River City ~ Dispatches from Austin

Monday, July 22, 2002

STOP THE PRESSES.

Wilco, the Jayhawks, Ryan Adams, Patti Griffin, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Gillian Welch, G-Love & Special Sauce, and more than 50 other bands will descend on Zilker Park in Austin at the end of September for the 15 Acres of Music Festival. Even trip-hippie troubadors the String Cheese Incident will be playing as the music echoes off of six stages in the heart of Austin. Two days, $35. How about the rumors that Los Lobos might confirm soon? Is there any excuse for missing this extravaganza? If you are not in Zilker Park on Sept. 28-29, you'd better have a damn good excuse.

The town has been buzzing since the (tentative) lineup was announced just last week. You can bet there will be changes, but hopefully only for the better. Most of the key performers seem pretty solid and we doubt anyone of note will pull out. Instead, we can only get our suntan lotion, beer cooler and wide-brimmed hat ready and see who else might join the bill. Some things are worth waiting for.

News of the Jayhawks coming to town is well-received, especially after hearing New York rumors of them throwing in the towel. Sure, we saw them in Austin a few months ago in one of the best shows ever experienced (and certainly in the top five for the year), but they are now a trio and their fate always seems to be hanging delicately in the balance. Happily, more positive reports have them recording a new album - and to see them on the bill in Austin just makes the weekend all the more sweet.

Just two months to wait… see if you can stand it. For more info about the festival, click here.

Friday, July 05, 2002

A trip to the Mercury in New York City offered a first-hand experience with Jay Bennett & Edward Burch, playing material off of their new album, The Palace at 4 a.m. This reporter's verdict is decidedly mixed. While the music is tight and the instrumental prowess of both artists is pretty much indisputable, the sound is really moody and, how can I say this… creepy.

Two baritones harmonizing with each other in hypnotic trance-like effect can be unnerving, especially given that Burch kind of looks like that guy next door who never really leaves his house, but you hear loud noises and see him up in the middle of the night doing strange things. What kinds of strange things remains uncertain, but one look behind those thick-rimmed glasses and devilish grin reminds you that you better not think too much about it.

Jay Bennett, for his part, seems to be relishing his new front man role. Actually, he and Burch seem to be a true partnership, but Bennett does most of the talking. Sometimes too much talking. He urged on the crowd, and then good-naturedly complained about their lame response. Perhaps they were just trying to get a read on him, and decide how they were feeling about the whole experience.

There were highpoints, actually. Bennett and Burch rolled through a great performance of "Puzzle Heart," the first song on their new album. And they threw in "My Darling," off Wilco's Summerteeth. But then Bennett had to go on and over-explain why they were performing a Wilco song (Bennett, of course, parted ways with the band during a tumultuous period in the fall). "Shut up and play," some guy next to me blurted out. I was more willing to indulge the maestro in his self-conscious, between-song chatter, but I really hope it's just a phase. Bennett and Burch need to let the music speak for itself; and if it can't hold up on its own, no amount of explaining is going to win them new fans.