Sometimes, things just work out perfectly. I don't usually make a big deal of my birthday, prefer to ignore it. But when I saw shows from two of my favorites, Rhett Miller and Barenaked Ladies (coming up on 5/31), cropping up around that time, I couldn't help but view it as the best birthday present ever! A solo Rhett show is a beautiful thing, and he was totally on at Shady Grove, part of the Unplugged series. It's a free show, always packed, and Rhett puts on the highest energy acoustic show you'll ever see. He's been in the studio with his bandmates in Old 97's, working on their newest release, tentatively titled "The Grand Theater" and planned for an October release. Treating the crowd to a couple of new songs (see below) and lots from across his almost two decade catalog, he sweated it out for the better part of 2 hours. Highlights for me were Jagged, as always, Singular Girl and Come Around - and I love the new stuff. He soldiered through a few audio difficulties at the venue, jumping out on the lawn to play a literally unplugged song, then at the end, pulled his mic down into the crowd to wrap things up with Timebomb. If you want to see someone who really knows how to work a crowd, check out Rhett Miller anytime he's nearby. Not coming to your city? Then plan a trip around one of his shows. You won't be disappointed.
Nobody Says I Love You, Anymore
The Grand Theater - preview of a new Old 97's song!
I had a lovely time visiting my alma mater, UNC- Chapel Hill. While I was there, I got to check out Charlie Mars, someone I interviewed last year on the Gibson bus. He sounded great with a full band, which included amazing drummer J.J. Johnson from Austin! His CD is fantastic, Like a Bird, Like a Plane - produced in Austin by Billy Harvey. Check him out!
After Conan, I got over to Ghost Room in time to see my friends in Household Names playing songs from their new CD, Stories, No Names - as well as some of their older stuff. They're a great indie-rock band - some of the best songwriting in Austin.
I was able to round up a ticket to Conan's Austin show at the last minute, and boy was I glad that I did. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, and it was quite inspiring to see someone of his talent and fame take a bad situation and turn it into something simply awesome. He had the perfect job, then got fired from it, and then did something he'd never actually done before, stand-up comedy. Years of doing monologues had prepared him for this, and with all his Late Night buddies in the band and Andy Richter, it was a delightful evening. He even played guitar and keyboards, and sang. Opener Reggie Watts and local Charlie Sexton rounded out the event. The whole tour sold out with not much more than a tweet announcing it. This is definitely the future of promotion. Conan is going to be hugely successful in his next show on TBS. His rabid fan following of a youthful demographic is one that NBC is going to be salivating over for decades to come. It's great to see someone being appreciated for his talents, and then reciprocating that appreciation. Before he closed the show, he sincerely thanked everyone for their support, stating "It changed my life."
Austin's Charlie Sexton
Opener Reggie Watts was hysterical... and quite odd.
I am amazed at the loyal crowds that come out to Ben Folds' shows. It was near capacity at Stubb's last night, and Folds delighted fans with songs spanning his two decade career - but this time it was just one man and a Steinway. It's a rare talent to hold an audience in a solo show, but Folds is definitely a pro. It's mostly about his songs, great lyrics, catchy hooks, smart... and the fans sang along to every tune, often in three-part harmony. Communal gatherings like this make live music so special - just one of the those beautiful nights at Stubb's!
Highlights included an improv song about stealing clocks and Austin and then a couple from an upcoming album that Folds wrote with author Nick Hornby, see Levi Johnston's Blues below. I'm not sure that Folds writing could get any more brilliant, but a Hornby collaboration is just taking things to a new level. He also did this funny thing where a guy brought a drum out to the piano, which Folds starting playing, moved over to the side of the stage, while the crew brought out the rest of a drum kit, piece by piece, until he had enough for a drum solo. He did this twice... Check out the video of Kate below for the 2nd time this happened.
And, in addition to Kate, I loved hearing My Philosophy and Underground, oldies reminding me of first seeing Ben Folds 5 back in the '90s.
Afterward, I headed just down the street to Encore to the EP Release of Quiet Company. I reviewed the CD for TX Music (see Issue 30). On a local level, they are charming fans in their own right, lots of energy and a good deal of participation. Always a fun show. On the bill were also The Rocketboys, Stereo is a Lie and Black & White Years.
Accompanied by opener Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttal for You Don't Know Me
Stereo is a Lie
Hiroshima (BBB Benny Hit His Head)
Levi Johnston's Blues
Quiet Company - It's Better To Spend Money Like There's No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There's No Money