Live Shots

Sunday, July 31

Pantera -- the Dallas-based headbangers whose recent CD Far Beyond Driven rode word-of-mouth to Billboard's number one slot -- showcases the most impressive lack of musical ambiguity I've ever seen. The baby-faced tat-and-pierce crowd at the AstroArena cheered heartily at any stray spotlight, held lighters aloft for "hit" singles that distinguished themselves from the rest of the set solely through the presence of a half-developed riff and stressed their necks mightily at each fresh triplet assault of the bass drum. Baaahaaa -- or however you spell that sound sheep make.

A banner from Pantera's prior album, A Vulgar Display of Power, backed the band. Vulgarity is in the eye of the beholder, but powerful -- at least in the superficial sense -- it undoubtedly was. Pantera steals the high-speed staccato rhythms, utter lack of melody and growling vocal rumble of death metal, leaves out the cheesy pseudo-Satanism, and substitutes a good-ole-boy fondness for reefer, beer and tits. When singer Philip Anselmo capped a brief ode to brew by asking for a show of hands from "all the alcoholics in the crowd," the response was deafening, and deafeningly stupid.

When the band wasn't appealing to the crowd with lowest-common-denominator patter, it was indulging every rock star cliche in the manual. Ax hero "Dimebag" Darrell provided comic book riffage, Anselmo howled his bald head off and the songs thundered from abbreviated crescendo to crescendo. It was all very impressive.

-- Brad Tyer

Rocky Hill
Billy Blues
Saturday, July 30

This is probably a record: two Rocky Hill sightings in the same week. Hill first showed up at the Houston Press Music Awards, and then five nights later made a dynamic appearance at Billy Blues. After San Antonio power-trio Reuben V brought the SRO crowd to a boil, Hill hit the stage to let the audience in on every secret they may have missed 20 years ago at local joints like Irene's.

Hill seemed on the verge of exploding as he testified about big-legged women, straight alcohol and love gone bad. The raw intensity that Hill is known for, coupled with the tightly packed house, brought a gritty intimacy to Billy Blues that's seldom seen in the nightclub. The Rocky Hill Band -- probably the hundredth incarnation of a revolving lineup that Fabulous Thunderbirds bassist Keith Ferguson once described as "me and Rocky and assorted idiots on drums" -- played with reckless abandon.

Much of Hill's considerable legend is based on memorable impromptu sessions with regional house bands, and that's just the sort of loose-limbed performance he brought to Richmond Row. It felt more like a Sunday jam than a polished Saturday night showcase, but when your mentors were Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins and Willie Stout, it doesn't take much preparation to turn a franchise nightclub, for an hour anyway, into just the kind of raunchy dive the blues have always called home.

-- Jim Sherman


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