Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Arc Angels at Antone's.

Denise and I drove down to Austin Saturday night and saw a great show. It was the return of the Arc Angels, a local band that's become a local, home town cult favorite and nationwide sensation.

The band began in the early 1990s, built from the sturdy Blues/rock foundation of the recently deceased Stevie Ray Vaughan's rhythm section, Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton. They were joined by two singers/guitar pros, Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton, both of whom studied at the feet of the master (SRV). Beginning with sessions at the Austin Rehearsal Center, which gave them their name, they grabbed the imagination of many who missed SRV and wanted to see something new grow from that seed.

They hit it big for the first time in 1992 when they released their self-titled debut CD. They were on track to be HUGE, doing national TV shows and quickly developing a national following. But then the band imploded, breaking up due to various issues, including rumored Heroin issues with Bramhall. The guys all moved on to other bands and solo work over the next 12 or 15 years, but now and then they'd tease their fans by reuniting for a gig.

Denise and I were lucky enough to attend one of those shows late last year. The original four members got together for two shows, one in Dallas and another in Houston. Apparently, the experience was so much fun they've decided to get back together again for real, with one exception. The bass player, Tommy Shannon, has "retired", unwilling to trudge through the grueling schedule of gigs at his age.

He's been replaced by a guy named Mark Newmark, who doesn't show up in any of the bands new press shots. I'm guessing he may be the bass player du jure. I hope the money's good. Anyway, after those gigs late last year, the guys apparently decided that the chemistry was so good, the feel so satisfying, they should officially reform, hit the road again and produce some new music.

Based on what I saw last Saturday night at Antone's, there's no reason why they shouldn't hit it big again. The sky's the limit. But first, lets talk about the lead-up band.

When the lights went low at Antone's Blues club last Saturday night, an announcer came up on stage, welcomed us to Antone's and said we had something special in store for us. He introduced a group called the Iron City Soulshakers, and a gaggle of musicians took the stage.

Then the lead singer ran up to the microphone and the show got started. Kristi Johnson spent the next hour or so doing an amazing Tina Turner/Janis Joplin imitation, belting out the lyrics to such tunes as Ruth Brown's "The Richest One" and Sam and Dave's "Hold on I'm Comin'".

They put on an energetic show, but I'm afraid the music was less interesting than the lead singer. The guys in the band did OK, but they didn't really wow us with their instruments, with the exception of the saxophone player (I could swear I've seen that dude somewhere before).

They were OK, putting on an energetic show, but they just didn't do it for me. I got the distinct impression that if their lead singer wasn't such a stunner, both in looks and singing talent, they might not be getting so much attention. Having said that, they played for about an hour and the crowd at Antone's loved them.

After the Soulshakers moved on and the gear was switched out, this old gentleman slowly made his way up to the mic to introduce the Arc Angels. By then the crowd had grown and the place was packed, wall to wall. He once again welcomed us to Antone's and thanked us for supporting the place, and for supporting local Austin music scene.

He said that his old buddy Clifford (Antone passed away a few years ago) would love to see this crowd and these artists taking his stage. He told us that this was the 34th anniversary of the club, which opened it's doors in July of 1975.

He talked about the Arc Angels, and how they all started here, wandering around the place as kids. He talked about Bramhall following around after his daddy, and learning the guitar at the knee of his godfather, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Click on that link and check out those tunes. DB2's daddy sings and plays drums. Enjoy.

Both Bramhall and Sexton started early, with Bramhall evolving quickly into a guitar whiz, brought up on stage here in Austin in his early teens, and Sexton gracing the cover of Spin magazine at 18. He said that they are all truly local boys, and asked us, would we all welcome them to the stage.

At that point the crowd went crazy and the really great music began.

Bramhall and Sexton both brought a truck load of guitars to the show, switching them out after every tune. Bramhall played, among others, a gorgeous Les Paul Junior on "Paradise Cafe," and a beautiful, brilliant red Stratocaster on "Sent by Angels".

Now and then the guitar teck would hand him this old, pic scarred Starocaster and he'd send us all on one another beautiful trip, bending those notes and winding us all up so that we could feel the love. Sexton switched back and forth between a beautiful black Epiphone and a Les Paul Sunburst, among others.

And just as everything would be going great, some jackass would take a picture with their fucking flash on. I couldn't believe how many people did it, right from the start of the show. And I couldn't believe that the band didn't stop at some point and ask them to refrain from doing it. But they didn't. They just ignored it. Some of it was press, but mostly it was fans with too much stupidity to know how using a flash in a gig like this drives everyone around them nuts.

But even with the occasional light show, there was a special energy in this gig. Older fans like me were expecting a preview of some of the music we might hear on their new release. There's a live CD/DVD set to be put out in the fall, which is reported to include some new tracks. And then, the word is, the band will release a totally new CD some time next year.

So, the buzz last Saturday night was palpable. Along with classic tracks from their 1992 release, like "Living In A Dream" and "Shape I'm In", the band included one of Bramhall's tunes in the set, "I'm Leavin'", off of his second solo release, Jellycream, which Sexton contributed to, among others. Now and then they played some new music, including "Too Many People", and another called "Crave and Wonder." The true surprise of the evening was a rendition of "Outside Woman Blues" which was written by "Blind Joe" Reynolds and made famous by Cream when they recorded it for Disraeli Gears. Based on what I heard, I'd bet good money their new release is destined for success.

Now and then, as DB2 (as Sexton referred to him) would get into the guts of a great riff, Sexton would wander over and groove with his buddy, as if wanting to bask in the glow. The great thing about Antone's... the band was so close, we could all bask in that glow. It was amazing. Thrilling. I almost wanted to pinch myself a few times to make sure I was really there.

The rhythm section worked it's magic too, grounding the blues/rock music of the evening with Mark Newmark energetic groovin' on the bass and drummer Chris Layton keeping an eye on Bramhall.

It was amazing and hilarious to watch the expressions on Layton's face switch back and forth from surprise to a steady professional detachment. Now and again, as Bramhall would seem to be wandering in a thrilling solo, he and Layton would make eye contact and everything would wind up to a crescendo. It was easy to see why Layton is seen as one of the best drummers around today.

In the end we waited through the traditional "We're gonna pretend to leave now," walk-off, which gave us the chance to cheer loudly and bring the band back for the climax. After returning to the stage, Sexton (who does most of the talking to the crowd) thanked us for coming and the band finished the show with "Spanish Moon" and the closer, "Too Many Ways to Fall."

As I told you before, that one is my favorite. Sexton's lyrics speak volumes about the trepidations of life, and the choices we face:

All we have is here and now

Tomorrow may not come true

There's a million people who walk this ground

Who might steal your wish from you

A million people or maybe not

A human one in all

There's just one way that we can stand

Too many ways to fall

The mother says now baby boy

Your gonna have to choose

There's good and evil, love and greed

And they're all inside of you

And just as sure as gravity

No one escapes the law

'Cause there's just one way they we can stand

Too many ways to fall

Lets hope the guys figure out a way to keep it together this time, through all the conflicting demands of their lives and careers. If they can make it again, the great music they make should be all the reward. Cheers!

No comments: