The Wolfe Tones
Monday, November 21
Stevens of Hollywood Dance Studio
The Wolfe Tones, named for an 18th-century Irish nationalist, have spent the last three decades singing of their dream of a unified Ireland -- and of the national sport of that beautiful land, which is killing your neighbors over which church you're too hung over to attend. The Wolfe Tones' repertoire is largely editorial, unabashedly anti-British and beautifully delivered with harmonizing vocals and traditional instruments, backed incongruously by an electric bass. In lilting brogues, mandolinist Derek Warfield and his banjo-playing brother Brian reminded what seemed to be the bulk of Houston's expatriate Irish community of the particulars of whatever outrage the next song commemorated. Evictions, famines, the Irish diaspora, the martyrdom of various rebels and the excesses of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were described with soaring harmonies and the haunting wailing of Noel Nagel's tin whistle and Uileann pipes. Despite cheers that greeted the Warfields' strident Ireland-for-the-Irish polemics, the evening's loudest applause came when one of the brothers mentioned that "the peace seems to be holding."
Accordionist Ed Gorman and guitarist Kevin Patton opened for The Wolfe Tones with a combination of Gorman originals and militant standards. Near the end of their set, Patton traded guitar for bodhran and treated the crowd to a pounding solo in the call-to-battle style that shows the instrument's martial origins. It was an apt introduction to the headline act.
-- Jim Sherman
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Tuesday, November 22
Urban Art Bar
The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour and the Bad Brains, among other bands, have accumulated enough critical and commercial success between them for the Grammys to set up a new category for bands blending funk and hard-core, if only they could devise a less cumbersome name than "funkcore" or "hardfunk" (or "appropriation" or "exploitation") or however it is they are labeled these days. Big Chief, now touring in support of their Capitol debut Platinum Jive, add their own Motor City twist to the genre. Their entertaining brew of Parliament/ Funkadelic (especially the late, great Detroit resident Eddie Hazel), the Stooges, the MC5 (especially the late, great Detroit resident Fred "Sonic" Smith), blaxploitation flicks and their soundtracks, early '70s Miles Davis, Black Sabbath, the Bad Brains (of course), early '80s Midwestern hard-core, and a graphic sensibility inspired by ritual Mayan art is proudly more than mere homage and admittedly not quite groundbreaking.
After openers the Goats finished an uneven and truncated set (one member of the band was heard apologizing to a fan for not finding the groove), half the vaguely alternative-looking and definitely young crowd left. Big Chief opened with "Brake Torque," their first single, tipping their hats to hard-core while avoiding its orthodox faster-fastest-too fast aesthetic. The funk started to show through on the next song, "Lion's Mouth," as bassist Matt O'Brien's greasy lines grounded the band in a way that Flea's slaphappy bass doesn't for the Chili Peppers. Throughout the show, singer Barry Henssler, he of the D. Boon-sized girth, overcame his limited range with energy and blessedly clear diction. Lead guitarist Phil Durr rose to Hazelesque heights during his lunging solo on "One Born Every Minute," from the band's Dolomite tribute album Mack Avenue Skullgame; in-house graphic designer Mark Dancey thrashed a consistently tight rhythm guitar. The set never really took off, though, and the band cut it short. The standoffish crowd, perhaps expecting a variation on the Goats' theme, just didn't respond to Big Chief's lively fusion gambit.
-- Peter Kelly