Between the cracks

Surprise--David Garza grows up in public and survives

Within a few weeks they secured their first paying show at the University's Cactus Cafe; a month or two later they moved next door to the far-larger Texas Tavern. Their sold-out shows and the brisk sales of their first cassette, Me So Twangy, soon attracted the interest of Austin manager Mark Proct, who worked with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and now manages Jimmie Vaughan and Storyville. With such similarly flavored folk-pop bands as the New Bohemians and Poi Dog Pondering winning deals and even, in the case of the Bohemians, having hits, Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom seemed a natural.

So Proct set up a Friday lunchtime concert for Twang Twang in a CBS Records conference room in New York, hoping perhaps to duplicate the stunt of another manager, Mike Appel, who walked into legendary talent scout John Hammond's CBS Records office with an unknown singer and his guitar and left with a deal for his client, Bruce Springsteen.

"We went from playing for fun maybe six, seven months earlier on the West Mall to playing in New York City for these suits talking about direction, units, and marketability," Garza recalls. "That experience pretty much did it for me."

This time, however, CBS passed. Twang Twang broke up soon after, and the Austin cynics chortled heartily at how the failed showcase had shattered the band.

"Even if that was the truth, and it's not, why would you guys be cynical about it?" Garza asks this cynic interviewing him. "You guys should be glad about that. It was too much too soon. I was 18, 19, whatever. People were trying to push us this way and that way. It's just kinda silly to think about that kind of thing: 'Oh, why didn't it happen?' It's water under the bridge. It was fun, a lot of fun.

"I don't think I am really jaded from what happened in that year," he asserts. "In 10 months we recorded 63 songs. We just did it. You saw it. What do you think? Should I be angry? Should I hold a grudge?"

Maybe. Then again, I'm a cynic.

None of this cynicism probably matters to Bonnie, whom I met at a wedding in Dallas a few weeks ago. Smart, confidant, refreshingly free of cynicism, and as pretty as the day is long, she's a 23-year-old music fan whose truly catholic tastes include Blondie, Frank Sinatra, Gals Panic...and Dah-veed, whom she suggested we go see after the reception. Perhaps it was the champagne, or maybe it was the company, but I stifled my cynicism and was ready to give Garza another chance.

Garza's first solo CD, Eyes Wide Open, had suffered from the same sort of immature lyrics that were Twang Twang's Achilles heel. His next disc, Culture Vulture, knocked me for a bit of a loop. His knack for melodic hooks had grown from obvious to slyly infectious, with the emerging ethnic rhythms only doubling the ante. But the real shocker was the word play, which at its best was favorably comparable to Elvis Costello, the modern master of the form.

Perhaps the turning point for Garza was when at 21 he heard Dylan for the first time after a Cactus Cafe soundman gave Garza a tape.

"That changed my life, literally," says Garza.
Add that to his other epiphanies--"Zeppelin, seeing U2 live in 1983 when I was 12, Talking Heads, New Bohemians, Latin Playboys"--and you begin to get an idea of the ever-expanding place from which Garza is now coming.

Seeing Dah-veed live at Trees may not have exactly been a life-changing moment for me--though I did pay for live music for the first time in years, and consider every penny of the eight bucks money well spent--but it was transformational. Rather than doing my usual cynical shuffle at the back of the room, I was up in the middle of the crowd with my new friend Bonnie, dancing and singing along to choruses like, "Sigh bye sigh," and, "I would be your slave." And why not? His rhythm section of drummer Michael Hale and bassist John Thomasson is as massive and muscular as the Cowboys' offensive line, while Garza himself exudes an almost charismatic enthusiasm as he sings and rips off sharp guitar leads with joyous passion and keen precision. I was probably the oldest paying customer in the place, yet I felt as young as anyone there, and surprisingly bereft of the cynicism that comes with age.

"I'm not playing for people your age," Garza says. "I'm playing for people my age."

Garza knows how to capture the attention of a generation weaned on sitcoms, sound bites, and MTV video quick cuts.

"I say, 'Shake their butt and their mind will follow,'" says Garza. "There's a lot that I am actually trying to say, but some people only get it after dancing to it for six months."

Garza's most recent CD, Blind Hips In Motion, still finds an artist undergoing growth and transition. Bearing the influence of his latest life-changing album, The Beauty of Wynona by Daniel Lanois, it doesn't quite capture the spirit, charm, and energy Garza brings to the stage. But it's certainly as strong as many of the indie and major efforts coming along these days. Those are the records so often accompanied by a hipster-generated buzz that, in reality, probably isn't as strong as the enthusiasm one finds in Garza's fans who crowd into the clubs he plays here in Texas, as well as throughout a circuit he's carved out that runs as far north as Chicago and as west as California.

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