But last night, after attending a wedding at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, we headed downtown to catch Pablo & the Hemphill 7 at the Flying Saucer. The length of Joe Vano's dreads reminded me that we hadn't seen those guys in about four years -- at Central Market, right after I started working there. Pretty wild that next year will mark their tenth year as a band (!). They've weathered the departure of bassist and original creative spark Marcus Lawyer (of Top Secret...Shhh fame, now living in Austin) and keyboardist/second vocalist Justin Pate, but to these feedback-scorched ears, they're sounding better than ever.
Joe's singing the whole three-set show now, with backing voxxx from guitarist Steffin Ratliff and bassist Matt Hembree sounding pretty fine through their brand-new PA. Steffin, Matt, and drummer Damien Stewart have played together so long in different combinations (incuding Bindle, Goodwin, and, um, Stoogeaphilia, where Sir Steffin's scorching fretwork made "Marquee Moon" our most popular song for exactly a year) that they're all constantly in each other's pockets. Matt can fill as much space as he's given, leaving Steffin to soar as freely as he wants (or not play at all, dubwise). The dialogue between Damien and percussionist Jonathan Irwin is really happening, too. And Sir Steffin's still my favorite guitarist in the 817: aggressive, melodic, with a beautiful tone (on this particular night, he was playing Bobby Zanzucchi's Matchless after losing his beloved Silvertone in the Apache 5 equipment burglary, but he's ordering a custom amp built by a local cat along the lines of a Fender Deluxe).
After all this time, they really own their repertoire, and not just their originals, but every good roots reggae cover you can imagine except "Red Red Wine" (highlight: Black Uhuru's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"). The song I really want to hear them play again, though, is "The Great Bash," a Vano poem with impressionistic spacey backing, which I heard 'em play the very first time I ever saw them, at the now-defunct Rail Market in 2002, on an evening when they were scheduled to play the Saucer later. Seeing the skyscrapers behind Joe from the Saucer's patio reminded me of that night, and a lot of other ones in between then and now. They claim not to be able to remember "The Great Bash," but Damien said that Marcus is bringing the 8-track recording of it the next time he visits Fort Worth, after which I'll resume pestering them to play it. Man for man, I still think they're the best band in the city.