The heat may have kept the crowds away at Reggaefest '98, but the music was cool
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The Specials had an encore planned, but Hepcat did not.
Ironically, the crowd had to be suckered into hollering for
a Specials reprise, but they willingly screamed bloody
murder to bring back Hepcat.
“This is really cool,'' said Alex Desert, one of
Hepcat's two singers. “You guys are really hip.''
Indeed, when Tulsans show up to a concert, they are
always a feisty and appreciative bunch. The trick is
getting them to show up. As Reggaefest '98 got under way
Friday afternoon at the River Parks Amphitheater,
organizers were wringing their hands and gazing at an
unusually thin crowd. Until the headliner, Dave Wakeling,
you still could plop down a blanket close enough to see the
wrinkles on the singers' faces. This was, after all, the
13th annual Reggaefest — was the numerology working its
The thin first-night crowd likely had more to do with
the extreme heat (you weenies) and the question numerous
readers might have asked in the previous paragraph: “Dave
who?'' Friday's bill — indeed, this year's whole Reggaefest
line-up — was less focused and recognizable than previous
bills. The talent quotient was high as ever — higher in a
couple of cases — but we're still a city that won't lay down
the entertainment dollars unless we're sure we'll be able
to sing along.
Most folks over 25 probably would have at least hummed
along with most of Wakeling's crystalline tunes. The crisp,
Cockney voice that once led such inimitable (and nearly
identical) second-wave ska groups as the English Beat and
General Public has lost none of its crispness in such
standards as “Tenderness,'' “I'll Take You There,'' even
his old cover of “Tears of a Clown.'' No one else sings
with Wakeling's kind of panache — punctuating verses with a
falsetto bark, opening songs with desperate panting and
stylizing his creamy vocals evenly along a line between
romantic indulgence and lurid excess. His new foursome,
tentatively called Bang!, is a straight guitar-bass-drums
four-piece. True, their are no horns — a ska no-no — but the
witty Wakeling has always been a better pop act than a
trooper in whichever ska revolution, and when the quartet
(electrified by the impressive effects of guitarist Danilo
Galura) blasted through a full-bore rendition of “Twist
and Crawl,'' who still gave a hoot about the unwritten
traditions of ska?
Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls started off the day with
their usual aplomb, and the Rhythm Lizards again deftly
fashioned their own Margaritaville on the second stage, but
other acts fell short. The Blue Collars are a frenetic
young ska-tinged posse absolutely packed with potential,
but lack of rehearsal and enough material to fill the
timeslot made for a weaker-than-usual set and a troubled
ending. Judy Mowatt arrived as they were finishing and,
after asking where was the changing room, added, “Ooh.
Who's making that
Mowatt herself, a former I-Three singer behind the
Wailers, didn't do much to blow anyone away, though. Backed
by a flavorless band, she relied on Bob Dylan covers to
boost the intake of her strong but indistinct voice.
Somehow, when she sang, “We're livin' in a mad, mad world
/ When will the war be over?'' it packed the same punch as
it would have coming from the mouth of Anita Baker, though
her set warmed up as the night cooled down.
Saturday's line-up held faster and drew the standard
Reggaefest throng. Tulsa's own Local Hero again dazzled a
crowd left hanging when King Chango didn't show (instead
opting for another bar gig in Spain — whatever). The night
was capped off by Eek-a-Mouse, a veteran reggae cowboy who
scatted (“bing bing biddley bong bong'') his way through
some middling reggae, but the evening acts nearly brought
the stage down.
The Specials were as smokin' as most fans thought they
would be. Opening with “The Guns of Navarone,'' they tore
through several classics (“Rat Race,'' the scorching
“Concrete Jungle'') and equally arresting new songs with
the manic Mark Adams gyrating behind his keyboards, Neville
Staple singing and toasting (“Man, I thought Jamaica was
hot ...'') and the ferocious Roddy “Radiation'' Byers
striking his Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) poses and wailing on
much more melodic and jumpy guitar solos. After the
still-topical anti-racism rant “Doesn't Make It Alright,''
Hepcat trumpeter Kincaid Smith joined the Specials for
their classic “A Message to Your Rudy.''
That was only a glimmer of the fun to come. Hepcat may
be the classiest, most entertaining act at Reggaefest since
it moved from Mohawk Park. Led by the playful duo of Desert
and Greg Lee, Hepcat brought the festival to life with an
unusual elixir: they combined the carefree cheer of
Jamaican roots rhythms with both the wide-eyed swing
touches of current retro bands like the Royal Crown Revue
and the cool soul-jazz stylings abandoned since the days of
'60s cats Earl Grant, Brother Jack McDuff or Harold
Johnson. As the poker-faced band kept the music bouncing,
Desert and Lee (and sometimes Smith) kept dancing. They
seemed to prefer instrumentals like “We're Having a
Party'' because it gave them the opportunity to dance
together on the runway, though their warm voices blended
well for both sprightly romantic ballads (“Goodbye
Street'') and grooving movers (“I Can't Wait''). Worth
every drop of sweat.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Musical Mardi Gras Spotlights Oklahoma's 'Red Dirt' Singing Poets
By Thomas Conner 03/21/1998
AUSTIN, Texas — South by Southwest is a musical Mardi
Gras, of sorts, but Chris Maxwell spent Thursday afternoon
immersed in actual Mardi Gras beads.
To draw some attention to his label, Binky Records, and
its artists, Maxwell passed out Mardi Gras beads in the
South by Southwest trade show. One artist, in particular,
concerned Maxwell the most. In fact, it's an Oklahoman, and
it's the whole reason Maxwell launched Binky Records.
“I started this label a while ago after I met Tom
Skinner and wondered why in the world this man didn't have
records out all over the country,'' Maxwell said.
Skinner is a popular performer in Tulsa and Stillwater,
and he's at the apex of the group of songwriters that forge
the “red dirt'' sound — Oklahoma's unique brand of
singer-songwriter music with that good ol' boy touch.
He and a few other immensely talented songwriters --
Muskogee's Greg Jacobs and Stillwater's Bob Childers — are
featured on the Binky Records sampler that Maxwell handed
out to every journalist and music industry mole that walked
through the South by Southwest trade show.
In addition, Skinner, Jacobs and Childers performed an
unofficial showcase concert Thursday night at Austin's
Waterloo Ice House. The bill also featured Green Country
native Jimmy Lafave and area favorite Ray Wylie Hubbard.
The Big Names: To seed the festival with exciting
attractions, South by Southwest books a couple of
unofficial headliners each year. This year's biggie: Sonic
The announcement came just a couple of weeks before the
festival, but word spread quickly because the lines to get
into the show at Austin's La Zona Rosa wound around the
Why the hoopla? Sonic Youth is a veteran New York
quartet that — I realized upon hearing them again live --
created the entire sonic landscape that allowed grunge to
exist. The carefully reined dissonance, the thudding guitar
rhythms, the squelched noises and walls of distortion — it
all opened the doors for modern rock's anger and angst.
The band is still hot, too. During their long set
Thursday night, they played mostly songs from the
forthcoming new album on Geffen Records, “A Thousand
Leaves.'' Actually, these experiences weren't just songs;
they're compositions, sonic landscapes, carefully crafted
noise. Hearing it live is breathtaking. Guitarist Thurston
Moore closes his eyes and meditates on the music's
off-kilter drone; then suddenly comes the inevitable
change, a jerk in the song that turns Moore's guitar into a
live transformer. He snaps the strings, scrapes them, even
rubs them with a bow. Amazing.
Another oldie act played Thursday night: Soul Asylum.
The passe bunch of bores played songs from their new album,
“Candy From a Stranger,'' due in May.
Festival Highlight: Imperial Teen's Thursday night show
was an appropriate follow-up to the Sonic Youth show. Here
was a scrappy band from San Francisco taking the sonic
expanse and reverence of dissonance that Sonic Youth
pioneered on the other side of the continent and containing
it all within head-bobbing pop songs. The same occasional
guitar torture is there, and they learned their droning
rhythmic lessons from Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon, but
instead of crafting rock suites, Imperial Teen presses the
same sonics into the mold of an accessible pop song.
The results are exhilarating and smart. As the Austin
Chronicle's Raoul Hernandez said, Imperial Teen is the
Talking Heads as Nirvana was the Sex Pistols. It's the
same shtick running backwards on the same rock 'n' roll
road, and it's exciting.
MMMSXSW: The Sheridans, a Pretenders-like Austin band,
ran an ad in the SXSW program book that read, “In
celebration of their third annual rejection from SXSW, the
Sheridans are taking it to the street. Hey, it worked for
Indeed, Tulsa's own hit trio was discovered via SXSW in
1994. The brothers three didn't have a showcase; instead,
they wandered among spectators at a music-business softball
game, harmonizing for anyone who would listen.
“You know, people were smiling at them cutely and
laughing when they walked away. I don't think anybody
really listened to their singing,'' Christopher Sabec told
the Austin American-Statesman. Sabec was the one person who
listened and realized the Hansons had hit potential. He
rushed to talk to their parents about managing the boys,
and the rest is history.
Year of the Woman: Women dominated the annual Austin
Music Awards this year, held on the first night of the SXSW
music festival. One woman, in particular, Austin native
Abra Moore swept the top awards, winning Musician of the
Year, best album (“Strangest Places,'' Arista), best song
(“Four-Leaf Clover'') and best pop artist. Shawn Colvin
came in second behind Moore in each of those categories,
but Colvin won for best songwriter and best single (both
for “Sunny Came Home'').
Other awards of note: best electric guitarist, Ian
Moore; best female vocals, Toni Price; best male vocals,
Malford Millgan of Storyville; best country artist, Don
Walser; best alternative band, El Flaco (Sixteen Deluxe
came in second); and the Hall of Fame inductees were Shawn
Colvin, Doyle Bramhall, Daniel Johnston, Keith Ferguson and
Respite From Rock: Thursday night's Daemon Records
showcase provided the ultimate break from the rigors of
other rock. Daemon is the Atlanta-based indie label started
by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, and the star performer in
the line-up was one Ray watched with intensity.
Her name is Terry Binion, and her debut release,
“Leavin' This Town,'' already has been reviewed by
publications as diverse as People and No Depression. She's
a lone singer-guitarist who warbles in that range-jumping
singing style Nanci Griffith once dubbed “folkabilly.''
During her Thursday show, she played a song called
“Dear Richard,'' which she explained was her ode to a
night in the life of fellow Americana performer Richard
Buckner. It was the perfect tribute, her reedy voice
lurching between roars and coos much like Buckner himself.
“Are these the songs that you write out on the prairie
/ with the moon over your genius head brightly shining,''
Band to Watch: The band of the festival that simply
screamed “Next Big Hit'' hails from just up the turnpike
from Tulsa in Stockton, Mo. It's Flick, a quartet of very
green but hardy teen-agers with style and panache oozing
from between their power chords.
Oh, they've got their share of teen-age angst, but they
radiate such spirit and energy that tames the whiny beast.
Imagine the Smashing Pumpkins covering ballads by the
Led by the Thornton brothers — Oran, 18, and Trevor, 14 --
Flick has a freshly scrubbed look and fuzzy rock sound that
is destined to shoot them too high too fast. They're
already writing songs for the radio; Flick closed its
Thursday night set before a huge, responsive crowd with
Oran singing, “This is my song for the radio / want the
world to know.''
Flick's debut disc should be out in June from Columbia
Eyes of Texas: Every March, Austin experiences its own brand of madness
By Thomas Conner 03/22/1998
AUSTIN, Texas — A shower would have ruined the whole
Straight from eight hours on the road — grubby,
bleary-eyed, irritable and scatter-brained — we stumble
into, of all places, the Bates Motel. It's Wednesday night
in Austin, the first night of the South by Southwest music
festival, a veritable flea market of new, young bands with
a lot to prove (Flick, Sixteen Deluxe) and old, old bands
begging for continued respect (Tommy Tutone, Soul Asylum).
One such relatively new band with a lot to prove is
Billy Joe Winghead, a quartet comprising slightly askew
residents of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. At their official
SXSW showcase tonight, they have to prove that they can
draw a crowd and keep it — even people as bedraggled as I
am, longing for fresh sheets and hot water rather than the
club's stale cigarette haze and lukewarm beer.
However, Billy Joe Winghead's lead singer, John Manson,
is going into the gig with a different plan.
“We like to have the opposite effect. We want to clear
the room. Faster than pepper gas, if we can,'' he says, his
maniacal grin stretching horrifically underneath his Uncle
Fester bald head.
With that objective in mind, he's not going to have much
to work with. As the band takes the small, harshly lit
stage, they look out over a paltry crowd of about a dozen
disinterested faces. Again, it's the first night of the
festival. All the industry people are across town at the
Austin Music Awards, and the townies still have to go to
work in the morning. But eventually, Manson's plan to
evacuate the club will backfire.
Of course, if anyone could clear a room, Billy Joe
Winghead is the band to do it. Their kind of rock 'n' roll
used to reverberate from behind a chain-link safety screen.
They named their debut disc after a truck stop, and the
distorted guitar chords don't crunch as much as they stomp.
They sing songs about drug-induced car accidents, aging sex
queens, crooked cops and tractor pulls. And they do it
very, very loudly.
But these are the desensitized '90s. Such topics don't
frighten the gentlefolk anymore. Instead of clearing out
the dingy little Bates Motel, Billy Joe Winghead fills it
up. They start playing five minutes before their scheduled
starting time (“We will now be the first band to play this
year's South by Southwest,'' Manson declares as he starts
“C'mon I Wanna Lay Ya''), and throughout the band's
40-minute set, people stream through the door.
“Who is this?'' asks a smartly dressed Kate Winslet
look-alike. I do my best to explain over the roar of the
song “Peckerbelly.'' She looks and listens another moment
longer and says, “They're so creepy. I love it.''
Indeed, this is the kind of sleaze you wind up wallowing
in. My own whiny pangs for a respite from road weariness
were satiated not by the meager comforts of hotel room
isolation but by the bone-rattling thwacks of Tulsan Steve
Jones' bass and Manson's glitter-green theremin (an eerie
contraption that does as much to fascinate an audience as
the band's own bawdiness). The music's tawdriness, boldness
and spookiness fill a club with vibrations that relax the
most exhausted road warrior, whether he be a truck drivin'
man or a pop critic on the dole. Shower? Who needs it? We
must revel in our revulsion.
Whether tonight's exposure will reap the band any
rewards remains to be seen. The band cleared the bar only
when they stopped playing. The crowd included at least one
booking agent and some industry types towed by Ray Seggern,
music director at Tulsa's KMYZ, 104.5 FM, himself an Austin
native. Manson is keeping a cool head.
“I've been through this South by Southwest hoop before,
and I'm not expecting miracles. The fact that we had time
to set up and got to play right in the middle of the action
is enough reward for me,'' he said.
The band kicked around the rest of the week and was
scheduled to play a wedding on Saturday. Yikes.
A Tulsa Sampler
By Thomas Conner 03/22/1998
AUSTIN, Texas — The bright yellow sign outside Maggie
Mae's said, “Come hear the Tulsa Sound!'' It enticed the
throngs of music lovers off the sidewalks of Sixth Street --
Austin's main drag and the heart of the South by Southwest
music festival — and into the club featuring the first of
several bills packed with Tulsans.
Dave Percefull and Bud Barnes organized the festival
line-up through Percefull's Tulsa-based music company,
Yellow Dog Productions. The bill featured bluesy rockers
Steve Pryor, Brad Absher and Brandon Jenkins, as well as a
sister pop duo called Eden. For five hours late Wednesday
night and late Thursday afternoon, the four acts rotated
across the stage in the rooftop loft of Maggie Mae's club.
The Tulsa Sound it was — Absher's smooth, loosened-tie
blues; Pryor's hard-livin', cleansing blues of a true
axman, and Jenkins' muddy wheatfield country blues.
During Jenkins' first set Wednesday night, Pryor
sashayed around the sparse room playing air guitar. He
later commented, “Ever notice how the guys who can play
the hell out of a guitar never get the record deals?''
It was a question intended to compliment Jenkins, but it
spoke volumes toward the plight of these three players,
each incredibly tight and accomplished musicians who have
been slogging through the Tulsa club scene for years
without any greater reward outside the city limits. But
that's what these two showcases were for, Percefull said.
“I can't think of anyone in Tulsa who deserves to have
fingers pointed at them in front of record industry people
quite like these guys,'' Percefull said.
Percefull and Barnes landed the choice timeslots and
location when another record company pulled its showcases
out of the festival at the last minute. Percefull, who
plays guitar with Jenkins' band and has been trying to grab
a stage at the festival for several years, heard about the
cancellation, contacted the organizers and gave a loud,
“Ahem!'' That led to not just one night featuring four
acts, but two nights in a row.
“We lucked out, big time,'' Percefull said.
Rounding out the Tulsa Sound was Eden, a haunting pop
group made of sisters Sharla and Angie Pember. Sharla backs
her sister's vocals with alternating piano and acoustic
guitar, and the two blend their voices into evocative
harmonies. Together, they sound like Sarah McLachlan's
multi-track studio recordings, but they're creating the
dreamy mood live with two voices.
The Yellow Dog showcase got the most out of its
location, too. Maggie Mae's loft opens onto a popular
rooftop loft made even more popular by this week's warm
weather in Austin. Plus, the bathrooms for the large club
were upstairs, so eventually everyone at Maggie Mae's
walked by the Tulsa players. Hey, they come down to here to
be seen and heard, right? They'll take the exposure any way
Prefab? Another Lennon Goes Into the Rock Wilderness
By Thomas Conner 03/27/1998
AUSTIN, Texas — Saturday, at the South by Southwest music
festival, was a hard day's night. After pundits debated the
remaining relevance of Paul McCartney, Sean Lennon wowed a
star-struck crowd with his meandering and pretty
The young Lennon seems more interested in his parents'
Beach Boys records than the records of his parents. Oh,
there are flashes of “Revolver''-era John here and there,
but Sean has carved out his own sound right from the start.
It has more to do with jazz than John and it's more Pat
Metheny than Paul McCartney.
Unfortunately, like Metheny, it's not exactly
captivating to a large audience. The club, Austin's
Cain's-sized Liberty Lunch, was packed with eager fans at
the beginning of Sean's Saturday night set, but many left
Sean and his backing band, the unusually subdued Cibo
Matto, clumsily wound through some complicated material — a
few breezy pop tunes (as breezy as the heavy bass and
Sean's low-end guitar could get), a little post-Beatles
electric R&B and a lot of roomy rock-jazz. When he played
guitar, he sounded like the son of Santana, and when he
sang he sounded like Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek --
soft, overly breathy and slightly out of his range. All in
all, intriguing stuff that will demand careful listening
(read: a sizeable cult following).
John would be proud, surely, but John is dead. We know
this for certain. McCartney we're not so sure about. Thus
the Saturday afternoon panel discussion titled “So IS Paul
Dead?'' which attempted to assess the relative worth of
McCartney's checkered post-Beatles solo career.
The panel, which included a spectrum of resumes from
songwriters Tommy Keene and Vic Chesnutt to journalists Jim
DeRogatis and Michael Azerrad, not surprisingly was evenly
divided and came to few conclusions.
DeRogatis, rock critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, led
the charge by insisting that McCartney is “to 16-year-olds
today, the one who put that damned 'Yesterday' song in the
“To many kids, he's Sinatra. He's the target of
rebellion. You play rock now to not be like him,'' he
No matter how much support was voiced for McCartney's
latest album, “Flaming Pie'' (and its one stunning song,
the George Martin-touched “Calico Skies''), the discussion
always came back around to “Ebony and Ivory,'' his sappy
1982 phoned-in duet with Stevie Wonder that he will never
It was uncomfortable watching this heated debate rage
basically behind McCartney's back, but the very existence
of the panel and the sparking of the debate did more to
answer the question on the panel's title than any carefully
crafted barb. The reports of his death, it seems, have been
Austin City Limits: A South by Southwest Diary
By Thomas Conner 03/27/1998
AUSTIN, Texas — Four days, about 850 shows to see.
Somehow this year, the crowds at the annual South by
Southwest music festival were smaller and the shows were
better, which probably goes hand-in-hand. Also, there
weren't as many must-see bands on the schedule. That
allowed for more wandering and exploring, which is the best
thing the festival can offer. I tried to see as many cool
new acts and veterans as I could, and I've got the aching
calves to prove it. Here's a round-up of my subjective,
serendipitous stumbles through the South by Southwest
Sonic Serenade: With no bandwagons to jump onto this
year, like last year's electronica buzz, the most
interesting stuff being plied was experimental pop. The
last-minute scheduling of Sonic Youth provided the perfect
balance to trippy pop explorers like Imperial Teen, Apples
in Stereo and the fascinating but doomed-to-obscurity
Olivia Tremor Control. Even Sean Lennon veers away from his
dad's succinctness and essays jazzier, more expansive sonic
experimentation. Of course, his backing band is Cibo Matto,
so he couldn't remain exactly accessible.
Break on Through: 14-year-old Trevor Thornton simply
drips rock stardom, from the tattered-but-swank
floor-length fur coat he wore to the Friday night showcases
to the completely green and vulnerable look on his face as
he sings. He fronts the band Flick with his guitarist older
brother, Oran. Together with their made-for-MTV looks and
their immense sense of style, this Stockton, Mo.-based band
is destined for at least 15 proverbial minutes. The
quartet's Thursday night showcase was dogged by sound
problems, but no one cared; they simply put on too
enthralling a Big Rock Show. Imagine the Pooh Sticks with
Smashing Pumpkins production levels. Get ready.
Route 66 is nowhere near: Sporting an Australian ranger
hat and a quite rugged red-plaid pullover, English
folksinger Billy Bragg spent Friday pitching his latest
project — an album of lost Woody Guthrie songs recorded with
Wilco, due in June and titled “Mermaid Avenue.'' At his
Waterloo Records in-store gig, he was introduced by Robyn
Hitchcock, and he sang a tear-jerking
politics-made-personal lyric that Guthrie had scribbled
into the margins of a notebook, “She Comes Along to Me''
(“It never could have happened if the women hadn't entered
into the deal / like she came along to me''). He still
promises a Tulsa date on the fall tour in support of the
Guthrie album. Save your pennies and pay whatever he
OK, Maybe It Does: Once the oldies licks being passed
off as country finally oozes out of Nashville, the industry
will discover that the roots of American country music have
been kept alive in Oklahoma. Two nights of showcases at the
Waterloo Ice House gave a sneak peak at the bands that are
archiving these down-home sentiments. Red-dirt pioneers Tom
Skinner, Greg Jacobs and Bob Childers spun their tales with
more precision than usual. Michael Fracasso, the plains'
answer to Chris Isaak, made up for his overly simple lyrics
with astonishing subtlety and suppleness. Austin-based Okie
Jimmy Lafave played a few of his bluesy-boogie classics.
Finally, the Red Dirt Rangers capped off the fiesta with a
typically satisfying set despite technical problems with
multi-instrumentalist Benny Craig's steel guitar. And what
a Texas following all these Okies have; the club stayed
packed till nearly 4 a.m. each night. Also, Stillwater's
Great Divide played an official showcase Thursday night at
the hub for country music, the Continental Club. Look for
the band's debut soon on Atlantic Records.
Deluxe treatment: Their twisted, gnarled My Bloody
Valentine kind of pop is sometimes difficult to digest, but
the Saturday night show by Sixteen Deluxe was the most
amazing spectacle. An intrepid projectionist ran four 16mm
film projectors onto the band and the sheet behind them,
providing smartly choreographed eye candy (explosions,
shimmering water, sun flares, kaleidoscopic mouths) during
the full-bore set. Near the end of the set, Robyn Hitchcock
joined the band for a driving rendition of Lou Reed's
“Vicious.'' Soon, lead singer and guitarist Carrie Clark
was jabbing out her last guitar solo while crowd-surfing.
Much mania and mayhem. They'll be here in April. Don't miss
Visible Hitchcock: Oddball Brit Robyn Hitchcock was
everywhere during this year's fest, from introducing Billy
Bragg's in-store show to guesting with Sixteen Deluxe. His
own shows are always fascinating. At Waterloo Records on
Saturday, he played a delightfully trippy acoustic set with
violinist Deni Bonet, including such standards as “Madonna
of the Wasps'' and “Arms of Love'' plus two hilarious new
ones: about Gene Hackman (“and when he smiles / it means
trouble somewhere'') and “Viva Seattle-Tacoma'' (“they've
got the best computers and coffee and smack''). A fan gave
him a plastic tomato. “It doesn't say Texas on the
bottom,'' Hitchcock said, examining the vegetable. “It
says, 'Signs Point to No.' '' Get it? His new disc is due
He's Alright, and So Are the Kids: The Wainwright family
was in town for the festival — and that's not a new sitcom
bunch. Loudon Wainwright III was hyping his latest and most
fully realized album to date, “Little Ship.'' His showcase
before a packed university ballroom was witty as ever,
focusing on the subject of families and kids and thus
comprising a veritable Cosby-esque “Loudon Wainwright:
Himself.'' Most of the topical material came from the new
record (“Bein' a Dad,'' the moving “Four Mirrors''), but
he took a couple of appropriate requests (“Hitting You,''
“Baby in the House''). He remains astonishingly
underappreciated. Son Rufus Wainwright in the tradition of
Ben Folds Five.
And then there were ...: The windows of Maggie Mae's on
Thursday night were coated with dripping, freshly hacked
lung secretions. A ferocious punk band, Human Alert from
Amsterdam, tore through a set of fierce noise and bravado,
spitting on everything and everyone. One of the three lead
singers wore a beaten leather jacket with the
self-contradictory slogan “Master of Anarchy'' painted
across the back. ... Fastball's “The Way'' already has
conquered modern rock radio, but this Austin band has
plenty more hit songs to come. They played many of them at
an acoustic in-store show Saturday afternoon and their
capacity show that night at La Zona Rosa. They also have
going for them what Third Eye Blind somehow (and unfairly)
missed: critical respect. ... Jonathan Fire*Eater is the
best garage-club band in the country. Lead singer Stewart
Lupton stumbled through his band's raucous set like a drunk
Stanley Laurel, and he sang with such exciting desperation,
as if singing was the only thing keeping him remotely
lucid. Hot stuff. ... The theme nights this year were a
bust. The only time eyes were smiling Thursday at Maggie
Mae's Irish Night was during the Frank and Walters spunky
power pop set. Japan Night, Friday at the Tropical Isle,
was a dud compared to last year's mania. Also, Rock en
Espanol at Maggie Mae's West was wholly indistinct. Each
band was just another forgettable modern rock band who
happened to sing in Spanish, like Miami's Volumen Cero.
Pop's Tops Flock to South by Southwest
By Thomas Conner 03/28/1998
Depending on who you ask, South by Southwest is either
the most important event in the music industry or the most
embarrassing evidence of said industry's laziness and greed
Both viewpoints are pretty much on the money. Being part
of that evil liberal media to which the festival caters
ever so kindly, you won't be surprised to hear that I vote
the former. This annual bridal fair of pop music's best and
burgeoning is still the only time each year when the bulk
of the music industry and its press are gathered together
to actually ask, “What's new?'' Deals are still made at
this behemoth, and stars rise out of Austin every year.
Here's a bit of call-and-response answering some of the
questions and criticisms of the best time an expense
account can buy:
What the heck is this thing, anyway, and why does the
Tulsa World pay it any mind?
South by Southwest is, as Alternative Press editor Jason
Pettigrew so wisely stated it this year, the spring break
of the music industry. Journalists and music biz types go
down to Austin for four or five days, spending someone
else's money, talk a lot of crap and wear badges that grace
them with a rarely bestowed V.I.P. status. And don't forget
the endless buckets of free barbecue and beer. We wear out
our trendy black shoes striding between downtown clubs
every hour on the hour trying to see the latest buzz band
or the most interesting confection.
Hopefully, we see something worthwhile and we do what we
do in our respective professions to help make some noise
about it. It's all about making noise, from the actual
music to this ink. Plus, if Tulsa bands are part of the
fiesta, by God, I'll be there.
No one actually gets signed or in any way propelled
forward as a result of SXSW.
In a word: Hanson. Tulsa's own mega-star trio proved
that just being near the festival can be the first step
toward taking over the planet. In 1994, the brothers three
wandered among the crowd at an industry-only softball game,
singing for anyone that looked remotely interested. This
impromptu performance grabbed the attention of Christopher
Sabec, who rushed to talk to the Hanson parents behind the
bleachers. You know the rest of the story. If it can happen
to three smooth-faced doo-woppers, it can happen to punk
bands and performance artists.
Need more proof? Here are some acts that were discovered
— at least by the music press — at SXSW: Green Day ('93), the
Toadies ('92), the Gin Blossoms ('89), Big Head Todd and
the Monsters ('90), Lisa Loeb ('93), Ani DiFranco ('92) and
Veruca Salt ('94).
Each showcase is about 40 minutes long, and there are
too many going all at once. How can any artist hope to
discovered out of that?
First, the actual showcase is not what helps your band.
That's purely entertainment for the club-crawlers. South by
Southwest is not about actually seeing music as it is
talking about it. The deals go down in the convention
center trade show, at the record company parties, at the
chance meetings here and there. The priority is to meet
people and — dare I say the word? — network. Learn from the
Hanson experience. Just being there and being brave enough
to stand out, that's what puts contracts on your tabletop.
It's only for signed bands. Unsigned bands can't ever
Indeed, if you ain't from Austin, cowpoke, and you ain't
got a record deal, chances are you ain't getting an
official showcase. Unsigned bands are a rarity, but they're
there (case in point: Tulsa and Oklahoma City's Billy Joe
Winghead this year), and the bulk of bands are on indie
labels, which still means no one likely has heard of them.
Frustrated applicants should keep in mind, though, that
South by Southwest aims for a level of professionalism a
notch or two above your basic talent show. Also, if Tulsa
bands want more clout in this kind of arena, someone's got
to get off their keister and launch a credible indie label
here. We've got to walk it like we talk it.
How can they call it a new-music festival when they
bring in such huge acts?
If you booked a festival of 845 Billy Joe Wingheads, do
you think it would attract more than 6,000 industry types
and another 6,000 journalists? The harsh reality is that
you've got to seed the thing with some known names or no
one will come and chance upon the undiscovered gem. Gotta
get used to riding those coattails.
It's just an excuse for critics to get together and feel
important on someone else's tab.
And the problem with this is ... ?
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha -- which is to demean oneself.
David Byrne, it seems, is a machine.
He's moving around the stage like a plastic doll in some art
student's stop-motion short film, like two successfully fused
halves of the mechanized mannequin parts in Herbie Hancock's
"Rockit'' video. He stepped onto the Cain's Ballroom stage
Thursday night upholstered in a pink, feathered suit, thick and
bulky like the white one in the quintessential video for one of the
disaffected anthems of his former band — the song he's opening the
show with, Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime.'' His voice is
clipped and cold, same as it ever was, and this old, cyclical lyric
spews forth the same questions — where does that highway go to,
and, my God, what have I done? — that none of us gathered for this
otherworldly, Harlan Ellison kind of display have found time to
He must be a machine. He hasn't aged. By the time the programmed
jungle rhythms for "The Gates of Paradise'' (from his latest
album, "Feelings'') begin tsk-tsk-tsking out of the timid speaker
stack, Byrne has stripped down to a baby blue jumpsuit that
outlines a very svelt and fit 45-year-old.
Grasping his guitar as the chorus riffs, he plants his feet
firmly just inches from the front row of wide-eyed, cautious
onlookers. He's so close that the peghead of his guitar nearly
smacks the hat off the head of Don Dickey, the cheshire-grinning
singer of Tulsa's own Evacuation of Oklahoma.
Byrne is right there in front of us. Two nights previous,
barricades and burly security goons kept a crowd of fanatics a safe
distance from Morrissey, a performer claimed by fans to be coursing
with real, palatable passions and, thus, to be esteemed as utterly
human. This David Byrne model requires no protection. He is a
machine. He must be replaceable.
The five people on this stage are machine components, anyway.
The keyboard player is merely pulling stops and turning knobs to
allow the samples and programs to speak. The drummer plays a live
snare and two cymbals; the rest are computer pads. The plucking and
strumming of the bass and Byrne's guitar are only the beginnings of
the sonic impulses, which — after numerous devices have encoded
the frequencies — are emitted as wholly new and unreal wavelengths.
Even Christina Wheeler, a dancer and backup singer, takes her
turn playing not an instrument but a portable station of sound
processors and compressors that capture her voice and utilize it as
the breath of a larger, more layered sound. The machinery is
co-opting the energy of humanity for its own artistic goals, the
kind of live-vs.-Memorex dichotomy we've seen this year mastered by
Bowie and muddled by Beck.
But this is Byrne, and he doesn't seem to let the technology
control him. If I dashed back to the sound board right now and
severed the power cables with a quick hatchet chop, I'm convinced
Byrne would still be able to make his music. He wears a headset
microphone and dresses his new songs in doo-dad drapery, but there
is a deeper and more fluid sense of art in this display than in
Beck's synthohol or Bowie's ice crystals.
Of all the classics to revive, Byrne starts playing the Al Green
song that gave the Talking Heads the first sign of a human face,
"Take Me to the River,'' and the cold, jerky Devo concert
atmosphere begins to thaw. For "Daddy Go Down,'' a roadie who had
just been adjusting microphone cables reappears on stage with a
fiddle and balances the martial drum machine with Circean sawing.
For "Dance on Vaseline,'' Byrne bops back to the stage wearing a
black T-shirt and a red, plaid kilt (his third costume change thus
far and, for many, the most titillating — a young woman shrieked,
"He's wearing tighty-whities!'') and chuckles about the, um,
slipperiness of love. People are bellowing, People are bouncing.
People are bobbing. Byrne, the efficient showman — show-man --
smiles and shakes and sweats. Machines can't do that.
The music swells and glows, like oceanic phosphorous — pouring
through the sensual balladry of "Soft Seduction,'' foaming with
the borderless joy of "Miss America'' and flowing swiftly through
the righteous riffing of "Angels.'' Finally, the set ends with a
song based on that live snare drum, another Talking Heads anthem --
"Road to Nowhere'' — recorded at the dawning of the derision of
the post-boomer generation and written as a reductio ad absurdum
argument against the prophesies of our detachment and cyberization.
No, we may not know exactly where this highway goes to, but with
Byrne running in place and the rest of us unconsciously jumping up
and down on the Cain's spring-loaded floor, it's clear that the
road leads somewhere and that Byrne is as good a piper to follow as
In fact, he raises us to such cheer and wonder that we won't let
him go. We call him back for an encore.
He returns, this time in the most astonishing costume I've seen
on a public stage: a full-body skin-tight suit, with only eye and
mouth holes, illustrating the body's underlying muscles and bones.
Like an alien child of the gimp in "Pulp Fiction'' and educational
television's Slim Goodbody, Byrne sings a slow, eerie version of
"Psycho Killer'' while climbing across the stage in slow motion.
After folding himself into a yoga posture, the band bows, exits,
and the crowd demands more. Byrne returns in another tight jumpsuit
featuring flames from toe to chest. The rhythm festival cranks up
for "I Zimbra.'' After a shouting, dancing frenzy, the band bows,
exits, and would you believe Tulsa demanded a third encore?
Exhausted and hoping to settle us down so that we'll let him leave,
he returns and plays the new lullaby "Amnesia.''
In our newfound calm, we discover we are at peace. It feels good
to be alive and to be human.
David Byrne, it seems, is very human.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The only logical place to go after Tuesday night's Morrissey
concert was the Fur Shop, a downtown watering hole just blocks from
the Brady Theater and owned by several fellow Morrissey fanatics.
One of them, Mike Aston, floated through the bar wearing a dumb
grin and one of his dozens of Smiths T-shirts, boasting that he
actually touched his hero at the edge of the stage.
The stereo attempted to play Morrissey's "Kill Uncle'' album,
and the crowd just glowed. Collegiates and curmudgeons alike
maintained airy, blissful faces as they guffawed about the
particular moments of the show — "Did you hear him introduce the
band as a Tulsa band?'' "He couldn't stop touching his hair!'' and
"Look! I got a piece of a stem from the flowers he threw out!''
Complete strangers stopped at our table to discuss the concert.
These were Morrissey fans being ... gregarious. Bring on the
The show was short but stunning — and I say this not
solely because I am a lifelong fan of the former Smiths leader. I
had entered the Brady Theater with trepidation, steeling myself for
a letdown. He's so pompous and so British, he'll hate Tulsa and
make fun of us, I thought. He's pushing 40, he's been looking tired
— the publicity photos for the current album have been nothing
short of embarrassing — and he'll have lost his spark, I thought.
By mid-show, I thought, I'll be throwing back into his face his own
lyrics from a song called ""Get Off the Stage'' ("You silly old
man, you're making a fool of yourself, so get off the stage'').
But from the first song, ""Boy Racer,'' when he licked his palm and
criss-crossed his chest with it, all fears were allayed. Clearly,
the man who introduced sexual ambivalence and ambiguity to the
mainstream of popular culture maintains a surprising sex appeal.
The spark is still there, and as the show progressed it grew hotter
and hotter. The crowd, estimated at 1,800 and from throughout the
region, was putty for the next hour.
For a tour that is intended to support the new album,
"Maladjusted,'' he nearly ignored that batch of songs, performing
only the single, "Alma Matters'' (which has more much-needed umph
in concert), and the laborious street-crime dirge "Ambitious
Outsiders.'' Instead, Morrissey and his crack band tore through
material from his last three solo albums, concentrating on 1994's
"Vauxhall and I'' (seven of the 11 tracks).
And then came the Smiths songs. Having not performed the songs
of his old band in several years, the appearance of one Smiths song
— let alone two — was reason for intrigue. Perhaps Morrissey
simply missed singing some of the old standards. Perhaps the recent
royalties lawsuit against him from the Smiths rhythm section — a
case that he lost and is none too bitter about — inspired the
brief retrospective. His lone encore, "Shoplifters of the World
Unite,'' alludes to the former possibility, but the other choice,
"Paint a Vulgar Picture,'' surely indicates the latter.
This was the moment midway through the show in which Morrissey's
real passion surfaced. Until then, he had been dashing and suave,
but his much-revered noble chin had been twisted in more than a few
smirks and possibly derisive comments to the audience ("Thank you
for pretending to know any of these songs''), which screamed and
trembled with as much mania as any Morrissey audience I have
encountered. For "Paint a Vulgar Picture'' (which he introduced as
a Glen Campbell song), though, any provincialism fell aside and we
watched the Morrissey of our heady days of youth — mildly bitter,
endlessly clever, worthy of pity and simultaneously biting and flip.
"Paint a Vulgar Picture,'' from the 1987 posthumous Smiths
album "Strangeways, Here We Come,'' was the first song in which
Morrissey abandoned his lyrical ambiguity and went straight for the
jugular. Its ridicule of the entire music business, as well as the
fanatical fan adoration that feeds him, still rings alarmingly true
after 10 years — and it still backfires, turning the ridicule more
on himself than others. But if the lawsuit was indeed the catalyst
for the kind of passion he poured into this old invective Tuesday
night, perhaps he should be dragged into court before every tour.
But the substance of this show wasn't as titillating as the
style, particularly for a majority crowd that likely had never seen
him live before. (This is Morrissey's first-ever appearance in the
Sooner state, and on this tour he's strangely avoiding Texas, far
more populated with Morrissey fans.) The mere presence of the
godhead before the masses incited the usual frenzy. Beefy security
men fought a hard battle to tear away desperate young men and women
who had managed to crowd-surf onto the stage and wrap themselves
around their hero. It happens at every single Morrissey show, and
he hardly misses a note anymore. After one particularly boisterous
girl had been pried off his person, Morrissey sat down on the stage
and actually seemed to marvel at the occurrence — amazed that it
still happens, even in Tulsa, Okla.
At least he still marvels. When he takes it for granted, that's
when I start singing "Get Off the Stage'' in earnest.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Brush off the black coat and polish the white shoes. This year's Reggaefest lineup is gonna get you skankin'.
By Thomas Conner 06/27/1997
Each year when Interfest organizer Tim Barraza brings over the
schedule for Tulsa's annual Reggaefest, the list of acts he has
booked for lil' ol' Tulsa raises brows around the newsroom. It's
that ""Wow, they're coming to Tulsa?'' look, and it instills the
respect for this festival it so richly deserves. This year's
line-up, when you stop to look at the roots of these acts, is
nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Friday night is particularly astonishing, a night set aside for
several of the finest contributors to ska music — if not the
founders themselves. A couple of local favorites introduce the
Saturday vibe before DJ pioneer Tony Rebel and the Queen of Reggae
herself, Rita Marley. Pack your sunscreen and take a look here at
who's gracing the River Parks stages this weekend:
The Blue Collars
Aside from being the only ska band in town, the Blue Collars are
amazingly adept. Since wowing the crowd two months ago at an
outdoor festival show, they've been landing gigs in clubs all
around Tulsa — at least, the ones that will admit these thoroughly
under-age players. (The keyboard player is in the eighth grade, and
the rest are high schoolers.)
The septet fell into playing ska when, still playing punk, they
signed on keyboard player Charles Halka who showed the others the
magic of synthesized horns. ""We decided, hey, let's give this ska
thing a try,'' said drummer JoJo Hull, and soon three live horn
players were added.
""It's amazing how this stuff gets to people,'' Hull said. ""Ska
seems to be easier for people to listen to than straight punk or
reggae. Most of our songs, too, don't have truly deep meanings.
They're about girls and being in love and stuff in life that's not
The song ""Bros. Before Hose,'' for instance, sprang to life
after Hull lamented the demands of a girlfriend who complained he
spent too much time with his bandmates. He chose the bros. over the
hose, get it?
The Toasters grew out of ska's third wave in the early '80s, the
years 2-Tone Records created such a revolution in Britain with acts
from Madness to the Specials. With their own record company, Moon
Records, boasting such strong new ska talent — including the
Scofflaws, Skavoovie and the Epitones (in Tulsa earlier this week),
and the Dance Hall Crashers — they're poised as ushers for the
latest ska craze.
The Toasters released their first single in 1983 and have been
touring pretty much ever since — occasionally knocking out clean
studio albums, some produced by Joe Jackson — tirelessly preaching
the salvation of ska to audiences that are consistently surprised
by the music's energy and history. ""I think a lot of people are
surprised to learn that reggae came out of ska music and not the
other way 'round,'' said guitarist Rob ""Bucket'' Hingley.
The band is supporting its latest album, ""Hard Band for Dead.''
Whether or not you've heard of the Skatalites — and, believe
me, every serious ska fan out there had a small cow when they heard
this bunch was on the bill — the one thing you need to understand
is that the presence of them on this festival's line-up was the
bait that lured in the other ska acts. The Skatalites, you see,
might as well have — and perhaps did — invent this form of music,
the precursor to reggae itself.
The influence the Skatalites have had on ska and so much music
beyond it is incredible considering the original band was only
together for 14 months and made pitiful few records during that
time. The first 10 members came together in 1963 when ska was just
taking off in Jamaica. They were left rudderless in 1964 when the
embodiment of the band's spirit and energy, trombonist Don
Drummond, murdered his wife and was committed to a sanitarium.
After that, the Skatalites fell apart, and ska's laid-back child,
reggae, came ashore in America and Europe.
Those 14 months were exciting enough to attract the attention of
numerous future rockers like the Clash's Joe Strummer and the
Toasters' Rob ""Bucket'' Hingley. The influence of the Skatalites
started showing up in their work in the late '70s and early '80s.
Madness brought black-and-white checks back to the mainstream, and
the Specials scored a hit with a Skatalites cover, ""Guns of
Navarone.'' The new interest in ska led the remaining Skatalites to
reunite at the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica, and the
fresh energy in the band kept them together again. A new studio
record, ""Scattered Lights,'' was out on the Alligator blues label
the following year, and a cassette issue of a live show soon
followed. The magic was back, and by 1995, the Skatalites won a
The Long Beach Dub All-Stars
Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh ran into each other on Big Wheels when
they were kids, and they've been hanging out together ever since.
As the rhythm section for singer-guitarist Brad Nowell in Sublime,
they pushed reggae-drenched music to the top of the pop and
alternative charts, where two of those songs still linger.
After Nowell died last year of a heroin overdose, Wilson and
Gaugh wisely chose not to wallow, to instead ""keep it positive''
and continue moving the music forward. Sublime was never really a
ska band, but pinning down the new Wilson-Gaugh project is even
With nine people in the band — drawn from the session players
who helped round out the one and only Sublime record and some of
the shows — the sound of this group is definitely textured. The
tight reggae grooves are embellished with plenty of scratching,
hip-hop beats, horn riffs and the attention-getting toasting of
leader Opie Oritz.
The bunch came together last year for a benefit show to raise
money for Nowell's son, and the musical concept has held them
together for a few more shows since. But the cohesion is likely not
strong enough to make this the next touring and recording outgrowth
of Sublime. This line-up has performed only about five shows
"This show should be a rare treat for the audience out that
way. It'll probably be the only show we do anywhere near the
Midwest,'' member Michael Happoldt said.
Tribe of Souls
Talking with the members of Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls reminded
me of one of the joys of Reggaefest: talking to musicians who are
so incredibly sincere about all those peace and love messages in
this kind of music. It was difficult to get a word in among bass
player Al Hebert's proselytizing, and that's OK by me.
"Love is a learned process,'' he would say. ""There is goodness
out there. Love is definitely something you fight for, whether in
yourself physically, mentally or spiritually. We get out there with
that message and encourage people to find the best in each other
I don't get to print things like that from other bands. Only in
That Tribe of Souls is appearing at this year's Reggaefest is a
bit of an accomplishment considering the band formed about three
months ago. Hebert had been languishing in town after the club gig
he moved in for collapsed. He'd worked on some songwriting with
then-Local Hero guitarist Brian Simmons and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
drummer Sean Layton, but with the demands of each player's other
bands, nothing materialized.
Then Simmons and Hebert auditioned an unknown drummer named
Charles Butler. Despite never landing a professional gig before,
the two agreed that Butler was the kick they were looking for. Soon
Simmons amicably departed Local Hero and the trio became Tribe of
We ran a story last weekend about one local band's growing
nationwide acclaim, as usual overlooking one of Tulsa's most
impressive exports: Local Hero.
This straight-up reggae band has played all but one or two of
the 12 Tulsa Reggaefests and have been offering their powerful
peace to audiences around the country for almost as many years.
This summer is another busy one for the local heroes, playing
festivals in Colorado and Iowa as well as regular gigs across the
If you didn't catch them at Mayfest, this may be your first
chance to see the band with original guitarist Kelly Campbell back
in the fold. After Brian Simmons left the band to form Tribe of
Souls, Campbell drifted back in, mostly as a result of Local Hero
member U-E Flannery occasional sitting in with Simmons' other
Flannery said that a final mix for a third Local Hero CD could
be finished this week, meaning it could be on shelves by Labor Day.
The Reggae Cowboys
Now here's something an Oklahoma audience can get into: a reggae
band with a fixation on the American West. Their fliers actually
read, "Y'all come forward and check the riddims!''
"One in seven cowboys was black,'' singer-guitarist Bird
Bellony is quick to point out. "Bill Pickett actually invented the
sport of bull-dogging.''
The West Indies meets the Wild West! The group's latest CD opens
with a version of "Hang 'Em High'' that conjures images of
tumbleweeds rolling down the beach, spaghetti westerns filmed in
Trenchtown, dusty loners meeting in the middle of main street to
toast each other instead of drawing guns. The album closes with a
take on ""Hotel California'' that shimmers with an eerie vibe with
its epicenter somewhere near Roswell, N.M.
Mainstream audiences might know Tony Rebel from his hit with
Queen Latifah, "Weekend Love.'' Reggae fans know him from his most
recent album, "Vibes of the Times,'' which lingered on top of the
reggae charts for months. He's an influential DJ — sometimes
referred to as the Bob Marley of DJs — and the leader of a new
movement in dancehall music.
His first hit was the song "Fresh Vegetable'' in 1989. Since
then, he has maintained an unbroken string of reggae hits while
developing and producing the work of other reggae stars like
R&B-flavored reggae sensation Diana King. Billboard magazine called
him "an awesomely gifted toaster ... unmatched in the dance hall.''
What Reggaefest would be complete without a Marley on the bill?
(Paging Ziggy: Please phone in.) This year, it's Bob's wife, Rita
— the woman who dried her tears after Bob's death ("No Woman No
Cry,'' after all), picked up the banner of his music and message
and kept the procession marching forward.
Rita Anderson, born in Cuba and raised in Trenchtown, Jamaica,
met young Robert Nesta Marley in the ghetto, and their similar
musical callings bonded. They were married in 1966, and by the
early '70s, she had formed the I-Threes (Rita, Judy Mowatt and
Marcia Griffiths) to harmonize behind Bob, who had become the first
reggae act to land an international record contract.
From that moment on, Rita was at Bob's side throughout his
triumphant career. She took the stage with him at the Smile Jamaica
Concert in 1976, three days after both were injured in an ambush at
a rehearsal studio (56 Hope Road, now the Bob Marley Museum). She
was part of the One Love Concert when Bob symbolically joined the
hands of the leaders of Jamaica's two opposing political parties.
She was there at the end when Bob died of cancer in 1981.
She carried on and organized the World Music Festival in Jamaica
in 1982, a concert featuring every huge name in reggae plus leading
crossovers from the Grateful Dead to Joe Jackson, and that's where
she received her official title as Queen of Reggae.
Reggaefest '97 Dishes Up River Parks Groove
By Thomas Conner 06/30/1997
The Friday night crowd at the 12th annual Reggaefest was pumped up. People were packing in close to the stage, and the heat of the day along with the concentration of bodies was adding to everyone's giddiness. The Toasters had gotten everyone's blood pumping, and now they were chomping at the bit for the night's big name: the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, remnants of the hit-packed band Sublime.
So when drummer Bud Gaugh slipped on stage to test his drums for the sound check, the frenzied crowd went even wilder. Engineers were still on stage, bewildered at the response. The crowd thought the band was beginning, and the band decided to go ahead and gratify them — about 40 minutes early. Since they got such a head start, flustered-but- amused Reggaefest organizer Tim Barraza told the band to drag out the set.
And they did, particularly at the beginning. This eagerly awaited supergroup started off slow and lazy, with nine band members haphazardly wandering around the stage listlessly tossing off riffs and confounding the spotlights. Frankly, for a while they were pretty boring. However, once they offered T-shirts to any women who would flash their gratitude and scores of women hopped onto their boyfriends' shoulders to, um, show their wares, the band suddenly found inspiration and began seriously dishing up the groove.
The All-Stars — featuring the rhythm section from Sublime, left adrift after the death of guitarist-singer Brad Nowell — are an unfocused bunch with occasional moments of brilliance. Gaugh has got the most powerful left arm of any drumming circle, and he uses it to pound a tight snare rhythm for the rest of the band to follow. Vocalist Opie Oritz recalls some of the rapid-fire toasting of Cypress Hill's B-Real but with less cartoonish oafery. The jewel of the whole bunch, though, is sax man Tim Wu, a player who can honk a fat ska line as well as pull pure silk out of his battered horn. His versatility, in particular, colored the few Sublime songs (except the hits — legal problems, no doubt) and a surprise cover of the Grateful Dead's “Scarlet Begonias.''
The Skatalites had started Friday off, just as they helped launch the ska genre that eventually gave birth to reggae itself. Sporting six of the original members from 1964, the Skatalites seemed to be showing their age, playing overly extended and surprisingly mellow instrumentals that had more to do with jazz than ska. Veteran alto sax man Lester Sterling and new trumpeter Nathan Breedlove are fine, competent players, but the way they traded off noodling solos over the steady reggae rhythms of keyboardist Bill Smith (and, please, the James Bond theme?) — it was like listening to David Newman and Al Hirt at the Jazz on Greenwood festival, not the booty-shaking party for lazybones they used to be.
Jack Ruby saved the day, though. Jack Ruby Jr., that is, son of the celebrated Jamaican DJ and now the lead vocalist for the Toasters. This band ripped through an hour-and-a-half set of, well, everything — reggae, rap, the third-wave ska which they uphold so valiantly, even a swinging jazz number called “Mona'' led by trumpeter The Sledge. Guitarist “Bucket'' Hingley sang quite a bit, too, but Ruby was the showman, jumping all over the stage and dousing the crowd with innumerable bottles of Aquafina (for which he was fiercely scolded by a stage manager after the show — that was the All-Stars' water). Everyone picked up the traditional “skanking'' dance and wore out the amphitheater grass from beginning to end.
Tulsa's own Blue Collars served up the most potent shot of ska between Friday's main-stage acts on the second stage. In fact, they drew a crowd comparable to that gathered for the Skatalites. Their original songs are well-composed and hotter than the River Parks asphalt. Charles' Halka's manic trance over the keyboards is the heartbeat for the entire combo to pump out rollicking ska, namely a song called “Purposeless'' with an irresistible “hey! hey!'' chorus.
The festival returned to the more laid-back vibes on Saturday, focusing on more traditional reggae, like the easy beats and firm convictions of Tulsa's own Local Hero. Few acts — even reggae acts — maintain the kind of musical integrity and social importance that this band has held together for more than a decade. When singer-bassist Doc James asked everyone to reach out and hold the hand of someone next to you as he sang “Yes I Remember,'' he wasn't pandering or merely trying to wake up the audience; he was simply a shining reminder of what this music is all about. It's religious music. Its messages and its very rhythms are about peace and harmony, and when the band is as attuned and adept as Local Hero, it's very exciting.
Later, after a lively preface by Sugar Black and LeBanculah with the Sane Band, Jamaican toastmaster Tony Rebel pushed that vibe forward even further. Sometimes jabbering clearly over a parade march, sometimes toasting with the sense of melody Buju Banton hasn't yet grasped, Rebel talked about God, goodness and love in his songs, even slipping in a verse or two from “Onward Christian Soldiers.'' Before kicking off his encores of “Don't Give Up'' and “Love One Another,'' he sermonized about his love for children and his desire for family units to be stronger. Why does reggae reach people with these messages where Christian music so often fails?
Before Rebel came on, the Reggae Cowboys provided an opportune time to wander off to the vendors lining the edge of the festival grounds. This Canadian band's shtick is playing covers (“Hotel California,'' “Hang 'Em High'') and original songs about the American West with reggae rhythms. Five Rasta players in cowboy outfits overusing the word “y'all'' is just odd enough to catch your eye, but the music was too bland to hang an ear on.
Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls held down Saturday's second stage with its fat, funky sounds — more funky than Reggaefest has seen in a while. Al Hebert uses his bass wisely as much more than a mere rhythm instrument, walking funky lines in rings around former Local Hero guitarist Brian Simmons' flashy guitar work. Hebert also plays the tambourine with his foot. Ten points for ingenuity.
The great fanfare leading to the appearance of Rita Marley included a few songs by her sister, Tahina. Festival organizers got wind that P.J. Allen, the youngest survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing, was in the crowd with his family. They were offered to appear on stage, which they did, quite coincidentally during Tahina's song “Save the Children.'' Goosebumps all around.
After an inordinate string of performers from Rita's Tuff Gong label, the queen of reggae finally took the stage before an ecstatic and loving crowd. She returned the love throughout her 45-minute set. During a cover of “To Love Somebody'' (that's right, the Bee Gees), she said, “I love you, Tulsa'' repeatedly while blowing kisses to audience members. Late in her set, she asked, “Do you love Bob Marley?'' Enormous whoops. “Me, too,'' she said, and began singing Bob's “No Woman No Cry.'' Again, goosebumps all around. She plowed through a lengthy medley of Bob's songs, a gracious and dignified part of his legacy. During her encore, she tried to say hello to some of the audience, and she either handed her microphone to the crowd or it was snatched from her. Before she could grab it back, we were graced with whoops and shouts from the frontline crowd.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The pages of a thesaurus easily could be worn thin trying to
find the appropriate words to describe Saturday night's Hanson
concert at Frontier City in Oklahoma City, but none would better
sum up the show's madness and frustration than these two: seven
The No. 1 musical sensation in the country finally returned to
its home state in a swath of glory, they packed thousands upon
thousands of ecstatic young girls and their dumbstruck parents into
a venue meant to hold hundreds, they stayed cloistered in their bus
before showtime listening to the crowd chant, “Hanson! Hanson! We
want Hanson!'' — and they graced us with only seven songs.
That's a pile of gall for three kids who were begging for a
public gig this time last year. Other bands in their position (with
older, stronger audiences) would have been dragged back to the
stage — particularly by the sizeable Tulsa contingent
that traveled 200 miles round-trip for the Big Event, not to
mention paying up to $20 a head to get into the park. Heck, the
Mellowdramatic Wallflowers — another Tulsa band more seasoned and
deserving of the rocket to superstardom than our young heroes --
opened the show with maybe twice that number of songs.
How quickly they forget.
They were certainly seven fantastic songs, though, and during
that fleeting half hour, the crowd of sardined fans adored their
triumvirate of pubescent blonde ambition with the kind of
power-drill-in-the-ear screaming that hasn't been heard since the
You Know Whos came ashore. The crowd was so huge and so eager to
get a decent vantage point on the stage that they were squeezing
into the tiny field and crushing the front lines of girls against
the barricades. Ten minutes before Hanson took the stage, extra
manpower was called in from across the park to reinforce that line
of defense and keep the hysterical young'uns from rushing the
stage. More than a few were led away for heat exhaustion, despite
the afterthought of park officials throwing handfuls of ice into
When the Fab Three finally jogged onto the stage, they started
off with a couple of songs by themselves, letting their a capella
foundations show a bit. For “Madeline'' and “Man From
Milwaukee,'' Isaac strummed a guitar, Taylor slapped a tambourine
and Zac shook a shaker. The harmonies were sweet as ever and
further testament to the boys' whopping vocal and performance
For the remaining five numbers, the boys went electric along
with several other musicians, each of whom lurked discreetly on the
back of the stage. For the legions of cynics who wonder, the boys
actually do play their instruments, even if they're not always
playing the most significant parts of the songs. Every song was
hard-hitting and tight, more than thrilling the crowd.
The bulk of the signs held up in the crowd were announcing
various carnal desires for Taylor, but interest in the young Hanson
singer and keyboard player runs far deeper than mere teen-age lust.
This boy has soul, and it's evident from the first instant he
slouches into a microphone and beats a tambourine. If the boys'
career outlives the here-today-gone-tomorrow projections prone to
such young acts, Taylor Hanson looks like he's equipped to lead
dedicated fans through a lifetime of great and possibly
forward-thinking music. It's been a long time since rock 'n' roll
had a great white soul man, and I'm sure Tulsa would be proud to
say they knew him when.
Before any of that happens, though, the kids have got to hook
themselves up with a decent tour manager. They played this Oklahoma
City gig for free, meaning that each $20 admission from the several
thousand fans didn't go to the artists who deserved it. But then
again, for seven songs, maybe they didn't deserve a penny. If they
are indeed headed straight for Madison Square Garden, they'd better
work up a set that offers our money's worth — no matter how
adorable they may be.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Go SOUTH-West Young Man
By Thomas Conner 03/23/1997
AUSTIN, Texas — Shortly after I checked into the Lazy Oak Inn
in Austin, I met Flash Gordon. This should have clued me into just
how far out this weekend would be.
Flash sings and plays flute in a basic Florida bar band called
the Pundits. They didn't make the cut for one of the nearly 750
showcases at this year's South by Southwest music conference, but
Flash and his wife, Jo, came anyway. When your band gets rejected
from SXSW, the conference offers you registration at half price,
which we determined was reason enough to apply each year.
We sat on the porch, soaking in a warm Austin evening and
watching Molly, the inn's resident pooch, chase imaginary squirrels
around the inn's massive namesake tree. Everyone had their SXSW
booklets out and was making notes, circling band names,
highlighting times in the schedule. You have to plan your attack
carefully. At the top of each hour, about 40 musicians and spoken
word artists will begin a new set in clubs all over town. Just as
any sage would advise, you first must accept that you will not be
able to see it all. Then you plan your route, lace up a comfortable
pair of walking shoes, and hit the bricks.
It's all highly subjective.
Wednesday, 7:55 p.m.
The music part of the conference (film and multimedia kick off
the week) always begins with the Austin Music Awards on Wednesday
night. Storyville, the rootsy band that's been through Tulsa (and
will be back April 4), dominates the awards, winning Band of the
Year, Song of the Year (“Good Day for the Blues''), Best Rock
Band, and so on. Ian Moore lands Musician of the Year. Junior
Brown, of course, wins Best Country Artist. And everyone is
obsessing about the January death of local hero Townes Van Zandt,
who is inducted into the Austin hall of fame.
Wednesday, 10:15 p.m.
Always on the cutting edge of
cowpunk/twang-core/alt-country/whatever it's called now, Jason
Ringenberg of Jason and the Scorchers tears up Liberty Lunch in a
flurry of fringe and wins the Michael Stipe lookalike contest with
a freshly shaven head. Warner Hodges remains one of rock's most
overlooked and electrifying guitar masters.
Wednesday, 11:45 p.m.
Decked out in shiny silver space suits and flailing around far
more than keyboard players should indeed flail, Roger Manning and
one of his partners from the Moog Cookbook dazzle a slovenly
audience of media registrants at the Iron Cactus restaurant. It's
the first performance of the all-Moog “band'' outside of L.A. or
Thursday, 12:10 a.m.
As Tito and Tarantula start their set at Steamboat, film
directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarrantino are refused
admittance to see the bunch that played the vampire bar band their
film, “From Dusk Till Dawn.'' The fire marshals had been
ticketing club owners for overcrowding their establishments, and
the film moguls had to get over it like everyone else.
Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
Carl Perkins delivers the conference keynote address in the
Austin Convention Center. Certainly one of the most surreal
experiences of the week, Perkins noodled on the guitar while
speaking, mostly about Jesus but he did demonstrate the difference
between Bill Monroe's version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky'' and that
of Elvis Presley.
Thursday, 3:15 p.m.
Tanned, rested and ready, Tony Bennett sits down for a Q&A and
talks about his “comeback'' and his irrepressible love of singing.
When talking about getting booted from Columbia in the '70s, he
told the story of Duke Ellington's similar fate years earlier:
“They called him into the office at Columbia and said, "We're
going to drop you from the label.' Duke said, "Why? What's wrong?'
and they said, "You're not selling records.' Duke said, "Oh, I
thought I was supposed to make the records and you were supposed to
Thursday, 5 p.m.
Tulsa modern rock band Epperley takes the stage at the Voodoo
Lounge for a “pirate'' show — one not officially part of the SXSW
showcase. Perhaps that officialdom has its advanatages because the
quartet plays its heart out for an audience of about 12 listless
club rats. In whatever setting, though, Matt Nader is a thoroughly
entertaining live guitarist.
Thursday, 9 p.m.
Fulflej plays a subdued but affecting set at Liberty Lunch,
including a cover of Sinead O'Connor's “Nothing Compares 2 U.''
Guitarist and singer MC No Joke G uses the lingo (he actually said
“homies'') like he's the hippest dude around, but the music is
more deeply rooted in arena rock and power pop to allow his thick,
dark curls to become dreads anytime soon.
Thursday, 10:30 p.m.
Now that his original power pop band 20/20 has resurfaced, Tulsa
native Ron Flynt tried out his solo chops in the tiny space of Bob
Popular's Headliner's Room Upstairs. With fellow 20/20 member and
Tulsa native Steve Allen adding lead guitar flourishes to Flynt's
acoustic strum, the two rolled easily through a warm set of 20/20
classics and new Flynt originals. Flynt's soft, childlike voice is
better suited to this folkie setting, but Flynt is still concerned
with his primary (and unabashedly pop) lyrical topic: the love and
loss of chicks.
Thursday, 11 p.m.
Dwight Twilley takes the first step in his, what, fourth
comeback? Safely rooted in Tulsa once again, Twilley and his new
band lean into the set of power pop gems they'd been trying out on
small crowds at Caz's last fall. The large patio of Austin's
Waterloo Brewing Company is nearly SRO for this gig, and Twilley
looks as young and sounds as fresh as he did in 1975. He plays a
classic like “I'm on Fire'' right next to something brand new, and
no one knows the difference. He isn't slumming for the nostalgia
addicts; he's just doing what Twilley does — rocking with more
melody than the radio has played in 10 years. Susan Cowsill, a
former Twilley sweetheart, backs him up at the mike for three
songs. The set is flawless and exciting.
Friday, 12 a.m.
20/20 follows up Twilley at the Waterloo with more stripped-down
and direct rock 'n' roll. Fresh from his solo gig, Ron Flynt now
wears shades and Allen's finesse on the electric guitar proves
that's his real forte. Opening with the classic “Remember the
Lightning,'' they charge into last year's “Song of the Universe,''
a driving melody that gets better every time I hear it. The crowd
cheers every solo from drummer Bill Belknap. Flynt introduces “The
Night I Heard Her Scream'' as “a song from our second album, or is
it third? We've got four or five. I don't know.'' Someone from the
audience shouts, “I bought one!'' Flynt looks relieved and says,
Friday, 1 a.m.
Justly introduced as “one of the great songwriters of the
universe,'' Okie-born songwriter Jimmy Webb slides behind a grand
piano in the Driskill Hotel Ballroom and pounds out several of his
touching, smartly arranged songs. He sings with much more power
than he gives himself credit for (“These songs were made famous by
others who can actually sing''). Sure, Barbara Streisand wrapped
her silky voice around Webb's “Didn't We,'' but when Webb sings
it, the nuances of each original emotion are wrenchingly vivid. He
pounds the piano with a confidence that's built up for 30 years,
but his voice still caresses the yearning for that 21-year-old
woman on a Galveston beach. There is indeed magic in the Webb of it.
Friday, 2 a.m.
La Zona Rosa is offering “breakfast shows,'' featuring non-SXSW
acts whooping it up next to a spicy buffet line. Tonight it's
Oklahoma City's Red Dirt Rangers. Someone always dances at a Red
Dirt Rangers show, and one woman was so eager to get to the
dancefloor that she beaned me in the head with the Miller longneck
in her grip as she ran by. No problem, though, the slow laments
like “Blue Diamond'' and the male bonding of “Dog on a Chain''
had already knocked me out. Multi-instrumentalist Benny Gene Craig
absolutely wails on the steel guitar.
Friday, 4:10 p.m.
Thomas Anderson, a spaced-out folkie (a native of Miami, Okla.,
now based in Austin), finally goes on at ABCD's and once again
proves the strength of his songwriting skills. Anderson, exactly
like Elliott Murphy, writes intricate and intriguing character
sketches — songs that are too big for his timid, thin vocal chops.
In trademark shades, doo-rag and blazer, he sings of Bill Haley's
tragic death in Mexico and a freaked-out killer named Nash the
Slash. Even with subjects that could easily have been far too
precious — the admiration of Deadheads in “Jerry's Kids'' and the
touching “White Sands'' — Anderson boasts a tenderness that's
usually hard to find in songs of this intellectual caliber.
Friday, 5 p.m.
This time, Epperley drums up a teeming crowd at a skate shop
called Blondie's. They sound better, too, playing mostly new songs
— “She's Like a Marine,'' “Jenks, America'' and “You're So
1988.'' The crowd whoops it up and cheers without the prodding of
the band's rep from Triple X Records.
Friday, 6:20 p.m.
Just as every public establishment in New Orleans has a cocktail
lounge, every place in Austin books live music, especially this
weekend. As we savor the Mexican food at El Sol y La Luna, one of
those South American bands with the drums and pan flutes fills the
place with tropical ambiance. Greg Brown, the guitarist for Cake,
is at the bar. “I see guys like this everywhere I go now,'' he
says with a hint of boredom. “Better not go to Tulsa's Mayfest,''
Friday, 9:10 p.m.
On that note, there's even a band scheduled to play at the inn
where I'm staying. Scheduled at 8 p.m., Seattle's urban-folk
progenitor Caz Murphy arrives late. His excuse? He was taken to the
hospital after being bitten by a bat on the Town Lake bridge. I
love this town.
Friday, 10:05 p.m.
I could bypass the lengthy line and get into Stubb's with my
snooty press badge, but I opt to watch from outside the fence with
the cheapskates; the sardined crowd on the Stubb's lawn is
wallowing in mud from the previous week's rains. Supergrass plays a
solid set of very British Invasion rock 'n' roll, looking a great
deal more mature than the superb but spastic debut album that
spawned what fans feared would be the band's wondrous one hit,
“Alright.'' New songs from the album due this May included “Cheap
Skate,'' “Richard III'' and the Who-ish “Silence the Sun.''
Friday, 11:20 p.m.
It's Japanese Night at the Tropical Isle, and I wander into the
adorable screech of Lolita No. 18. Fliers on the tables declare
that the band “captive (sic) the heart of both punk rock fan and
cartoon fan immediately.'' True enough — the all-girl thrashers
are, to our Western sensibilities, cute as cartoons, and any punk
fan would enjoy their racket. Singer G. Ena squawks with a smile
over the band's quirky time signature shifts. Suddenly I recognize
one of the choruses — my God, it's “Hang on Sloopy.''
Saturday, 12:30 a.m.
After an interminable delay, Spring Heel Jack finally begins
their set, only you can't really tell. They remain in the dark on
Bob Popular's inadequate stage, and the ambient techno the London
duo begins punching out of a huge bank of machines is not
discernable in quality or style from the tape that was filling time
between showcases. Techno of any kind is simply unsuitable for
environments outside a dancefloor.
Saturday, 1:05 a.m.
The Mysterious John pleads for quiet through a bullhorn at the
start of the Asylum Street Spankers' show, declaring that “we make
music the way God intended — without the use of de-e-e-mon
electricity!'' When some patrons continue talking, the elder
ukulele player jumps out of his chair and shouts, “Don't make me
cut a switch!'' The bawdy songs — played with clarinet, ukuleles,
guitars, banjos, kazoos, washboards and a little soft shoe --
highlight the roaring part of the '20s (“Roll Me One of Those
Funny Cigarettes''). As homespun and rollicking as bathtub gin.
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Art Alexakis, leader of Everclear, is the first hungover
musician to take the Daytime Stage for a string of sets benefitting
Artists for a Hate-Free America, which Alexakis helped to found.
With just an acoustic guitar (he obviously writes with an electric
— listen to those strings buzz!), the songs about trying to kick
yourself out of the gutter are somehow more ostensible. I must have
been hungover, too, because I swear he introduces one song as being
“about my dog.'' The lyrics make sense: “You know I'm never home
/ I call but you don't talk on the phone.'' Later I'm told he said
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Back to the Daytime Stage for my hero, Mark Eitzel, former
frontman for American Music Club and a patron saint to all who
drink for reasons other than escape. He knocks out five of his
gems, getting lost in every song, flailing his body awkwardly and
with abandon (so much so that during “Firefly'' he hits the mike
with his head). He finishes a new song, with a chorus of “Why
can't you leave my sister alone,'' this way: “That song's about my
sister. She's a pro-rights kind of person. Her brother-in-law
banned her from seeing the kids because he said she was from Satan.
My sister is not from Satan.'' Despite that conviction, Eitzel
momentarily retreats into an unusually potent moment of pessimism:
“They told me to say lots of nice things about a hate-free
America. Is there such a thing? No. This country is finished.''
Someone in the crowd asks, “Then where are we going?'' “We're
going to hell, man,'' Eitzel replies.
Saturday, 4 p.m.
About 2,000 people cram into the second level of a downtown
parking garage to hear the Car Radio Orchestra, an experiment led
by Wayne Coyne of Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips. Lips manager Scott
Booker says they had expected about a fifth of this crowd. “I'm
just trying to keep people from destroying my car,'' he said. “I
wish I'd used a rental.'' (Though, in a Dallas Morning News note
about the event, Coyne had advised that most rental cars “won't
have adequate sound systems for the experiment.'') After an hour of
positioning 28 vehicles and running two tests, the real music
begins. Coyne gives each driver a pre-mixed cassette and instructs
them to press play and blare it on cue. Soon, soothing synthesizer
parts are swelling from various auto systems, and then the sound of
a gasping, moaning woman begins building from Coyne's car in the
center of the fray. The sounds build to a, well, climax, whereupon
the ecsatic female cries are sped up, manipulated and squelched and
begin rapid-firing from every car. The piece is called
“Altruism,'' subtitled “That's the Crotch Calling the Devil
Black.'' The second piece uses more looping drum sounds, but the
ending fizzles because the principle sound was on tape no. 16 --
and that car had blown a fuse.
Saturday, 10 p.m.
My one and only personal indulgence — Paul K. and the
Weathermen play at the Atomic Cafe. Even though he wears a
turtleneck tonight, the darkness of his tales of a criminal past
are not blunted. The fiddle player is superfluous, and the rhythm
section only adds spine to the brooding, mythical post-punk-blues
Paul pulls from his surprisingly powerful acoustic guitar. “30
Coins of Gold'' tells the spooky story of a beggar who posed as
Judas for da Vinci's rendering of “The Last Supper.''
Saturday, 10:45 p.m.
A Ryder truck is parked on the edge of Red River Avenue, and
there's a big film screen in the back door showing a director's
reel of film and video clips produced by L.A.'s Underground Media,
which has provided videos for everyone from Marilyn Manson to David
Bowie. This reel is dominated by videos for Cottonmouth, Texas — a
group from Dallas featuring musicians from the New Bohemians
providing a backdrop for the clever spoken musings of an ex-junkie.
The work is more accessible than that sounds. Watch for the Virgin
Records debut this summer.
Saturday, 11:20 p.m.
Who knew Fred Sanford had given up the salvage business and
launched a hip-hop career? Endlessly toying with his voice effects,
Mike Ladd slops through some captivating rants. The crowd was
paltry but enthused, and Ladd will probably get used to that
because his raps are about topics that matter, not sex and guns.
When he gets furious, as he does in his lambaste of Richard
Herrnstein's race-and-education theories in “The Bell Curve,'' he
sounds like he's about to clutch his chest and have “the big one.''
Sunday, 12:05 a.m.
Deborah Harry may not be aging gracefully, but her vocal chops
are juicy in her latest project, the Jazz Passengers, a sharp jazz
outfit that sidesteps the latest retro-lounge fad in favor of
stream-of-consciousness, almost avant garde compositions led by sax
and trombone. Harry's role as singer is well-suited to her dynamic
voice, purring one moment and roaring like a tiger the next.
Sunday, 1 a.m.
Figures. The best punk show I've seen in years is by the three
nellie queens in San Francisco's gay punk pioneers, Pansy Division.
Venting about kinky boyfriends (“James Bondage''), the men north
of the border (“Manada'') and right time alternatives to night
time (“Horny in the Morning''), this trio puts out the most
entertaining and energetic set of the week. Bassist Chris Freeman
is in a skirt and flaming out all over the stage while guitarist
Jon Ginoli (wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I Dream of Weenie'')
this time plays it a bit more, uh, straight, offering an unexpected
moment of seriousness in his solo tale of “Denny.''
What Is South by Southwest?
By Thomas Conner 03/23/1997
The South by Southwest Music and Media Conference takes place
each March in the remarkably hospitable city of Austin, Texas. It
could take place in no other city, really — Austin is, per capita,
the live music capital of the world.
Conference organizers book about 750 acts (solo musicians,
singers and bands) to perform one-hour showcases during five nights
in 36 clubs around the city, mostly concentrated on Sixth Street
downtown. (Every other club in town, though, books “pirate''
shows.) The purpose is to provide one-stop shopping for music
industry talent scouts and journalists (and, oh yeah, fans) looking
for the Next Big Thing. Among the scores of up-and-coming bands are
scheduled shows by well-established artists — it helps draw the
The event calls itself a “conference'' because it also includes
panel discussions of music industry issues and a trade show, all of
which helps to justify a week of listening to rock 'n' roll in bars.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Out at the Tulsa airport, there's a woman who runs a little
booth called "Minute Massage,'' or something like that. One buck
equals one minute of massage — a nice back rub and your feet on
one of those vibrating bumpy pads. I'm thinking of making the drive
out there today with a wad of cash. I wonder if she would
understand my aches and pains if I just collapsed in her chair and
murmured, "George Clinton.''
Clinton and his P-Funk All-Stars played (and shook the
foundations of) the Cain's Ballroom on Thursday night. They played
and they played and they played — for three and a half hours they
played, and I jumped up and down the whole time. I had no choice.
The funkmeister made me do it.
I can't say he didn't warn me. After the first "song'' — a
juggernaut medley that began with "The Bomb'' and kept exploding
for 30 minutes — Clinton and his tag-team of a few dozen musicians
launched into "If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It's Gonna Be You),'' a
track from Clinton's latest album, "T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (The Awesome
Power of a Fully Operational Mothership).'' The word "funk''
frequently substituted for another f-word, but in these hands it
was effective either way.
You couldn't ask for a more amazing show. Every era of Clinton's
four-decade career at the helm of two of music's most influential
and interwoven bands — Funkadelic and Parliament — was
represented, as was each generation of the Clinton family.
The show started off with the sexy R&B of the Parliament
players. They came on one by one — drums, then add the bass, then
the keyboards, then cycle through the horn players, then The Man.
Clinton walked on stage like the king of the tribe, wearing a
multi-colored knit hat over that mass of multi-colored hair that
looks like the mop used to clean up the spills in a kindergarten
classroom. (And was that a simple bed sheet he wore, patterned with
planets, stars and spaceships?) In no time, the band had the crowd
jumping to Parliament classics like "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker
(Give Up the Funk)'' and "Flash Light.''
Later in the show, the harder-rocking Funkadelic side of things
was showcased — the yang to Parliament's yin.
An enthralling, 15-minute instrumental jam spotlighted guitarist
Mike Hampton as one of the most scorching players alive. Later,
when Star Child led the rapping (wearing only a huge diaper with a
"P'' on the front and the word "Booty'' on the back), the
capacity crowd became one very large backup chorus. Funkadelic
tunes such as "Can You Get to That'' and "Free Your Mind and Your
Ass Will Follow'' fired up the joint, as did the appearance of
Louis "Babbling'' Kababbie. He's a rapper Clinton produces, and
he's a middle-aged, balding white guy. He looks like he just came
in from Miami Beach and left his leisure suit in a backstage
locker. But when he starts rapping — leading the crowd in shouts
of "Booty!'' — he rips it out like Cypress Hill's B-Real.
All in all, 29 musicians paraded around Thursday night. At one
point, there were 22 people jamming on the Cain's modest little
stage. (Actually, not all of them were musicians. The Nose, for
instance, is simply a handsome man wearing an 8-inch plastic nose
and a Cyrano hat, and his job is just to dance a bit and be
noticed. Nice work if you can get it.)
Clinton's son and granddaughter both came out to rap their own
songs. By the end of the show, the stage was filled with women.
Listening to this music, from the high-jumping funk to the
smooth and jazzy grooves, it was clear that all roads in black
music and beyond either lead to George Clinton or at least pass
through the P-Funk metropolis. Everything that's come out of
Prince, even his latest guitar-drenched rock album, was born of
Funkadelic. Every hip-hop and rap artist had to be influenced by
this early beat and Clinton's astonishingly poetic raps about the
folly of drugs and the CIA ("It is more profitable to pretend that
we're stopping it than it is to sell it''). Even drag queen
extraordinaire RuPaul put together a dance track on his first
record with a chorus that changes only one word from a Clinton
original: "Free your mind, and the rest will follow.''
All that history made for one killer party Thursday night. Half
of the delightfully diverse, capacity crowd was still in the
ballroom when the band finally left near 1 a.m. If everyone's feet
are as sore as mine, here's to you all.
How does Clinton — granddaddy Clinton — pull this off
every night? See you at the masseur.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Beck looked out at the pogoing, crowd-surfing bunch
gathered at the Cain's Ballroom on Saturday night and asked, "What
would Bob Wills think of y'all smashing each others heads?'' Then
he and his ace band — two of whom sported cowboy hats — eased
into the country-fried "Lord Only Knows.''
Wills was smiling down on the party from his crusty portrait
over the stage, and the smile could have been somewhat genuine.
Back in the '30s, he was throwing parties like this on the very
same wooden dance floor almost every week, and at times things got
just as crazy, if not crazier, as "these kids today,'' smashed
heads and all. Wills probably would dig Beck, not only for his
frequent dips into prairie-born strum and twang but for his
exceedingly populist campaign of good, good fun and music.
Beck is the ultimate entertainer. His recorded music is one
thing — a brow-raising and astonishingly fluid synthesis of funk,
country, rock and blues — but his live show illustrated to a
sold-out Cain's Ballroom this weekend what that music is all about.
"It ain't about all that (bull),'' Beck repeated throughout the
evening, it's about rocking the beat and having fun.
Rarely has a performer connected with a Cain's
audience the way young Beck did Saturday night. Actually, there was
no connection to be made; Beck took the stage and launched
"Devil's Haircut'' with the link already established. He was
clearly a peer, not an artist high on yon pedestal. Just because
there were squads of beefy security men keeping us from joining him
on stage did not mean Beck was going to exclude us from the party
He spoke to the crowd freely and in earnest, frequently
referring to Wills and not mumbling "Hey, it's good to be in
(tonight's city here).'' He broke into a few spontaneous dance
moves, his favorite being the stop-motion, Herbie Hancock robot
dance. He led the audience through every vibe, every nuance of the
exciting songs. He was with us, and nothing spoke to that fact more
than the absence of projectiles hurled at him. When bands are on
those big stages at Edgefest or wherever, or if they themselves
establish the barrier between performer and audience as a line not
to be crossed, then the reckless audience tries to make that
connection by lobbing lighters and cups and anything else at the
players. When someone like Beck mirrors a jumping good time, then
the only thing to throw is the funk. That is success in art,
especially the debatable art of pop music.
Beck's range is as amazing as it is entertaining. He rolls
out sharp hip-hop, like "Devil's Haircut.'' He pushes the funk in
hit singles like "Where It's At,'' which he played halfway through
Saturday's set. (His music is so in debt to black styles, so why
was the audience so uniformly white?) He screams frightening songs
with vocals so distorted they sound like four minutes of, "I am
the God of hellfire!'' He plays cool, traditional country, with a
woeful steel guitar, in songs like "Road Hog'' (Wills was smiling
for that one, surely). He even plays sincere guitar folk. He let
his band take a break after "Pay No Mind'' so he could play a solo
acoustic number and one that was simply him and his wailing
By the end of the set, when he declared that "tonight, Tulsa
is make-out city,'' the whole ballroom was dancing, even the shy
ones back by the bar. Definitely a good time had by all.
Dirty Three — my personal raison d'etre at Saturday's show — opened
the bill with a stunning performance of incredibly evocative
instrumental music. By my earlier conclusion, we could say that
this trio was perhaps not as successful at connecting with an
impatient audience because they did dodge a few cups, ice cubes and
what-not. (One more flying bit and drummer Jim White may have
surrendered to his rage, leapt over his kit and walloped a few
brats.) For those who listened, this performance was unparalleled
in emotional fervor.
Warren Ellis announces songs with quips like, "This is a
song about waking up thinking you're Elliott Gould, but you're
really Burt Reynolds, so you're (screwed).'' Then he hunches over
his violin like a troll from the family tree of Robyn Hitchcock,
playing much of the time with his back to the audience so that all
we see is a black T-shirt, a disheveled mass of brown curls and the
whipping hairs of a frayed bow flailing about one shoulder. With a
kick from White, the jerky tempo of a Dirty Three song can suddenly
go to warp speed, and then we see more of Ellis. He jumps up and
down like a maniac, sawing at his violin as if it just won't die,
and in a fit of pique — like a startled cobra — he spits at the
This was the greatest entertainment for the bored pre-teens
waiting for Beck. During such a frenzy in "Hope,'' one
particularly juicy loogie was flung at the ceiling and then,
unbeknownst to Ellis, who was lost in his art perilously underneath
the spot, gravity began to pull the syrupy substance back down. It
stretched about two feet before breaking off and falling next to
Ellis, much to the audible dismay of the crowd. When the song was
over, Ellis realized what had happened and said, "Well, I'm glad
we can provide some entertainment for you.'' He spit again during
"I Remember a Time When Once You Used to Love Me,'' and this time
it hit the mark, dripping back into his hair, and one wondered if
Ellis hadn't positioned himself just right that time.
If that's how he must suffer for his art, so be it. His
music, although unfortunately placed on a tour with the wrong
audience for it, is some of the most interesting of its kind.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Walls of wailing
By Thomas Conner 06/28/1996
Lloyd “Bread'' MacDonald and Winston “Pipe'' Matthews, together
known as the Wailing Souls, learned by doing. In their early teens, the two
would finish up a typical school day in Trench Town, Jamaica, with a vocal
jam session in an unused kitchen. Hanging out in their government yards (the
Jamaican equivalent of the projects) with the likes of young Bob Marley, Ken
Boothe and Delroy Wilson, they learned how to sing and how to mean it. Pipe
and Bread went on to record a string of reggae hits and establish themselves
as an important part of the reggae scene in the late 1970s and early '80s.
In 1988, they relocated to Los Angeles, but their mission and message stayed
the same. In fact, they discovered that the social worlds of Jamaica and Los
Angeles offered the same hope and despair.
We caught up with Bread in Los Angeles this week before his
Tulsa appearance as a part of Reggaefest this weekend.
Tulsa World: How did the environment of the government yards
in Trench Town contribute to the music you created?
Bread: When all the people are put together like that, it
teaches you how to get along with your neighbors. It helps to
develop a sense of family among many families. There is so much
poverty, and out of that is where most of the music is spawned.
People like Bob Marley and so many of the reggae singers are always
singing about oppression and suffering. That's our roots, really.
No matter where we are, we always remember the places like Trench
Town. It's easy for me to put myself right back into that frame of
mind in Trench Town. That picture stays with me wherever I go and
will be there all my life.
How are Trench Town and Los Angeles alike?
Trench Town in Jamaica is very much like Compton in Los
Angeles. Both places graduated many talented youths into musical
careers and both places have a lot of gangs. Lots of our friends in
school took the wrong path and did not survive. If Pipe and I
hadn't latched onto music when we were youths, we wouldn't be here
today ... Trench Town is a strange place. If you mix with the wrong
crowd, you could end up in prison or dead. We're thankful we found
guys like Bob Marley to hang out with and learn music.
And these conditions are pretty universal? Is that why you
wrote anti-violence songs like “O.K. Corral'' and “What's a Life
These things are happening all over the world. There is
violence going on all over. We always try to write songs that
reflect what's happening all around the world. Most of our songs
from 10 years ago are still relevant. I don't know if that's good
What's unique about reggae music? Why can it spread those
good messages so effectively?
That message itself is unique to reggae music. The rhythm is
very unique, too. You hear a reggae song and you know it's a reggae
song. We Jamaicans talk a different way and walk a different way
and dance a different way. The music basically reflects all those
things. It's music born out of the ghetto, not out of a
conservatory or something. The people who play reggae music learned
to play music by ear. It's created in jam sessions. In that way, we
have no boundary, nothing to say you can't do this or don't do
that. You just do whatever is natural in the context. It's freedom
Is it difficult to balance the demands of writing good music
and good messages?
We look at music as a spiritual thing, and the lyrical
content is most important. If we have a great track going but the
lyrics are not right yet, we'll take two months or whatever it
takes to finish the lyrics before we finish the track. The words
What do you think of other forms of reggae — ska, dancehall,
It's all the same music, man, it's just the music growing.
It's the same thing and we love it. You have to have the roots and
you have to have the branches. To me, it's just Jamaican music,
whatever you call it.
Walls of Wailing II
By Thomas Conner 06/28/1996
Bob Marley's last birthday party was thrown in Germany where
the Wailers had convened briefly after a tour. It was clear by that
point that Marley was not well, that his cancer was a formidable
foe even to someone as positively charged as Marley. Amid the
tempered revelry, Marley pulled aside the band's guitarist, Junior
Marvin, and bassist, Aston “Familyman'' Barrett, and told them to
keep the Wailers together.
“He said if worse came to the worst, he wanted us to keep
the positive energy going, to keep the music and the spirit and the
vibe going,'' Marvin told the Tulsa World last week in a rare media
interview. “We thank Jah we're still here, doing this for him and
True to Marley's wish, the Wailers have not stopped. They
played at Marley's funeral in 1981. A few months later, they were
already playing tribute shows in San Francisco. The occasional
legal wrangle has delayed recordings since then, but the band has
released three albums since Marley passed, and the members continue
spreading Marley's positive vibration around the world.
The Wailers without Marley are a different band, certainly. A
lot of technology has come around since Marley was in the studio,
and the Wailers make use of it to create their own sound, their own
songs. But they will always carry the legacy of Bob — a legacy in
music that extends far beyond the confines of “reggae'' or even
“black'' music — and they'll probably always play the old Marley
“Our show is about 50-50 old and new,'' Marvin said. “We do
about six or seven songs from our new album, and we do the Marley
classics like `Exodus' and `I Shot the Sheriff,' stuff like that. A
lot of people want to hear the old songs, but that doesn't mean our
audience is always old. There's a brand new generation out there.
Our crowds are full of 12-year-olds, 17-year-olds, parents,
grandparents, delinquents. They want to hear the things Marley sang
about. We don't get tired of it. It's like the Olympics, it's like
with Bob we won the Olympic medal. It's an honor. You can't decide
one day you just don't want to talk about it anymore. It's an honor
to keep the message going.''
The Wailers started humbly enough, as a trio of singers
wanting to take the doo-wop sounds they loved on radio and fit them
to the island rhythms of Jamaica. Marley's smoky voice led the
group through two albums that launched the band onto international
charts, and the peaceful revolution began.
Marvin hooked up with the Wailers in London in 1977. He had
played guitar on Steve Winwood's “Arc of a Diver,'' but he had no
steady band of his own. Marley recognized Marvin's ability to play
a wide variety of styles, from rock to blues to reggae riddim and
brought him into the fold. The first project they worked on
together was the “Exodus'' album.
“Our first session together was when I came in to play one
day with Bob and Tyrone Downey, the keyboard player. They were
jamming, so we became a trio. We were really happy with the way
things sounded, and I thought it was great to be playing with a
reggae band like this. Dreams really do come true,'' Marvin said.
Marvin's lead guitar gave some presence to the typically
bass-defined reggae pocket. His grasp of different styles came from
his upbringing — a jazzman father, an uncle who was a sound man,
schooling that exposed him to classical music and rock 'n' roll.
Marvin refers to his own playing as a mix of Jimi Hendrix and
George Benson, and Bob used that versatility to explore all the
Had Marley's popularity not taken off as it did, Marvin
wonders if Jamaican artists would have seen the acceptance they now
enjoy. Before Marley's reggae music got around, few off-island had
heard the style at all.
“Nowadays you see many reggae bands all over the world. In
Bob's time, hardly anyone from Jamaica was touring. Many were
putting out that positive energy in the music, but they hadn't been
able to get it out to the world,'' Marvin said.
So that's another reason the Wailers determined to carry on
with the band. Reggae is one part groove to one part sermonizing --
most of these musicians have a message of love they want to preach
to the masses, and in the wake of Marley their jamming can reach
wider audiences. The groove makes the message easy to take, and the
message makes you feel like dancing. It's musical mission work.
Marley was able to break through, Marvin said, because he
kept his messages simple. Plus, he practiced what he preached, a
rarity among musicians, Marvin said.
“Bob always said he wanted even a baby to be able to
understand what he was saying,'' Marvin said. “He was direct,
strong and forceful in a very loving kind of way. He didn't put you
off or upset you. He made you happy to talk about thing you might
be afraid to talk about.''
The latest Wailers album, “Jah Message'' on Ras Records,
uses a lot of new technology — drum machines supply a lot of the
groove and eerie guitar effects flavor the mixes — but the message
is the same. Some titles: “Rasta,'' “Jah Love (Believers)'' and
“Many Roads to Zion.'' “Know Thyself'' even reflects the Wailers'
doo-wop roots; Marvin and company open the song singing, “Shoo
whap shoo whap, do do do day.''
The world needs reggae, Marvin said. We need that message,
that reminder of peace. Music being a universal language, it can
reach cultures all over the world, and we always need it, he said.
“We need the message all the time. The conflicts and
troubles are the same around the world in every time of history. We
have a negative, warring side to us and we need to calm that
vibration. Music helps us stay calm and balanced,'' Marvin said.
“The message is very simple — 'Let's get together and feel all
right,' like the song says. It's that simple.''
By Thomas Conner 07/02/1996
It's easy to hype Reggaefest with lots of cutesy,
condescending ignorance — talking about musical styles you really
don't understand, insulting overuse of the word “mon'' — but when
the whole thing comes together, it really is something special. For
all the advertised peace, love and understanding, there is a
unified feeling of happiness and hope that actually delivers.
Or that could just be the delirium of heatstroke.
Either way, Reggaefest is the best party around, and this year's
bill was the finest lineup of world music talent in years — a
truly impressive bunch of international stars in lil' ol' Tulsa.
The crowd Saturday evening appeared to be a huge turnout even for
the perennially popular Reggaefest. The big draw was the featured
act, the one and only Wailers band. This continually evolving group
that once backed the legendary Bob Marley continues to tour and
perform Marley's songs as well as its own originals. But the crowd
came to hear those classics, and the Wailers came through.
What a show — you've got the expectation of seeing several
historical figures in the pantheon of world music, you've got a
catalog of timeless songs that by their very nature instill
positive vibrations and singing along, and you've got a band that
in spite of anyone's huffing about composition of original members
versus new members delivers a powerful performance. Lead singer and
guitarist Junior Marvin can perform “I Shot the Sheriff''
repeatedly and have his ticket written for him for the rest of his
life, but if he's resting on his laurels he doesn't show it. He put
every bit of his vocal strength and showmanship into Saturday
night's set, and they way he sermonized the sweaty congregation
hinted that his heart was in it, too.
The Wailers are still an impressive band. Aston “Familyman''
Barrett is the best bassist in reggae, a genre that revolves around
the bass guitar. Alvin “Secco'' Patterson is the happiest
percussion player you'll ever see. Saturday night he slapped his
drums and wore a towering rave hat with Rasta colors. During
“Where Is Love,'' he removed it and, sure enough, that huge hat
was stuffed with dreads.
Many Marley classics were covered — “Natty Dread,'' “I Shot the
Sheriff,'' “No Woman, No Cry,'' “Positive Vibration,''
“Exodus,'' even “The Heathen.'' The new Wailers material varies
between good progressive reggae, like “Jah Love,'' to silly filler
like “Rasta,'' sort of a Rastafarian “Jesus Loves Me.''
Marvin pulled out the 12-string guitar for “Redemption Song,''
and the performance of “One Love'' was as inspiring as any gospel
music. It is gospel music. Listen to those lyrics, “Give
thanks and praise to the Lord, and I will feel all right.'' It's a
devoted religious message being played to a multitude of eager
listeners, and it succeeds where much religious music fails because
of that extra step — feeling all right. Thousands of Tulsans held
hands and felt all right for two solid hours. Amen.
The two-day festival featured 10 other high-class musical acts.
Here are some highlights:
Festival organizers tried to branch out a bit this year. One of the
results of that effort was the appearance of the Grown-Ups on the
second stage Friday and Saturday. This is a ska band from Denton,
Texas, and they're pretty hot. Ska is a fairly rigid style of
music, but the Grown-Ups found ways to loosen it up a bit, chiefly
due to an energetic trombone player (with great shoes) and an
innovative drummer. The lead singer, though his lyrics are pretty
amateurish, barks with the force of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
When someone on Friday shouted, “Play some Bosstones!'' he said,
“What are the Bosstones? Is that 'More Than a Feeling?'''
Another result of branching out was Friday night's main stage set
by O.J. Ekemodie and the Nigerian All-Stars. Ekemodie and his two
female dancers, one on either side, must be the Tony Orlando & Dawn
of western Africa, playing their Afro-beat and singing songs about
“social concerns.'' He played a mean sax and a cool drum out of
which he got a surprising array of tones. His frequent dedications
to a free Nelson Mandela helped both charge and date the festival;
Mandela's freedom was still nebulous during last year's Reggaefest.
Billy Goat returned to Tulsa to ply us once again with its tribal
rhythms. This band, now based in Lawrence, Kan., played the
festival's second stage Saturday evening and actually got some of
the typically staid second stage audience members to dance. Billy
Goat always does. The rhythm is the thing for them, evidenced by
two drummers and a band member who's sole purpose is to dance.
Local Hero kicked off the main stage Saturday evening after a brief
delay caused by power problems. This Tulsa-based band has played
almost every Reggaefest, and the band deserves its billing on the
main stage. After seeing Local Hero a million times at venues
around the state, it's easy to forget how good they are until
they're in a festival alongside the international stars and they
hold their own. Heck, they were better than a couple of the main
stage acts from exotic islands. Lead singer and bassist Doc James
introduced the band's final number, “Put Your Hand in Mine,''
saying, “Everybody asks us why we're not bigger, more famous ...
I'm happy right where I am.'' We're happy to have him here, too.
Arrow is a tiny man but very mighty. He has taken soca music across
an astonishing number of borders, primarily due to the success of
his song “Hot Hot Hot'' — a terribly appropriate song for the
occasion — which he served up in the middle of his Saturday night
set on the main stage with infectious energy. His band was
incredibly tight and proficient; the drummer did not stop whacking
the same beat for the first 20 minutes of the set, and Arrow knelt
down before his three-man horn section for good reason. By the time
they blasted into “O'La Soca,'' everybody's feet hurt.
Bless those Rhythm Lizards. This local band of worldly music had
its own stage throughout the festival, playing sets while the main
stage was changing acts. They somehow came up with enough material
to perform for nearly six hours on a frying pan of a stage and
played their hearts out to a captive audience among the merchandise
booths. They win the endurance award.
Festival organizer Tim Barraza made a special dedication before the
Wailers set, dedicating this year's event to its former emcee, J.T.
“Dread'' Turner, and presenting a plaque to Turner's three
children. Turner died in September in a California hospital.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
First, I couldn't get anyone to go to the show with me. "Who
are the Plimsouls?'' my poor friends would ask. I could feel age
advancing upon me like a Monkees fan. Then I arrived at Ikon and
greeted Davit Souders, the club's owner. He said, "You'll feel
young when you get inside. Three kids came in and asked for their
money back because they said the crowd was too old.''
Indeed, I was a pup among dewey-eyed fellow geeks stuck
somewhere between the uplifting label of boomers and the targeting
label of Generation X. Some of them had brought their kids, and all
of them restrained themselves from dancing.
The Plimsouls are relics from that brief period in music
history when pop and rock merged quite fluidly. Now 15 years after
their original heyday, they held the Ikon stage on Monday night
with all the presence of ROCK STARS — flashy, brash,
hard-worn purveyors of the teen beat.
Nobody in this quartet is pin-up material (when they make the
film, Eric Stolz will gain several pounds and play lead singer
Peter Case), but they rock in the purest sense. They're not out to
change the world, they're not willing to sell their grandmothers to
be the next big thing and they have a freakin' ball.
Case has one of the most unpleasant, scratchy voices in rock
'n' roll, and he uses it to an incredibly appealing effect. Without
the sniggering attitude of a young Paul Westerburg, Case leads his
band through music perfectly balanced between the jangle of the
Byrds and the serrated stab of Blondie. It was around bands like
the Plimsouls, the dBs and early Joe Jackson that the term "power
pop'' was born. This is pop — unselfconscious, unpretentious songs
about bad luck and getting even and missing your other half --
charged with the desperation and kick of serious rock 'n' roll.
As the band charged through its lengthy set (rarely stopping
for more than a breath between songs), the guitarist cycled through
about eight different guitars while drummer Clem Burke — of
Blondie fame — reminded us how cool drummers can be. n occasional
offbeats, he would raise a drumstick high in the air, his eyes
following it, then drop it with a crash and a wince. He wore a
D.A.R.E. T-shirt. (When they make the film, Dana Carvey will have
This was no nostalgia show, either. As Case sang, "Time goes
by so fast / I don't want to live in the past.'' The set included
the standards (yes, they played "A Million Miles Away'') plus a
Who cover and several new songs, "Playing With Jack'' and "(Too
Much) Satisfaction,'' which are just as hot as the originals, maybe
Another band of power popsters from the L.A. scene opened
the show, 20/20. These three guys are Tulsa natives, though this
was their first Tulsa show. The group's two founding members came
back together last year to make another album with Bill Belknap,
owner of Long Branch Studios. Now the three kick around the country
playing infrequent gigs, wherever they find a festival or an
audience of new wave nostalgists.
Despite that occasional playing schedule, this trio is
amazingly tight. Guitarist Steve Allen worked a lot of sound out of
his lone guitar, and Belknap pounds the drums with shocking
Ron Flynt, the gangly bassist, loped around the Ikon stage
flashing his curious expressions of bliss and confusion. His songs
of tarnished innocence and childlike reconciliation reflect his
visage, from the set opener "Song of the Universe'' through 20/20
classics like "Remember the Lightning,'' "Nuclear Boy'' and
I'm no old coot, but somehow I become Grumpy Old Man when
talking about my new wave heroes. Those three kids should have
stuck around. This "old'' music feels so much younger.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Plimsouls fans have long lamented the failure of their
favorite band to take over the world. Listening to the band's
pinnacle album, 1983's "Everywhere at Once,'' they certainly sound
like they could have — charged guitars and a hoarse singer that
preceded the height of Husker Du and the Replacements.
Lead singer Peter Case is the first to fess up as to why the
Plimsouls died an early death. They were slackers, he said.
"We didn't have it together at all,'' he said in an
interview last week. "We were talking last night about our
behavior during various tours. We weren't ever focused. You've got
to be willing to sell your grandmother to go far in this business,
and we weren't. We had the music and the drive and the commitment,
but we didn't have any common sense.''
For instance, Case said he hired the band's first manager
simply because the guy had cool clothes. One bad decision led to
another, and soon the band faded away.
But that's not the end of the story. Case — a consummate
songwriter who had polished his sense of perfect pop in another
short-lived band, the Nerves, before charging the Plimsouls — laid
down his electric guitar when the Plimsouls dissolved and picked up
his acoustic. For the next several years, Case painted a portrait
of the artist as a hip, literate troubadour, complete with baggy
suit and felt fedora. His folk approach wowed critics but still
escaped widespread attention.
Now he's back with the Plimsouls. The band reunited two years
ago and rode the same wave of Los Angeles new wave nostalgia that
brought 20/20, a band of Tulsa natives, back together. The revived
Plimsouls now ride that wave across the country, playing to venues
packed with people who claim they've loved the Plimsouls all along.
Funny how that happens.
"Stuff changes through time,'' Case said. "I definitely
remember nobody listened to Big Star when they were out. I had the
third album on tape and took it everywhere. No one knew who they
were. Nobody gave a s--- about the Velvet Underground, either. Now
everyone's realizing how important they were.''
The Plimsouls were sucked up by a late '70s record-label hunt
to find the next Knack. But don't tell Case that.
"We didn't have anything to do with that, with new wave or
anything,'' he said. "The first big Rolling Stone article about us
was headlined, 'L.A. Look for the New Knack.' It's insulting to be
called a throw-off of the Knack. New wave was a polite way of
saying punk at the time — no one knew what anything was called. We
didn't mind being stuck with the label because it said 'new,' which
we liked to think we were, but it still just meant something I
didn't understand, like 'French cinema.' The Clash called
themselves new wave, you know? I mean, let's wait and see what
'alternative' looks like in 15 years.''
After an independent debut that raised a few eyebrows, the
Plimsouls signed a huge deal with Geffen and released "Everywhere
at Once,'' the album that spawned the one song that can truthfully
be called a hit, "A Million Miles Away.'' Case growled on that
record long before Greg Dulli's desperate rasp came along in the
Afghan Whigs, and the band's aggressive spirit recalled the harmony
and power of "Beatles VI'' without losing its independence.
But alas, it was not meant to be. Case said they just didn't
have the gumption to take over the world.
"We were lazy, and we were stupid in terms of career
choices,'' Case said. "We worked hard, but I'm just not able to
connect in that way. Maybe it just wasn't our fate. I mean, Tom
Petty and those guys did 72 takes of 'Refugee.' They killing their
drummer, and it worked. We were really just a garage band. I've had
a great career. I'm not complaining. You can be a great artist, and
that doesn't mean you have to make a fool of yourself on MTV's 'Sex
Secrets of the Stars' or something. But try to explain that to anybody.''
Case didn't really want to walk away from the band, but he
said he felt he couldn't do both — the solo work and the band.
The band finally did reform and start playing gigs again. Case said
he now has the best of both worlds, but he's not so sure how the
Plimsouls fit into the current music scene.
"We played last night at this festival with Jewel and different assorted
alternative rockers. The average age of the crowd was about 12. They were
moshing and jumping around on each other. I don't really see myself as the
spokesman for the 12-year-olds,'' he said.
Drumming for the Plimsouls now is Clem Burke, who played drums
with Blondie. Case called him "the best drummer in the world.''
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Ikon, 606 S. Elgin Ave.
Tickets: $10 at the door
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Tulsa Musicians Featured at South by Southwest Festival
By Thomas Conner 03/17/1996
AUSTIN, Texas — Most people spend the first day of the South by
Southwest music festival just getting their bearings. On Thursday,
Tulsa band Epperley was just trying to get its equipment.
The quartet drove to the Austin festival, and the trusty van broke
down more than 20 miles outside of town.
“At least we got that far,'' said guitarist Matt Nader. “We could
be fishing on the Red River, you know.''
Epperley was scheduled to play Friday night at the Driskill Bar in
the Driskill Hotel on Austin's club-lined Sixth Street. The van was
towed to an Austin garage, and the band spent Friday extracting
from it instruments and amplifiers and loading them into a rented
For Tulsa singer-songwriter Bob Collum, Thursday was a day of
rubbing shoulders with heroes. Before his show Thursday night,
Collum was jacked up by several chance meetings with admired musicians.
“I bumped into Robyn Hitchcock right there at the trade show,''
Collum said. “He just turned and looked at me like this,''
whereupon Collum cocked his head and widened his eyes into a very
droll, Hitchcockian expression. He also showed off an autograph
from Mark Eitzel, former lead singer of American Music Club, who
was scheduled to perform Saturday night on Sixth Street.
Collum's name-dropping wasn't all blowing smoke, though. Before he
began playing his set at the Coffee Plantation, Peter Holsapple
came in and shook Collum's hand. Holsapple was in the '80s pop band
the dB's and was in Austin to perform at the State Theater with his
wife, Susan Cowsill of the Cowsills. “I was in the neighborhood
and thought I'd come by,'' Holsapple said.
Collum beamed. “You don't understand,'' he said later. “He's my
That's clear when Collum plays his earnest, clever brand of
acoustic pop. He took to the Coffee Plantation stage Thursday with
his guitar and harmonica rack and proudly announced where he was from.
“I'm here to report to you that the corn is still as high as an
elephant's eye,'' he said and immediately launched into “Little
Johnny Shotgun.'' He played eight songs in his allotted 30 minutes,
including the four songs from his latest EP: “The Long Way Out,''
“Theoretical Girlfriend,'' “Prozac Yodel No. 9'' and “Writing on
He's a fierce performer. Other acts that followed him Thursday
night were a couple of timid souls who looked a bit vulnerable on
the stage with just an acoustic guitar between them and the
audience. Collum, however, holds the stage with a startling
confidence — one you don't expect after talking to the sheepish,
caffienated hero-worshipper offstage. He stands at the microphone
like Green Day's Billie Joe, a little too far back so that he leans
into it with a pigeon-toed stance and neck muscles straining --
along with his conviction.
The coffee house audience included about 20 folks seated when
Collum began, and maybe 30 when his set wrapped up. The members of
Epperley came to support him. Holsapple left early to get to his
own gig, but tipped an imaginary hat to Collum as he left.
Collum wasn't thrilled with his performance, but you get the
impression that he never is. It's not a false modesty, just a
charming insecurity. The set was brief, sure, but Collum said he
was glad he made the trip.
“Sure, it's worth it to come down here, whether you get to play or
not,'' he said. “I've gotten to talk to a guy with a New York
label, plus I've handed out a bunch of tapes.''
It's all about exposure here. Every little bit counts.
Collum, like everyone, had a lengthy list of performers he wanted
to see that night, but he said he'd eventually wind up in a bowling alley.
“There's this bowling alley next to my hotel,'' he said. “They
serve breakfast anytime for, like, $2. That's where I'll be all the
time, probably. Just watching old people bowl.''
Another band with a Tulsa connection also landed a gig at the
festival. Acoustic Junction played Thursday night at the White
Rabbit on Sixth Street. The band is based out of Boulder, Colo.,
and bassist Curtis Thompson is from Tulsa.
The band came together two years ago when Thompson moved to
Boulder. They have two independent releases, which together have
sold about 40,000 copies. However, the band has yet to play in Tulsa.
20/20, a revived new wave band made up of Tulsa natives, spent
Thursday warming up for their Friday night show. 20/20 was a fairly
influential band in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, and two
original members started writing and recording again last year with
Bill Belknap, owner of Tulsa's Longbranch Studios.
Friday's show would be the new 20/20's second gig since releasing
its fourth record last year, “Four Day Tornado.'' They played at
the Poptopia festival in Los Angeles last fall.
“We've all got careers and families now, so it's not real feasible
for us to get out and tour now,'' Belknap said, though the band may
try some traveling this summer.
Thursday, they were set up in member Ron Flynt's garage.
“It's just like we're in high school again or something,'' said
member Steve Allen, with a little excitement and a little amazement.
20/20 was on an attractive bill with the Posies and fellow early
'80s new wavers the Plimsouls at Austin's Waterloo Brewing Co.
Tulsa-Based Groups Wow Austin Crowds
By Thomas Conner 03/19/1996
AUSTIN, Texas — Joan Osborne just wouldn't shut up. The
Grammy-snubbed singer was featured at the South by Southwest music
festival Friday night on the Outdoor Stage, which was poorly placed
in the middle of the intersection at Sixth and Brazos streets in
downtown Austin. She held her ground up there about half an hour
longer than she was supposed to.
Her laziness paid off for one Tulsa band, though. Epperley
was scheduled to play at 9 p.m. in the Driskill Bar in the Driskill
Hotel, which is right on that corner. Thousands choked the streets
to see Osborne play her astonishingly boring set. As 9 p.m.
approached, and Osborne was still going, Epperley went ahead and
started their show despite a meager crowd of their parents, a
couple of execs from their record label and a few bar flies.
As they churned out songs, their driving rock attracted quite a
crowd — people from the streets who found Epperley's hooks much
more interesting than Osborne's aural barbiturates. The Driskill is
not a huge place and is not arranged to be conducive to gathering
around the makeshift stage, but about 60 people tried during the
band's hour-long set.
When the band finished “Nice Guy Eddie,'' two guys with justified
beer guts whooped, “Now that's good stuff right there!'' They
continued dancing throughout the show, to the added amusement of
the rest of the crowd and to guitarist Matt Nader.
Nader had been discussing the band's music the night before after
watching another Tulsan, Bob Collum, perform at a Sixth Street
coffee house. The festival was choked with a lot of bands that had
listened to too much Nirvana, Nader had said, and he once worried
that his band's original album, a self-titled release when the
band's name was Bug, suffered from that same ugly comparison. He
had made it a point, he said, to try and lighten things up a bit.
That's obvious in the new songs written for Epperley's first album
on Triple X Records — which is finally released this week after
some delays — and is especially obvious when the band plays live.
The music sometimes may grind a bit harshly and lead singer David
Terry sometimes may whine a bit too piercingly, but the overall
vibe is fairly light and someday may even be fun. Terry sings
nonsense just as often as he tells an ex how low she is.
Osborne finally sang “One of Us,'' left the stage and was escorted
through the bar and into the hotel, whereupon Nader said, “Hi
Joan!'' in the middle of a song. Then the bar really filled up, and
from what I could gather, most were attracted by the music and not
waiting for the next band, the Dragmules.
Rumor had it that Tommy Stinson, bassist for the defunct
Replacements, was there, but I've no idea what he looks like.
Terry's mom, Linda, was there, sporting an Epperley T-shirt and
beaming with pride. “It's so much bigger than a piano recital when
he's 6-years-old, you know,'' she said.
Dean Naleway, a representative from Triple X Records, was there. He
talked afterwards about the label's plans for Epperley.
“These are memorable times, and this is step one,'' he said.
“We've got 'em out here and people are listening to them. Now
we've got to get the record in the stores and the Best Buys and the
listening booths so people can start figuring it out. Pretty soon a
lot more people will have heard of these guys.''
Naleway said a thorough tour is not very feasible at this point,
but Nader said the band is itching to get on the road.
“The only thing we were really looking for (in Austin) was maybe a
booking agent, someone who could get us a lot of shows and get us a
tour,'' Nader said. “We want to get out and start playing.''
As Epperley played, a true Tulsa mainstay, N.O.T.A., impressed a
crowd of maybe 600 at the Back Room, a club a safe distance from
the downtown mob. N.O.T.A. has been playing punk off and on in
Tulsa since punk was an actual phenomenon at the turn of the '80s.
N.O.T.A. member Jeff Klein said the show went as well as they
expected. The crowd that showed up at least included some die-hard
“People were shouting out song titles from 10 and 12 years ago,''
Klein said, “so I guess we weren't completely forgotten.''
In all the years, N.O.T.A. had never played during South by
Southwest, but the band is no stranger to Austin. They played there
several times and were on an Austin label in the mid-'80s. While
not label-shopping now, Klein said the show was really just to
spread the word again that the band was around and to have a little
N.O.T.A. opened a bill that included Stiffs Inc. (another punk
legend that Klein said “were pathetic'' and “dressed up like Gary
Numan''), the Hickoids and the notorious Meatmen.
Later that night, a band of erstwhile Tulsans resurrected
themselves for a showcase at the Waterloo Brewing Co. in Austin's
warehouse district. 20/20 was formed in 1979 when Tulsans Ron Flynt
and Steve Allen moved to Los Angeles. The band had moderate success
there and a lasting enough effect to pack the outdoor venue Friday
night with fans eager to see the revived 20/20 — Flynt, Allen and
Bill Belknap, owner of Tulsa's Longbranch Studios.
The stage at Waterloo was outside the restaurant under a huge tent.
L.A.'s the Delphines played before 20/20, and the huge crowd stuck
around. The guys started with a song from their new album, “Four
Day Tornado,'' then launched into oldies like “Remember the
Lightning.'' Guitarist Allen sang lead on the first, and bassist
Flynt sang lead on the second. Flynt's stage voice takes you by
surprise — a fairly high and effected rock star vocal coming from
such a subdued guy with a low, booming offstage voice.
Allen's lead guitar was sharp and the solos peeled straight
out of the '80s. “Stone Cold Message of Love'' from the new record
was a delicious throwback to the days when arena rock and new wave
were clashing — the backbeats pounded through the last chorus and
a big, sustained finish with rolling drums and the whole
sling-the-guitar-down crash at the end. The crowd bounced up and
down and ate it up.
SXSW Panel Beats Boredom by Exploring Dead Topic
By Thomas Conner 03/21/1996
AUSTIN, Texas — In order to call itself a music “conference,''
South by Southwest organizes several panel sessions and workshops
for musicians, press and the like. It adds an air of legitimacy to
the three days of listening to rock 'n' roll in bars.
Most of the panels sessions could sedate an elephant. “Covering
Your Local Scene'' was a pointless exchange of egos between snotty
reporters from Los Angeles and frustrated reporters from Texas
towns of 6,000 people. “Why You Should Sign a Publishing Deal''
was a cavern of audible Valium — agents and publishing
representatives droning on about the virtues of publishing your
songs and the legal benefits therein. Zzzzzzzz.
The only truly entertaining session came Friday afternoon. It was
called “Were the Grateful Dead Really Any Good?'' The goal of the
discussion was to determine whether the music of the Grateful Dead
was really much beyond the average hippie garage groove or whether
it was the sheer genius its fanatical followers claim it to be. As
expected, it was a lively debate and reached about as many
conclusions as your average episode of “The Jerry Springer Show.''
The panelists were these: Bill Wyman, rock critic of the Chicago
Reader; Jim DeRogatis, senior editor at Rolling Stone; Ben Hunter,
music editor at Swing Magazine; Michael Krugman, a freelance writer
from Brooklyn; John Morthland, a freelance writer from Austin; and
Paul Williams with Crawdaddy in Encinitas, Calif.
When I entered the room, Williams was discussing his rediscovery of
the band in 1978. He said that the Dead, because they toured and
played so often, were not always great, but that one out of three
shows was guaranteed to “blow your mind.''
“That's not good consumer value,'' DeRogatis quipped. “They've
always been a (bad) rock 'n' roll band. They might be a good jug
“But one of those nights will blow your mind,'' Krugman said.
“And if they are a jug band, that's cool because you don't get to
see jug bands in an arena.''
The fact that the Dead did not always have great shows was a
continual hot spot. One man in the audience said he finally went to
see the Dead at the urging of many friends, and he thought they
“Then (my friends) said, 'Well, you have to be in the right frame
of mind,' and they said I had to take drugs to really get it, and
that got really irritating.''
Another audience member addressed the same issue. “The first 17
times I saw them, I was on acid, and it was fun. The 18th time I
was not an acid, and it was a great show. They rocked out a little
more, and I enjoyed it more because I wasn't so spaced out that I
couldn't enjoy the show, or even pay attention to what was really
This led to the issue that never seemed to be resolved: Were the
Grateful Dead more important for their cultural experience than
their music? The drug factor came up repeatedly — people
discussing how integral LSD and various drugs were to the enjoyment
and understanding of the Dead's music. But that begged this
question: How good is music if you have to alter your consciousness
to find it interesting?
“When you stop taking acid, you realize how boring they are,'' one
woman in the audience said.
Few denied the unique community that the band inspired among its
“The Dead were able to engender a great feeling among a lot of
different people,'' Hunter said. “Some magical experiences came
out of seeing the Dead, for whatever reasons. You can make fun of
the scene all you want, but there is definitely something there
that's not at your basic Better Than Ezra or Rancid show, and
likely never will be.''
But there might have been other sides to that huge and infectious
community, some said. One woman in the audience didn't think the
mere fact that the band was so hugely popular was necessarily a
plus. “America's Funniest Home Videos'' is also hugely popular,
and that hopefully doesn't constitute artistic merit, she said.
DeRogatis saw the huge community more as a marketing target for the
band, a captive audience and insurance policy that the members
didn't set out to create but didn't shun, either.
“They were marketing community as commodity,'' he said. “It was
just like Camelot. Camelot never really existed. It was like the
Disneyland notion of '60s-Land.''
Here he began reading from a catalog selling Grateful Dead licensed
clothing. “A great new line of Steal Your Face active wear,'' he
read. “They just wanted to sell more ties!'' he cried.
Krugman defended the merchandising. “Everyone sells T-shirts,'' he
said. “Some of 'em even like to wear them.''
Another virtue was raised by an audience member: the Dead were not
pawns of the record industry. In the last two decades, they made
very few records and subsisted almost chiefly on touring --
consistently running the highest-grossing tours each year.
“The great thing about the Dead was that they managed to piss off
the record industry,'' one audience member said. “Their touring
dwarfed their record sales, and the record companies couldn't get a
hold on that. They weren't getting any money from it.''
Williams agreed. “No one in the whole indie movement did more to
say you can screw the record business than the Grateful Dead. They
showed us there is such a thing as going out and making a living
playing music, no matter where you are on the Billboard chart.''
A music teacher in the audience found the only real, tangible
advantage of the Grateful Dead's music. “The kids that I've taken
to Dead shows learned more about world music than they would have
otherwise. They were the first experimental music with mass appeal,
and they turned a lot of people onto different styles of
Wouldn't you love to sign up for her class?
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Faces in the Crowd
By Thomas Conner 08/04/1995
Sen. Orrin Hatch was introduced by a young man who advised the
audience which over-the-counter pain remedies effectively simulate
a heroin high. The senator — an actor, of course — stepped up to
the third stage and began auctioning off the national parks and the
public school system to indifferent bidders in the crowd. His
ranting was interrupted by protesters from the Elf Liberation Front.
And the simulated high hadn't even kicked in yet.
So you can see that Lollapalooza is more than just a music
festival. Oh, so much more. Lollapalooza is a sampling of
contemporary youth culture, or at least a parade of those masks the
kids are allowed to rent.
The ticket price alone can be earned by just watching the
people go by at one particular sidewalk. You'll see every fashion
mistake since the first World War out there. This is an age group
that grew up parroting Billy Crystal's Fernando Lamas catch phrase,
“It is better to look good than to feel good.'' They mean it; on
July 10 at the Kansas City show, kids trudged through the
near-100-degree swelter in wool stocking caps, flannel shirts and
Other dedicated followers of fashion sport 'do rags, pierced
noses, pierced ears, pierced navels, pierced lips (watch them try
to eat the stir fry), toe rings, Brady Bunch striped T-shirts, jean
jackets with anarchy symbols emblazoned with permanent marker,
T-shirts that say “Kansas Zen Society'' (the oxymoron of the day),
tie-dyed shirts, ballcaps in every direction, Dr. Suess hats, Tommy
Hilfiger Golf Team shirts, postal uniforms, Stars and Stripes
bikinis, every landscape of facial hair one can conceive, and
tattoos tattoos tattoos!
But not everyone in the crowd is a young'un. Fred Coombs, 38,
of Olathe, Kan., stood out like a sore thumb in his button-down
shirt and Dockers shorts at the Kansas City show.
“I'm like that director on the old Dave Letterman show --
the blue shirt, the tan chinos, the brown shoes,'' Coombs said. “I
just discovered that I had too strong a parental instinct to let my
son come to this madness by himself.''
Coombs' 13-year-old son, Jay, said he was having fun despite
having his dad around.
“He's a pretty good sport,'' Jay said.
This conversation took place in the shadow of a giant condom,
mind you. An AIDS awareness group had, er, erected the 12-foot
device over its information table. That was next to the Planned
Parenthood table, where you can get free goodies if you hop on one
leg while saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lolla Land: A Self-Help Guide
By Thomas Conner 08/04/1995
Whatever you do, don't forget the tanning lotion. And here are some
other factoids and tips for the Lollapalooza virgin:
— “Lollapalooza'' is an actual word defined in Webster's
College Dictionary as “Slang. an extraordinary
or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or
— The festival began in 1991 as the farewell tour for Jane's
Addiction, the influential band fronted by the festival organizer,
Perry Farrell. He wanted to do something special to honor the band
on its final go-round, so he hooked up with agents Marc Geiger and
Don Muller, added seven bands to the bill as well as food, vendors
and art displays, and pulled off an extravaganza unlike any
promotion ever attempted before. Still going ...
— Number of people who attended the festival last year:
— Water, water everywhere: Most venues will allow one bottle
of water per ticketholder through the gate. You'll want to ration
it when you see that a cup of ice water costs $3 at the concession
stands, but be sure to get your proper fill of nature's lifeblood.
Number of people treated last year for heat-related illness: 203.
Near some restrooms there will be showerheads for public dousing,
and the festival sets up Rain Rooms for your relief — tents full
of water spray through which you are herded like cattle through a
car wash. Number of gallons used in last year's Rain Rooms: 154,801.
— Plan for the shopping. The cheapest T-shirt for a
main-stage act is $20. A meal from one of the worldwide food
vendors will average around $5. And the vendors!
— Number of pounds of carrots consumed by artists during
last year's festival: 2,365.
— Dollars donated to charity from last year's festival
alone: 856,437. Tour planners hope this year's charity hat will
push the five-year festival total over $2 million.
— Number of kids who crowd-surfed to the front of the main
stage last year: 6,533.
— Number of bottles of Evian consumed backstage during last
year's tour: 25,800.
— The Starplex can be Mosquito Central around dusk. Throw a
bottle of Muskol or some kind of insect repellent in your hip pack.
Sonic Youth - Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon - and Courtney Love's Hole Head a Truly Ensemble Lollaplooza
By Thomas Conner 08/04/1995
Beck bounced off the Lollapalooza stage like Tigger just out of
rehab. He bounded over to two humble Midwestern journalists eager
to interview the artist — about his work, his schemetic aural
creations, his interpretation of the sociopolitical state of modern
rock music — and he grabbed them by the shoulders.
“Yes. No. Maybe. Never. Only after meals, and I refuse to
answer that one on the grounds that it's too damn hot,'' he said in
a frightening, Pee-Wee-on-meth crescendo. He then dropped his water
bottle, cursed, and skipped away to a waiting, air-conditioned bus.
It was that kind of day.
The Tulsa World attended the Kansas City date for
Lollapalooza, July 10, in order to experience the madness and thus
warn those of you making the trek to the Dallas show on Aug. 10.
And for those of you waffling on whether or not to make the
journey, we feel it necessary to — right here, in front of your
boss — testify to your weakening condition, how we have heard that
raspy cough, how pale you've been looking (i.e., call in sick and
hit the road!).
Now ensconced as an annual institution, Lollapalooza lumbers
around the country this summer with its fifth and best bill ever.
The Kansas City show nearly sold out the Sandstone Amphitheater in
the suburb of Bonner Springs, Kan. The Dallas show, at the
Starplex, is expected to sell out, at least by showtime. (The
reserved seating is gone, but early this week Ticket Master still
had general admission available at $31.25 a ticket. Call (212)
373-8000, and expect a lengthy hold.)
This year, the Lollapalooza name may be as big a draw as the
headliners, who get a rare chance to play for a filled arena. The
festival's founding philosophy of showcasing new talent has been
relegated to the second and third stages this year, which actually
is more conducive to the tastes of the most diverse crowd you'll
ever see. Many acts on the main stage have been around for a while
— the main headliner act, Sonic Youth, has a greatest hits
album out, for instance — but this is still a
cutting-edge festival, a chance for an urban and college-town
culture to visit the suburbs and spread the freak power far and
The day on the main stage begins with the Mighty Mighty
Bosstones, a ska-punk act with a social conscience that wound up
stealing some of the day in Kansas City. The first and last slots
on the bill are the worst for bands; everyone's arriving and
getting settled in during the first band, and a lot of goobers pack
up to beat the traffic during the last band. The Bosstones,
however, opened the festival with a roar and wound up reprising
their set on the second stage late in the evening. Frontman Dicky
Barrett sweats all over the stage, leading the band in a frenetic
swing that inevitably catches up the crowd.
Jesus Lizard is next. Here's some advice: Get there early,
drop your stuff, enjoy the Bosstones, then do your settling in
during Jesus Lizard. This band fuses whiny rants onto hard-rock
riffs and has been doing so for six years without making any
impact. Vocalist David Yow announced in Kansas City, “I have sort
of an upset tummy,'' then launched into a song about his urine.
Ex-Scratch Acid guitarist David Wm. Sims wields his axe like an
assault weapon, but this is still a great opportunity to scout
better seats and grab a smoothie.
The bouncy Beck takes the stage in third place. More
appropriate for a sizzling street corner than a sizzling arena,
Beck's Juice-O-Matic approach to music doesn't wilt in the heat.
With a '60s-vintage effects box and vocals that sound like Tom
Waits transmitting from Jupiter, Beck screeches all over the stage
and swings like few blond kids in knit caps can swing.
In Kansas City, his hometown, he played “Pay No Mind''
“heartland style,'' and he previewed two eerie pieces from his
next disc, including a slow grinder called “Black Hole.'' And yes,
he satisfied all the frat boys who were there to see “that guy who
sings `Loser.' '' For that hit, he was joined onstage by the S7Ws,
two men in sailor suits who stood guard at the corners of the stage
like Public Enemy's X Men. “Take it easy,'' he said before
bounding off stage, “and have a good picnic.''
The fourth act in Dallas will be Elastica, a hot new pop
group from the other side of the pond. They take the place of
Sinead O'Connor, who left the lineup because she's pregnant and the
heat was a bit too much. It's a tragic loss; she was the turning
point of the Kansas City show. Her fans were rabid, screaming like
banshees when she came on stage and not stopping until the last
chords of “Fire on Babylon'' were off to the stratosphere. The
pregnancy explains why she was so subdued, walking around the stage
barefoot, looking comfortable and laid back like Michelle Shocked
or Carly Simon.
Elastica started filling clubs in and around London two years
ago. Leader Justine Frischmann left Suede before that band hit it
big. The band's self-titled U.S. debut (another Geffen band on the
bill!) collects 16 short-but-sweet tracks from independently
released EPs. “This is music to be brave to,'' Frischmann has
said. Their sing-song squelch should fit right into the festival.
The coolest new band on the bill is Pavement, a band of
upstarts who offer a refreshing — gasp, even melodic — pop
sensibility amid the dissonant lineup. Bringing its crooked reign
on stage, Pavement prefers to sound as if its songs just fell
together — melodies are there but tentative. Lead goofball Steve
Malkmus shifts between sleepy-eyed cool to yelping exasperation
while wearing silly hats.
The bulk of the Kansas City crowd just didn't quite get
Pavement, though. The band ambled on, coughed, tuned up, joked
among themselves and plowed into herky-jerky numbers like “Father
to a Sister of a Thought'' and pop gems like “Kennel District''
and “Range Life'' while dazed breadbasket babies stared blankly at
the stage and applauded politely. Ah well, gotta pay those dues
before you pay the rent.
When Pavement modestly leaves the stage, the stage managers
go into high gear. For Cypress Hill, they hustle out a giant gong,
a giant bong, DJ posts flanked by towering (simulated, surely)
marijuana plants, and a 20-foot gold Buddha with a pot leaf on his
belly. So begins this one trick pony's act — endless pro-marijuana
They certainly have guts. Before “I Want to Get High,'' lead
rapper B-Real lights a joint on stage for the screaming glee of the
crowd. He slides along with his annoying voice — like Bill Cosby
imitating his children — and rants about the virtues of marijuana
legalization. Despite the thinness of the group's one-topic set and
B-Real's habit of calling everyone in the audience “mother
f—-ers,'' Cypress Hill does get the crowd on its feet — a
surprising hunk of which came especially to see them.
Holding to the festival tradition of foul language and her
own knack for tastelessness, Courtney Love stepped out onto the
Kansas City stage next to sneer, “I'm going to abuse you because
you deserve it, you f—-ing sh—s.'' The widow Cobain then lead her
band, Hole, through some of the tightest and well-built pop of the
day, over which she warbled like a drowsy sheep. Most of the band's
latest album, “Live Through This,'' was covered, with sharp
interpretations of “Gutless'' and “Softer Softest.''
Wearing a stark white dress and made-up like she was bruised
and battered, she picked fights with anyone she could see in the
crowd who wore a Pearl Jam T-shirts. Many of her stage antics are
just a little too difficult to attempt to explain in a wholesome
Finally, Sonic Youth held everyone into the
head-for-the-parking-lot timeslot with the expected confidence of
the only band to transcend the typical underground,
art-or-popularity quandary. Drawing on a history stretching back to
1982, Thurston Moore matter-of-factly introduced the songs, many of
which were unrecorded ones. His lyrics were more audible, which is
a real plus and reflects the heightening of that awareness on the
band's remastered greatest hits package out last spring,
“Screaming Fields of Sonic Love.''
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.