Monday, November 21, 2011

11.19.2011, FTW

It seems that in the last month or so, my sweetie 'n' I have been out more than in the previous year. But it's not every day that we get a chance to see Woodeye, one of our all-time fave bands, who folded the tent a few years back but have played a couple of reunion shows since then. (Good bands don't have to break up, they just don't need to play all the time.) We missed the last one (at Lolaspalooza, when I was playing earlier in the day and didn't have the intestinal fortitude to go the distance), so when we got wind of this latest oppo, we were determined to make it. Especially after the mighty Me-Thinks were added as direct support (even though I feared an overwhelming attack of Wreck Room nostalgia), following openers Badcreek (whom I've been meaning to see live).

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the Wreck Room in your humble chronicler o' events' personal cosmology. As I've said elsewhere, I've spent a lifetime obsessed with the idea of music as a locus of community; El Wreck is the first place I ever experienced that -- back when I was attempting to earn a living as a freelance journo between 2002 and 2004, and later, right up to the demise of my all-time fave rockaroll dump in September 2007. I met many of my best friends there; I played there every Wednesday night for two and a half years; my sweetie 'n' I celebrated our wedding and my 50th birthday there. And Woodeye and the Me-Thinks are two of the bands I associate most closely with El Wreck.

I was surprised that Lola's didn't run a second bar for the evening, but then again, two of their bartenders were performing; it surely couldn't be because they didn't expect a good turnout. Lots of old familiar faces in the crowd, as well as onstage.

The guys in Badcreek are mostly old veterans and familiars of the late Cadillac Fraf, playing a nice line in what used to be called "Y'allternative." This is convoluted, but their recordings remind me of Neil Young fronting the Blonde On Blonde band (or maybe Mott the Hoople) in the same way as Wilco's Being There (only album of theirs I own) reminds me of Ray Davies fronting the Exile On Main St. Stones.

Live, Badcreek is more energetic and aggressive (in the manner of disbanded local cowpunks Jasper Stone), but this isn't always for the best. Even with an Andre Edmonson mix, frontman Eric Waldron tends to lose out to the general din, and the songs take a back seat to the sound of the band. They've only been gigging since the spring, though, and with a run of shows coming up in December and January, they remain an interesting work in progress. (Someone suggested, and I agree, that they ought to gig with Barrel Delux.)

Speaking of bands from Haltom City, the Me-Thinks were in rare form Saturday, once Ray resolved some tuning issues. (What _did_ musos do before digital tuners? Oh yeah, that's right -- they were just out of tune a lot. But wasn't it Hendrix that said "Tuning is for cowboys?") Andre had Marlin and Bandy's amps firing from the side, and you could really hear their individual parts distinctly -- a plus. The newer material (the two songs from Me-Thinks' recent 7-inch plus other, unrecorded ones like "Loudensucke") sounded as good as the "classic" toonage from their Make Mine a Double E.P. And Jon Simpson's a powerful and underrated drummer. I told him later that this might have been my favorite Me-Thinks performance since he took Will Risinger's place behind the traps.

Then Woodeye.

When my buddy Geoff from Philly, who knows good rock from bad, braved his fear of Texas to come down for my wedding, he was singularly impressed by Woodeye among the bands that played our wedding party. (I was sure he was going to like the Me-Thinks more.) Their 2003 CD Such Sweet Sorrow remains in my personal top 10 for its decade; seriously, have Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, or any of their ilk made a rec so emotionally impactful? I think not.

Carey Wolff is still as full of self-deprecating horseshit as ever, but I think he's come to realize how deeply folks are affected by his songs, and how beloved is his band that stopped being a going concern when Scott Davis moved to Austin to make his living as a muso rather than a bookseller. These days, Scott is an in-demand session player down in America's Live Music Capital (R), and he and Kenny Smith (the Woodeye drummer that finally "took" after a Spinal Tap-like succession) tour with No Depression fave Hayes Carll.

On this particular night, Scott was rockin' a new SG (rekindling my SG lust yet again), to which he'd added a Bigsby tailpiece, through Fender Deluxe and Marshall clones built by the Orbans' guitar player. Scott's always been the most tasteful of players, with the sweetest tone (in the manner of Pablo & the Hemphill 7's Steffin Ratliff), but you could hear all the playing he's been doing in his fretwork on all the old familiar Woodeye faves. And proud papa Graham Richardson remains the punk-rock wild card behind the Thunderbird bass.

"West Texas Sunset" has the most immediately recognizable intro this side of PH7's "Freedom," both of which I heard innumerable times back in Wreck Room daze. My favorite Carey Wolff songs are the slow, mournful ones -- "Stupid Man," "The Fray," "Motel Room," and "Our Song," which he dedicated to me 'n' my sweetie, imagine that -- in which he puts more plainspoken raw emotion on the line than the average songwriter. (Dre Edmonson remembers a night when Woodeye played the Wreck without a drummer, doing all slow songs, and the bar sold a ton of whiskey shots.) The one that's stuck in my head right now is "Smolder": "You can cry all you want / I can say I'm sorry until I turn blue / You can try all you want / But you can't make me love you."

They can rock out, too, on "How To Lose" (another classic intro), "What's the Matter with Me" (the closest thing in their book to a generic country-rock ditty, and a fan favorite), and their cover of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" (which I will always think of as a Woodeye song). The audience showed their appreciation with multiple rounds of shots, and Carey responded by singing the title track from his I'm Still the Darkness CD, which always sounded like a Woodeye song, anyway. If he'd played "Nineteen" from that shiny silver disc, it'd have been a perfect evening for me. As it was, it was just a real, real good one.


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