“DD Review: Gary Clark Jr – Live/North America 2016/Twin Peaks – Urbs in Horto/Howling Diablos – Live.”

I typically don’t do research on musicians before I write about them. I dislike those reviews that are stuck on that kick about like the singer has all these kids, and does all this stuff behind the scenes, or whatever. But come on, Gary Clark Jr is just TOO GOOD of a story to resist — a veritable modern black cowboy, a black Black Keys with songs that are a little longer and sung in a little less of a FAKE black accent for… obvious reasons.
Looks like he’s from Austin, Texas, so he’s justified in being a cowboy I guess, and adding to the Austin family which is really becoming quite eclectic now from Spoon to Fastball and beyond. And who even knows to call Clark J. mainstream or indie anymore? That dichotomy seems to have gone the way of the soul these days — maybe more “online” than “radio” would be a better dichotomy [1].
I first heard Gary Clark Jr. in South Bend, Indiana’s one independent record store it has left, and actually it was this hardcore metalhead dude who even hates the Queens of the Stone Age who was playing him (as far as I know he listens to Gary Clark Jr, Beach House and a bunch of Amon Amarth). I remember it being bluesy, but mainly just LOUD. I mean this was just loud music, spirited and great, taking me back to hearing my sister constantly blaring this annoying band called the BUZZCOCKS day and night. First impression of this live album: there’s no crowd noise, and this is a pet peeve of mine, but the instrumentation and the production are great — the guitars and organs even seeming to blend in with each other and sound alike on “Grinder” and “The Healing” (the latter boasting the chorus of “This music is my healing”).
Clark Jr switches guitars for the arhythmic intro to “Our Love,” and the results are glorious, taking you back to the loungy southern pickers like Les Paul and Leo Kottke. I’m especially refreshed to behold this light, airy opening to this song in light of the strongly sexual subject matter in the official video for “When My Train Pulls in” (and there I see that song looming later on on this exact track list!) Clark’s voice takes a falsetto here and… godda**it this is just the perfect song. There’s already no doubt in my mind that I’d want to purchase this album, even if “When My Train Pulls in” does end up reminding me of that white chick’s curves.
Well, let’s see if Twin Peaks – Urbs in Horto will remind me of how stupid I usually think live albums are. Cool, they’re playing this show in their hometown of Chicago, that’s definitely a good start. The singer (sorry, there are four different singers listed on the band’s wikipedia page) doesn’t even sound nervous, which seems weird. Drunk? Yeah. I once saw Califone in concert, and they even took a set break of about five minutes during which the drummer went and got drinks for the whole band including singer Tim Rutilli (who mind you was making a sophisticated practice of saying things like “I’ve seen kangaroos fu**). Is Urbs in Horto a blatant Stooges ripoff? Well, that’s a complicated questions. Ha, just kidding. That’s a simple question, and yes it is, but one thing you’ll like is how the guitar solo seems to be pretty wild and freewheeling and to last a relatively irregular amount of bars, and the band doesn’t make too much of an effort (if they make any effort at all) to make the chord progression too artsy. There’s more crowd noise on this live album. Too bad by now I’m already sick of live albums, like I thought I’d be, and long for that velvety guitar/organ juxtaposition on the Clark Jr. Urbs in Horto plays as more of a bootleg, and not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, and they’re definitely not the worst band ever or anything, it’s just not as much something you’d want to necessarily pay money for. “Flavor” reminds me of Stereolab playing garage rock, with a cheap, cheesy singalong. Good pub band, good bootleg.
I’m reviewing the Howling Diablos’ Live here, which came out in the late ‘90s, as sort of a questionable move, but I did see that they have ANOTHER live album coming out very soon, and I figured, this is a Detroit band not many people outside the city have heard of, so I thought I’d getcha squared away there, and get myself squared away while I’m at it. Looking at youtube I see that they shared a stage with Kidrock in 1996. Oh God, it’s funk, I forgot this band was funk. The funny part is, the riff is a straight up Stooges ripoff (the fellow Motor City), but the fact that Howling Diablos are funk actually makes it better than that Twin Peaks crap that was just spewing out cheap kegger chants over these faux-blues garage riffs. Well, they could definitely a use a drummer with some more flair, and this saxaphone solo leaves plenty to be desired (aside from the plain fact that it’s a saxaphone solo), but I give ‘em credit for trying. And the message clear and unpretentious enough (or Midwestern, in other words): “I wanna be a funky daddy / I wanna be a funky boy”. Here we go, a guitar solo with some distortion, I can vibe with this. Provided you have at least three beers in you, you should be able to dance to this music if you put some a** into it. “Nobody in Detroit” is a depressing song about… you guessed it, there being nobody in Detroit… again, I give this band credit for doing what they do here, but the inclusion of this song definitely bespeaks a lack of material breadth. But then, this album did come out 20 years ago, so let’s cut ‘em some slack. Also slide ‘em some props for doing this white boy rap thing before Kidrock and Eminem, although “Nobody in Detroit,” unlike “Funky Daddy,” is entirely in sing-song. “Go Gene Go” makes me think of Morphine, in a good way — there’s the saxaphone there was before, but it integrates into the mix beautifully, and there’s a dark tension about the song. This song is totally rad — leading up to the first chorus the verse’s stanza is “I didn’t like a thing / ’Til I heard Gene Krupa playin’ ‘Sing Sing Sing’”. And these drums are KICKIN’. Detroit is just a town of music technicians, there’s no other way to put it. And it’s not even like it’s TOO MUCH snare, like you’d think it’d be — I hear plenty of kick and hat and yes, cow bell, more cow bell. Huh huh. Also give the band credit for the minor miracle of appearing in the late ‘90s and not playing any swing. This album makes me really wish the average South Bend band had a little more thump (even Umphrey’s McGee can be kinda prancy when they set out to).
So what’s my conclusion NOW on live albums? Aw, Christ, I dunno. I’m confused as ever. They’re like the human race itself. Time to just grab another beer and enjoy the summer I guess… and hopefully if this post teaches you anything it’s to not skimp on the variety and musical eclecticism while you’re at it, and that white boys can rap… provided that they’re backed by bit**in’ black saxaphonists and sound like chain smoking harda**es from Detroit who sing about Gene Krupa. And like I alluded to, Howling Diablos have a new live album Electric Live Wire coming out Friday.
[1] This is ironic of course since you’d think radio stars would be behooved by their aesthetics… but maybe we really are entering into a better era of radio music these days.

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