The Bluebonnets Deserve Better Than They Got Saturday
Photos by William Michael Smith
The Bluebonnets Continental Club March 21, 2015
Austin hard rockers the Bluebonnets do for me what that other, more famous all-female Texas band, the Trishas, don't: they rock your ass off and make you feel like having animal sex in the outdoors. You know, the way rock and roll used to make you feel before you thought it was maybe undignified?
As I watched former Go-Go Kathy Valentine, monster guitarist Eve Monsees, bassist Dominique Davallos, and drummer Kristy McKinnis roar through a rip-snorting 90-minute set of rock and rollers that included a blast-furnace cover of Roy Head's classic "Treat Her Right," it struck me that I want my eight-year old granddaughter to grow up to be in a band like this, not in a band like the Trishas. Not that the Trishas aren't pretty good, it's just a matter of style and attitude.
The relatively poor attendance -- 35-40 at best -- is indicative of how un-rock toned-down a la the Americana formula that the Texas music scene has become. While we are awash in folky, me-too Americana strummers with "oh-so-meaningful" lyrics mewling their way through another too-safe show so as not to alienate any of the bland Best in Texas chart crowd, bands like the Bluebonnets barely get a look by that float-the-river crowd.
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Of course, financial interests like advertisers and light-beer sellers like safe, which has of course led to the dumbing down of just about everything about the so-called Texas music scene. Which is exactly what makes the Bluebonnets such a breath of very fresh air.
Which brings me around to some discussions with disc jockeys in Austin at SXSW last week that, to summarize, the fact of the matter is that outside a rare handful of albums in 2014 and thus far in 2015, few albums on the Texas music charts are truly outstanding like James McMurtry's latest. Most of them are in the safe box, well inside all the lines, and that translates to from mildly entertaining to downright boring.
The Bluebonnets, on the other hand, come to play hard and they do. There's no windy, too-precious stories about why they wrote the songs, no pandering stage drivel, no Miranda Lambert crazy-redneck-girl jive -- just count it off and play it fast, loud, and true. Mid-set they introduced "a new song we've only played a few times," and then proceeded to rip some serious ass on a rocker called "Bye Bye Baby" that actually recalled the best of the Go-Gos or Blondie.
It was a true pleasure to see Valentine close her eyes and smile like she had a vision of the rapture as she stung her black Strat like a bumblebee fighting a hangover with steroids and loco weed. She and Monsees can trade licks with anyone, anywhere, anytime.
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An example of how far we've strayed from the rock and roll path in Texas music: my friend who went with me to the show at the last minute had never heard of the band, but the second they fired off on their first tune, she walked to the center of the open area in front of the stage and just stood, arms crossed, listening. And until very late in the show she was the ONLY person standing in the pit.
At one point, a middle-aged cowboy hat walked up to her and asked why she was standing. "You're blocking the view of everyone sitting down." How un-punk is that? An old-school Tucson punk rocker, she told the guy "It's a rock show, that's why." He retreated without bloodshed.
Anyway, I've been somewhat depressed thinking about the show, how spot-on perfect it was, what a joy, what a spirited blast of freshness in a sea of palatable faux-folk Llewyn Davis mediocrity. C'mon, Texas, c'mon Houston, we're better than that.
And speaking of crowds not supporting the Bluebonnets, where were all the Venomous Maximus/American Fangs fans, because this was a show that was so in your wheelhouse?
So let's summarize: Four rocking women, great tunes, great playing, no poseur scenester BS, no contrived weirdness which has become de rigeur to certain longstanding Houston punk/noise bands. Sounds like the real deal to me.
Personal Bias: You cover Ike and Tina's "Nutbush City Limits," I'm yours for life.
The Crowd: What crowd? Houston, you truly disappoint. Was there at Beetle show somewhere? A KISS tribute band in town? Your momma won't let you go to real rock shows anymore?
Overheard In the Crowd: "Damn, that rocked. There IS hope."
Random Notebook Dump: Having some female punk-rock veterans jamming Roy Head's legendary "Treat Her Right" put a whole new spin on it.
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