Spirit of '96

Last year showed pop still has more than a ghost of a chance

Dan Hicks and His Acoustic Warriors, Sons of Hermann Hall, March 1. Former Charlatan with an affinity for hot licks, no one defines musical cool like Hicks, and few acts this year delivered the astounding chops of Hicks' ensemble. Reunited with former Hot Lick Maryanne Price, who opened, Hicks and the Warriors' indefinable mix of swing, jazz, and jump was quicksilver fast, nimble, funny, and smart; the playing on classics such as "Where's the Money" perfectly supported Hicks' dryly cynical, slyly tongue-in-cheek lyric observations. Memorable.

Tripping Daisy, Fry Street Fair (Denton), April 20. By nightfall 39 bands had played for 14,000 sweaty, mostly college-age kids, but the best of the bunch was Tripping Daisy. If Brave Combo drummer emeritus Mitch Marine time-traveled and globe-trotted with his old pals--billed as surprise guest Cookies--it didn't distract him from later piloting Tripping Daisy to another planet. The surging midday crowd nearly toppled the stage-front and flung lingerie, shoes--even a wallet with $10 and a driver's license in it--at bewigged and robed singer Tim DeLaughter and company. "It was pure sex," said one stageside University of North Texas student of the fairer persuasion.

D'Drum with Ronnie Dawson, Dallas Museum of Art, May 25. Sublime percussion group D'Drum's thick, complex drumming knows as much about melody as it does about time, which is saying a hell of a lot. Whenever they play, cultural reference points twist and meld like smoke. Their skill, range and adaptability paid off brilliantly this Saturday afternoon when they--with astounding, seamless ease--shifted to accompany the flat-topped rocker on a short set of his rave-ups like "Monkey Beat City." The ensemble didn't drop a single thread or influence to accommodate Dawson, they just made a little more space for him and his straight rock beat to fit in.

BR5-49, Sons of Hermann Hall, May 30, 31. Although BR5-49 may be constitutionally incapable of playing a bad show, this early-in-the-year, pre-hype gig was not nearly as packed or raucous as the later fall show, and the more relaxed show was the greater pleasure to attend. A truly great dance band, these guys make being able to play whatever you want liberating, rather than sterile. Their ongoing "stump the band" routine--and high coefficient of unstumpability--was truly awesome.

The Funland Band, Trees, June 15. A frenetic last gasp of pithy, anguished, noisily melodic punk pop. The favored trio's last show...together, anyway: drummer Will Johnson continues as one-man curiosity Centro-Matic; guitarist Clark Vogeler--who, vowing to forsake music, sold his amp immediately after the gig --recently hopped onto the Toadies' major-label launchpad; and singer-songwriter Peter Schmidt strummed und sang at Deep Ellum Live New Year's Eve. United we rock; divided we still roll purdy OK. R.I.P., Funland.

The Barnshakers, Bar of Soap, July 17. The flame of Finnish rockabilly acolytes the Barnshakers burned with the pure devotion of the non-native aficionado. With their punctilious approach, brave-hearted enthusiasm, and clean picking, they recalled other great devotees like Scotland's ill-fated Shaking Pyramids. Although annoying to some, the stylistic devotion of rockabilly fans--retro clothes, precisely executed and near-transcendental dancing, and authentic DA haircuts--make for a stimulating trip through the old time machine, and this night was sharp even by rockabilly standards.

Alejandro Escovedo, Club Dada, August 1. With skill comes distance, you see, but Alejandro Escovedo's great talent has always been his ability to adroitly illuminate--not necessarily to explain or justify--human emotion without seeming your teacher or judge. Listening to him, you see your own bad self--reflected in the fun house mirror, the shiny fender of a car, or the blade of a knife--and no artist has ever inhabited so completely the old Sam Walter Foss poem: "Let me live in my house by the side of the road/Where the race of men go by/They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,/Wise, foolish--so am I." Traveling with his usual aggregation--strings augmenting the basic four-piece rock rig--Escovedo examined guilt, joy, pain and passion; sometimes wheeling gracefully, sometimes kneeling with his head in his hands, and sometimes strutting. Quite a feat--and treat--in these one-note times.

Ten Hands reunion, Club Dada, September 26. After only a cursory couple-hour review just a few hours earlier, the long-disjoined Ten Hands, original model--front-keyman Paul Slavens, guitarist Steve Brand, Chapman stick player Gary Meuller, and drummers Earl Harvin and Mike Dillon--performed an exceptionally energetic 2-hour set of trademark-precise sophisti-rock, including such past ubiquities as "You Are My Fix," "Pancho Villa," and "Donde Es Mi Zapatos." The personal conflicts and eventual stagnation that must have contributed to the Hands' unclasping several years ago was apparently long dissolved. Ten Hands also released the limited-edition CD The Bigay--fuller-produced material from the same period as 1989's The Big One Is Coming--at the reunion, and reconvened (with another Hands vet, Alan Emert, substituting for unavailable Harvin on kit) for an equally well-received encore performance the following week at Rick's Place in Denton.

Beck, Bronco Bowl, October 2. Even the most jaded person--saturated to the point of annoyance with "Loser," Beck's glazed affect, and his constant media profile--had to stand amazed at the seamless way Beck Hansen went from white-boy funkmeister to flannel-shirted folkie and back again, making it seem the most natural thing in the world. A palpable audience buzz and a performer who was obviously manifesting on stage his love of music made this one of the year's most exciting evenings. Big bonus points for Beck's (apparently) spontaneous goof on James Brown, having to be carried on and off for his encores--so righteously did he funk.

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