By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Live at the Continental Club
Ronnie Dawson confirms it is indeed possible to age in rock and roll without growing old; even in his 50s, he's still the action-packed Blond Bomber, capable of tearing up any venue without running out of breath at the end of a very long night. He must have cut a deal with the devil a long time ago: Dawson, who first stepped on a stage 40-some-odd years ago, is better now than he's ever been, proving once and for all music keeps young only its most fervent true believers. He has a handful of perfect discs to prove the case--from 1988's Rockinitis to 1993's Monkey Beat to 1996's double-disc Rockin' Bones, you can't tell where the boy ends and the man begins.
But this just-released live collection, recorded in January at Austin's venerable South Congress club and available only at Dawson's shows (or by mail), reveals what the faithful have known all along: Dawson's best enjoyed live, when the audience provides that little extra kick no studio in the world possesses. The man has found his fountain of youth in the audience that whoops along with every shout-along chorus; he's born again and again when he jumps from the stage and solos in front of pretty girls and their teddy-boy boyfriends, dancing along to Dawson's undying rockabilly swing. And keeping the beat is the best band that no longer exists: Drummer Lisa Pankratz, bassist Kevin Smith, and Dutch guitar whiz Tjarko--longtime accomplices on Dawson's quest for immortality--were his secret weapon, and Live at the Continental Club is as much a tribute to their power as it is to Dawson's.
Here's a live album you can believe in: It makes you feel like you're in the thick of it, but doesn't taunt you for not showing up to the party; there's none of that you-shoulda-been-there vibe. The songs come alive, leap off the disc, attack from all sides; whether it's the jumpin' jive of "Oreo Swing" or the rockabilly taunt of "Rockinitis" or the dance-till-you-bop of "Shim Sham Shimmy," Dawson and his band are tight and out of sight. They make 40-year-old anthems ("Action Packed") sound improvised on the spot, and they can turn a recent creation like "Knock Down Drag Out" into a yesteryear classic.
There's more pop in Smith's bass than in a case of Dr Peppers, Pankratz could keep a beat on a leash if it had fangs, and Tjarko's the only guitarist Dawson's ever had who could keep up with the master without tripping over his fingers. But the show on this night and every night belongs to Dawson, the only guy left on this earth who can solo on the guitar and leave you wanting more. After all this time, he still plays it lean and mean, leaving enough room for the band--and the audience, the fifth member of a band that ought to be remembered as one of the best to ever set foot on a Texas stage.
Live at the Continental Club is available from Continental Records, P.O. Box 3843, Austin,