Flanfire (Duggan Flanakin) is bringing LIFE to Austin music -- and telling the world how sweet it is!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Austin newcomers Jen and Aaron Hamre and lots of their friends deserve a lot of kudos for bringing creative thinking into helping Austin music venues prepare for the transition to "smoke-free" environments. Several key clubs are being high-tech cleaned, the team put together a high-roller bus tour or two on September 1, and on Sunday they hosted a benefit concert (plus Katrina relief) at Threadgill's World HQ.

Things started quietly, with just a few bearing the searing early afternoon heat (but thanks for the clouds) to catch a jaunty set by the Pistol Love Family Band (so named because mandolinist-omnichord player Lauren Gurgiolo and banjoist Jerry Hagins are first cousins once removed). Gurgiolo's significant other, David Lazaroff plays guitar in the band, while Timmy Campbell handles the drums. Guest of the day was L'il Cap 'N Travis picker Gary Newcomb on bass. These relative unknowns (though many of the players can often be seen elsewhere) set the vibe for the afternoon. Lazaroff's brother Jeff, who is still up in St. Louis most of the time, will be joining the entourage (along with the fabulous Elizabeth McQueen, for whom D. Lazaroff works at times, Neil Kazanoff, for whom Lauren has worked, and others) at the Hole in the Wall next Sunday evening for a Katrina benefit concert. Sounds like a plan!

Next up was co-conspirator Natalie Zoe, doing just her second gig with the soulful side of Forlini and Cross - guitarist and songwriter Mike Cross. She must do many many more. Backed by Oliver Rajamani on percussion, and given that Nat is still in major recovery from her second wrist carpal tunnel surgery, this was as hot a set as the weather. Rajamani, backed by oudist-violinist Sean Orr and with Aaron adding some percussion, brought his world music sounds next to the stage - using a variety of Eastern and Western instruments and languages. If you have not experienced this wonderful player and all-round nice guy, get thee to Ararat or El Sol y la Luna when he is performing (his flamenco guitar style he learned from Roma Gypsies, whose origins were in his native India).

As bluesy Beth Garner was warming up the crowd, we were toasted and had to boogie, on the way out running into the advance guard of the populous Neville family, who are reportedly taking up residence iin the Live Music Capital of the World at least until their city is reborn. I had just caught Aaron's two beyond human performances at the NBC/MSNBC/CNBC concert -- Randy Newman's "Louisiana" about the great 1927 flood that brought the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the state (and upstream Mississippi) to construct the massive system that keeps the Mississippi flowing through the Crescent City rather than through Cajun Country, and an "Amazing Grace" that was so poignant that one could just see God's own tears. But it was Cyril Neville and company who later descended upon the Threadgill's stage to liven up the ever-growing crowd and really kickstart the city's switch to smokeless. You may have heard that Charmaine and other Neville family members had to be rescued long after the levee broke, living through more than a few horrendous moments. Be glad the Nevilles (thank you Clifford Antone and friends) have found a place to dry their feet and make some new close friends.

Other VIP news -- Rob Roy Parnell was on the bill but had to cancel when his wife went into labor. Aaron Hamre's own set featured impromptu music from Sean Orr, and a good time was had by all who came. Now go to the clubs in Austin, take smokeless friends (no, there are no spittoons!), and party like it's 1999 (a year when smoking was allowed here).

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Canadian thrush Heidi Little made her South Austin debut (not counting the airport) at the Saxon Pub on August 31 - the last night people were allowed to smoke in the heralded club (and just about everywhere else indoors in Austin). On stage with her were longtime Austin guitarist Kevin Hollingsworth along with Steve Syxx on guitars and backing vocals and Johnny Latte on bass. That’s a totally different lineup than Heidi had initially expected to be playing the gig - but things change, often for the better.
To be sure, the set was far from tight, and indeed the band loosened up once Heidi unleashed Hollingsworth’s psychedelic sounds that made Mandy Mercier’s music ever more listenable for many years (not to mention many others he has played with here). Yet it was the VIBE that carried the night for Heidi, along with her strong songs and powerful vocals. Her own rhythm guitar plus the other players following as best they could generated a veritable wall of sound the whole evening that swept us along in the music.
The set was packed with songs from her Canadian acoustic release "Live in a ShuBox" and the as yet unreleased "Dreams of Grandeur," which was inspired by her six-month stint in Mexico a while back. Heidi reminds this writer of a younger Eliza Gilkyson - and in many ways she is more Eliza’s spiritual heir than the heir to fellow Regina, Saskatchewan, native Joni Mitchell, whose "Both Sides Now" Heidi was asked to cover for the Saskatchewan Centennial. "Living on a Prayer" and "Look at Me Now," both from Dreams, were especially nice on stage. Heidi and Kevin closed with her "Cowboy," from an even older self-titled EP.
In the short space of a few months, Heidi has moved to Austin (after her microbus broke down in Maine), found a husband, put together a recording session and begun to look for a regular band. She’s had a few false starts, but appears to be ready to get in the groove – and that’s good news.
Later that evening, those who stuck around were treated to the Billy Harvey Band, featuring Dony Wynn on drums. Bob Schneider himself, who stuck around for a while, says that Billy is the best in the business, and he oughta know having had Billy in his own band for years. There were also a couple of famous fiddler-mandolinists in the house, but who should tell.
Then Friday we stopped by my favorite North Austin BBQ place, Mann’s Smokehouse, and got to hear a fine singer, Brian Mullin, who also plays a nice jazz-style guitar and sings everything from old standards to his own compositions. Mann’s is one of Austin’s homes of Original Dublin Dr Pepper – you know, the stuff made with real sugar. Once in a while folks get free home made ice cream for dessert, and there’s always the bingo game drawing to win a free meal. And folks, we are talking real barbecue and veggie vittles. Hits the comfort level, too.
Earlier that day, I had stopped by Cheapo Discs (has it been THAT long since I darkened the doors?) to catch the first half of the CD release by the raucous Austin band, People Skills (featuring Tony Velasco on bass and vocals, Russell Beach on guitars and vocals, Grady B. Humble on drums, and Freddy Cruz on lead guitar and vocals. The boys have a six-song CD just out on Placentium Records dubbed "Use Your Words" (which featured former guitarist Chris Mietus).
At the gig, the guys were decked out in dress shirts, ties, and even suit coats. The music is testosterone rock and roll (birthed in venues like Room 710) - well, perhaps except for Velasco’s "Greasy Hair," which on the CD features him on banjo. I am reminded of John Hunt’s band Fivehead. "Hampton Bay" may be the most commercial song on the CD, but then what do I know? Really nice guitar solo in the middle, though. This is pretty good stuff!!!

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