All the Wilder

Think of Webb Wilder, the self-styled "last of the full-grown men," as a road-show Warren Zevon. Like Zevon, Wilder uses a mix of sledgehammer rock and witty, twisted lyrics that's a rocket ship to a strange (and fun) planet. Drawing from a far-ranging aquifer of rock, country and rockabilly, Wilder has a staying power that indicates an original vision that's struck a widespread -- although not mainstream -- chord. He's been working his weirdness for a decade that I know of personally, and his shtick is still as hilarious as ever. After all, how can you not love a man who calls his band the Nash Vegans and advises his listeners to "trust your gut, even if it's a beer gut"?

Wilder's so weird he's a multimedia cult favorite. When he's not on the road or gleaning the cream of Austin's studio musicians for another release on Watermelon Records, he's appearing in straight-to-video-and-legend flicks such as Horror Hayride, Paradise Park and Webb Wilder, Private Eye. It's all a part of the overall Wilder appeal: Sure, he's a musician and a songwriter and all that stuff, but first and foremost he's an entertainer. Between tunes, Wilder offers advice so nonsensical that it becomes words to live by. There's as much vaudeville as rockabilly to his show; few performers engage in stage patter to his degree of intensity. It's been rumored that the on-stage persona is the carefully crafted work of a quiet, contemplative individual who, over the years, has been absorbed by his creation. It's difficult to believe, though, that such noise originated from quiet contemplation.

Though Wilder's style is rooted in rockabilly, that vast field of shoulda-been-a-hitB-sides that's proven inspirational ore for much of what's exciting in live music today, Wilder is hardly wedded to any one inspiration. His rockabilly take on the theme to Goldfinger ranks with the Bad Livers' bluegrass "Dark Side of the Moon" and anything by Dread Zeppelin in the twisted-cover hall of fame, and there's never been a better example of what's wrong with country radio than noting that it doesn't play Wilder's brilliant and hilarious "Honky Tonk Hell." Add in some real homage to the British Invasion -- always a factor in Wilder's music and quite prominent with obvious nods to the Faces and the Who on his latest CD, Acres of Suede -- and the result is one of those delightful acts that defies categorization. Wilder's both a critics' darling and a critics' nightmare; his releases draw rave reviews and his press kit is filled with clips that compare Wilder to every musician imaginable (see above) in vain attempts to describe him to the uninitiated. When a man describes his own credo as "Work hard, rock hard, sleep hard, eat hard, grow big and wear glasses if you need 'em," there's not a heck of a lot more a writer can say except go see him. There's a chance that Wilder is touring in support of Acres of Suede; much more likely is that he's touring just because that's what he does. Either way, this is one of the funniest, most frenzied shows in the high-energy world of both kinds of music -- rock and roll.

-- Jim Sherman

Webb Wilder plays at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam. Texas Guinness Lovers open. Tickets are $8. For info, call 225-0500.

Tony Bennett -- Tony Bennett has had no shortage of great ideas during his career. After distinguishing himself in the crooner league, Bennett garnered the attention of the Gen X crowd when the same retro cool front that blew Tom Jones back in the door whipped Bennett out of the shadows with gust of nonpareil PR. Forty Years: The Artistry of Tony Bennett set the archival stage, and 1992's Perfectly Frank Sinatra tribute won a Grammy, as did the 1993 Fred Astaire cover package Steppin' Out. And then in 1995, Tony Bennett: MTV Unplugged took two Grammys, including one for album of the year. No wonder he seems in such good cheer these days. And it's that good cheer, combined with Bennett's own classily low-key presentation, that should make this weekend's show -- a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research -- a pleasant one. At 8 p.m. at the Houston Arena Theatre, 7324 Southwest Freeway, Saturday, March 22. Tickets are $55 to $505. 988-1020. (Brad Tyer)

The BoDeans -- One could argue that the BoDeans have been milking the same basic idea for more than a decade. Want to hear what that idea sounds like? Then tune in to the opening credits of Party of Five and get an earful of the BoDeans' "Closer to Free," yet another TV theme song for a music career resurrected. Not that the BoDeans were ever that dead to begin with. Milwaukee's most durable exports continue to record for Warner Bros., even if their latest release, Blend, is little more than an excuse to hit the road, where, as it happens, they've collected the majority of their loyal following. What goodwill the BoDeans muster in public these days they save for their audience, consistently cranking out inspired performances that leave you believing in some of rock's creakiest cliches, especially the ones about hard work, integrity and making the music top priority. At Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Tuesday, March 25. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Tweaker opens. 629-3700. (Hobart Rowland


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Hobart Rowland
Jim Sherman
Brad Tyer