Shows: Fourth of July with Moving Panoramas and Mean Jolene @ Hotel Vegas


Look at the joy at the photo above. Kind of infectious, isn’t it? That’s what it looked like during the finale of Hotel Vegas’ American Girl show on the Fourth of July, when Jolie Cota Flink of Mean Jolene joined Moving Panoramas onstage for the Panoramas’ appropriate closer, a cover of … Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

One thing that happens during the times my show writeups trail the event by a couple of weeks is that, well, things change. The infectious fun and energy of that holiday twin bill of these two excellent bands isn’t a distant memory yet — but now, as we know, something even more infectious is in the air. To an unclear degree, there’s suddenly doubt about whether the cathartic spirit that’s permeated shows in the past couple of months will sustain. The assumption and vibe at the Mohawk, at Far Out Lounge, and at Hotel Vegas (twice) was that we’re out of the woods. Now, once again, who the hell knows? (Tangential discussion topic for you to ponder: Is this a good time to be the band Delta Spirit, or a bad time?)

The last couple of weeks have been a reminder to grab and revel in the joy while you can. This showcase of female-fronted local star power was joy-plus, an alternative Independence Day that dispensed a cohesively stirred batter of sugar and thunder.

Moving Panoramas, an enduring and steadily rising part of Austin’s alternative rock scene for nearly a decade now, were the headliners. There’s always a professional yet engaged approach to the now-six-piece outfit fronted by Leslie Sisson, reliably flanked upfront by Cara Tillman on keys and Rozie Castoe on bass. With chugging ’90s guitars and Sissom’s gentle high breathiness often augmented by Tillman and Castoe joining her in three-part harmony, the Panoramas’ shoegaze-pop never veers too far in either of those two directions.

On “Magic,” for instance, the assertive gallop of modern rock chords and the Panoramas’ harmonies melded into a head-bobbing whole, with Sissom holding center stage during instrumental breaks with understated gravitas. She’s a music-first frontwoman, yet knows how to make and hold a subtle connection with her crowd. And, it should be said, was she ever patient with a group of college-ish aged kids at the front of the stage who didn’t know who Moving Panoramas were, held up the show by asking Sisson the name of her band so they could find the Panoramas on Spotify, and held it up further when they either couldn’t hear her or couldn’t spell “Panoramas.” I know I wouldn’t have taken the approximately two minutes to complete their request in full. But I’m a crab when it comes to inconsiderate disruption, and Sisson’s evidently an angel, so she did it.

Speaking of consideration, a kind Hotel Vegas staffer delivered Sisson whiskey during the band’s performance of “Whiskey Fight,” a tuneful dream-rock drink-and-regret song whose chorus lyrics would make most trad-country songwriters jealous. As apropos as that moment was, it didn’t beat Flink — a relentless well of enthusiasm — bounding onstage to join in on “American Girl.” Rarely does a simple two-act bill pick a concert theme and stay true to it, but here it was — an American celebration with a quartet of American girls front of stage, closing it out. Fireworks on the Fourth? Nah, I’ll take this semi-subtle bit of inspiration instead. This was a finale of equal volume and color to what you see over the city, and frankly less played out.

Mean Jolene
Gratifying as it was to hear Mean Jolene’s best offerings to date in their opening set — and they’ve got a bunch of good ones — one of my favorite parts was hearing the band’s new songs. Coming back to live music is a work in progress, right? So it seemed to track that Flink was frank about the state of an as-yet-unreleased song noted on the setlist as “Old New One” (later on, we did indeed get to hear “New New One”). “That’s how it is now,” Flink said following “Old New One,” which sounded like a keeper and featured a ringing guitar solo by Steven Garcia. “We’ll see what changes. Who knows?” Could there be two more succinct sentences that apply to everything in this moment?

At any rate, kicking off with the oldie girl group-influenced “Sick Obsession,” Mean Jolene’s impeccably crafted power-pop made for a delicious opening set. Flink was as utterly giddy to be back onstage as anyone I’ve seen the past couple of months, proclaiming it “just so surreal — oh my God!” following “Sick Obsession.” And she had her celebratory dial maxed out, sashaying and grinning at every appropriate moment, distributing sparklers into the crowd for a fleeting acknowledgment of the holiday, and joining the the crowd to cheer on her own band — Garcia, Maud Morgan on bass, Ali Ditto on rhythm guitar, and Adam Sharp on drums — during the midst of closer “Glory Daze.”

Even with that rush-y cheer providing the anchor of its set, Mean Jolene encapsulated all its deceptively diverse textures — not just the irresistible car-radio tunefulness of songs like “Not Enough,” but also turns like the moody masterpiece “Dark Harmony.”

As with the Panoramas, seeing Mean Jolene onstage again was a 60-yard kick. In light of what’s going on out there, here’s hoping we can keep getting back in field goal range.

(Photos below by Nicole Berlin Photography)

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