivating, Deal succeeds at using her voice as a distinct element of sound and as the means to communicate the many vagaries and joys of this human existence. The question becomes whether the songs she uses them to frame hold up, and occasionally on a mid-set tune like “Safari,” it felt like the band was performing a self-important art piece rather than a thoughtfully recorded song.
Those moments were spare, thankfully, and on the whole the band’s compact 85-minute set was high on energy, confidence and veteran savvy. So much so that running out “Cannonball” in the home stretch before the encore felt like a perfect move. Why save it for later ? Just have fun.
Watching the band zooming all over its catalog on Saturday night, making creative left turns in their pacing and style almost at random, one gets the feeling that Kim Deal and company feel almost no pressure to live up to anyone’s expectations, which is exactly how they kept the whole room bubbling with effervescent energy the whole night.
After doing her own thing for this long, there’s no reason to change course now.
Wait In The Car
Dawn: Making An Effort
Drivin’ On 9
Walking With A Killer
I Just Wanna Get Along
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles cover)
Gigantic (Pixies cover)
Do You Love Me Now
UPDATE: This post has been updated because the Breeders did do a tour several years ago where they played “Last Splash” from beginning to end, including an Austin show.
There’s something to be said for having the right setting.
And while Canadian indie rock duo Japandroids probably would have availed themselves perfectly well outdoors at this year’s never-to-be Sound On Sound Festival, it’s hard to think of a better time and place for their undeniable anthems than the dark and cave-like Emo’s concert hall where sounds can reverberate and grow even bigger.
Since the band’s 2009 debut album, guitarist Brian King has brandished one of those rare, singular guitar tones that make a Japandroids song identifiable almost immediately. Kind of the same thing Bob Mould pulled off with Sugar and his later solo work; a handful of Britpop bands managed to create their own tone brand as well.
In a live setting we hear that the key to King’s tuneful fuzz is expert use of sustain effect, so his parts build into a gigantic wave that makes the songs like the newer “North East South West” or an earlier cut like “Young Hearts Spark Fire” take over a room cut in half with an acoustic curtain and filled with 800 fans. A descriptor like “anthemic” applies to nearly the whole body of Japandroids’ work, and would make for a fine title for a career-spanning anthology one day.
Another key: right from the drop King attacked his vocals on Saturday night, sweating by two minutes into show opener “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” and only pulling back his intensity when newer, more deliberate songs like “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” required restraint and control in his delivery.
Three albums into their two-man attack, King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse have started to change up their sonic ingredients, and Saturday showed that their fans are willing to take the journey with them. It takes guts for a band that built its name on in-the-red intensity to trot out a seven-minute synth-phony like “Arc Of Bar” – with a heavily effected guitar backing track running under everything – but the song holds up and expands the band’s sound because King and Prowse still deliver the buildup and payoff crowds have come to expect.
Of course the highest points came on the trio of undeniable anthems – “Fire’s Highway,” “Nights Of Wine And Roses” and “The House That Heaven Built” – from the band’s sophomore album that are some of the most reliable crowd-pleasers of at least the past decade.
The final song of that trio closed off the concert at just over 90 minutes, and came after Dylan Baldi from opening band Cloud Nothings grabbed a bass guitar and joined the pair for a cover of “Dead Moon Night” from beloved cult band Dead Moon, whose founding member Fred Cole died last week at age 69.
It was a suite that married the indie rock canon that Japandroids have built themselves from with the confidence of always moving forward, loudly, with continuous thunder.
Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
Arc Of Bar
North East South West
True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will
Midnight To Morning
I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)
Nights Of Wine And Roses
No Known Drink Or Drug
Young Hearts Spark Fire
Dead Moon Night (Dead Moon cover)
The House That Heaven Built
For just over 75 minutes on Sunday night, James Mercer – who at this point in his career is the human being of most consequence behind indie rock heroes the Shins – gave a clinic on the many ways a songwriter can transform their material while still pleasing a close to sold-out crowd.
Sunday’s show at Emo’s was one of more than a dozen around Austin that was rescheduled in clubs to make up for the cancellation of Sound On Sound Festival. With his five-piece backing band in the mood to try just about anything, Mercer spent the tight and tidy 17-song set changing up the delivery of some of the Portland-by-way-of-Albuquerque band’s most popular songs.
That’s not to say the night was a Zappa-esque freakout. Instead, the atmosphere and backing elements of a song like “Gone For Good” slowed down into a moody exploration of almost Ennio Morricone soundtrack material, which helped to accentuate quotable lines like “I find a fatal flaw in the logic of love.”
Doing this takes guts, especially on songs like “Phantom Limb” or the career-defining “New Slang” that are some of the most sturdy and pristine pop songs of the 2000s. On Sunday, though, “Phantom Limb” was rearranged, more restrained and drenched in dreamy atmospherics, with Mercer noticeably altering the meter and pacing of the vocals. That curveball didn’t throw the crowd, however, with fans responding loudly and taking over the “Ooooh-oh-oh” closing vocals before the entire band kicked back in for a cacophonous finish.
And “New Slang” – after a glitched and sped-up playing of the backing vocal track recording that felt like it might’ve been messed up on purpose as a goof – was played in a minimal and almost flat or removed style that was loyal enough to the original composition but kept it from turning into a full room karaoke sing-along.
Another highlight: the three-song suite toward the middle the of the set – “Gone For Good,” “Mildenhill” and “Saint Simon – that were played as arid and somber, with violins, some minor key arrangement and Mercer crooning instead of using his standard pinched high vocals.
Now more than 20 years since forming the band that initially trafficked in wafer delicate and sparse songs, Mercer is at a point where he can rework those songs pretty much any way he wants.
Whether that means taking an early delicate track like “Caring Is Creepy” and blowing it up into a full band anthem, or doing almost the reverse on other songs, he and his bandmates showed on Sunday that those songs hold up, no matter how they’re played.
Caring Is Creepy
Name For You
Kissing The Lipless
Mine’s Not A High Horse
Gone For Good
Painting A Hole
Half A Million
Even as the top-billed performer for an outdoor concert at Auditorium Shores, there was no mistaking that classic rocker John Fogerty was sharing the limelight Sunday with a very big armadillo-shaped shadow.
That was by intent, partially, since the latest fundraising concert from the All ATX music advocacy group was billed as “Back To The Armadillo” and aimed at those who treasure the memories of the long-gone Armadillo World Headquarters concert venue. It was tough to escape the venue’s legacy in the lead-up to Fogerty’s show-closing set, with performers and a series of video tributes evoking memories of the birth of Austin as a musical hotbed.
That meant a younger artist like Shakey Graves, perhaps Austin’s strongest stylistic decendent of the “cosmic cowboy” scene, made things a bit uneasy during some between-song banter about how he appreciates what Austin has become — before offering that “it’s not the building, but the people in it” that make a club special.
More historically telling was the video of a 1993 speech by former governor Ann Richards, touting the Armadillo and its owner Eddie Wilson for their role in making Austin and artists such as Willie Nelson world-famous.
The living links to “the Dillo” were alive and well during short sets by “Armadillo All Stars” Michael Martin Murphey, Gary P. Nunn and Shawn Sahm, son of Texas music legend Doug Sahm. They revived classics such as “London Homesick Blues” (yes, the “home with the armadillo” song) and “Cosmic Cowboy” that either name-checked or evoked vivid memories of the club where country, blues, rock ’n’ roll and other styles happily mixed together.
That dynamic made for something of a disconnect when the spotlight fell on Fogerty, an artist with no direct link to the venue but whose swamp-rock canon would’ve fit in well there. The schism didn’t detract from Fogerty’s performance, with the roughly 4,000 concertgoers quickly and easily shifting into sing-along mode for a string of hits from his former band Creedence Clearwater Revival that were crisp and punchy throughout a 60-minute set.
It was frankly surprising to see Fogerty, 72, acting and playing with the vitality of someone perhaps 25 years younger. He jogged around the stage as he leaned into hits such as “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising” with his bandmates, his voice never wavering or having to change registers.
A pair of long jams on “Keep On Chooglin’” and a reworked version of “Lodi” let Fogerty give some attention to his accompanying guitarist and son, Shane Fogerty. And a nice treat for those paying attention: During “Centerfield,” the singer slipped in a mention of Houston Astros hero Jose Altuve on the same night the second baseman wound up hitting a crucial home run in a World Series game.
The concert began at 4 p.m. with mini-sets of one to four songs each by 10 Austin acts who are featured on the new All ATX “Back to the Armadillo” compiliation CD, which was being sold at the show. Proceeds from both the concert and the disc go to four Austin organizations working toward affordability issues for Austin artists: Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the SIMS Foundation, Black Fret and the Austin Music Foundation.
Everyone on the CD covered a song by an artist who performed at the Armadillo, and many made some surprising choices. Atmospheric rock band My Jerusalem pushed Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” into uncharted dirge-like territory, with Amy Nelson of Folk Uke sitting in. Country couple Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison put a roots-folk spin on Steely Dan’s classic-rock nugget “Dirty Work,” dedicating the song to the late Walter Becker. Another recently departed Armadillo alum, Leon Russell, received a beautiful salute from Jack Ingram with a hushed, heartfelt version of “A Song for You.”
Power-pop band Fastball played its two biggest hits, “The Way” and “Out of My Head” — which, along with Murphey’s dazzling performance later of his 1975 smash “Wildfire,” meant this audience may have gotten to hear the highest-charting pop songs ever to come out of Austin from someone other than Christopher Cross. But Fastball’s most intriguing turn was its cut off of the CD, deep-blues turn on their fellow Texas trio ZZ Top’s “Tush.”
Also performing early were the father-son team of Jon Dee & William Harries Graham, sibling blues belters the Peterson Brothers, electronica duo Night Drive, blues rocker Eric Tessmer with guest vocalist James Robinson and pop-rock singer Jane Ellen Bryant.
Longtime local latin-jazz ensemble Beto & the Fairlanes kicked off the brilliantly sunny and mild afternoon with a four-song set that rekindled memories of the band’s many performances at the Armadillo in the 1970s. KUTX’s Jody Denberg, who recalled memories of great nights at the Armadillo with Frank Zappa, Talking Heads and Van Morrison, kept things rolling throughout the six-hour show with informative details about the performers and the Armadillo-era songs they performed.