Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hello, old friends: the Old97s in Dallas

Upstairs at the Sons, the band shared the room with a big tree. . .

Mary dropped the hint a month ago with an e-mail announcing the Old97s, one of our all-timest favorite bands, would be playing four nights at Dallas' Sons of Hermann Hall to close out the year. With the second show on my night off, December 28th, how could we say no?

We rode over with friends Lance and Emily and were joined by Wes for an Italian dinner nearby in Deep Ellum; Mike met us at the Sons. All of us except Emily were '97s veterans--my first exposure to them was with Mike back in 1998, I believe, in Denton, on an incredibly hot summer night when bassist Murry Hammond collapsed on stage in the small, packed club due to the heat. After a glass of water and a few minutes in front of a fan, he was back on stage. How could you not like a band like that?

So I've probably seen a dozen Old97s shows since then. There've been outdoor venues and little dives, big crowds and little ones. Most of the shows have been positively electric; a few have been duds, but even those had magical moments.

And they're a personable group of guys. One afternoon before an evening show years ago, I was purchasing tickets at the Ridgelea Theater boxoffice in Fort Worth. I was wearing a shirt with a storm-chasing motif upon it; Hammond, there to set up their gear, happened to walk by and asked about it--he was intrigued by storm chasing and storm chasers, having grown up in Boyd, Texas, deep in Tornado Alley. We struck up a conversation, and discovered we both had a strong interest in trains. Not just strong. Make that obsessive. You don't pace Rock Island trains on your bicycle as a 12-year-old making 8mm movies if you're just casual about liking trains. Murry really liked trains. And storms. And traditional country music. So we hit it off well, and still keep in touch.

My favorite band? Probably second only to the Gourds. But not too far behind them. I'll give the 97s the edge in blistering-hot live shows; going to see the Gourds is often like stumbing into a basement jam session fueled by lots of pot and beer. Musically, I think it'd be hard to match the instrumental virtuosity of the Gourds as players. In putting on a live show that leaves the crowd drained and wanting more, though, the 97s blow them out of the water.

I was a single man when I first saw the 97s--unrestricted by the responsibilites of marriage, children, and having to provide for someone beyond myself. In that sense, the arc of my life has paralled that of the members of the band--now we're all married men, and fathers to boot, which has changed me as much as the band. . . new responsibilites, interests, and priorities come to the surface. Bassist Hammond, a dad and a husband, moved to California, and pursues his passions of researching Texas backwoods railroads and writing and recording original compositions steeped in bluegrass, early country, gospel, and hobo music. Lead singer Rhett Miller resides in New York, married with two children, and has released three solo albums, most recently last summer. That leaves Dallasites Ken Bethea and Phil Peeples, lead guitarist and drummer, respectively, holding down the Texas homestead, dabbling in side projects with other local players. The maturing interests of the bandmates probably has something to do with a scarcity of new studio albums in the past few years. . .and I plead ignorance in not buring their latest studio release from 2008, nor Murry's solo CD (which has since been rectified). I've been too busy, I suppose, to keep up with the band much anymore.

So, back to Monday night. Mary and I figured it was high time we'd find a sitter for the kids (thanks to Christie down the street!) and make a night of it and maybe roll the calendar back a few years. And the Sons of Hermann was as perfect a place as any to see them perform, associated as it is (along with the Barley House) as Ground Zero for the band's early days.

The band promised that no song--with the exception of their signature enclose barn-burner "Time Bomb"--would be repeated during the four-night gig. The material spanned their career, not particularly favoring one era over another. Those who wanted a big dose of Dreamy Rhett and his whistful romantic ballads about being Nineteen (Mike would refer to them as "Tiger Beat") were well served by a solo set before the band assembled on stage--serving as quite a contrast to Murry Hammond's own solo performance of quiet, largely introspective original compositions on death, relationships, and trains. At one point, channeling the long-gone past of the Carter Family, Murry accompanied himself on Harmonium. Our party marveled at how two such disparate musicians with styles completely opposite can front a rock band. . .but when one gets right down to it, it's the passion of the music that keeps the band together--now for over 15 years.

Anyway, enough already. It was a great show. And now on with some photos:

Rhett, Ken, Murry well into the show. . .

Solo Murry in his opening set.

Rhett and Phillip. . .

Sweaty Rhetty. . .

Ken, steady and reliable, trademark white shirt, on the Telecaster. . .

Murry harmonizing while laying down a bass track. . .

One more of Rhett ripping his vocal chords (I'm guessing he'll sound a little rough after four nights in a row. . . )
Here's a link to the Old97s official myspace page. . .
. . . and one to their fan site. . .
and let's support Murry's solo album. . .

And a Little About The Sons of Hermann Hall. . .

There aren't many music venues left in Deep Ellum that have spanned. . oh, the last fifteen years! The area has blossomed and crumbled once more. . . places like Trees and the Gypsy Tea Room are no more, and so it's a bit amazing that the Sons of Hermann remains largely untouched since I've been in Texas. Hell, the place is ninety-five years old this year, reigning on the eastern edge of the Ellum at the corner of Elm and Exposition. Now there's a shiny new Dart light rail line across the street, which wasn't there last time I took in a show (the Knitters, 2007). The hall is still a fraternal lodge of the Sons of Hermann organization, and features a funky bar with great greasy hamburgers on the ground floor and the great dance floor upstairs. There's a rumored bowling alley nearby, but I haven't seen it. The Hall hosts weekly swing dance lessons, a jam sessions for folk musicians. It's a link to the past of the area--and thank God, a stable link.

An institution in east Dallas for 95 years. ..

Just what a beer bar should look like. . .

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter's Icy Blast. . .

Our "Texas Sized "blizzard Christmas eve. . .

We just enjoyed a Christmas Eve unlike any other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the past 80 years: a snowstorm! Indeed, we had a "White Christmas."

Light flurries came in with a strong wind from the north on late Thursday morning. By the time we headed out to Christmas Eve church services at 2:30pm, it was a full-blown blizzard. Not quite a Nebraska/Upper Midwest blizzard, but for Texas, it was a blizzard. Not much covering the ground, but it was cool to see "ground blizzard" effects driving along. Our return from church took much longer than our trip there. . .by now, the snow was sticking, and the warm ground from the day before (it was nearly 70 degrees) had sufficently cooled off to allow the upper-teens windchill to cause ice and slush to accumulate. One slight hill was impassable due to cars ahead of us sideways on the road, so we detoured through a housing subdivision.

We made it home just in time to head back out again to Mary's aunt and uncle's for dinner. the roads had gotten much worse, but traffic was light due to the bad driving conditions. The trip back around 10:00 that night was the real adventure. The storm had moved on, leaving behind plunging temperatures, clear skies, and a bitter wind. And glare ice! Again, no real shakes for someone who'd spent much of his driving life (before moving to Texas) dealing with the stuff:

  • don't use the accelerator powering through icy curves
  • coast into curves; use a little gas to keep momentum leaving curves
  • drive at least a 1/4 mile ahead of your vehicle
  • tap your brakes--ALWAYS tap your brakes
  • if the roadway has turned slick due to "tire tracks" in your lane, straddle the lane; better yet, drive with one set of wheels on the shoulder of the road, where the snow and slush hasn't been tamped down to ice yet
  • listen to what the road sounds like;
  • and see what's coming out from under the tires of the cars near you. If nothing is getting kicked up and the road is quiet, you're most likely on ice. If moisture is kicking up and you can hear the hiss of the road, you're driving on water.

Our cheap-ass Wal-Mart swingset was swaying in the blizzardy winds. . .

Oh, yes, Christmas. It was a great evening and next day. We ate turkey both evenings. On Friday afternoon, we headed over to my sister's in Plano where her husband and three kids were hosting us, my sister Julie from California, and my dad Lou. Had an enjoyable time--played wii, a bit of Jenja, tried out the new "retro" Atari "classic" video game console Santa dropped off. Everything a family Christmas should be. . .and this year, we had snow to go along with it.

I think everyone will remember this one. . .especially the two little boys who live with us.

I. and his "Club Penquin" ornament.

E. and I. wearing their new Christmas p.j.'s in fron of the roaring (gas) fire. . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Remember the "Reason for the Season," and I hope you get lots of presents.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh, Tiger, you Tiger you!

I'll say it right off the git-go: I've never been a Tiger Woods fan. He always seemed like too much of robot--so perfect, so bland, so much the corporate shill. Image Is Everything-- and Tiger's image is that of the totally-in-control, unflappable golfer. Over in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson elicits the same response from me: You want the guy to have a personality, cut loose. Johnson grew a beard for a while. How cutting-edge. Tiger wouldn't do that--it might upset his Gillette sponsor.

But Tiger's in-control life. . . it just got more and more out of control through the weekend. First were the National Enquirer reports of an affair with a New York "party girl." Which the party girl denied. Right after that, the accident in the driveway. Sounded a little fishy. Coincidental. Like, what a shitty weekend he's having. Where was Tiger going at two in the morning? To get in line at Best Buy for the Black Friday sales? Hardly. And then we get the police report where Tiger's Blonde Norwegian Super-model wife heroically came to her husband's aid, smashing out a back window of their Escalade and pulling him to safety with a GOLF CLUB! At that point, the whole story lost credibility.

"Hero my-ass, " I thought. "She must've opened up some king-hell can of Norwegian whoop-ass on Tiger," I thought.

And, apparently, she did, scratching up his face and, one imagines, chasing him out of the house and into the Cadillac, coming after him with the nine-iron, breaking out the window, and distracting the World's Greatest Golfer--always calm, even under pressure--so much that he careened off the driveway, drove into a fire hydrant, and caromed into the rough. The Escalade came to rest against a tree. Game over. Tiger was subsequently ticketed for a bit more than $150, but this will someday prove to be one of the most expensive traffic citations of all time.

I'm guessing Tiger attempted to smooth things over using the Kobe Bryant method: a trip to Jared. But the Blonde Norwegian Super-Model wife isn't so easily bought-off.

Now, a few days later, Woods faces Bimbo Explosion after Bimbo Explosion. Not only was there the New York Party Girl, there was the Tool Academy Girl and the Vegas Nightclub Promoter as well. And who knows how many more will be coming forward? Their Sugar Daddy has been exposed; there will be no more luxury suites, fancy weekends away, and spectacular gifts--not to mention sex with the World's Greatest Golfer--so, really, what do these girls have to lose by selling their stories to the Tabloid Press? Fame is fleeting--grab for the golden ring while you can. New York Party girl, who originally denied, denied, denied, sees that the other hoochies are in line for their part of the golden ring--and suddenly, she's ready to spill the beans, too.

What the fuck was Tiger thinking? Did he REALLY think that, down the road, these women would remain discrete? That voice mails wouldn't be shared with friends? That e-mails wouldn't be saved to very hard drives? That he could keep these liasons secret? Maybe Tiger DOES lead too sheltered a life--did he really think his bubble of privacy would never be breeched? Or that his wife wouldn't get suspicious and look through her idiot husband's phone for evidence? (You would think he'd have been smart enough to have assistants to take care of the Girls on the Side, wouldn't you?)

So far, the advertisers who had backed Woods are standing pat. And why not? Consider the audience they're trying to reach by hiring Tiger? The almost-middle-aged businessman! The kind of guy who is likely married to a bored trophy wife who stays at home with the kids while he's out of town a lot on business, drinking on a company budget, taking corporate golf junkets (maybe joined by these golf partner/whores?), maybe having an affair, maybe just wishing he could get away with an affair. You can't say that their Hero Tiger, World's Best Golfer with the Blonde Norwegian Super-model Wife, didn't just gain a couple of notches of admiration in their book for his extracirricular activities. If anything, one analyist said, the incident may increase his appeal to advertisers: Tiger is only human! Just like us!

So, Kobe Bryant can bang a manic-depressive concierge at a Colorado Resort and lose his advertising contract with McDonald's--basketball's primary marketing appeal is to the young. Michael Phelps is caught smokin' a little weed--that was drugs, afterall, so he has to do the mea culpa, and loses Kellogg's Cereal as a benefactor. But Tiger's target audience are EXACTLY the men who dream of having the Buick and the blonde Norwegian Super-model wife. . .and a bunch of 20-something chickies on the side.

That's the country we live in. Tiger will pay the price, hire the lawyer, either divorce or not, but essentially, his marketing empire won't suffer a bit. Middle-aged American males admire a guy like Tiger--and the message is they admire him even more now that he cheats on his wife. If you don't believe me, check out some of the messages left on the golf.com website. I'm no prude, but I do believe in honoring vows, something that apparently isn't very important anymore in this country.