There is live music 365 days a year in Austin - I'm just going to report on what I've seen or what new music I'm listening to!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Do all these people even have a way to play Vinyl???

Saturday was the 3rd installment of Record Store Day but the first we have been in the right place at the right time. In case you don't know over 200 special releases were created to be sold at the independent record stores - no big box stores for this one. Waterloo was our target and we got there about 9:45 AM but unfortunately Austin really gets it, because the line was all around the block. The good news was that for me anything we got was a bonus - what better to do on a cloudy Saturday morning. My only real target was a single from Bruce but even that was optional. The good news to me was that most of the crowd seemed to have a shopping list and it didn't seem like a real Springsteen crowd.

When the doors opened at 10 the line moved quickly and within 8 or 9 minutes we were in the door. Jo had come with fortunately as there was a one copy per shopper rule - which is a great rule in my opinion. With two aisles of special releases we decided to split up and good thing we did. My first grab was some Hendrix - a bootleg from a show in Mass in 1968 that included Foxey Lady and a cover of Wild Thing. Got to say that listening to it later it was a good pickup for $10 or so. Further down the aisle was a John Lennon packet that includes three separate singles and a poster and although I'm not a huge Lennon or Beatles fan it's a great Christmas present to have in stock. I also grabbed a Doors single with "People are Strange" as well and then the Stones released a single that was at the end of aisle 1. So it was a good start but still looking for Bruce.

The bad news was that turning corners was a struggle as the restocking guys were already out and about and shoppers were grabbing singles out of the box before he even got a chance to put them on the shelves. Looked like one of those classic shopping scenes on TV with the ladies fighting over purses and to be honest most of the bands that caused the struggle I hadn't even heard of. My next pickup was the new Josh Ritter full length LP - "So Runs the World Away". Great thing about this was not only did you get the new full length album but also a CD version inside - all for $17. And better yet the CD isn't being released until May 4 so we got it a couple of weeks early. I was a big fan of his "The Animal Years" CD that the folks at Easy Street in Seattle turned me on to a few years ago. His last disc, "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" didn't do much for me so I'm hoping this one grows on me!

Right about this time I also spotted an interesting single with the Courtyard Hounds (2/3 of the Dixie Chicks) on one side and Jakob Dylan on the other side. After seeing him at SXSW I have his new project on my list for the year of shows to see so I took one of these as well. Just about that time I ran into Jo as her aisle was much more crowded than the one I went up. And she had found the Bruce single and grabbed two copies -one for each of us. And fortunately we had split up since after she took the two there was only one more left and from what we could see the rest of the day - no restocking! The single has Wrecking Ball on side one (song written for the last show at Giants Stadium and which he also performed both nights we saw him at MSG in November) as well as "The Ghost of Tom Joad" featuring Tom Morello from Rage Agianst the Machine at the Anaheim show a couple of years ago. Even though I already have that on a Magic Tour Highlights CD it's always nice to have it in vinyl as well - it's a spectacular performance that my friend Bill in PHX was lucky enough to see live!

At that point we figured we had spent enough money on vinyl and decided to head for the check out line. It looked like Black Friday at Best Buy - all the way to the back of the store with two lines but it moved fast and only took about 15 minutes with a bonus! Not only did Waterloo get just about every one of the special releases but when checking out we were each given a special "Record Store Day" promo album featuring a bunch of new and breakout bands (including Austin's Alpha Rev who I have heard a lot of good things about) as well as a special Record Store Day shopping bag to carry your albums around in!

I have read a lot of complaining on some sites about the lack of inventory, copies being held back, etc but isn't that part of the fun. If there were unlimited copies would people really be all excited and stand in line? Even if I had been shut out it was a fun experience, I am lucky to live in a place with a spectacular record store (#2 in the newest Spin magazine ranking of Indpendent record stores) and we should be grateful that Record Store Day exists. Looking forward to Record Store Day #4 in 2011!

Up next - Off to the Northwest, at least one visit to Easy Street Records and hopefully some live music at the Crocodile Cafe!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Beautiful Spring Night in the City

Wednesday night was a great night of music - and two kinds of music. Our friends the Sierra's oldest son is graduating from UT in May with a degree in Jazz Performance. As part of that program he had a Student Recital early Wednesday evening in Bates Hall on the UT campus. First off, what a beautiful room for music, the acoustics were perfect. David is an exceptional drummer and even though I don't profess to be a jazz afficionado it was a really nice set. Four songs were played with David on the drums along with fellow music majors on stand-up bass and electric guitar really highlighted the relaxing effect of Jazz. Songs by John Coltrane and Henry Mancini were followed up by an original song of his that he played on the piano and sang on. I continue to be amazed by the ability to change instruments and still be a great musician - I guess it's kind of the same as going from the basketball court to the baseball diamond which I can at least relate to! Still, it would be nice to be able to play more than the opening bars of Frere Jacque on the piano.

When we went to see Elton John Saturday night we had grabbed some food at Scholz Bier Garten before the show. For those of you who don't know Scholz's is the oldest beer garden in TX - since 1886. What we didn't know until Saturday night was that they also have some of the best sausage we have had anywhere in town. We also saw a sign advertising their Wednesday night free music series starting this week with Slaid Cleaves. So when Jo brought up David's show there was an added bonus to me - sausage and Slaid! We headed back to Scholz's which was right down the street from the concert hall. The outdoor patio was pretty full as we got there 10 minutes before the show but we found some seats in the back that had a little table for us to have dinner on.

Slaid has been one of my favorites for a couple of years every since he released his album, "Unsung", which was him singing songs of others that had not been recorded. We went to his CD release party for "Everything You Love will be Taken Away" last spring at the Cactus Cafe and Jo was hooked! The front row seats didn't hurt either, he seems like one of the nicest and most honest guys playing music in town. It was a perfect 70 degrees out with a slight breeze and we had some more of the sausage, a brat and some great fajita nacho's along with a few Dr. Pepper's (only downside is Scholz's serves that other soft drink that I can't mention and not our fine Coke products).

Slaid opened with "Green Mountains and Me" from the latest disc and since he is a Maine native this song obviously means a lot to him. He seems so comfortable on stage and his band was Rick Richards on bass and Chojo Jacques on fiddle and mandolin. During the set when Slaid introduced the band he pointed out Rick and Chojo had not met until before the show - that just blows my mind how these guys just can play with anybody and sound great! Next up was "Hard to Believe" from the latest release which is a Midwestern tale that really hits home about the cold winters that I still do not miss.

Other highlights were:

Drinking Days - from the Wishbone CD - just a great song and one of my favorites - as well as Stephen King's about the changes one goes through as you "grow up"

Flowered Dresses = a song by Karen Poston from Unsung - it's just a beautiful song and tells the story of a young person who thinks all the problems between mom and dad are their fault.

Quick as Dreams - the true story of a jockey named Tommy Arthur - Slaid told a great story about going to Saratoga Springs and actually singing this song for Tommy's widow when she was in her 90's - brings back the stories from the early 1900's and ends as a very sad song

Wishbone - just a catchy song - still struggle to understand how this great singer of Americana doesn't have a bigger following while other knuckleheads with very few skills sell out much bigger places. The songs are just so good I could sit there and listen to his entire catalog.

And then my favorite thing to talk about. At the Cactus show Slaid told the story of a friend of his from Maine who is crazy sometimes and just leaves him messages with suggested song lyrics. One such lyric was "Where can a good man go crazy, where can a cowboy get stoned" and he had written it down in his book. The friend kept talking about it and finally Slaid found a place for it in the song "Tumbleweed Stew." About three months later we were up in KC helping Brittany set up her classroom and I was in charge of organizing her book shelves when I stumble across a kid's book entitled "Tumbleweed Stew". I put the book in my carry bag and have had it in my office for 6 months or so. I brought it with Wednesday night and in between sets when Slaid was signing things I told him the story and gave him the book. He had no idea there was a children's book named "Tumbleweed Stew" but now he has it for his collection!

After an hour set the band took a break and we decided it was a good time to head home after enjoying nearly a dozen songs from one of Austin's best storytellers. If you get a chance check out more details at and when you hear of Slaid coming to town get out there and see one of the best songwriters you will see anywhere.

Next up - 2 big things - Saturday is Record Store Day so make sure you help support your local independent record stores - I know I will be in line at Waterloo Records early Saturday for the special Bruce release on vinyl of Wrecking Ball backed with Ghost of Tom Joad featuring Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine

And then next week we will take a little break from Austin and head to Seattle for the weekend and I hope to catch Jackie Greene at the Crocodile Cafe to sample the Seattle music scene.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Let the Light In" from Amy Cook

We had not really heard of Amy until about two years ago when we spent the day helping Tift at KGSR. Tift introduced us to her but we thought she was just a friend - had no idea that she was a singer as well. When she seemed to be responsible for tuning Tift's guitar maybe that should have been a clue. She opened the show that night at the Parish and she played some good songs in that 30 minute set. I picked up "The Sky Observer's Guide" a few months later and a week ago got her brand new disc "Let the Light In". We caught her at SXSanJose as detailed earlier in this blog but now that I have the disc it's given me a much better chance to listen to the new songs.

This new effort is produced by Alejandro Escovedo and I can hear his influences. Two members of his current band are playing with Amy as well - David Pulkingham on guitar and Bobby Daniel on bass and it's always good to hear the Tosca String Quartet on any record. After a week of steady airplay on the Ipod here's my favorites and not so favorites:


Get It Right - great opening track with a classic line - "We get it wrong sometimes and then we get it right" - isn't that the basis of almost everything we do in relationships? best song on the record in my opinion

Moonrise - first time I hear the Alejandro influence - more of a rocker

Hotel Lights - good song and getting lots of airplay on KGSR

Let's Go Down to the River - really good song that I like a lot with Patty Griffin on backing vocals

I wanna be your Marianne - another rocker and a fun song - need to see this one played live

Let the Light In - title track is a good closer

Not so favorites:

Mescaline - just kind of bores me

I like to go to Parties - seems out of place and lost on this CD

The other four songs are ok and maybe they will grow on me. I have heard Amy's voice compared to Sheryl Crow but I personally don't really hear it. I like this CD, think it's a great second disc and could lead to bigger and better things. But we all know that is hard to predict in the crazy music business. Check her out and learn more about her in this very in depth Austin Chronicle cover story:

Rocketman returns to Austin

Elton John returned to the Erwin Center Saturday night for the first time since the late 90's. We returned to the Erwin enter almost a year to the day from our last visit - but not quite as close this time as a year ago when Jo had her elbows on the stage for Bruce last April! We didn't even decide to go until Tuesday last week and only because I got an email that they were releasing some additional tickets for $47. What a deal and they were great seats. Although we were behind the stage we had a direct line to Elton's piano when we sat down in the 6th row of the upper bowl and with the row in front of us having one seat and our row having only three seats we had our own little section all to ourselves!

An email had come in Friday advising that the doors would open at 7 PM and the show would start promptly at 8 PM. I guess not everybody read that since at 8 PM the place was really empty. But miraculously it filled up in the next 15 minutes and the show started at 8:15 PM - no warmup band just Elton and his band. Amazingly this band includes two of the original members with Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olson on drums. I just read this morning that this was the highest gross selling show ever at the Erwin Center with sales of $1.3M surpassing Pavarotti so I guess the crowd was all there!

The show started with an extended instrumental opening to “Funeral for a Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding” as I'm guessing that was done on purpose to give everyone a chance to get in their seats. We had seen Elton long ago in Chicago at the United Center and although this show was many of the same songs, he is always the showman and a great entertainer. The highlight of the show to me was a great version of "Madman Across the Water" which isn't even one of my favorite songs but it was a terrific rendition of it. Near the end of the show I asked Jo, "What have we missed?" and she had a hard time of thinking of a song she wanted to hear that he hadn't played, my only request was "Crocodile Rock". I guess that made sense since it was the next and last song he played in the main set. Another outstanding performance of that song as well and definitely a great way to end the main set.

After a short break Elton came back out and here was a great twist. He walked all along the front of the stage signing all kinds of autographs. A real treat for the fans and they must have known he was going to do that as they came prepared. I would have never thought to do that.

My only disappointment was the encore. I'm a big proponent of making the encores special and that usually includes songs that rock. I want to go home with high energy in my head and I am used to that with Bruce shows. Elton played a great version of "Your Song" to start the encore but then just played "Circle of Life" from the Lion King and that was it. Again, it's a beautiful song but doesn't have me leaving the arena buzzing. Overall at over 2 1/2 hours of show time that is a great performance. Maybe Bono and the boys need to take notes on that.

Another interesting story was that before he sang "Philadelphia Freedom", which is a song I am not a big fan of and don't know how it fits in a show in Texas, he was thanking people. He pointed out one guy in the front row who we had been watching. This guy was into every single song, a little too much from my point of view but at least he was into it. The guy told Elton this was his 167th show. Seriously - 167 shows???? Do you really want to see anybody 167 times? Do you have a life? I am harassed by some for seeing Bruce 11 times - 167. Man that is a lot of Bennie and the Jets that's for sure.

Overall, a really strong show, a great price and a great Saturday night in Austin.

Austin Setlist:

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
Madman Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man
I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Take Me to the Pilot
Something About The Way You Look Tonight
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Candle in the Wind
You’re Never Too Old To Love Somebody
Honky Cat
Burn Down The Mission
Bennie and the Jets
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock

Your Song
Circle Of Life

Next up - Slaid Cleaves Wednesday night at Scholz Garden (hopefully)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Albums on the Way

I'm really looking forward to a rash of new releases in the next few weeks:

Amy Cook - Let the Light In - actually picked it up Saturday at Waterloo - review to follow shortly. Produced by Alejandro - met her at Tift's show last time she was in Austin and her songs just keep getting better.

Amy McDonald - A Curious Thing - out in Europe now and trying to figure out how to get this one in America - her follow up to the outstanding "This is the Life" that is on my Island CD list! We need her to come to America for some shows.

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away - out May 4. I am a huge fan of "The Animal Years" but was underwhelmed by the followup - "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" - am optimistic this will be good. Will be at Antones June 14.

Tift Merritt - See You on the Moon due out June 1. Have heard most of the songs and am expecting big things and a few shows in TX from this one.

Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love drops June 29. I heard that a guy from New Jersey might sing on one of the songs! More of a rock and roll sound with just guitar, bass and drums is what we are hearing.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Celebrity Day at Stubb's

One of the decisions that had to be made Friday night was "should we stay or should we go". This was based on the forecast for Saturday - clouds, 40's and rain possible. The question was should we stay out for some showcases in case Saturday was rainy and the big Rachael Ray party at Stubb's was not doable. The decision was made to go home and it couldn't really be that bad on Saturday - it was still in the 60's Friday night. I guess we missed that one as the thunder rolled in around 3 AM and rain followed - a lot of rain. The troops were still up early though and at 9:30 it was decision time so the layers came out and off we trudged on a cold Spring Break day.

Good news upon arrival - easy parking right across the street, relatively short line to get in and no rain, just cold and windy. Note to self - SXSW'ers are fair weather fans. The line moved quickly and we were inside right at the start of the party. Unfortunately the weather had slowed down progress and the stages were not ready to go. Stubb's is one of the biggest venues in Austin and there were two stages - one at each end of what I call a gravel pit - because that's what it is! There was another stage inside and that's what the long line was for - to get in out of the weather. We stood in that line and got inside to see Shayna Zaid & the Catch play the final song in a 15 minute set and then back outside.

Next up on the North Stage - Mishka. Now we all know he is under the direction of Austin's most famous bongo player but would he show? Of course he would so after Matthew McConaughy introduced him we got some early morning Mishka. Unfortunately I think his biggest claim to fame is his introducer!

Next up on the big stage was Bob Schneider as well as our first Rachael citing of the day. She loves Bob as this was at least the second year in a row he has played her party. Later that night he won all the awards at the Austin Music Awards - something like 7 and Bob put on his normal quality set. Some days it's hard to figure out how he hasn't broken nationally yet. The new song "40 Dogs" seems like it should be getting airplay everywhere. His popularity in Austin continues to grow and on this day after the Jesse James news he seems to be in a lot better shape than his old "friend" Sandra Bullock except he doesn't have an Academy Award!

Now on the big stage - The Cringe. You may say who is this Cringe he speaks of - the answer is that it's Rachael's husband's band. And THERE is the reason most of us believe the party exists. Listen to the Cringe and come back and tell me that they sound like a band that would get a 30 minute slot at any day party if they weren't connected. Highlight as last year was a cover song and during the cover of the Beatles we get Bob Schneider back singing backup (with the lyrics on his hand) and Mr. John Popper of Blues Traveler playing the harmonica. Hey I don't blame them for using their connections - tell me we wouldn't all do the same exact thing given the chance!

While this was going on we got our chance to sample Rach's food specially made for the Austin event. There were some unique recipes but combining the outside temperature and the size of the crowd no way the food can stay hot. Somehow a pulled pork sandwich and a meatball sandwich just aren't the same when they aren't hot. I personally think Stubb's with a capacity of 2,100 is just too big for food - albeit free food. But it was a great setup with bands at both ends of the venue.

On Friday the kids had tried to see the man they call Andrew WK at another party in the afternoon but weren't on the right guest list. A valuable thing you learn at SXSW - miss somebody today see them tomorrow. I had no idea what his music was but now that I have seen him I can tell you I still have no idea what his music is! The only thing I got out of it was "party" seemed to be in every song - and oh yeah he can whip his long hair around like a maniac, had several band members who look like they could be serial killers, and a chick in a leotard doing some exercises. Other than that I have no idea why anybody would pay $1 to see that so called act - call me old fashioned.

The last name act we got a chance to see was Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring Neko Case and Kelly Hogan). Now I am not a big Jakob fan as my only other experience with him was when he and the Wallflowers opened for Mellencamp a few years ago in San Antonio. The most memorable part of that was him complaining because no one was up dancing to his music - remember you are the opener, we are here to hear "Jack and Diane"! But I always want to give everybody a second chance and the three songs we got to hear all sounded great. They were rushed to the stage becasue Neko Case had a flight to catch as did all our guests so we had to cut short the set and head for the Austin airport. This meant we had to skip the remaining acts that we had hoped to see- Tom Morello's (Rage Against the Machine) new project Street Sweeper Social Club, Justin Townes Earle (Steve's son) and She & Him. I had been hoping to catch the Zoey Deschanel / M Ward duo all week but it never worked out. Well there's always next year.

Originally I had envisioned going back out Saturday night or catching Alejandro's Sunday night closer at the Continental Club as I wanted to catch Chuck Prophet. But after 5 hours out in the 40 degree weather any more music was pretty much out of the question. So SXSW 2010 was a wrap. It was a great time, our visitors were overwhelmed and impressed, and plans were already being made for SXSW 2011. Hope you all enjoyed the summary and got some new things to check out!

Next up - a last minute decision to grab some Elton John tickets for this Saturday at the Erwin Center - I know it's the same songs he played when we saw him 20 years ago but you can't beat a Saturday night singalong!