Friday, April 12, 2019

Oak Cliff, 4.11.2019

Sometimes I go out of my house, and am rewarded.

A couple of months ago, my wife and I trekked up to the Haltom Theater in Haltom City to see Joe Ely, whom I last saw opening for the Clash on two memorable nights back in '79. As rockin' as those shows were, seeing him solo in his maturity was better. He's grown into his voice and the stories he tells have evolved into a legend, but the very best moment of the night came when he sang the Flatlanders song "Borderless Love." When he got to the line, "There's no need for a wall" -- which, in HC, could have gone either way -- and the crowd roared its approval, you could have knocked me over with a feather. As great in its way as Peter Tosh asking the assembled Rolling Stones fans at a KZEW-sponsored show, "Is reggae music not a great music?" and receiving their approbation, or Conor Oberst opening a show the night before the US invaded Iraq with a song about walking away from a fight. I love it when a performer gives me more than I expected, or in this case, more than I could have hoped for. (Sad to say, I have become wary of white folks I don't know these past couple of years.)

More recently, we witnessed a couple of great shows at The Kessler in Oak Cliff -- our favorite listening room, and no farther from mi casa than our doctor's office. The Zombies, whom I'd missed three times since they hit the boards again a few years back (including the Odessey and Oracle tour) were a joy. Colin Blunstone's voice is stronger than it ever was -- at times (especially on songs where the guitarist was soloing) I had to ask myself, "Is this Ian Gillan?" -- and the pure delight he displayed at being onstage was worth the price of admission. I only wish that we could have heard a few more Odessey songs in the time consumed by the extended versions of "Hold Your Head Up" and (final gut-punch encore) "God Gave Rock and Roll To You." (The former was mitigated slightly by the band boys cutting up during Rod Argent's extended solo, but yeah.) And last week, Charlie Crockett came off like a young Hank Williams before digging deep into his R&B/soul bag, looking fully recovered from his recent open-heart surgery and undaunted by the challenge of following the Relatives, whom I can now say I have seen get 200 people (not just 80 like at Fred's a few years back) dancing on their knees. Stirring times.

As noted in a previous post, there's been a lot of avant-garde/experimental action taking place in Oak Cliff recently, between the "Run With Scissors" events at Tradewinds, Dallas Ambient Music Nights at Texas Theatre, and shows at The Wild Detectives and Top Ten Records, where I was thrilled last night to see 20-odd folks out to hear Eugene Chadbourne, Yells At Eels, and a trio of Sarah Ruth Alexander, Liz Tonne, and Chris Curiel.

Dr. Chadbourne, the impossibly prolific South Carolina-based avant-guitarist/banjoist/electric rake inventor/scribe, has been waltzing across Texas in the company of Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez of Akkolyte/Yells At Eels fame (although on the night I saw 'em, the brothers didn't accompany him). His banjo technique is impressive, with occasional detours into atonality, and his vocalizing is idiosyncratic but engaging. Particularly enjoyable were his versions of Captain Beefheart's "Steal Softly Through Snow" (which the good Dr. said is "one of my favorite texts of his," and which he covered with ex-Mothers of Invention "Indian of the group" Jimmy Carl Black on 1995's Pachuko Cadaver) and Phil Ochs' "There But for Fortune" (covered on 1998's To Phil). Chadbourne's guitar playing, on a resophonic guitar that he said was destroyed by an irate audience member and subsequently repaired (I believe its broken headstock  appears on the cover of his new Solo Guitar Volume 2-1/3 LP) is in the same "wheelhouse" (why do people use that expression?) as Derek Bailey and Fred Frith. He also recently collaborated with the NYC free-jazz/psych quartet Sunwatchers (whose Illegal Moves is my current jam-o'-the-moment) on 3 Characters, a double LP of material by the Minutemen, Doug Sahm, and Henry Flynt (with some vocal assistance from Minuteman Mike Watt).

It's been a special pleasure and privilege watching Yells At Eels develop over the last 17 years (they celebrate 20 years as a band in a couple of months). By now, the Gonzalez brothers know each other's time inside out, and operate at a level of telepathy and physicality that is truly astonishing to witness. The contrast between the force and violence of their performance and their father, Dennis Gonzalez's spacious lyricism on trumpet and cornet is a thing of beauty and wonder. On this night, they eschewed small instruments and Dennis' customary effects for a stripped-down approach that started out quietly but quickly worked its way up to an intensity. I was the happy recipient of a piece of original art from Aaron's daughter Issy, and a copy of the beautifully packaged 3-inch CD certain aspects that Dennis recorded at the Texas Theatre last spring with sound artist Derek Rogers. It's a gorgeous, hymn-like soundscape that you can wrap yourself in like a blanket to ward off (at least momentarily) the effects of the insane times in which we live.

The opening set by Sarah, Liz and Chris -- a first-time collaboration -- was a drone-based,  minimalist meeting of a lone brass player with two classically-trained voices that sometimes approximated bird songs or tried to match the trumpet's sound, while Curiel responded with short phrases that he looped, including non-tonal sounds that mimicked running water and other sounds of nature. A singular sonic event that required a special kind of listening from both performers and audience.


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