How about the Main Line? Its restaurant and brew pub scene is rapidly improving, it has a good repertory/art movie theater in Bryn Mawr, and it’s as beautiful and safe as ever – no worries about smelling urine, stepping through broken glass, smash-and-grabs, or any of the other vagaries of big city urban life. Nope, just flowers, trees, stone walls, and lots and lots of shades of green. Pretty darn nice. But what about music? Well, even that is on the upswing.
You already know about the Ardmore Music Hall. A small club that often features national acts, AMH proudly stood as the singular Main Line live music venue of any repute. Then Wayne joined the scene with 118 North. In a really small space formerly used by a restaurant, 118 North features small and local acts and very modest cover charges. Hey, one more thing about both of these clubs: free parking abounds. And the kind of free parking where you don’t question whether your car will still be there when you get back, or whether that really dark street will be safe when the show is over at 1 am.
We went to 118 on a random Friday night because a blues cover band called Blues Uprising was playing and we hadn’t made other plans. It cost all of $5 to get in with no ticket fees or handling charges pegged on top of that. No drink minimums, either. In other words, $10 gets you and your friend into the place to see live music and dance and carry on. If you want a drink, it’s got a big beer selection (who doesn’t these days?) and full bar, but you don’t have to buy anything. Light on the wallet and 10 minutes from home is about as good as it gets.
Remarkably, Blues Uprising played blues-based rock. I wouldn’t call it a blues show per se, but there were some tunes penned by guys like Robert Johnson on display. The band played a lot of decent versions of well-known blues-based rock tunes, and some tunes that I didn’t know were blues-based. Ostensibly a trio, they brought up another guitarist for a few songs, and then a female singer with a sweet voice to carry them into some tracks they would otherwise have had to skip. They were pretty good, and the crowd was having fun.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that this was a great show. It wasn’t. But it filled my live music jones for an evening, was inexpensive, and was fun. We’ve been to 118 North a couple of times now, and enjoyed it each time. I’m giving it a thumbs up and welcome to the neighborhood.
It’s kind of sleepy vacation time now. Mid-August is still full-on summer, but we all know that it’s coming to an end soon enough. Let’s keep the sweet summer thing rolling for now, and we’ll do the back-to-school special later on. Thanks for reading and keep coming back to hang out with me. I like your company, and the fact that you always reach over and turn the volume UP!
Taylor Swift. She is one of the most famous people in America now, and she isn’t even 30. Here are some remarkable facts about her: (a) Rolling Stone, a magazine that used to write about music, called Taylor one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time in 2015; (b) she has received 10 Grammys, six Guinness World Records, one Emmy, 23 Billboard Music Awards, 12 Country Music Association Awards, and one partridge in a pear tree; (c) Swift has sold a ton of music - 40 million albums and 130 million single downloads; and (d) Taylor was one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world (2010 and 2015), Forbes' top-earning women in music (2011–2015), Forbes' 100 most powerful women (2015), and Forbes Celebrity 100 (2016). Wowza. And this data all appears to stop around 2016 – I’m sure she has added to this since then.
I actually like Taylor Swift. I’m not sure I like her enough to go out and pay big bucks to see her perform in an 80,000 seat stadium, but I like her enough to go see her in an 80,000 seat stadium when some freebie tickets came my way. I’m partial to the early part of her career, and songs like Our Song, Love Story and You Belong With Me. Her later pop blends in with the other massive amount of pop washing up on the shores of commercial radio, and half the time I’m not even aware that it’s a Taylor Swift song that is playing. But in America, I’m in the minority in that lack of knowledge, and when in a crowd of women, I’m the only one that doesn’t realize that Taylor Swift wrote and performed that song.
I will give TS this: she is remarkably talented, and she has come a long way in a short time. Her earliest songs were plaintive country songs told from the heart of a teenager. Since I haven’t developed emotionally since I was 17, those songs worked for me. But Taylor developed as a writer and performer, and was soon churning out huge pop hits, like I Knew You Were in Trouble, We Are Never Getting Back Together and Shake It Off. Danceable with a big beat, many of her latest tunes are a continent away from her early country songs. In fact, it’s hard to call her a country performer anymore.
That was certainly evident at MetLife. This was the prototypical big stadium pop performance, with lots of stage lights, fireworks and combustibles, huge props, multiple stages (albeit with a different way of being transported from stage to stage than other acts I’ve seen), and the ubiquitous lighted wristbands for every fan. Taylor wore a lot of leotard outfits showing off long legs and boots, and she pranced around with backup dancers/singers and a very tight band. It was far from a country show.
You have to like a performance that starts with Joan Jett’s burner Bad Reputation being pumped into the stadium. I always liked that tune. Maybe it’s true that Taylor doesn’t care about her reputation (although the media frenzy that surrounds her every move says otherwise), but I like someone who at least makes the case that they don’t give a damn. Following that, it was all TS and her repertoire.
Oh, and did I mention that it was pouring rain the entire show long? Lovely, right? But the rain didn’t stop Swift from going all out and playing her entire staged show for the adoring fans who sang, danced, jumped, bounced and stayed during the entire performance. It was impressive both on Taylor’s part and on the fans’ part. And Swift made the comment that she loved playing in the rain and that those attending were the best of fans. You do have to admire people willing to stand in the rain for hours, but then again, TS isn’t modest about what she charges those fans to see her live performances. If you had laid down the bucks necessary, you would come rain or shine, too.
The crowd was adoring. They knew every word, sang, danced and cheered like crazy. It was fun to be in a crowd that enthusiastic. For me, the best moments were a medley of three early hits, and Shake It Off. Those also seemed to be the highlights for the crowd, particularly the medley. It’s been a while since I felt a stadium shake (RFK Stadium back in the day used to ROCK), but when TS asked the crowd to jump and bounce, well, the stadium did it, too. That was cool.
Taylor had an interesting transport mechanism for getting from the main stage to the smaller alternate stage in the other end zone. It moved like one of those stadium cameras that is above the playing field, but instead had a cherry-picker kind of bucket where Taylor stood. It also lighted up. I have a couple of pictures, but they aren’t that great.
I brought the GoPro and caught two songs. I posted them on the BRP YouTube channel and was going to provide the links so that you could enjoy. But in about 12 hours, those videos were gone. TS doesn’t mess around with this kind of stuff, I guess. It’s a bummer because I don’t have any advertisements on the BRP website, so there isn’t any money being made here. I don’t know what YouTube does with the BRP channel but I guess they put advertising with everything. Regardless, it’s a formidable policing of social media that pulls down videos in less than 24 hours. Rather than putting up the BRP videos, I’ll put up a couple of official TS videos so that we can all be sure that she collects every penny to which she is entitled.
The other pictures that I took show a giant inflatable snake. There was one at each stage. They were interesting stage props. That’s all I’ll say about them.
Enough of Taylor Swift. There has been an ocean of ink spilled on the little girl from Reading, PA who grew up to have one of the biggest musical careers ever. She is so talented and seems like a nice person to boot (the video takedown, however, is out there revealing another part of her personality). Who knows how she truly is, but she’s a human, just like us, and has a lot to digest and deal with that none of us can fully appreciate. And fame hit her when she was just a teenager. I think she’s done pretty well handling all of it. A tip of the cap, and we move on.
What’s next? Well, another short thing on a Main Line venue, and then who knows? I’ve got some shows coming up in September that should be fun, one nostalgic and one very new and cutting edge. And maybe a third if I get around to finally buying the darn tickets. I’ve also got about 4 rock books to get through, one on Tom Petty, one on Clarence Clemons, and a few others that should be fun. I hope you are living your life and making the most of it. OK, now put your hands in the middle, and on 3, we all yell “BRP.” Ready? 1 -2 – 3….
Here’s how things roll in my world. I have a group of about 20 people who will occasionally go see live music with me. I put out a quarterly email to this group and list a bunch of upcoming shows that I’m interested in seeing. I then say “if you have a show you want to see, let me know – I’m up for most anything.” Occasionally, someone will take me up on that, and as a result, I’ve seen some great music that I otherwise would have missed: Buddy Guy and Joywave to name two. Well, now I have a third one to list, and it’s off the beaten BRP track – Syrogyra.
What? A jazz fusion band? I know, that was my reaction at first, but when I dug in, I realized what an institution this band is. Coming out of Buffalo in 1974, the band is not really just a jazz band, but rather combines jazz with R&B, funk, rock and pop. The band has 30 albums and has sold 10 million records.
Jay Beckenstein is the man in the middle, playing the sax with pizzazz. He also sings. Julio Fernandez is the guitarist and that dude can flat out play. On keys is Tom Schuman. Scott Ambush and Lionel Cordew make up a powerful rhythm section. Of course, Beckenstein is the guy that has been there through all the years, and many others have come and gone.
Ardmore Music Hall was the venue. I like that AMH is very close to my house, and that the parking is free and pretty easy to find. It’s also the Main Line, so it’s super safe. I’m not crazy about the layout of AMH, but this show wasn’t sold out, and we had great sight lines. Oh, and the acoustics are very good. I’ve seen a lot of good acts at AMH – Parliament (with George Clinton), Southside Johnny, and Son Volt to name just three – and they seem to have a penchant for bringing in bands that like to groove and funk. That’s a-ok by me!
The Spyrogyra show was chock full of, I guess, classic Spyrogyra tunes. They said they were going to play a lot of their older tracks, and I’ll take them at their word. They did a funky cover of Squeeze’s Tempted, which was an interesting choice, and Beckenstein played the vocals with his sax. Their songs were extended jams, but they were really enjoyable given the fine musicianship on display. A solid 2 hours of music without breaks and much banter is cool, especially when the musicians are on a roll and enjoying themselves. I will say that long drum solos are not my favorite – in fact, they are downright boring – and Spyrogyra allowed one to occur, but otherwise, we had a good time.
In fact, the good time was enhanced by the opening act, Bill Jolly’s Hard Drive All Stars. Bill Jolly is a local legend as an arranger and producer, and has won three Emmy’s. He’s also a pretty talented musician in his own right, and he brought with him a great band – we’re talking 5, yes 5, horns, drums and percussion, and a female vocalist extraordinaire. They did covers of songs that were well done, including about a 15 minute montage of Prince tunes. You know the Kid likes that, right? They ended with When The Saints Come Marching In, complete with a conga-line finale through the crowd. It was a very fun set. We concluded that they were the best wedding band we had ever seen (albeit, that is not setting the bar very high).
This was a nice night out on the Main Line, and the rewards of staying local were that I saw an entertaining evening of live music and was back at home and in bed by 11:20. Not too shabby on a “school night.”
Next up, well, something BIG. And unusual for BRP, too. I apologize for not getting this posted sooner, but dudes and dudettes, I have been on a tear, prowling around at all hours for 5 straight nights, and then having The Man clamp down on me, too. So forgive your humble blogger, and I’ll try my best to get you some of that sweet, funky stuff on line that you like. Deal? Deal! See you soon.
I can think of four cities in this country that have an outsized musical scene given their size: Nashville, Memphis, Austin and New Orleans. And each of these cities also features a musical “strip” of bars and clubs that feature FREE bands. You just strut on in, sit down, and if you like it, you stay and throw some money in the tip bucket. If it ain’t your thang, you pick yourself up and go next door. It’s a fun way to spend an evening. And these cities (well, maybe not Memphis as much) each have a huge local talent cluster that makes these bands worthwhile to see.
Three questions: First, why these cities? I think the answer for Nashville is it was always the capital of country music with the Opry being located there – that brought the musicians and that brought the record companies. New Orleans had this incredibly interesting cultural mix due to its southern port city location. And Memphis sits atop the delta, birthplace of the blues, and is the only sizeable city of note in the area, thus leading to a heavy blues-based, then rock-based, scene. I don’t know how Austin developed its scene, but Texas is a musically diverse place and Austin is the capital.
Second, why are they all in the South (I know Texas doesn’t like to be called the South, but it was part of the confederacy, which is good enough for those of us on this side of the Mason-Dixon line)? It must have something to do with the unique cultural elements of each city. Memphis has the delta, New Orleans has its southern port location, Nashville has Appalachia, and Austin is the heart of the musical hotbed of Texas. But Detroit, New York, Philly, LA, Seattle and other cities have big-time music scenes, but no “strip” or outsized musical scenes. Why not? Climate? People don’t care as much for live music outside of the south? Or most great American musical forms all came out of the South?
Third, why the strips? They must have come about organically in each place, and now are these thriving areas where sleaze, alcohol and music intersect. SoBro in Nashville has the honky-tonks and the Ryman, both of which are fun and great. New Orleans has Bourbon Street, which is worth a stroll on occasion, but can also be repulsive. Beale Street in Memphis isn’t as developed, but has a lot of clubs. And 6th Street in Austin is a worthy competitor with all of them.
Whatever, right? All I know is that 6th Street can be fun. And it can be gross – these aren’t plush clubs we’re talking about. But it’s always interesting. Our last night in Austin involved a bounce around 6th Street. We saw one really good act, one terrific vocalist, and a couple of average performers.
The Chuggin’ Monkey had the winner of the night. Have you ever seen Bonearama, the New Orleans based brass band that uses trombones as the leads? Well, Austin’s answer is Boss Street. They are a creative mix of the marching band with rock ‘n roll. Here’s a few pics and even a video of them doing Move Like Jagger. Really? Yes, really.
Friends featured this female vocalist, whose name I didn’t catch. Her guitarist had to go move his car before it got towed (now, that’s advance planning, right?) and she then did an acapella version of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz, which was great. She followed that up with Killing Me Softly, a song that I basically hate. But her version would have made Roberta Flack blush, and while it didn’t make me a convert, it was entertaining enough. And when the guitarist was there, they cranked out a few rock tunes in a worthy manner, including an early one by the Paul Rodgers band Free.
The Dizzy Rooster featured this band, who we thought were average. The young dude on lead could crank it out, but the drummer, ugh. Maybe he just having a bad night, but he was having a bad night. And if the drummer isn’t good, the whole thing is wrecked. We didn’t stay long. But I’ve been to this bar late at night before and seen some fantastic rock played there. Don’t knock it off the list.
The final act we checked out was D-Soul Davis at Maggie Mae’s. It was cool that he was playing soul music, but he needs a new guitarist and some horns. And song selection is critical. He did some great Motown, but the reggae? No, don’t go there.
We saw some other performers in different bars. Mainly we saw a couple of different guys playing a guitar by themselves, which can be interesting. In fact, the first time that I realized what a great songwriter Travis Tritt is was in some 6th Street bar during happy hour about a decade ago. This dude with a solo guitar kept playing Tritt songs, and they were all good. But we didn’t get that magic on Saturday night.
Austin features musicians in the most unlikely places. As I was leaving Waterloo Records, some guy with an electric guitar was set up on the street corner playing his butt off. When I strolled by, he was playing with his teeth, and started writhing on the ground. Here’s the weird part: it’s not a pedestrian friendly area, and I was the only pedestrian to be found. Now, that’s effort. And many years ago, I went to a roller derby match at the Austin convention center (don’t ask, but yes, it was very fun) and during breaks they had multiple bands playing. There was a one-man-band playing rock, and he was actually pretty good. I mean, it’s anything goes down there.
Well, that does it for this trip to Austin. As I told you, I’ve got two shows in Philly coming up this week, and need to get my head right for those acts. I hope you are seeing tons of music, or at least doing something to enjoy sweet summer. It’s already mid-July! Go get ‘em, team BRP, and have a ton of fun.
If you are living in the Northeast, you know that we have been mired in one wet weather pattern. I think it has rained every day this week, and next week is more of the same. It does wonders for the humidity, and since it's summer, it's killing our planned outdoor time. Enough already!
But the rain got me to thinking about songs about rain. And there are plenty of good ones. How about we go with the flow and turn the weather to our advantage? Let's do this thing!
First up, let's go with some songs about umbrellas. I have two of them. I love the Hollies Bus Stop, a love song about first meeting under a shared umbrella. It's an oldie but goodie. And then there is XTC's 1000 Umbrellas off of the classic Skylarking album. I shouldn't complain about rain - XTC are English, and the English know a little bit about the rain. If you don't think that these two songs aren't a powerful start to this post, then you must be smoking something.
The Beatles, another English outfit, did a song simply entitled Rain. I remember when this song first came out - it was all over AM radio as the latest hit from the Liverpool boys. Like everyone else in America, we were captivated and listened over and over. Now, here's your chance. God, I miss the Beatles.
Let's bring this back to the U.S. One of America's great songwriters hails from the heartland, and he wrote a song about the difficulties of farming. The vagaries of weather are just one of their problems. Rain on the Scarecrow by John Mellencamp is one of his finest songs ever. Check it out and see if you agree.
Tina. Do I even need to say her last name? One of America's most iconic musical performers from the 20th Century, Tina did a great song called I Can't Stand The Rain. And hey, at this point, I can't stand it either. I was lucky enough to see Tina live in Philly, and she was fantastic. Here's a live version of that tune from Rio. See what you missed?
We're going to finish up with two songs from CCR. What band does two songs about rain, even if just as a metaphor? Other than CCR, I'm not sure, but they put out both Have You Ever Seen The Rain and, as a grand finale for this post, Who'll Stop The Rain. My brother is a huge Fogerty fan, and thinks he is one of America's rock masters. It's hard to disagree given the musical legacy he left.
That's it for the rain songs. You can thank me for not putting Eddie Rabbit's I Love The Rainy Nights in this post. Oops, I guess I just did, but at least I didn't earworm it for you.
I hope wherever you are that you are high and dry, and if you are someplace that needs the rain, that you get it. I have two more posts about Austin, and three, yes, three, more live music reviews post-Austin. It's been a great live music month at BRP! Enjoy sweet summer and rock on, my friends.
A couple of days before I left for Austin, I’m checking out who to see who will be playing in town while I am there. I find something wonderful: Rosie Flores playing for FREE at C-Boy’s Heart and Soul. Oh baby, I’ve already been lucky enough to see one of my Texas heroes perform live in Austin before, (Joe Ely at UT’s Cactus Café), but to catch Rosie in Austin was going to be a treat. And FREE? Shoot, how lucky is this life I lead?
Rosie came into my orbit a few years back. I was at the Queen in Wilmington to see the Rev. Horton Heat, and opening for the Rev. was Dale Watson and Rosie Flores. Rosie is a diminutive figure, and she came on the stage backed by Dale’s band. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She played a couple of rockabilly tracks, yum, and then made me a fan when she played the Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant.” That track is not a cover I would have expected out of a female rockabilly/country music singer. The best thing about Rosie’s version was that she played the first verse in a country fashion, which was really interesting, but then switched to a punk version for the rest of the song. I was converted right then and there.
I subsequently bought a couple of Rosie’s albums, Rockabilly Filly (did someone say Philly?) and Working Girls Guitar. Both are terrific. I’ve occasionally checked her website to see if she was headed up to the northeast, but alas, have been shutout. When I learned The Man was sending me to Austin, I checked to see if she would be playing and got lucky.
So I’ve already given away that Rosie plays rockabilly and country, but you can throw in honky-tonk and western swing in the mix, too. Oh yeah, and she plays some straight up rock ‘n roll as well. Her career started with Rosie playing punk, too. And she’s getting ready to release a blues album. Whew! She is the self-described “chick with the pick,” and that’s as good a moniker as any for a petite woman with a big guitar and a huge range. Here’s a link to her website:
We caught Rosie at her standing Friday afternoon happy hour gig at C-Boy’s. C-Boy’s is a decent club on South Congress, up the street from the Continental and Torchy’s Tacos. The stage is kind of small and the lighting is limited to red (ugh, terrible pictures!), but the crowd is enthusiastic and there is plenty of room to dance. We took full advantage, with BRP busting Broadway-worthy moves. And not only that, but Rosie was out in the crowd before the show, and we introduced ourselves, talked for a bit, and I gave her a BRP card. Cool points, huh?
Rosie’s band is good – she has a sax player, a dude on keys, bass and drums, and she was accompanied on vocals by Sheree “SugaRee” Smith. I love the fact that Austin is chock full of top-notch musical talent, and that many bands are so well-rehearsed and tight. Rosie handles all the guitar work, and she can flat-out play! And her voice remains strong. She is a huge talent that continues to fly under the radar. I don’t get it – once you hear her, you would think that she would be a big star – but alas, she is playing small clubs during happy hour for FREE. That’s cool for me and you, of course, but where’s the justice? And if you don't believe how good this woman is, take a look at this video and enjoy:
Rosie played songs by Dave Alvin, Wanda Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, and her own tunes. She ended with her great rave-up Little But I’m Loud, and the three people I dragged up to see Rosie all came away highly impressed. Would I ever steer you wrong, BRP team? Hell no, and I’m tellin’ ya, if you get the chance, go see Rosie. You will not be disappointed.
Onward but not upward. I have one final installment from Austin, and then need to get geared up for two Philly shows this week. It’s a full plate here, so dig in. I’ll be back oh so soon. Keep pluggin’ and chuggin’, the weekend will be here soon.
There are a ton of famous musicians either from Austin or who relocated to the city and called it home: Gary Clark, Jr., Marcia Ball, Alejandro Escevedo, Robert Earl Keen, Eric Johnson, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Ben Kweller, Spoon, to name just a few. But there are probably no more famous guys linked to Austin than the Vaughan brothers, Stevie Ray and Jimmie. Everyone knows the SRV story and we hope he rests in peace, but Jimmie is still on the scene. I was lucky enough to catch him at Antones, the blues club institution in Austin, and it was a terrific show.
Jimmie is SRV’s older brother and is famous in his own right. I saw Jimmie years ago when he was touring with his band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and it was a great show, but to see him in an intimate club environment in his adopted hometown was a huge treat. And Jimmie didn’t skimp on the show. You know that I’m getting a little tired of musicians touring without a band, but Jimmie brought along a huge and talented entourage called the Tilt-A-Whirl Band. At one point, he had 11 people up on stage! Very nice and I hope the troubadours are taking note.
It’s funny about the blues: I enjoy listening to recordings at home, but wouldn’t consider myself a huge blues fan. But when they are performed live by skilled musicians, they are just terrific. The upbeat numbers are pure rock ‘n roll, and the slower cuts are heartfelt and can bust even a tough old dude down into a bowl of jelly.
Opening for Jimmie was the Dave Biller Combo. I had never heard of Dave Biller, but he is a jazz/blues guitarist. He played with a trio, and it was quite good. I’m not a huge fan of jazz, but it was so technically proficient that it was hard not to have fun. I have no idea the name of his drummer, but she was fantastic. Here are a couple of pictures and a video:
After DBC left, Jimmie came on. He has a strong blues voice, and brought along horns, a guy on the Hammond organ, three backup singers … and then he pulled an older blues singer on the stage for a song or two. Whoa, I didn’t catch the dude’s name, but he was GREAT. We were already having a good time, but this dude just emoted the blues and had an amazing voice. Here he is – if you can identify him, let me know and I’ll pass his name along.
I have to admit that I don’t know Jimmie’s catalog enough to be able to identify all his tunes, but I did capture some on video. Yep, the GoPro travels easily, and I remembered to bring it. I also was positioned very close to the stage as is my wont, and got some strong pictures.
Antone's is a great club, too. It’s well designed with the bar off to the back on the side, a sizeable stage with good lighting (not just the reds, which are terrible for photos), and thoughtfully placed structural supports that are out of the way and don’t block the view. It also has great acoustics and is clean. And it’s intimate, holding a few hundred at most. I loved it. I’ve been to a number of venues in Austin, and while the Continental is a great club, too, I’m partial to Antone's. The only hang up: no security of note at all, as though Pulse and Bataclan never happened. C’mon, already.
Jimmie Vaughan was a pretty strong way to start the musical part of this trip to Austin. It’s always great to see a hometown hero in his own element. And it was a long two block walk back to my hotel. Oh, but this show wasn’t the highlight of the trip. That honor is the subject of my next Austin post. Y’all ready for that? Good as it’s headed your way like a freight train. I’ll see you soon, ok? Stay cool, as always.
News flash: it’s hot in Texas in July. Wow. We had had a big heat wave in Philly the week of July 4, which I escaped by going to South Florida (you think I’m kidding….), but what we experienced in Pennsylvania was just typical summer weather in Texas. Mid-90s for the highs are “average” and we got some “average” Texas weather.
The Man sent me down to Texas in July because he thought it would piss me off, but I turned the tables on him. Yeah, because The Man sent me to freakin’ Austin! For those who have experienced Austin, you know what I’m talking about – unbelievable live music scene, fantastic food, and friendly, cool people. I took full advantage and gorged.
And don’t tell The Man, but I prefer the heat to the cold. Austin doesn’t have the humidity that is characteristic of the Gulf coast and Houston. When the sun goes down and the temps fall into the high 70s, it’s quite pleasant to stroll around in shorts and flip flops. And they do know how to run the A/C in Texas – in fact, they do it so well that you can be downright cold when you are inside.
I’ve got a few posts on Austin, and you’ll just need to come back to catch the full suite. First up, general stuff to do around. It’s not every city that has street art that is musically related – many are trying to get on the bandwagon now - but it’s authentic in places like Austin, Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. Here’s a random guitar sculpture on Congress Street:
I still haven’t made it to the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, which I meant to do this time, but I’ll get there one of these days. It gives me another reason to come back and correct this wrong. It’s nice to have a famous statue in the former confederacy that isn’t some Rebel general – I don’t blame cities for taking down those traitorous bastards. But who will ever object to Stevie Ray?
We did some other cool stuff, like hang out at our hotel pool. Check it out:
Haha, you caught me – that’s Barton Springs, not our hotel pool. Barton Springs on a hot Saturday is a good place to chill for a few hours, but get there early. We arrived about 9 am (I know, I’m old as the devil and can’t sleep like I used to, so why not get going?) and parking was already a bit of a challenge. By the time we left to get some BBQ for lunch, the joint was PACKED. That being said, it’s a very cool place. Literally. The “pool” is spring fed and the water is … refreshing. Fantastic people watching, too!
The top BBQ we ate was at the venerable Iron Works, had really good Mexican food at Manuel’s, and went trendy at South Austin’s Juniper. Man, do I ever love BBQ and Tex-Mex! Trendy? You can do that in basically any sizeable city in the US now, and for my taste and budget, I’m not so sure I’m going to ride that bus too much. Watching millenials eating avocado toast is boring, but I’m glad that they are spending their money and not socking it away. Someone needs to be working to pay for my social security, after all. Enjoy the toast, my good friends.
There is an interesting strip of shops along South Congress that is worth poking around in for a few hours. Places like Lucy in Disguise, where you can rent or buy great costumes. We saw some really funny ones, like a slice of bacon, a “suit” that featured a flamingo-patterned fabric and short sleeve suit jacket and shorts, and every weird, wacky or crazy costume that you can think of from movie characters to Bigfoot:
You can see a large pipe-smoking monkey wearing a fez:
And if you get thirsty, pick up a Butter Soda or maybe a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Soda:
You can even see some funny street performers, like this dude and his two buddies:
Once you leave South Congress and head back downtown, there is a GREAT record store called Waterloo Records. It has a large collection of CDs, vinyl and DVDs – I mean, it’s like the 90s never ended – and features both used and new material. I bought 7 or 8 CDs for about $40, and they were a combination of new and used. The clientele must come often, because they have a couple of large bins of used CDs that just arrived that week – so you can go through Monday’s new ones, Tuesday’s, etc., before they have been put into the larger bins and mixed in by artist. The bins are at a great height for browsing, too. The store even has a huge section just for Texas music. When I popped in, they were playing Ryan Adams, which was nice and set the tone for a good experience. And while the place had a good crowd, the footprint of the store is large and I never felt cramped. Here are some pics:
Oh, and right across the street is a huge independent bookstore called Book People. It’s also fantastic, and another place where BRP and his money quickly parted ways. And because it’s Austin, there is always something weird, like this random Hawaiian ukulele that you can pick up:
Both stores feature in-store musical performances or author readings, and made me wonder why Philly, a much larger city, doesn’t have similar venues. How about it? Illiteracy? E-A-G-L-E-S? I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what: Philly might not be bigger than Austin for long. Every time I come to Austin, there is a ton of new construction ongoing, and major developments that were previously being constructed are now up and running. This is a city on the move. Unfortunately, that growth brings traffic and other issues, like a burgeoning homeless population and ubiquitous bachelor and bachelorette parties (I’m not sure which is worse, but I’m leaning toward the latter). Still, Austin is fun, fun, fun, and all I’ve done is scratch the surface.
That’s it for the first Austin installment. It’s on to music next, which, after all, is the reason that this blog exists. Austin self-promotes its live music scene to the hilt. It works: there is live music all over the place, a lot of it is FREE. And you know what I think of FREE, right? You always get your money’s worth, that’s for sure. Check back soon for the latest installment, and in the meantime, listen to some Dale Watson or Joe Ely to get in the mood.
I’m sure you go through stretches where you just keep jonesing on the same tunes over and over, and then move on to the next target of obsession. I’m like that. I get stuck, jam away on some artist or song, and then, poof!, move on to my next Big Thing. The funny thing is that I’m not like that with a lot of my life – I’m stick-and-stay with many things – but music allows me to binge then split. Here are some of things I’ve been harping on as of late.
Steely Dan - Show Biz Kids
How did a punker like me end up a huge fan of the Dan? Hell if I know, but I’ve always been susceptible to a song filled with hooks and a turn of phrase. And a lot of SD’s work includes some amazing guitar solos, something that I tend to like quite a bit. Fagan and Becker caught a certain attitude toward Hollywood that I share, and they put it down in this tune. Is it their best song? No. Is it a great song? Yes. And like the boys, I’ve been to the Washington zoo, but I don't have the Steely Dan t-shirt. Here ya go:
The Weeks – Buttons
I love this song. It’s on my Spotify list and I keep hitting the “repeat” tab to listen to it again. These dudes hang out in Nashville via Mississippi, and their southern roots ooze out of their music, either in the rootsy delivery or the lyrics themselves. This song has it all – solid lyrics, punch and attitude, and it rocks. But be careful with it: it can be addictive and should come with a warning label. Enjoy:
The Jags – Here Comes My Baby
Most people know one song by the Jags, the great Back of My Hand. But they have enough pop gems to make a purchase of their greatest hits a wise move. This cover of the venerable Here Comes My Baby has a great guitar sound, and makes you bop along to the broken-hearted lyrics. In case you haven’t noticed, I kind of like power pop songs with sad lyrics. I don’t know why, but this fits the bill and I’ve been jamming on it lately:
Titus Andronicus – No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant
I know Titus disappointed the last time they (he?) rolled through Philly, but their fantastic triple album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, is just chock full of memorable songs. I got stuck on this one a while back, with its dramatic opening notes and rocking guitar bridges. No future? Hey, it’s a new day in the US, and the future is … still there.
Teenage Fanclub – Verisimillitude
TF has three, yes, three, great songwriters in the band. I was going to do the ultimate rock road trip and go to Scotland to see them, but then they came to the US on a tour. Wasn’t that nice of them? I caught them at the 9:30 Club in DC (a much shorter and less expensive road trip) and they proved that they have a huge number of great songs. This track is off of Grand Prix and that entire album is great. This particular song has earwormed its way into my heart lately.
Tacocat – Dana Katherine Scully
Catchy pop song about the X Files female investigator? Yeah, I wouldn’t have ever thought to write a song about Scully, but Tacocat did it, and it’s fun and campy. But like I said, it’s also catchy as hell. “Cause she’s the only one/thinking it through/she’s got the perfect hair/no nonsense attitude.” This is what you get when you sit around binge watching TV shows and doing drugs. Keep doing it, America.
Stevie Wonder – I Was Made To Love Her
Oh man, is Stevie a national treasure or what? For whatever reason, I tend to jam on Stevie when the weather gets warm and I’m driving around with the top down and the sun beating sweetly down on my head. There are so many tracks I could have picked, but one recent day driving to work, I listened to this particular song about 5 times in a row, singing it out loud and causing quite a stir with my terrible voice and heavy foot. Stevie won’t be around forever – if you get a chance to see him live, I urge you to do so. He’s fantastic.
Speedy Ortiz – Raising the Skate
If you want to latch on to a new band that is pushing the limits, but in an accessible and hummable way, get on the Speedy Ortiz bandwagon. This song is off the Foil Deer album, which is full of really good songs. SO is coming to Philly soon, and I’m trying hard to rearrange my schedule to catch them. In the meantime, I’ll keep listening to this track.
Peter Frampton – Show Me The Way
Did I just lose all credibility with you? Too bad. I’m a big Frampton Comes Alive fan, and I still listen to it, particularly in the summer. I could have picked a number of tracks from this album, but I noticed that I listen to Show Me The Way as much as, if not more than, any other track on the album. It moves along at a brisk enough pace, and has that voicebox trademark guitar solo of Frampton’s. I saw him recently on the Big Interview with Dan Rather on AXS TV, and he seems like a really good guy. That made me listen to this album all over again. Oh, and let's just say that he doesn't look like this picture anymore, but he's aging gracefully and unlike many, letting himself age. Cool!
Parquet Courts – Berlin Got Blurry
I really like the slacker rock songs of PC, but this one just came on the other day when I was shuffling tunes on my car stereo. I hit “repeat” about 5 times, and now it’s fully stuck between my ears. Catchy? Oh, yeah. And if you’ve ever been to Berlin, you’ll know that at some point it will get blurry for you, too – that’s one amazing party scene in that remarkable city.
JD McPherson – Let The Good Times Roll
You know, I call myself a punker, but if you go through this list, you’ll realize that I listen to a ton of different music – indie, soul, punk, power pop, rock, folk (?) – and here’s another for you: Americana roots. McPherson is a terrific performer, and I really dig this great song. And how fun is the video?
Enough! One more? Shoot, I could go on and on, and rather than continue with more tracks, I’m going to stop right here. You’ll just have to come back now and then to see what else I’m foisting on the world of BRP. Oh, OK, just one more. No, two! How about
Pete Shelley – Homosapien
The leader of the seminal punk band The Buzzcocks had a nice little solo career going in the mid-80s, and this song was his biggest “hit.” It’s catchy, features a lot of strumming on acoustic guitars, but also has synthesizer galore. It’s not your typical BRP song, but that’s because you haven’t ventured inside my oddly shaped head enough. This song was a staple at BRP parties in the 80s and 90s because it is danceable and people always liked it. Well, I liked it. We’re all just people, right?
Interpol – Obstacle 1
This track is off the fabulous album Turn On The Bright Lights. I love the edgy guitar, and the singing of Paul Banks. In my mind, Interpol is one of the most underrated bands ever. They are coming to Philly soon, but I can’t make that show. But I did see that they will also be in Detroit ….
That’s it. Time to move and groove. Go have some summer fun, and I’ll do the same and get back to you shortly. You’re the best blog readers EVER – dig it, rockers.
I was in Boston delivering some baby furniture to my nephew. There is a sizeable branch of my family tree located in Boston, and they are all great fun. We enjoyed the hell out of it – well, maybe not the drive up, which involved navigating around every European’s favorite American city, NYC – and took advantage of the visit to hit the extraordinary Museum of Fine Arts for a too-short visit.
I love the MFA. It’s got a stunning collection, and its “new” wing (which is probably over 5 years old by now) must have doubled the size of the collection viewing space while preserving the façade of the former structure. I’ve been lucky enough to see collections of French impressionist paintings at many museums, but the MFA has a strong Monet collection, and we checked it out despite our jaded “we’ve seen a ton of this already” attitude. Well, it was, uh, impressive, and well worth the time. Here’s a non-typical Monet (the kimono painting) that captivated me:
Good stuff, right? Yeah, we all like the Parliament buildings, Giverney and water lilies, but that is one amazing painting that shows the expansiveness of Monet’s creativity. After Monet, we slid on over to the American collection because they have a great collection of John Singer Sargent’s paintings. JSS was American by birth, but like Whistler, lived most of his life in Europe. Hey, we’ll take him because his work is remarkable. I particularly like this painting, which loses something on the internet because of scale issues. Trust me, if you’re in Boston and you can peel yourself away from that city’s other treasures, take the time to check this out (called The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit):
Here’s a cool fact about that painting. The actual vases that were painted in the picture were obtained by the MFA, and are on display right next to the painting. It’s cool – sort of like going to Cezanne’s studio in Aix and seeing all of the props that he used in his paintings. It’s a glimpse of the real world that the artists lived in and memorialized in their work, but with an opportunity to study the objects themselves. And hey, if you are in Aix, a truly wonderful place, be sure to hike up past Cezanne’s studio to the little pocket park where he used to sit with his easel and paints and reproduce Mont Sainte Victoire, the prominent mountain dominating that part of Provence. It’s great.
Back in Boston, we moved on to the contemporary collection, which like most contemporary collections is hit-and-miss. Here are a couple of “hits” for me:
Both of these are from John Cederquist, an American artist living in Orange County, California. Kimono-style wood sculptures decorated with Japanese-style wave visuals. Readers of BRP know that I’m an ocean hound and just love the sea, particularly waves. I just read about Garrett McNamara conquering the largest surfable wave on the planet in Navarre, Portugal, and the story is just harrowing. I love the ocean, and have enormous respect for its power and beauty. Cederquist must share that love.
And his kimonos are also cool to me because I’m pretty partial to Japan. That country is just amazing, with its unique mix of the ultra-modern and the very traditional, and it sports, without doubt, the best toilets on Earth – trust me, they are almost worth going all the way across the Pacific to experience them. But they’ll leave you with the very real sense that we’re living kind of a primitive existence in the U.S. Back to the kimonos, the combination of ocean and Japan was just irresistible for me, and I captured these photos to share with you in the hope that you also went “wow, those are great” or something probably more articulate (I didn’t exactly set the bar high).
The contemporary collection also had this photo:
How BRP is that? A gold covered tongue. Not the legendary silver tongue, but GOLD, baby, GOLD. And drool, too! I thought it was visually stunning, and have no idea what it is designed to represent. Nor was I smart enough to capture the photographer who took the picture – but if you are in Boston, go find out and let me know so that I can properly give attribution.
Here’s the final topic for this post:
That sculpture is outside the MFA’s Fenway entrance, and it looks to me like a large baby’s head. I thought, hmmm, a big head, how appropriate for BRP. Yeah, I don’t think that I have a big head. I think of myself as I truly am: salt of the earth, a man of the people, a humble dude. Why are you laughing? Did I say something funny? Well, anyway, it’s a big baby’s head and I thought it might be appropriate for showing you on BRP.
And with that, I’m back to my all-American middle class life. You know, typical man-of-the-people stuff like sitting on the couch watching pro wrestling on TV and eating a bag of Cheetos or maybe a monster bowl of ice cream. Did you know that I’m a huge ice cream guy? Oh baby, that’s a post for another day.
Rock on, my good friends.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.