There is something quite surreal about finding several 100 music biz
insiders--from artists like former American Music Club leader Mark Eitzel to
media types like Rolling Stone's David Fricke--at a hole-in-the-wall
club like the Electric Lounge, which is located down an unpaved road on the
outskirts of Austin.
All the same, that is exactly where these jaded
hipsters are, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 15. One of three reasons
explains their appearance:
1) Free beer;
2) They know Ira Robbins, who
is celebrating the publication of The Trouser Press Guide To '90s Rock,
which he edited, and the launch of his Trouser Press web site (full
disclosure time: the Trouser Press site is a joint venture between
Robbins and Addicted To Noise's new owner, SonicNet, Inc.).
3) They have
nothing better to do.
At this particular moment, Utensil, a sometime band
comprised of Robbins on guitar, journalist Michael Azerrad on drums and
publicist Jim Merlis on bass--and cranking through '70s and '80s punk and new
wave covers like Public Image LTD's first single, "Public Image" and Billy
Idol's "Dancing With Myself" with the help of a succession of professional and
Certainly the novelty of a band consisting of
two rock critics and a...
Certainly the novelty of a band consisting of two rock
critics and a publicist backing journalist Gina Arnold, say, or jamming with
Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, is enough to keep the crowd's attention.
Spectator sport? You bet. All the same, by the end of the party, former Breeder
Kelly Deal has delivered a mostly positive assessment of Arnold's performance.
Rock stars reviewing rock critics? Can you get more surreal than that?
can have ones faith in rock 'n' roll renewed in the most unlikely places, and
while I certainly wasn't looking for it, it seemed that everywhere I went in
Austin during a 24 hour period, I found music that confirmed my conviction that
there are still artists that can make you feel something.
Take Run On a
band that were low on the bill at the Friday night Matador Records showcase at
Liberty Lunch. This four piece combo (guitar, drums, bass, keyboards/violin)
began their set with a defiant squeal of feedback and a roar of the rhythm
section that transformed me from casual observer to fan by the end of the first
song, an instrumental called "Switch On."
When Run On had finished "As Good
As New," a drone rock masterpiece with John Cale-influenced violin work, I
turned to Matador kingpin Gerard Cosloy and asked him if he and his partner
still personally OKed all artist signings at the label. He nodded. So that's
how you keep Matador's high standards," I said.
"Or low standards,
depending on who you ask," he replied with a laugh. Its the kind
self-depreciating comment that the guy who signed Pavement, Guided By Voices,
Silkworm and Liz Phair (to name but a few) can afford to make.
at the Cactus Club, located in the University of Texas student union, Everclear
leader Art Alexakis made his way through the crowd of about 100, picked up an
acoustic guitar and began the first performance of his solo tour. "You can tell
I don't play acoustic guitar as much as I should," Alexakis said.
problem. Stripped down versions of "Heroin Girl," The Twistinside," Strawberry"
and "Summerland" demonstrated just how strong a songwriter Alexakis is. At
times he barely played the guitar at all, creating a muted rhythm over which he
sang the melody.
But it wasn't the unplugged greatest hits that moved me.
Alexakis seems uneasy with the success that came after the release of
Sparkle and Fade. He has long felt like an outsider, and a fat bank
account hasn't changed that at all. "I just wanta be normal like you," he sang
at one point. When he sang the words, "no one here cares about us anyway"
during "Summerland," you could hear the vulnerable kid, abandoned by first his
dad, then his mom.
He sang a new song, "Annabella's Song," about his
daughter, in which he admits "You know I'm never home/ I'm miles and miles
away/ Man you just don't understand."
"Father Of Mine" begins, "Father of
mine/ Tell me where you have been.../ Wasn't easy for me to be a skinny white
boy in a black neighborhood..." And later: "I will always be weird
Looking out at the appreciative crowd, the singer laughed.
"Another feel good song from Art Alexakis."
They had set up speakers
outside the Austin Music Hall, so that standing in the cold, you could hear
Carl Perkins, one of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll, sing "Blue Suede
Shoes," the song he wrote that was a hit for Elvis in the mid-'50s. Talk about
a study in contrasts, Perkins rockabilly was still ringing in my ears at Bob
Popular, a 6th Avenue bar/disco where Spring Heel Jack turned in a so-so techno
set that never reached the peaks of their debut album.
Heaven may indeed
be in the backseat of someone's Cadillac, but you could also find it upstairs
at a private party where the Dust Brothers demonstrated that they can do it
live just like they do it in the studio. Friday had become Saturday by the time
I left to get some sleep.
Somehow, someone convinced Mark Eitzel to not
only show up at the Electric Lounge, but to perform. I don't know who had the
idea for Eitzel to shout/sing the Eddie and the Hot Rods '70s rock anthem, "Do
Any Thing You Wanna Do," but it was a good one. Maybe even a great one.