There are storied clubs all over these United States but fewer than there used to be. So when there’s a chance to see an act I like playing in one, going is a no-brainer. Which is how I came to be standing in Austin‘s fabled Continental Club taking in a show by Rosie Flores and her current band, who were also the opening act. (That’s ‘s an old trick from the blues play book that I’d all but forgotten about.)
For those who haven’t heard of RF, she’s a chicana roots rocker from San Antonio, Texas who styles herself the rockabilly filly. I first stumbled across her in the late 80s, when she was on the HighTone record label, that great Oakland-based home of all sorts of fabulous music that we lost in 2008. She had this amazing ability to mix genres on the same record and pull off, say, almost sappy country on one track and growly honky tonk the next.
Well the decades passed and our paths never crossed until this past Saturday night when Rosie and Co. hit the stage in Austin. That first set without Miss F was fun but honestly I know I’ve seen half a dozen unmemorable rockabilly bands that played some of the same tunes. There was the occasional original, and the band was tight as all get out, but they didn’t knock me out in any particular way.
What a difference a dame makes.
No more than 20 minutes after the first set ended the band was back on stage with their front woman. Sporting a turquoise Telecaster and matching nails, Rosie stood mid-stage, said “Surf’s Up,” and tore into a reverb-drenched, riff-driven twangfest right out of 1964 or so.
I’ve rarely seen a band so transformed by the addition of one member. Rosie Flores is not without her charms. But a 64-year old guitar-playing woman whose wardrobe screams thrift-store chic doesn’t have quite the star power of a Beyoncé or even an Etta James. And yet the band was kicked up more than a notch.
The set, what I saw of it, mixed songs, genres and eras although everything played was rooted in that sound I love–a two-guitar, four-piece band. So songs like Johnny Cash‘s ‘Big River’ really shone. And Rosie’s taste is impeccable. She delivered a rock housin’ version of Dave Alvin‘s ‘Long White Cadillac‘ that equaled The Blasters original version and kept pace with Dwight Yoakam‘s.
The most amusing and entertaining moment came when Rosie gave a speech about her love of punk rock that rambled a bit and ended in he introducing a ‘sweet, little country song.’ That ditty turned out to be an almost-worthy-of-slow dancing version of ‘Pretty Vacant,’ at least for the first couple of verses after which all bets were off and the roar was worthy of the Sex Pistols. I kind of doubt the Pistols were ever that in tune, though.
Austin being Austin there were musical visitors who joined the band on stage. I was near the door when Reckless Kelly, the cover boys of this week’s Austin Chronicle, walked in. My roots rock bona fides are slipping because I knew nothing of this band. But Willy and Cody Braun took the stage and played an old Flying Burrito Brothers tune with the band. The harmonies were great but they really shone when the band launched into ‘Wild Horses.’
I am an apostate on The Rolling Stones. For me they’ve only ever had 3 good records and maybe two C-90s worth of songs worth hearing repaetedly. But I’m also fair. ‘Wild Horses‘ is a tremendously great song, the kind that moves me to tears, especially live. And I’d rather listen to Rosie and Wily harmonize than to Mick Jagger any day of the week.
Someone knows what transpired next but it isn’t me. For me Saturday night was a school night and I poured myself into a cab in order to be functional on Sunday morning. Who, though, can argue with a great show in a classic venue and a new discovery all in the space of a couple of hours? It still amazes me how much fun 8 bucks and a couple of beers can buy.