She drove because I hate driving downtown. So she picked me up from work, and we headed straight to the concert at Antone’s. Traffic was incredibly light considering we were in the middle of SXSW, and we got there in only a half hour. That left us an hour to kill before they even opened the doors.
I found the teller machine and then we walked Antone’s. We stayed outside looking at the skyline, looking at the front door, looking at the skyline, and listening to some kind of a punk band at The Lucky Lounge next door. Finally they opened the doors and let us in.
I was completely unprepared. I had wanted to get there early so that we could get good seats, but when we got and we found there is no seating at Antone’s. It is a big stage with a big open floor and several bars. They have room for the merchandise set up and their little bitty record store. But there was only standing room. When they say it’s SRO at Antone’s, they aren’t kidding.
Suna and I each pick up identical heathens T-shirts. Well, not identical. They are at our respective sizes. And we got the new album. It was a CD release party after all. What about the vinyl edition because it had for bonus tracks and came with a CD anyway.
We met some nice people and talked with them and save each other’s places sitting on the stage so that we could be that close to bands when they started. One of the young girls that we were talking to was there waiting on her father who apparently had taken her to see the band of heathens when she was still wager young to be in the clubs. Boy that something I know something about, having grown up in bars—but those usually had chairs and tables.
Finally Matt the Electrician started his set. If you know Matt, I don’t need to say anything. If you don’t know him, saying anything about him won’t do the job. He’s a really good pop singer who plays a ratty old banjo and tells great stories between the songs. You can listen to one of his songs here.
Matt ended his set with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” taking his guitarist completely by surprise. The guy (whose name I didn’t catch, but Suna says he plays for Slaid Cleves) took it in stride. He seemed fairly nonplused and even managed a good solo. I was impressed with Matt’s ability to cover this song. He did better than Plant, but so would a cat undergoing castration without anesthetics.
The girl’s father showed up shortly before The Heathens took the stage, sometime during The Electrician’s set. And when they did, OMG…
We owned both of their previous studio CDs, so I was somewhat familiar with the music, but I wasn’t really prepared. The Heathens are definitely a live band. The albums, although very good and worth listening to on their own, don’t do them justice. I’m going to have to buy a couple of their live CDs and see if those catch the heart and spirit of the performance.
Let me tell you, brother. The Heathens rock. They rock. Even though they’re singer songwriters, The Heathens is an electric band, and they rock.
The Heathens includes three lead vocalists, each of whom can stand on his own. The apparent leader plays an adequate guitar. He learns his parts and place them well, but his real job is to be a singer. And he sings very well indeed. The other main guitarist seems like an old-timey blues stringer. He can play a mean guitar, a slide guitar, a mandolin like the one we bought for Tubaboy, and just about anything else he wants I bet. The last vocalist (of whom I was unable to get a good picture) sounds a lot like Kenny Loggins in the early Loggins and Messina days. He’s also the best guitarist of three. He smokes, and he’s a pretty damn good keyboard player, too.
I didn’t get the bass player’s name, but I did get an acceptable picture of him. The sad thing was that they didn’t run him through the house mains. He was competing with the band was just his unmiked, mid-sized Ampeg rig. They didn’t even run him through the subs hidden under the stage. So sad. But then mostly what he played was quarter notes on the tonic. I think this was to satisfy some perverse tendency of the guitarists because when he went for it, he let loose with some interesting chops that I could barely hear. Strangely enough, he is very present on the studio CDs.
1 Note the piece of foam near the tailpiece. It’s there to keep the strings from ringing. All Fender basses used to come with a chrome tailpiece cover that had a damper built in. Why “used to?” Well, you can still get it if you order it, but most bass players take it off, anyway. The tailpiece and pickup covers on my ’72 Jazz lasted about five minutes. That’s how long it took me to find a screwdriver once I got my favorite bass home.