David Grissom at Under the Volcano, 10/9/2013

David Grissom Band Under the Volcano October 9, 2013

These days fans want their music to say something, preferably something stupid. From what I've heard recently it holds true across rock, pop, hip-hop, but here I'm going to pick on country because of this appalling timeline Entertainment Weekly published on Tuesday, which tracked the once-proud genre's ongoing "identity crisis" via ill-advised rap crossovers and way too many songs about pickup trucks. It ain't pretty.

The article must have struck a chord with David Grissom, because the Texas guitar guru tweeted a link to it the day it went online. As the onetime touring bandleader for an act who fiercely defended their artistic integrity and paid a real price for it, the Dixie Chicks, it's easy to imagine he'd feel a special twinge of dismay at country's current sad state of affairs.

But as a solo artist whose prodigious talents are known to a relative few, Grissom is free to indulge his own musical ideas without many other concerns besides how deeply he and his bandmates can burrow into that mythical pocket, the place where each player plugs into the same current and becomes part of the same mind. Wednesday night at the Volcano, Grissom and his bassist, drummer and keyboardist went down many, many fathoms.

For about an hour and a half, the foursome put on the kind of display that was both inscrutable and completely hypnotizing. In one respect, Grissom's crew could have just been in their practice room. But it was hard to look away unless the music had already transported you somewhere in your mind. You could watch the Pirates-Cardinals playoff game or stare at all the Dia de Los Muertos masks on the Volcano walls, because on some level it didn't matter. The audience was wherever Grissom's band wanted them to be.

It was the definitely place to be if you were looking for people who came to jam. The band warmed up with an easygoing jazz-rock instrumental, the kind of piece where the soloists "talk" to each other. (But what are they saying... who knows?) From there it was leadfooted roadhouse rockabilly of "$40 Fine," which scratched any itching fans of Grissom's stint in the Joe Ely Band.

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For a non-musician like myself, the appeal of watching such master instrumentalists is listening to the way they communicate with each other, and the places they go along the way. In that song, they were way off in left field when Grissom made a sharp turn and bam, back into the chorus.

A sort of New Age blues version of Albert King's "Crosscut Saw" (heavy on harmonics), more or less set the band off into the ether until they finally came back down to Earth, deep into the mud, with a song Grissom called an ode to Houston -- "Sunday Morning to Saturday Night" -- and backed up with lyrics about Lightnin' Hopkins and Billy Gibbons, to say nothing of the simmering organ swells. In between, I wrote down things like "above the treetops" and "I see lots of violets and magentas here."

Review continues on the next page.

And then while the band was giving it to the Allman Brothers' "Revival" -- you know, the song that opens the freres' second album, Idlewild South -- Volcano owner Pete Mitchell asked why I thought this kind of guitar-centric music had such heavy male appeal. (For the record, there were plenty of ladies in the nearly full bar, all just as into the music.)

Not sure, I said. Maybe it has something to do with the way many men appreciate watching other men make skillful use of tools -- baseball bats, band saws, Les Pauls, whatever.

Or it's metaphorical masturbation, Mitchell said.

Maybe so. It was all pretty sick.

But by the way, it's not that Grissom is incapable of doing a simple pop song. He did that too, near the end with maybe the best song Otis Redding never wrote, "A Good Day For the Blues" (a hit around these parts with Grissom's '90s band Storyville) and again about 20 minutes into the set with his excellent, elegant ballad "Nothin' Makes a Man Go Crazy," which finishes that thought with "like a woman going out of her mind."

Boy is that ever a long way from "chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit."

Personal Bias: Goin' through some thangs.

The Crowd. Older. Appreciative. Dotted with local musicians... duh.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Let's get this party started," a woman told Grissom as he was walking out to the parking lot. "I am; I gotta find a keyboard player," he replied.

Also This: "Uh-huh, painkillers."

Random Notebook Dump: My notebook was momentarily commandeered by my good buddy Lonesome Onry and Mean, who wrote "tail-shakin', tail-draggin' motherfucker" during "Boots Likes to Boogie," a song Grissom wrote about his beloved border collie. Immediately afterward, ex-Houston Chronicle music critic Rick Mitchell leaned in my ear and said, "bad ass motherfucker."


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