Monday, September 22, 2003

Music and (Counter-)Culture 101

During my trip, I got the chance to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park. Though we were basically there to hear Soulive, there was a whole day of music going on (and two days prior to that), so we had to catch some of the rest of it. Here are the highlights:

SOULIVE: These guys delivered the goods. They only had a 45-minute set, but they filled it up, and nobody seemed to mind that we all were getting rained on as we watched. Brothers Neal and Alan Evans (on organ and drums, respectively) were incredibly tight; you could just tell they'd been jamming together since they were kids. Guitarist Eric Krasno rounded out the group in fine fashion, either by doing fiery solos and lead lines or just contributing to the groove. They didn't play a single song I knew (since I don't have their very latest CD yet), but it was still awesome. (OK, they did bust into a bit of "Chameleon" for a second on their final extended jam.) I just hope I can catch them for a full set sometime soon (they said they were coming back to Austin in October or November).

DOYLE BRAMHALL: This guy wasn't on our original agenda, but we stopped by for a second and stayed for most of his set. He's a local Austin bluesman in the tradition of Stevie Ray Vaughan (I noticed some astounding similarities vocal-wise) who did some enjoyable stuff. The most obscure thing he did was a cover of the Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" (yes, it is a blues already), which he expanded quite a bit from the short version on the White Album. About the only thing I don't like about blues concerts is (OK, this may be the stupidest thing I ever write in the history of this blog, but I hope you get my point) that nearly all the songs are blues! I get burned out on that same chord sequence sometimes when it's done for six songs in a row; Chris and I were both saying that we would kill for a ii-V-I progression about that time. At any rate, the guy was definitely great at what he does, and hearing him added a cool flavor to the musical casserole we experienced that afternoon.

BEN KWELLER: I had heard of Ben for a long time, since his days as a teen phenomenon with the group Radish out of nearby Greenville. I'd also enjoyed his stuff on the listening station at Borders. So it was a bit disappointing to hear him start a little late, and with amp problems to boot. Then the first thing he said on the mic was that he'd had "a few Heinekens" before the show, and it showed--he just seemed a bit out-of-it. He had plenty of die-hard fans there who were totally digging it, but none of us in my group were really into it at the time. It picked up a little as the set went on, but we decided to migrate over to the other side of the park for the other group we wanted to see. I'm sure I'll give Ben another chance, but that just wasn't his day.

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: This was the group playing opposite Kweller on the other end of the festival. You may have heard of these guys: A band of over 20 members (the cast is ever-changing), all wearing white choir robes, with such atypical pop-band instruments as harp, piccolo and French horn, all led by former Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter. There's a definite Beatles influence running around here (they're huge in England, incidentally), and the orchestral sounds and DeLaughter's vocals reminded me of (a much more lighthearted) Mercury Rev. Everyone in the band and the audience was having a great time. The whole vibe of the band is "happy, happy, happy"...indeed, at the end of the set, a college-aged girl passed by us skipping all the way. (I'm not sure when the last time was that I saw an adult doing that.) You might have to be in a certain mood to enjoy this much happiness, but I thought it was awesome.

KARL DENSON'S TINY UNIVERSE: I had never really heard of these guys before the festival. The name Karl Denson rang a really small bell with me, and I had it in my head that it was sort of a jazz thing (plus the guys from Soulive said they would be jamming with him later that night), so we got there early to get close to the stage. It was more of a soul-funk band, but definitely very cool. Denson is a saxophonist and flautist (or as the idiot local DJ who introduced the band said, "not only a fine saxophonist, but a fine multi-musicianist") who leads a band with trumpet, organ/keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. They had more than enough of a groove to satisfy the party crowd, but their solo chops also appealed to hardcore jazzers like Chris and myself. Not that many people probably noticed it, but Denson himself was quite impressive with the way he would take a mostly-pentatonic solo and go tastefully "outside" for a second. Definitely a fun band whose CD I'll certainly check out and whom I will surely see again.

THE AUDIENCE: Besides the musical aspects of the festival, another highlight was the people-watching. Let's face it: Austin is...weird. (Indeed, bumper stickers and T-shirts encouraged people to "Keep Austin Weird" by supporting local merchants.) We saw a bit of everything: Aging hippies, piercings in unusual places, white guys with blonde dreadlocks, really old fat people trying to dance, a couple of kids totally covered in mud (trying to have their own Woodstock experience?). The only sight I could have done without was this man woman person that Chris's friend Chetan pointed out to me who was obviously in the middle of a transgender operation. I won't go into too many details (think cleavage and mustache--ick!), but I would have been happy to go for the rest of my days without seeing something like that. I think I'm scarred for life...

Oh yeah, and among the counterculture (including all kinds of T-shirts you'd get busted for if you wore them to school), I saw this guy wearing a Texas All-Star Jazz Camp T-shirt. Not the kind of thing you see in Austin every day, and it was even stranger when the guy wearing it said hello to me by name. I'm guessing it was the parent of a camper; that kind of thing happens a lot in Plano, where I'm always being recognized and asked about the next year's camp (so much so that I carry posters in the car now). It was pretty funny to think that, with all the artist T-shirts being worn that day, someone had one with my name on the back (along with the other 18 faculty members). Does that mean I qualify as "Demon Kev" now?

So all in all, I more than got my 30 bucks' worth out of the day, and I'll definitely check out the schedule for next year.

CAR MUSIC OF THE TRIP: The Michael Brecker Quindectet, Wide Angles, and Hybrid, Wider Angle. On the surface, these CD's have nothing to do with each other; Hybrid is an English "breakbeat" band that Zack turned me onto over the summer, and Brecker is, of course, one of the greatest living jazz tenor players. When the new Brecker came out last week, I ordered it from Amazon, and I needed another CD to get the free shipping. I remembered the Hybrid one, and delighted in the similarity of the two CDs' titles; I knew I simply had to order these two together, so I did.

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