True Believers Warehouse Live May 25, 2013
"We were a gang," espoused the True Believers' Alejandro Escovedo in a recent interview about the band's heyday in the mid 1980s. The band's home turf was the hotly contested streets of the former Cosmic Cowboy utopia of Austin, but their range extended to the washed-out bayous and sprawling metropolis of the mostly forgotten blues/folk haven that was Houston.
They were denim/leather-clad miscreants, who crawled out of the punk-rock rubble to help define the up-and-coming cowpunk movement with a bare-knuckled three-guitar assault. The band was set to be the "next big thing" to come out of Texas, and then it all came down... or so the legend goes.
Before Saturday, the True Believers had not set foot in Houston with Javier Escovedo since 2002, when they briefly reunited for Austin music merchant Waterloo Records' 20th anniversary and a one-off show here at the Continental Club. This weekend's Warehouse Live Studio gig would mark the first time all five original members had played together here since their much-lauded shows at old haunts like the Ale House, legendary gigs where one spectator noted, "You didn't hear the music -- you felt it through your bones and skull."
I once read that legend is "a lie that has obtained the dignity of age" Luckily for all in attendance this past Saturday, that would not be the case.
The hard-charging Troobs wasted little time, opening with a buzzsaw version of "The Rebel Kind," an adopted biographical anthem about taking the long road filled with heartache and hardship to be able to "make it" on your own terms. Not a surprising narrative considering the punk-rock pedigree that each member shares, but there was seemingly something different about this version of that song and this band.
It was something that would become even more evident in Jon Dee Graham's gravelly-throated growl in songs like "Lucky Moon" and "One Moment to Another"; this was no longer a band struggling to make their way. They've been through it all and have etched their place into the musical lexicon. These days, when Alejandro Escovedo croons "I know one day we're gonna leave this all behind/ We'll be free to run with the rebel kind" it's with a knowing gleam in his eye and a satisfied mind.
Also immediately evident was that this was first and foremost a rock band. Fronted by guitartist/singers Alejandro Escovedo, Javier Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham, the band's driving, Mott the Hoople-esque licks oozed simultaneously from all three guitars. Their tones intertwined making it impossible to distinguish one from another. Each man was responsible for holding his part of the line, whether it be solo or rhythm, and the collective effort created a relentless wall of guitar. Combining with the solid rhythm of Denny DeGorio and Rey Washam, they powered through selections from both TB records as well as two new tracks, Javier's "Gipsy Son" and Jon Dee's "Dedication."
The show was as much a class reunion as it was a concert; not just onstage, but for the audience as well. Jon Dee peered out into the crowd on several occasions looking for and connecting with old pals. While a clearly adoring fanbase soaked up every bit of it, transported back 25 years to the sweaty, packed, beer-soaked bygone days of the Ale House. Alejandro recounted those days and partying with the roller-skating Urban Animals, joking, "That's why our career went the way it did." The band then launched into "The Rain Won't Help You When It's Over" with a reggae inspired breakdown accompanying the guitar solo.
Before the clock struck midnight on the mostly grey-haired revelers, the Troobs plowed through "Hard Road" and "Nobody's Home," then left the stage only to be urged back by the raucous crowd it had worked into a frenzy. Returning with the Paisley-Underground-influenced "Who Calls My Name", a cowpunk rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Train Around The Bend" and the rare "Marianne" penned by Javier for Ry Cooder 's soundtrack to the movie Blue City.
Earlier in the set, Alejandro described how he had invited his brother to join the band back in 1983. Javier, his brother said, had shown up on his doorstep with his "Les Paul Jr. in one hand and his belongings in a paper grocery bag in the other." As the band shuffled off the stage and the partygoers began to wish each other well, I couldn't help but notice Javi come back to his side of the stage to retrieve his mustard-yellow Les Paul Jr. and a canvas shopping bag. Here's hoping this is a new beginning for the beloved band, and we'll all be treated to more True Believers shows in the near future.
Personal Bias: I'm a big fan of both Alejandro and Jon Dee Graham. Both have been making music that suits my ears for a long time. Put them together in a group? C'mon!
The Crowd: Mostly forties and fifties; Lots of older white-guy air guitar. The crowd was feeling 20 years younger, as was I. It's been a long time since I was one of the younger people at a show.
Overheard In the Crowd: Woman in the audience: "I've been wanting to see this for 20 years!" Jon Dee: "Thanks for waiting."
Random Notebook Dump: The cameraphone phenomenon is clearly a generational thing. After experiencing Soundgarden the night before, it was great to see these folks were here for the band.
The Rebel Kind All Mixed Up Again She's Got Wild Eyed & Wound Up Lucky Moon So Blue About You Gypsy Son Only a Dream I Get Excited One Moment to Another The Rain Won't Help You When It's Over Dedication Hard Road Nobody's Home
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Who Calls My Name Train Around The Bend Marianne