By about the third time through Small Minds, I was feeling actual resentment that an entire song -- the Statler-ish "Half a Man" -- is nothing more than a convoluted setup to a banal punch line about Rush Limbaugh listeners having only half a brain. I was fuming so much that I almost forget how much fun I have every few months when the Austin Lounge Lizards bring their attitudes and instruments to Houston.
The intensity of my reaction to Small Minds came as a surprise, given my belief that the Austin Lounge Lizards are an essential part of a balanced live-music diet. After all, I've seen these guys enough times to get a fix on their politics. They've long been one of Molly Ivins' favorite bands, and there's never been a liberal-twit banner they wouldn't gladly write a song to help wave. The Lounge Lizards' world-view has made them perennial favorites with the Volvo-and-white-whine set; the chances of them being asked to perform at the Gramm inauguration are pretty slim, even if they promised not to do "The Ballad of Ronald Reagan."
Still, whatever disagreements I may have with their editorial slant has never kept me from laughing at their screeds and admiring the breathtakingly complex interaction between Richard Bowden's fiddle, Tom Pittman's pedal steel and Conrad Deisler's mandolin. The Lounge Lizards' forte is using traditional country instruments and vocal harmonies as delivery vehicles for social commentary and elaborately constructed jokes. The result is the consistently funniest live show to hit Houston on a regular basis from some of the best acoustic Anglo-roots pickers and harmonizers to ever wind up in the same band for any length of time. It's also resulted in an intermittent, Internet-spread legend that the Houston City Council once adopted the Lizards' "I'm Going Back to Dallas to See If There's Anything Worse Than Losing You" as our city's official anthem.
Despite their irreverence, the Lounge Lizards are reminders that you should know and love something deeply before taking liberties with it. Any band who has for years urged their audience to "Throw the Oak Ridge Boys in the Slammer" (and throw away the key) obviously loves country music, while their rendition of artist Terry Allen's "Truckload of Art" is a hysterical and respectful (in a frog-in-the-preacher's-pocket sort of way) send-up of "Whiskey and Blood on the Highway." "Old Blevins," a Tom T. Hall-ish tale of realizing that the incoherent old geezer on the next bar stool is just a reminder of your own destiny, could have been -- if we were still living in a vinyl age -- the most popular beer-joint sing-along jukebox selection since the infamous "Rodeo Song." No country repertoire is complete without broken-hearted love songs, and when the Lizards sing about the kick-in-the-nuts despair of getting dumped for a guy named Irving, they make it sound like something more painful than having your lover leave you for a drummer.
Even more than most of the bands that I get to pick on, though, it doesn't matter much what I think of the Lizards' music or politics. They've had loyal fans and an unassailable niche in Texas music since back when I had a day job, and the chance that they'll be playing to an empty house because their latest recording tended to get on my nerves is pretty slim. Hell, I'll be there myself, and after three beers I might even laugh at "Gingrich the Newt."
-- Jim Sherman
Austin Lounge Lizards play at 2, 8 and 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 13 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Tickets are $10. Call 528-5999 for info.
Veruca Salt -- Considering the saturation overkill that "Seether" received last year, it may be a surprise to find that Veruca Salt is just now in its first tour as headliners. Also considering the "Seether" glut there may be a tendency for a backlash, a dismissal of the band as overhyped and undertalented. A mistake, that. Though not as immediately catchy as "Seether," the other 12 songs on Veruca Salt's debut American Thighs have a lot going for them, and the band's live show was one of the big attractions at 1994's SXSW conference. Pass the show by to help maintain your superior-to-the-mainstream status, if you want. But you'll regret it. At Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Thursday May 11. 526-6551. (Mitchell J. Shields)
Vince Bell -- Last year, the Press chose Bell's Phoenix as one of the 23 best CDs of '94. (Why 23? Why not?) It still didn't make the top of the charts. More's the pity. Bell is one of those Austin singer/songwriters who's always getting loads of accolades that don't always translate into loads of audience. He's also a man who's come back from the brink: in 1982, when he was an up-and-comer with Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett, he had the bad luck to be slammed into by a drunk while driving home from a recording session. The next decade was spent in recovery, and only lately has he been able to show off his talent again. At Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant, Friday, May 12. 528-8576. (