Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Budos Band Live at Stubb's

With all of the live music going on in Austin, I could go out virtually every night of the week and hear a good show.  Especially now, with SXSW going on, there is an immense amount of music happening, and a lot of people here to watch it.  It’s like a Comic-Con nerdgasm for music fans.  As this event gets closer, more and more activity seems to fall into the orbit of the Austin music scene.  Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see the Budos Band live here in Austin at the Stubb’s amphitheater.  I have been to Stubb’s before, but never got a chance to get out to the amphitheater.  It is pretty neatly tucked away back there, but it is an impressive space to see a standing-room type show.  

When I see a live show, I probably I seem quite the statue.  Generally speaking, I am rarely inclined to dance, but this does not mean that I am not enjoying myself.  Instead, I like to listen and watch.  I like to see who is doing what, how they are doing it, and how what they are doing is making the sounds that I am hearing.   When something really grabs my attention, I can occasionally be caught swearing quietly to myself, but overall I usually don't interact in a way that most people can see. 

That being said, the show was good – very good.  The band played unwavering four-on-the-floor instrumental minor key grooves for the better part of an hour and a half.  Great solos from the horns and keyboardist, and the auxiliary percussionists added a lot of visual interest.  The bass player often propped the body of his bass on the front of his hip so that both of his hands were in front of him.  It seemed like an oddly relaxed position, but playing in this manner would require him to have comfortable familiarity with the fretboard, since they would be facing away from his field of vision.  The trumpet player was a sub, and he had his work cut out for him.  Playing at that volume and in that range that for that amount of time certainly seemed like a workout.  Towards the end of the show, I could hear subtle signs of fatigue (only because I know what it feels like to have tired chops – he still never missed a note).  Here's a lo-fi cameraphone video from the show (not mine).

Of course, I took the opportunity to pick up some schwag - a Budos Band shirt and their second album.  I admit to being a bit of a sucker for thematic album art.  I used to get a kick out of the old scarab-themed Journey covers, and I remember feeling disappointed when Raised on Radio came out and broke that long-running theme.  The covers of Budos Band II and III are similarly tied together with stark images of venomous, threatening creatures, and I think the art plays a significant role in the menace that that the band’s music conveys.

Budos Band II is a little less Ethiopian voodoo and a little more 70s cop drama.  If Quentin Tarantino were to make another 70s-noir gangster films like he was making in the 90s, he could do a lot worse than to have the Budos Band provide the soundtrack.  There is a feeling of freedom and rebellious independence in their work that makes it sound particularly good with the car windows rolled down on a cool spring afternoon.   

The good news is that the band’s recordings capture them pretty effectively, but there is a downside.  When I came back from the show my wife asked me how it was and I said that it was good, because it was, but she noted a lack of enthusiasm in my voice.  As much as I had been looking forward to the show, I think she expected me to perhaps gush a bit more.  The Budos Band played great, virtually like their recordings, but that there were very few surprises. I don't know that I walked away with my mind blown, but I can confidently say that the show was enjoyable.

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