(Photo by Nicole Berlin Photography)
Nostalgia is often a trap, when you think about it — one free of crucial perspective.
Over-romanticizing the past is something we all do from time to time. You might remember only the good people you worked with at a past job, without remembering the excremental elements that drove you out of there. Maybe you find yourself remembering the good times with an ex, as if there weren’t multiple, unimpeachable reasons the relationship didn’t sustain. Those moments are all fine until you start chasing a recapturing you might think you want, when in reality, your present is awfully desirable.
In the case of seeing live music, though, the nostalgia and longing I’m feeling these days isn’t a sense of only remembering what’s great about a concert (it’s not always all fantastic, you know). A little more than one year after live music in Austin as we know it died a temporary death, I’m remembering the good stuff and the bad. And as I’ve been trying to line up my first vaccine, I want it all back — the totality of the experience.
The last real concert I attended — not a drive-in show, or a casual set at a coffee shop or restaurant — was Destroyer at the Mohawk on Feb. 26, 2020. But the last music event, and the real end, was 14 days later, at the Austin Music Awards. As I noted here on the Traffic a year ago, that night, March 11, proved to be a pretty historic one. Tom Hanks and Rudy Gobert were revealed to have the virus, the NBA shut down, and President Individual-1 went on TV to declare a travel ban. All those events together, plus the apprehension I felt being surrounded by hundreds of others, ensured I’d never forget the date.
Did I think during that night — even while nervously trying to avoid staying too close to people for too long — that it’d be the last large gathering I’d be around for a year-plus? Negative. The AMAs were my introduction to The Well (top photo), winners for Best Metal and a band I resolved that night to see and hear more of. Jackie Venson, hosting with comedian Chris Cubas, brought her infectious cheerfulness and a yellow haz-mat suit. Having seen her live several times, I probably would’ve guessed I’d see her perform sometime in the ensuing 365 days. Black Pumas were there to accept awards, and I hadn’t properly seen them live yet. I still haven’t — and after the cancellation of four straight nights of Pumas at Stubb’s scheduled for last May, probably a lot of admirers of theirs are in the same boat as me.
When I think about that night, and Destroyer, and everything I miss about live music and music-related events, I’m not over-romanticizing. I’m not forgetting that not everything about shows is wonderful. Even the more trying and/or awkward moments of last year’s AMAs — and concerts in general — sound pretty good right now.
Obnoxious people, in varying states of sobriety, are always a risk at shows. Drinks get spilled. Venues can be difficult to reach sometimes, and in areas like Red River, panhandlers and weirdos wait in the dark before and after the show. After a year of none of that, I’d take it all back in a heartbeat. Let’s face it: Livestreams were and are a wonderful gesture under these circumstances, but the novelty wore off in a hurry. We need the real thing.
Album review: Riders Against the Storm, Flowers for the Living
“Forget about your twos and your threes, we the ones.” That confident declaration on the head-bobbing “The Ones” sets Austin’s First Couple of hip-hop, Chaka and Qi Dada, off on Flowers for the Living, an ambitious, statement-filled, and varied record.
Flowers brings together four previous singles with the same number of new tracks, collectively offering both timely social commentary and an impressive accounting of various notches on hip-hop’s stylistic range. Electro-hop and house-ier elements bolster the likes of closer “Is It?” “Richard Simmons” and the title track, but trad hip-hop and soul elements weave their way in, too, like in “Flowers for the Living” (chorus hook sung by Clarence James) and the slinkily propulsive “Red Lights,” featuring a nimble soul-hop guest shot by the ever-reliable Tameca Jones.
Both Riders are gifted rappers and shine together in eminently democratic fashion. Chaka gets in your face behind aggressive, Jay-Z/Kanye-type production on “Xxtra,” declaring his extraterrestrial uniqueness and declaring, “We know where we came from/Stardust is what we made of/You will never change us.” Qi Dada displays speedy flow, self-love and galvanizing spirit on “Black Girl Payday.”
There’s no truly weak track among these eight, just moments that resonate more than others and, for me, some minor musical quibbles here and there. I’ve harped on here a little before about my quantity expectations for a full-length. As an album of just eight tracks and half an hour, Flowers for the Living has a higher bar to clear for a lofty star rating than a disc that gets itself comfortably into double digits. Still, it’s an undeniably strong piece of work by a capable, experienced duo with considerable skill, fully formed musical ideas and palpable fire to bring them to us. *** 1/2 stars out of 5
Track review: St. Vincent, “Pay Your Way in Pain”
“Pay Your Way in Pain” manages to pull a conflicting double feat of getting me both hopeful and apprehensive for Annie Clark’s next record, Daddy’s Home, due out in May.
On one hand, this leadoff single channels and chronicles its moment through the eyes one of indie rock’s standout and rawest songwriting voices. Economically, socially and emotionally, it’s rough for a whole lot of people right now, and Annie/St. finds our collective pulse from several different angles: Hunger greeted with empty grocery shelves, judgment on a woman’s choice of clothing (by other women, in this case), the ominous promise of a stove that’s “only gettin’ hotter.” Relatable and despairing, punctuated by the pairing of the title with the interesting “you’ve got to pray your way in shame,” this is a winner on lyrical insight.
On the other hand, there are the sonics. This song is noisy, skittering, sounding sort of like a harshly deconstructed take on past electro-masterpieces like “Los Ageless” or “Masseduction,” with Clark’s delivery here overly strained and talky. It’s hard for me to tell whether “Pay Your Way in Pain” gets better on repeated listens, which most likely means it doesn’t. Ultimately, it’s not one of St. Vincent’s better efforts. At the same time, enough of her strengths are on display to suggest Daddy’s Home will contain more satisfying moments.