The T-Birds' 1986 smash "Tuff Enuff" shot the band out of the orbit of Antone's, the Austin blues institution that incubated the group and its late-'70s cohorts such as Storm, Paul Ray & the Cobras and the Nightcrawlers. As hit songs often do, it gave many people a fleeting (and not altogether correct) impression of a band that had worked for years to enjoy those 15 minutes in the sun.
In other words, in the week or two before the T-Birds played the rodeo, we were a little surprised that whenever the subject came up, how many people thought Jimmie Vaughan was still in the band. He hasn't been since the very early '90s, but he was when "Tuff Enuff" came out, which is good enough to freeze the T-Birds in people's minds.
Friday's T-Birds featured guitarist Mike Keller and a couple of the Moeller Brothers, all of whom also cut their teeth at Antone's - only about 20 years after Wilson and the original T-Birds were hanging around hoping Muddy Waters would let them open a gig. Instead, Keller and the Moellers hung around hoping that maybe Wilson would show up to one of Antone's legendary Blue Monday jam sessions if he was in town; regardless, early T-birds records such as 1980's What's the Word? and 1981's Butt Rockin' figured the same in their musical development as Waters had for Wilson and his co-founders. That's why, although the T-Birds' set Friday was stuffed with older material such as "Wait On Time," "She's Tuff," "Wrap It Up" - before they really wrapped it up with "Tuff Enuff," of course - they didn't come across as a nostalgia act. There was enough newer material, and although none of it strayed very far from the roadhouse-meets-swamp feel that has defined the T-Birds since day one, it didn't need to. Wilson and the T-Birds' brief flirtation with big-time Top 10 success did two things: It gave the T-Birds enough recognition that invitations to play events like the rodeo cookoff will never be very far away. And although it stamped a very particular sound into a lot of people's minds and memories - a sound that, to give the band its propers, was theirs long before "Tuff Enuff" - it also gave Wilson and his hired hands almost unlimited license to tinker with and refine that sound at their leisure, which from all appearances Friday night, they continue to do with relish. The freeze, and then the thaw. If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
For more photos, check out our slideshow.