Last Night: Band of Annuals at Boondocks

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Band of Annuals Boondocks May 29, 2008

Better Than: An empty bottle, a broken heart and you still on my mind.

Download: Bob Dylan is still a little stingy about letting people have his songs for free, so try this on for size.

I knew it wasn't an accident I bought the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo yesterday. Despite having written the preview for this show, I did compeletely forget that Salt Lake City's Band of Annuals were playing Boondocks last night. Luckily, the Internet was there to bail me out. I knew it was there for something.

Because they were either in a hurry to get out of Houston or just didn't know any better, the Annuals started punctually at 11 p.m. Thus they got to watch Boondocks' upstairs area gradually fill up as they knocked out their first few songs. On the other side, the early birds in the audience got to watch an unusually talented alt.country six-piece, though still green as a stick, feel out their live footing.

It wasn't that they were unprepared. From the first few notes, as Brent Dreiling locked down his steel guitar and down front, Jay Henderson (vox/acoustic guitar/harmonica) and Jeremi Hanson (vox/keys) road-tested their material, Band of Annuals' competence wasn't an issue. Their age was. Maybe the beards in the band (Dreiling, bassist Trever Hadley) had seen the south side of 30, but I doubt it. For a band playing such weatherbeaten, world-weary music, they just didn't seem quite seasoned enough. Like the ghost of Townes Van Zandt was there, hovering, but wondering "Who are these kids and why don't they have more lines on their faces?"

They will one day, if they're lucky. I guess. The older you get, the less you wish the lifestyle of a breaking-even touring band on anyone. It just doesn't seem fair. But to their credit, Dreiling's steel, Henderson's harmonica, and his spring-water harmonies with Hanson gave their songs gravity their callow lyrics - "I hate that she cries," but hey, it doesn't have to be poetry - couldn't. The Annuals' crescendoes gave the songs the emotional depth their words were reaching for; they got an A in dynamics.

About 20 minutes in, a slow, aching waltz finally shut the crowd up for good, and Annuals finished to cries of 'Whoooo!' ringing off the walls. Henderson didn't try to disguise their situation. "We need a place to stay tonight," he appealed. "If someone's got a lot of floor space, we'd be much obliged."

"Watch Me Go," the band's second hard shuffle, sounded like it let a little R.E.M. or My Morning Jacket intrude on their solid foundation of late-'60s country-rock - Sweetheart, Nashville Skyline, Music from Big Pink - but I couldn't say exactly where or why or how. It was just a feeling that crept in like it belonged; like the rest of their set, completely assured, nothing fancy, but totally satisfying. The 'Whoooos' got louder. "We've got CDs and stuff for sale," Henderson advised. "We sure could use the gas money."

They closed with Bob Dylan's "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," an easy blues executed con mucho gusto, with the confidence of a band still more comfortable inhabiting somone else's songs than their own. If they're lucky - I guess that's the word for it - they'll grow into the rest. Bless their hearts.

I'd see them again. Unfortunately, that still might not be enough for Band of Annuals to avoid getting sucked into the Dallas/Austin axis. There has to be a way to ensure this doesn't happen. Some gas money would be a good start.

Personal Bias: None, except like I said, I don't think my purchase of Sweetheart of the Rodeo earlier in the day was an accident.

Random Detail: Boondocks' new expanded patio still seems like a bigger draw than the bands. But it is a nice patio.

By the Way: After Annuals finished, my friend referred to them as "the hat band." Between Henderson's porkpie, electric guitarist Jamie Timms' cowboy hat and drummer Charlie Lewis' fedora, they were some nice hats. We just couldn't figure out why Hanson didn't break out a leopard-skin pillbox number. - Chris Gray

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