The local Monkey Hill management team has added another top-notch act to a stable that already includes Cowboy Mouth and the Bluerunners—a swaggering psychobilly trio called Mustang Lightning, who recently swapped the city of Denver for N’Awlins. Like the Phantoms, the Mustangs epitomize the rock and roll lifestyle, carrying an air of rebel cool and a wardrobe of two-tone embroidered shirts with snaps. Like North Carolina’s Flat Duo Jets, they combine musty relics of the greaser age by the likes of Johnny Horton with an uncanny ability to write their own seamlessly blended knock-offs of their heroes’ music.
At Muddy Water’s on March 10, Mustang Lightning unveiled a setup that, though quirky, is built for efficiency, not gimmickry. “Lightnin Boy” is the stand-up big-beat drummer, playing a small kit with two mounted tambourines; Rhoades is the low-slung rhythm guitarist who wrangles fuzzed-out bass lines from his E and A strings; and Phil DeVille is the true-grit lead man with stiletto chops and a persona he described as “no Bo Dudley, no flimflam, no compromise.”
The Mustangs call what they do “Hank Williams meets the Sex Pistols” and “ranchhand surf instrumentals.” They do a number titled “Las Vegas Grind,” one called “Texas Voodoo Surf and another, “Cattle Mutilations on I-35.” They play rumble music with a little Dick Dale and His Del-tones gallop, and they play it post-punk, like the Cramps or the Reverend Horton Heat. On first impression, this is a band in a niche with the determination to clamber out.
Held the weekend of March 11-15, WTUL’s 25th Annual Rock-On Survival Marathon “went quite well, considering the snow,” according to station GM John Maraist.
In fundraising events, the Howlin’ Wolf staged hellbent out-of-towners Unsane on Thursday and adenoidal folkie Wally Pleasant the following night. On Saturday, plans to stage two days of music outdoors at Tulane were scrapped due to the “storm of the century.” Instead, the Boot played host to a host of local musicians who donated their appearances. Many of the city’s ubiquitous helping bands were joined by relative newcomers like Moon Saloon, LMNOP and Felix Mystery.
As a student organization, ‘TUL receives roughly $15,000 from the university annually, as well as a $10K loan which is defrayed with sponsorships and with earnings from the marathon, says Maraist.
Many college stations across the nation are being pinched by students and administrators who deem their “difficult,” experimental playlists to be marginal and disposable. Thankfully, that’s not so in New Orleans, where the fully student-run ‘TUL continues to service the community with an alternative to “mersh” rock. Where else can the discriminating listener enjoy a set of music consisting of Morphine, Codeine, XTC and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”?
On Monday the 15th, Relativity recording artists Overwhelming Colorfast played the last event of the marathon in a TULbox show at Tip’s, and they inadvertently demonstrated one of the sore spots plaguing the college airwaves in the wake of grunge-mania. Hefty record labels now rush to gussy up happily homely-sounding garage bands, and in the process the artists don’t have time to develop and grassroots DJs don’t have time to nurture them.
Under the thumb of star producer Butch Vig (Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth), this band typifies that formula. OC have a roaring Husker Du-ish sound that is not quite ready for prime time, though you’d never guess by listening to their slick, self-titled debut. To their credit, their hard-schlock cover songs (the Supremes’ “Set Me Free,” the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “For Emily”) suggest a penchant for melody which was obscured this night by an inferior mix.
On the way to that show I stopped by the Maple Leaf to catch a set by Athens, Georgia’s Vigilantes of Love. It’s been said that every college-y band of the past decade descends from either the previously mentioned Husker Du or from one-time murmurers R.E.M. If Overwhelming Colorfast was formed in Bob’s mold, then the Vigilantes of Love earn a Michael stipend. (Appalling, isn’t it?)
Seriously, though, this band does the strum-pop thing energetically and convincingly, echoing the dBs and revealing a little Dylan influencing, as well as standing up to the inevitable comparisons with their fellow Athenians. Two V of L band members are products of the Crescent City and they’ve got a record due out imminently, so we can expect them back for periodic visits.
To some extent, American pop culture has of late been revisiting the Beat generation. Fashion ads on TV and in print feature goateed daddy-Os spouting freeform poetry. William Burroughs is in the movies, Henry Rollins is selling spoken word discs and rap’s “Daisy Age” aristocracy (Me Phi Me, Digable Planets, Basehead, Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, etc.) rhapsodize as though they were apprentices to the Ginsberg/Kerouac San Francisco literary scene.
All of which leads me to a quickie mention of the poet Gary Snyder’s appearance at Tulane on March 1. A founding member of the coffeeshop/arthouse reading scene and the inspiration for Kerouac’s main character in “The Dharma Bums,” Snyder moved on to philosophical studies in the Orient and recently collected a Pulitzer Prize for his ecologically conscious poetry.
At Tulane, Snyder read sturdy, reflective, calming lines about the balances of logging, whaling and urbanizing in a profoundly rewarding environment. He’s provocative without being mawkish. With a workingman’s background and a Beat poet’s infatuation with words, his writings find equal beauty in a plate of steel and the stool of a bear. His most recent book, No Nature, is a compendium of his poems and essays.
And on a final note: whither the punks of Decatur Street? Third-generation hearsay has them bound for Cincinnati, that bastion of inspired lunacy on the Ohio River. I’m having a tough time believing the New Orleans invasion-en-masse of these pomo hobos was timed solely for Mardi Gras season—I didn’t see any technicolor rooster combs bobbing for beads along the parade routes.
For a few weeks these kids of the under-the-counterculture created a gauntlet of sorts outside of Kagan’s and Kaldi’s, managing more than once to put me on the defensive about my own brand of alternative lifestyle. And yet I kinda miss ’em. Slackers in the extreme, they added to the Quarter’s color as living, breathing works of “found” art. O tattoo-ed, Pomaded, studded thermal street urchins, live long, travel far, question authority, but fer cripes sake QUIT BEGGING!