Monthly Archives: December 2019

The Safes – Winning Combination

Album: Winning Combination

Artist: The Safes

Label: Bickerton Records / Action Weekend Records

Release Date: September 06, 2019

 

www.thesafes.bandcamp.com

BY TIM HINELY

Chicago sibling band The Safes have been at it for nearly two decades now (my introduction to them was the Boogie Woogie Rumble EP from 2004) . They started out more roughed up garage rockers but their sound has changed over the years. Yes. the O’Malley brothers, Frank on vocals/guitar/lots more same with Patrick while the rhythm section is held down by Mike (bass) and Sean (drums) have matured over the years, as well all do (well, most of us). The sound created on Winning Combination is more like a chamber pop record, which I happen to love. In addition to the four core O’Malleys they brought in 15 other family members, mostly nieces and nephews, who don’t have the O’Malley last name but adding in violin, cello and much more and the resulting record is a lovely, melodic low-key affair with truly terrific songwriting and a real sense of purpose.

Opening cut “It’s True” makes the initial statement but other cuts like the piano pop of “Dreams That Ignite” and the swirling, swaying beauty of “The Rest of My Life” and the darker “Open Your Eyes” further punctuate it with a sense of beauty not heard on other Safes records. I’m hearing echoes of brilliant pilgrims like  the Left Banke or The Zombies (with occasional nods to heavies like The Kinks) so these gents really did their homework. While you’re listening don’t miss the dreamy “The Shell Spell” or the epic “Ship Sinking Grin.” The Safes made the record they truly wanted to and in doing so they knocked it so much further with less tone and bluster. I guess, on the end, what I’m trying to say is do not miss Winning Combination.

DOWNLOAD:  “It’s True,” “Dreams That Ignite,” “Ship Sinking Grin”

EDDIE HEINZELMAN – Wherever You Go

Album: Wherever You Go

Artist: EDDIE HEINZELMAN

Label: One Louder Records

Release Date: November 08, 2019

www.eddieheinzelman.com

The Upshot: Crack Nashville session guitarist reveals multiple talents, moving far closer than 20 Feet From Stardom.

 BY ERIC THOM

 “Close, but no cigar”, is the sad takeaway for anyone who absorbed the endearing, Academy Award-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. However, Radney Foster’s backing guitarist revels in stepping well out from the shadows, revealing much more than his ability to play scorching guitar. His pedigree is pure. He’s not only met, if not exceeded, Foster’s legendary standards, but has also played alongside such country royalty as Lee Roy Parnell, Ricky Skaggs, Darden Smith, Vince Gill and Bill Lloyd (not to mention stretching into jazz, pop and opera territories as gun-for-hire). This display of depth may serve to explain the Indiana native’s inventive range but it’s interesting to note that the proverbial kick-to-the-head – the one that makes you decide on a career in music (at age 12) – came in the form of a revelation upon hearing Led Zeppelin IV for the first time. It explains a lot.

The overriding feel from these 10 self-penned originals (one, a co-write with Foster) opens a door to a genre that’s been left wanting since the untimely demise of the many of its progenitors: southern rock. And, as many a fan already knows, the blend of country, blues and rock are the key ingredients to this sacred genre. Heinzelman proves a shoe-in, despite hailing from north of the Macon-Dixon line. On Wherever You Go, his sophomore release, he launches with both barrels blazing on “Medicine”, combining the low grind of tough-edged guitar, his surprisingly solid vocals – tempered by Kendra Chantelle’s sweet, soulful backup – and the aggressive keyboards of John Henry Trinko. His slowed-down, honky-tonkin’ tribute to the great Mary Gauthier (“Dammit, Mary”) – one of Heinzelman’s songwriting idols – adds additional proof as to the strength, lustre and slight edge to his voice, as Trinko’s distinctive 88’s pound things home. The first sweet taste of the south comes in the form of “The Road” and Trinko’s (John Lancaster’s?) delicate piano accompaniment to Heinzelman’s surprisingly Allman-esque vocal, as B3 and weeping slide up the ante while adding rich colour to a song about the loneliness of the road. “Steal Away” is a palate cleanser and a gentle, too-short instrumental that leans heavily on acoustic guitar that alternates with two speeds as Heinzelman offsets his peaceful, easy feeling with lightning-fast, Al Di Meola runs that cascade in and around the main melody. It’s a lovely set-up to the disc’s key salvo, the 6 ½ minute “Dandelion” – a laidback yet riveting country blues composition that is all about scintillating B3 and sensual swathes of slide. As an added treat, “Dandelion” adds extra guitar muscle in the form of the Kentucky Headhunter’s Greg Martin as both artists pivot off each other like a pair of barn swallows on a day off. Vocally, Heinzelman could be a dead ringer for Glenn Frey (too soon?) and the wisdom of supporting the composition with the Bougainvillea-sweet ’n’ sultry backup vocals of Kendra Chantelle and (unidentified) lifts this piece skyward. If this song went on for another 10 minutes, it would still be way too short. Cue “The Heart Knows What It Needs“ – a more traditional country track that champions piano, country guitar and speaking one’s mind as it slags the state of current-day Nashville. The heartbreaking “Lonely Outweighs Regret” chronicles another twist of life on the road, as soul-stirring B3 (Trinko?) and stand-out piano (Lancaster?) join Heinzelman’s searing, snarling slide guitar, substantial enough to almost cut through the guilt of the next morning. “Shufflin’” is the second instrumental and one that again reveals a more jazzlike approach to Heinzelman’s guitar technique, relying on the equally gifted skills of piano/B3 players John Henry Trinko and John Lancaster. Bassist Tommy MacDonald goes to town with a funky touch while Casey Wood’s drums resound with a fatness that he carries throughout the album.

Following this, “Miss TLC” proves a surprise as the band exorcises a few demons with a down ’n’ dirty rock approach featuring a pounding beat as Heinzelman and (Trinko/Lancaster) spar over a straightforward vocal about a local tease, tossing in thick slabs of B3 and enough sensuous guitar solos to require a shower afterwards. Even “Miss TLC” gets in on this lowdown bump’n’grinder. Heinzelman’s duo with Foster on “Wherever You Go” is pure pop bliss – a sizzling single if there still was such a thing. Two sensational singing voices meld on an upbeat pop song, replete with bubbly chorus as Chantelle adds some melted butter into the background. Plenty of guitar bookends the piece, somewhat muted so as to not compete with the voices. This track sets its hook deeply and, before long, you’re singing it to yourself every time you hear it.

This album remains a pleasant surprise. Heinzelman is a phenomenal songwriter, a superb, range-friendly vocalist and searing-yet-sensitive guitarist, deserving serious praise for his ability to paint a complete picture. He may be a respected guitar-slinger-for-hire but he’s clearly got the talent to take this anywhere he’d like to go.

DAN ISRAEL – Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Album: Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Artist: Dan Israel

Label: One Louder Records

Release Date: October 11, 2019

 

www.DanIsraelMusic.com

The Upshot: Long-running singer-songwriter has released fifteen albums exploring his various musical passions but has finally found his comfort zone.

BY ERIC THOM

Dan Israel has had a long, impressive career – chipping away at everything from introspective singer-songwriter fare to alt-country before there was such a thing. He’s relentlessly sought respect for his craft and has smashed his head against the wall more times than he’s ever deserved to. A crack songwriter, Dan has had his Dylan phase but, without maybe knowing it, always wanted to be a Beatle. Along the way, he’s honed his wordsmithing skills and, despite his patented, world-weary sound, he knows his way around solid pop fare. On this – his fifteenth album – it all comes together. Surrounded with skilled, simpatico players who have built him the ultimate sound bed to feel comfortable in, this oddly K-Tel–looking package contains a dozen legitimate jewels. And while we’ll never have the Beatles back, Social Media Anxiety Disorder goes a long way towards rekindling that sparkle of smart pop recalling Lennon-McCartney, Nick Lowe – even Beck (Bek), at times. Through all of it, Dan is still Dan….strumming his acoustic guitar and singing his slightly nasal-toned, Dylan-hued,  “shout and fall” vocals. However, with ‘Anxiety’, he is entirely reborn, if not completely rejuvenated. Credit the quality of the songs and the caliber of the accompaniment, but this has the energy and innocence of a debut, give or take 22 years.

With one of the brightest intro tracks ever, “Be My Girl” is the epitome of bright, sunny pop songs built on a beaming bed of exuberant horns (Paul Odegaard, overdubbed) as Dan is hustled along, hurtling headlong to keep pace with this energetic barn-burner. Clearly the front man, Israel’s having the time of his life. Cue the Beatle-esque “125” – the album’s best track, from the choice of many – driven along by Steve Price’s serpentine bass plus scorching lead guitar and effects from Steve Brantseg, his Harrison-imbued, psychedelic overtone lending a mystical feel. Blend in Janey Winterbauer’s ethereal backup vocal and Israel’s own processed vox and one wonders – has Israel finally exposed his inner Bangle? Despite the child-like intro of “Just Can’t Take It”, this is great Nick Lowe-grade pop – all acoustic guitar and David Russ’ fat drum sound. The song gets a bit busy with itself and momentarily loses its way, yet the band displays an experimental edge that has nothing to do with taking it the easy way. The lush contrast supplied by the comparably intimate “Still I’m Lost”, featuring more acoustic guitar, B3 and electric keyboards, serves up multiple hooks and, again, assumes a slightly cosmic trajectory as Jeremy Yivisaker’s lead guitar and Steve Price’s keyboards mimic Israel’s vocal with an elaborate, somewhat mournful – if not entirely hypnotic – call and answer. Another standout track. “Might as Well be Me” lightens up to reveal a face-forward Israel vocal, perked up by David Russ’ bouncy drumbeat, as Jon Herchert’s sinewy slide eventually drives the tune into a pleasing overdrive. “Another Day” provides another exceptional pop song – Israel’s voice is in top form as chiming guitars meet Jeremy Yivisaker’s slide guitar which, itself, lends even more of a definitive Harrison flavor. Israel’s lyrics, too, ignite a strong rhythm of their own, underlining the song’s strong pop edge. “Just Can’t Take It Revisited” has a somewhat sleepy start with its dreamy vocals and what sounds like a child’s xylophone, as mix of spoken word and something bordering on rant-meets-rap erupts as the band falls into place. If this was simply a case of a late night in the studio for Israel, his bandmates fly in with inventive, toe-to-toe experimentation as lively bass and piano, distortion effects and searing guitar turn what might have started as a joke into an infectious surprise of a track. Another highlight, “Tired”, returns Dan to where he started, emulating Dylan but leaning heavily on the majesty of Peter Anderson’s drums, Jon Duncan’s meaty B3, Steve Price’s bass and banjo to transform this potentially sad, introspective study into a bona fide toe-tapper. Cue “Alright” for some lighter pop fare with its military drum intro, cheerful electric keyboards and simple chording, yet its amped up, rigorous chorus treatment heavies things up as Herchert’s bass and harder-edged guitar moves this ditty into hearty XTC territory at times. Mark “Here for Today” down as their reliable rocker and veritable palate-cleansing sorbet as dynamic, ringing guitars and distinctive slide land a bulletproof hook as Dan reverts to rock singer with a purpose. The band is in full acceleration, the production complex and stirring in its dynamic energy. “Out of my Hands”/”Out of my Hands” (Reprise) is a two-part exploration. The first rendition of “Out of my Hands” is a slower, Traveling Wilbury-inspired creeper that features more Harrison-styled guitar from Herchert, dovetailed together with acoustic guitars, slightly heavy-handed percussion and church bells until it Magical Mystery Tours itself into fresh turf at the halfway point, featuring baritone guitars, mechanical-sounding backup vocals, a strings effect and some delicious Harrison slide against acoustic guitar and telltale bells. Part Two replays elements of the first version but introduces the full lung power of guest vocalist Tonia Hughes Kendrick, who lifts the familiar theme into full testifying territory. The song plays itself out with a church-like choir of angels as Kendrick turns on her more sultry side. Together, this is one hell of an epic composition that threatens to fall off the edge of the earth, yet scores big points for simply being something incredibly unexpected.

Influences aside, this is Dan Israel’s strongest effort to date – a rich and varied playbook of the music he loves most, driven home by an eclectic and imaginative host of cohorts dedicated to seeing through his vision. It works really well and will revitalize any playlist instantly. No wonder Dan’s laughing so heartily on “Just Can’t Take It, Revisited”. He deserves to.

 

THE ROOTS – Things Fall Apart

Album: Things Fall Apart

Artist: Roots

Label: Universal

Release Date: September 27, 2019

The Roots’ ‘Things Fall Apart’ Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Deluxe Reissue

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

The finest Roots album in this reviewer’s opinion has been given a loving, deluxe reissue by Universal Music. Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time reviewing an album that’s been reviewed to death, I want to talk about the total package that’s on offer. First my review is based on the 3 LP black vinyl edition and when I got this in the mail my jaw dropped, because it’s a heavy package chock full of important extra tracks as well as some incredible track by track commentary by Questlove and Black Thought, presented in a beautiful LP sized booklet that’s chock full of some amazing period photos. Spanning 3 LP’s this “Ultimate Edition” brings it hard but if there’s one thing I find a bit of head scratcher, is why not give 180g editions of the LP’s instead of their 150g thinner counterparts? You spend this amount of money these days and you deserve 180g or 200g. That aside in terms of fidelity I played the LP’s back on my Denon turntable with my Ortofon stylus and the sound was warm and expansive, filling the room with a good mix of bass and midrange sound. Thankfully unlike some labels where fresh vinyl is filled with poor pressing skips, this vinyl plays solid from start to runoff groove with zero audible sound in between the tracks. “What You Want” just blew me away and “thumps hard” just like Black Thought’s lyric.  This track was actually my intro to this album back when I was living in Beijing. I caught the video on Channel V and made a note to myself that the next time I visited HK to go to HMV and pick it up, which I eventually did. This reissue is a must for fans of the band and people who want to hear a true artwork with the vision and tunes to back it up. With a front cover of black youth being chased in Bed-Stuy by white cops, the album which is 20 years old this year sadly finds an America still mired in racism. But the message that comes ringing loud and clear from the record is that there’s hope amongst the cracks in the sidewalk. Amen to that.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN:  “The Next Movement” “100% Dundee” “What You Want” “Adrenaline” “You Got Me” (Drum & Bass Mix)

 

AVETT BROTHERS – Closer Than Together

Album: Closer Than Together

Artist: Avett Brothers

Label: Republic

Release Date: October 04, 2019

Republic Records

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s apparent that the Avett Brothers’ musical momentum remains undiminished. That’s obviously affirmed by the big label mechanism gifted them by their record company, American Records, and the recruitment of mercurial maestro Rick Rubin to sit behind the boards. With Closer Than Ever, the shift in their MO at first seems to be indicated courtesy of the heightened production values that define opening track “Bleeding White” in particular.

Fortunately though, the Avetts haven’t forsaken the fragile charm and tenuous underpinnings that  made their homegrown sound such an indelible part of their seminal sounds. On “We Americans” for example, they revert to the softer, more subdued delivery once so essential to their modest intents. The song is a sly deflation of the American mantra, but the unassuming approach belies any bitterness or recrimination.

While the band may seem more aware of emphatic expression overall, many of the melodies maintain the anthemic perspective that ‘s always been so inherent and inspired. “Long Story Short” offers the album’s best example; with little more than acoustic guitar, cello and high, harmony, they share the story of everyday individuals bound by dysfunction and desire. Like the best of the Avetts’ material, it’s touching and poignant all by the same measure. The same could be said of the simple sing-alongs that follow, the light and lilting “C Sections and Railway Trestles” and the decidedly delicate “Bang Bang with its strings and sweetening,” as well as the tender and touching “Who Will I Hold.”

Aside from the obvious flourishes, the brothers’ facility for supple storytelling in pointed, poignant fashion remains the surest sign of the band’s continuing maturity. As a result, Closer Than Ever finds the Avett Brothers not only close, but fully arrived.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “We Americans,” “C Sections and Railway Trestles,” “Who Will I Hold”

BEN LEE – Quarter Century Classix

Album: Quarter Century Classix

Artist: Ben Lee

Label: New West

Release Date: November 22, 2019

www.newwestrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Given his unruly beginnings in an early ‘90s Aussie outfit that called itself Noise Addict, Ben Lee’s decision to retrace some seminal favorites from those  early ‘90s ought to come as little surprise.  So while Quarter Century Classix may be first and foremost a covers record, Lee’s inherent flair for sharing memorable melodies with an infectious energy serves him well here. The choice of material may not seem pop friendly initially, but even so, Lee demonstrates an ability to turn the work of some post punk provocateurs into something that’s not only intriguing, but surprisingly inventive as well.

Indeed, in many of the cases here, Lee takes an offhanded approach to the music that belies the darker designs of the originals. Archer of Loaf’s “Web in Front,” Fugazi’s “Blue Print” and Guided By Voice’s “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” all  take on an amiable, ambling presence that’s not only outwardly engaging, but practically transformative as well. Still, that’s nothing compared to the sweet pastiche he gives Built To Spill’s “Car” and the effusive energy endowed in Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” the latter now sounding like a classic incarnate. The psychedelic sheen of “Get Me” (Dinosaur) and “In the Mouth of a Desert” (Pavement) add further illumination to the overall effort, while further confirming Lee’s  own inventive instincts.

Though it started out as an inconsequential attempt to revisit Lee’s early influences through  some impromptu hotel room recordings, Quarter Century Classix was later spurred on by the assistance of various artists who can also claim credence as far as that essential era — among them, Mike Watt, William Tyler, Petra Haden, Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, harpist Mary Lattimore, drummer Joey Waronker, and electronic artist Julianna Barwick. It’s a formidable crew, but Lee’s obvious infatuation with the material is the thing that gives the album its unmistakable allure. Even a quarter century on, Lee instills these so-called classix with a renewed credence and conviction of his own.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Speeding Motorcycle,” “Get Me,” “Web in Front”

To read a brief – and fun – essay that Lee himself penned about this delightful album’s originals, go here.

 

THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICE – Beatrice’s Guitar

Album: Beatrice’s Guitar

Artist: Intelligence Service

Label: self-released

Release Date: November 21, 2019

https://theintelligenceservice.bandcamp.com/album/beatrices-guitar

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

The Intelligence Service fascinate on this record as they take us on a journey to the center of the angst filled soul. The album opens with the appropriately titled track “In a Hole” which is an epic 18-minute, rather unsettling composition that explores the trauma of existence. It’s a journey to hell and back again, presenting catharsis in its purest form.  With dense squally psychedelic stretches punctuated by some amazing organ playing, the band have upped the level of their songwriting in a very serious way. The track is fucking dripping with greatness. I can only imagine that live, this would detonate hard in a a subterranean hall, rife with the smell of sweat and craft beer.

“People are Sleeping” is a toe tapping guttural hymn soaked in a goth punk lacquer. Alex Pen’s vocals are a constant mule kick to the dome that pulverizes everything in sight.  “Hunt You Down” sounds as if Tad Doyle is fronting The Normal. It’s vicious and bathes everything in an acidic vitriol. ”Beatrice’s Daughter” is an off kilter pop song that summons the ghosts of the Velvet Underground, only to eventually to morph into a hornet’s nest buzz upon fade out. “Sicj” sincerely scared me, with its “gotta burn it down burn it to the ground” evil as fuck lyric repeating the whole length of the song. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin the band lure the listener into an infernal pit of hell with no means of return. Bloodcurdling yet brilliant, I’m not sure how I’ll sleep tonight.

A digital-only title at the moment, this needs a vinyl release. (Read a review of the band’s 2017 album, Transgressors.)

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “In a Hole” “People are Sleeping” “Hunt You Down” “Beatrice’s Daughter” “Sicj”

 

HEADLIGHT RIVALS – “Mattson”

Album: Mattson

Artist: Headlights

Label: Black Site

Release Date: November 01, 2019

www.blacksite.org

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

Driving down the road on a cool Midwestern day, I flip through the stations on my car’s radio. I scan the dial, hoping with each growing failure to find something concrete, something to move me past boredom, it dawns on me that, rock and roll as an art-form, is a wounded animal alone in the forest looking for a quiet, beautiful place to die.  In its place is the rise of easy to digest, autotuned, sanitized and ultimately, boring music, a white-washed version of what use to be considered cool and ultimately, worthwhile.

Unless you dig deep past metal and the abomination that is buttrock and the Five Finger Death Punches of an exceedingly awful rock horizon, good bar rock can be hard to find. Where are the bands that embody what it means to embrace what came before, forging ahead toward a new day rising? Something to foster, love and support when you find it, one that celebrates the idea that making good, thought provoking music, partying hard while pulling rock from it drudgery.

I found just such a band in “The Little Apple” Manhattan, Kansas.  They are Headlight Rivals.

The band’s debut full-length “Mattson” for Kansas City, Missouri based Blacksite Records is a tour de force; blending influences such as The Replacements, The Who, Son Volt, Sugar, the drunken brilliance of Guided by Voices, a fair helping of early days Soul Asylum mixed with a hefty dose of Memphis, Tennessee forgotten giants Big Star.

Headlight Rivals have put all their cards on the table here, releasing an album that is truly a work of passion, persistence and straight ahead rock n roll.  “Mattson” (named for Rich Mattson,the owner of Sparta Sound in Evelth, Minnesota where it was recorded) mixes melody with aggression, sound and fury;  killer guitars from Eric Kleiner, a fat low end courtesy of Seven Black and phenomenal drumming brought by Eric’s cousin Kris Kleiner, the trio’s killer playing is augmented here by masterful mixing and engineering from Rich Mattson, all pieces coming together to create an album that will not be soon forgotten, a great first shot in a catalog that will certainly be stacked to the rafters by the time they lay down their instruments and charge towards the horizon, leaving their mark on Midwest music history and bars everywhere.

Opening with “All The Same to Me,” a rocker that elicits memories in me of listening to The ‘Mats and later period Husker Du while smoking a joint and hating my life in a rundown apartment in the middle of nowhere Missouri, the tones full, the playing unrivaled here in the heart of America..  “Some Ghosts” is a song about past loves and the pain that comes along with the exit, how the memories come flooding back to haunt you in the quiet times of the day, jamming like a track from “Still Gone” era Uncle Tupelo.  “So Well” blasts  from the speakers like a lost Matthew Sweet track, aching to the bone with pain and lose, exploding with guitars and lyrics drenched in melancholy.

While the ruckus that Headlight Rivals create may at times seem familiar, “Mattson” is by no means a re-hash of what came before; Seven, Eric and Kris clearly love rock and all that comes with it, molding something raw, wild and moving with “Mattson.” This is an album full of triumph and loss, blistering venom and soft melody.  What they have created is something that should be heard, absorbed and reflected on.  What the three piece from Kansas have given us isn’t just any album, “Mattson” is one of the best to see the light of day in 2019.

 

 

 

 

Levitation Festival 11/7-10/19, Austin

Dates: November 7-10, 2019

Location: Various Venues, Austin TX

 

The quintessential Lone Star State gathering of the tribes, natch, at multiple venues over the course of  November 7 thru 10. (Note: If you don’t recognize any given artist, hover mouse over a photo in order to read which band you are seeing.)

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY JOHN BOYDSTON

We know that Austin, Texas, is the music mecca, especially when it comes to festivals.   Levitation takes it up a notch by bringing in the best in Underground music and artists from around the known universe.   For four nights every year it goes into a hyper-space-warp frenzy bringing some of the best and brightest happening Psych, Metal, and Dream Pop music under one tent, or several clubs anyway.  It’s like a slice of SXSW but no filler, not that much walking, and you can actually get into venues.

Levitation happens in several venues with Stubb’s (which doubles as a fab BBQ joint) as the focal point featuring the closest things you get to headliners at this 4-day party.  Blurt Contributor John Boydston tried to cover as much ground as possible getting to all the acts, but realized early on it was a 4-person job, so this is what he got, some of the best, but of course, by no means all of it.

***

Thursday at Stubb’s the lineup was Vagabon, Devendra Banhart, and ready for her David Lynch Twin-Peaks soundtrack closeup, Angel Olsen.  All performers and crowd were braving a chilly temperature drop but soldiered on and got lost in the electric dreamscapes created by all of the above.  I caught a few bands down the street at Mohawk which was reveling in the glory of Texas metal warriors Creeping Death (Denton) and Power Trip (Dallas) among others. 

 

****

Friday night Stubb’s was alive with the magical psych-rock of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.   Not sure if Rev is short for revelry or revelation but both work for me after hearing this power house psych band lay it down.  Then the Flaming Lips killed the crowd with kindness, love, and confetti.  Just wow – and master Lip Wayne Coyne said it all with this blow-up ballon spelling it out for us. 

 

 

 

 

But wait, Friday was just starting after that show – I hauled my wagon of photo gear into other venues and heard one dynamite band after another any one of which you can see in Austin at these venues, but not likely on the same night, same bill.    I caught part of Stonefield’s power set, featuring the 4 psych rock sisters from an area of rural Australia known as Macedon Ranges.  Then over to The Barracuda and for the rest of the night heard in rapid succession Frankie and the Witch Fingers,  Elephant Stone (from Toronto and truly an East meets West rock experience), Death Valley Girls (always fantastic), Crocodiles (new to me but rocked like no band I’ve seen in years – must hear more), and Broncho ended this amazing night doing what they do but better, tighter, and more up than I’ve ever heard ‘em).

****

Saturday started mid-afternoon with Habibi – (NYC) bringing their internationally-inspired surfy 60’s girl pop to The Empire.  Then White Fence from SF.  Led by Tim Presley, a brilliant and underrated writer-singer-guitar picker who I can’t pin down exactly but think Ray Davies meets Piper at The Gates of Dawn.  Or The Kinks if Syd Barret was Dave Davies older bro.   And caught The Allah-Las who are currently touring, and have managed to seriously beef-up their stage sound without changing anything you may already love about this band, which is remarkable.

Not content with this fun, headed to Stubb’s Saturday night see openers and Waco psych kids Holy Wave, Levitation Festival curators and Austin’s own The Black Angels, who for my money have never sounded more up and alive in their not funhouse mirror takes on life.   A really dynamic and electrifying show for this band – and they would have carried the night had John Cale and his band not come out and taken it back.   Not sure what else you can say about Cale and his rock pedigree.  Being a founding member of The Velvet Underground would suffice but his 50-year career since is equally impressive.  Wasn’t expecting this 77-year old rock icon to come out and slay but he and his crack band did just that.   Thanks for having him, and me Levitation.  If you’ve outgrown SXSW and ACL is too crowded, save some dates on the calendar for this one – Fall 2020.