Playing guitar-centric, sometimes bluesy rock, Texan Hadden Sayers has developed somewhat of a Southern-fried guitar slinger image. Nevertheless, the strength of his better music comes from a songwriter's bent and a canny pop sensibility. Rather than play out for long stretches at a time, Sayers kept the solos quick and usually organic. He saved most of his energy crafting the catchy vocals and choppy riffs of his songs. Musically, he more resembled a Lone Star Matthew Sweet than an upstart Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Sayers and his three-piece pulled in an older crowd, people with a little less patience for rock excess but still appreciative of a well-crafted, no-nonsense rock song. At the start of the set, Sayers didn't let them down. With his bleached-out blond hair, black fingernails, and a grin like ten Caddies lined up at the drive-in, Sayers opened with an appealing, unpretentious mix of straight-up pop-rock and liberated twelve-bar blues. On fun tunes like "Big Shot" or "Baby, You're Lookin' So Fine Tonite, I Think I'm Fallin' for You," his vocals rarely strayed from the where-has-my-baby-gone-I'm-goin'-out-of-my-mind mold. But with a big personality and inviting voice, Sayers managed to pull off his aw-shucks lyrics with conviction.
Bassist Chris Ross and drummer Matt Johnson were about as unflashy as they come. No matter. At the center of every song were Sayers, his voice, and his guitar. The bass and drums simply filled out the dead space.
Sayers's good pop sense left him as he unveiled some of his lengthier, less compelling songs. He eschewed the compact, appealing structures characteristic of his early set work and settled for droning. He fell back on his panoply of effects--wah-wah pedals, reverb, assorted others--far too often. As he noodled on, his playing began to sound more like the default settings of a bored guitar player. The crowd at the front of the stage noticed the missing snap and crackle in Sayers's pop and wandered back to their seats.
Toward the start of the second set, Sayers brought back the quick-shuffle riffs and taut tunes, and the crowd stepped up to the dance floor for another quick turn. But they didn't stay for long. After enduring the first-set dull spots and an intermission interview that pushed the second set back considerably, the crowd's interest had been taxed, and the night had all but come to an end.
Tav Falco's Panther Burns
Simon and the Bar Sinisters
Pat's in the Flats
Tav Falco's Panther Burns had its psychobilly mojo working in front of a packed house at Pat's in the Flats on Saturday. Celebrating his twentieth anniversary tour, Falco, an Arkansas homeboy who hopped freights to Memphis and dove into the blues and performance art, showed whom Jon Spencer calls Daddy with his mix of dirty white-boy blues and a distinctly theatrical stage presence.
Sporting a pencil-thin mustache, big black mane, and a wild-eyed stare, Falco (real name: Gustavus Nelson) seemed hell-bent on paying up for never appearing in Cleveland. A cross between David Byrne and R.L. Burnside, Falco showed no signs of age slowing him down.
Falco and Panther Burns kicked out an hour-plus jam that went down like fine bourbon. Panther Burns dusted off obscure blues covers like Bobby Lee Trammell's "It's All Your Fault" and fellow Memphis-man Allen Page's "She's the One That's Got It." The boozy, fuzztoned guitar work of Falco and his girlfriend, Claudia Tiffy, inspired hard drinking and dancing in the audience, a mix of old and young rockers. High points included Falco wailing through Muddy Waters's "Blind Man" and the Texas tango "Drop Your Mask."
At some point in the wee hours, an aging hipster screamed out, "Who loves you, baby?!" Falco responded by exploding into the boogie-woogie rump shaker "Cuban Rebel Girl." A Hendrix-style closer, "Rebel Girl" possessed bass player Scott Bomar to jump on top of his amp while women danced on chairs and the rhythm section clickety-clacked like an old freight train. At times, the riffs got a bit sloppy, but when Falco whipped his guitar around and raised it above his head to signal the end of the gig, it was clear he and the Panther Burns had tapped into something good.
Simon and the Bar Sinisters, a punk trio from Brooklyn, tried like hell to get the then-spare audience to acknowledge their presence. "Hey, why don't you guys take some speed or something; wake up!" Simon complained before launching into a punkish blues stomp. Not that it was possible to avoid these guys, with their amps turned all the way up; many were reaching for their ear plugs (unfortunately, I didn't find out until later that you can buy a set for $1 at the bar). Without the packed house that Tav Falco commanded, Pat's was about as welcoming as a drafty garage. But skeptics were eventually warmed by Simon's near-psychotic energy and his roughneck take on everything from do-wop ballads to Dick Dale-inspired surf rock.
During the bluesy "Ain't Gonna Do It," Simon jumped on top of the bar and gave a clinic on audience participation. Afterward, Simon asked, "What's the matter, you afraid of me?" prompting one brave soul to pipe up, "Hell yes."
The members of Galactic make no attempt to conceal their admiration for all things New Orleans and all things funky. While this admiration is not necessarily uncommon, Galactic is a rare band that actually recruits a living connection to New Orleans music history--in this case, Mr. Theryl de Clouet, a New Orleans singer significantly older than the youngish funksters. The addition of de Clouet--who sang about one-third of the time--reflects an enthusiastic if not wholly convincing embrace of the city's music. Galactic's founders--bassist Robert Mercurio and guitarist Jeff Rains, both from the D.C. area--are transplants hoping to take root.
Perhaps those roots haven't quite taken yet. During a mostly instrumental show Saturday night, the music ranged from busy, all-out group jams to knee-bending, blaxploitation-flavored steamers with the occasional touches of '50s R&B and a hint of reggae. The music, though undeniably fun, sounded dated and occasionally bordered on caricature. Count as questionable the proliferation of goofy theme statements, dirty funk cliches, and wah-wah pedal filler.
Despite the promise of funk updates and acid jazz-ness, the only nods to this late-twentieth-century date came in Rains's tongue-in-cheek scratching approximations (a pick dragged across amplified, dampened guitar strings) and sax player Ben Ellman's mechanical horn lines.
De Clouet and the band proved an uneasy alliance. Unsure of what exactly to do behind de Clouet's gritty, soul-singer vocals, the band often resorted to marking time. These were the least engrossing moments of the night. But there was another side to the band--a high-energy, groove-saturated, funk-for-funk's-sake side--and that aspect made a fine showing, especially on instrumentals like "Hamp's Hump," "Freedom Acid Jazz Dance," and "Metermaid" (an allusion to another influence). The group's power hinged on Mercurio's thick bass lines, Rich Vogel's slippery keyboards, and Stanton Moore's snappy drums, begging a comparison to higher-profile organ trios like Medeski, Martin &Wood and Zony Mash. Mercurio, Vogel, and Moore, unlike the aforementioned, put aside artier intentions and devoted themselves to the groove unswervingly. Galactic is, at core, a party band, and as long as it played, the holy trinity of bass, drums, and keyboards never let up on the groove momentum. In that respect, the band succeeded, and the crowd appreciated every moment.
One-man chug-chug folk machine Keller Williams did his best to fill out the stage by himself. Along with his easy-on-the-ears vocals and rhythmic twelve-string, Williams imitated trumpet lines through pursed lips and indulged in a little human beatbox and prerecorded accompaniment. At times, the gimmick-work took over, but for the most part, the refreshingly laid-back Keller proved an interesting, if benign, act all by himself.