Sunday, February 4, 2018

REVIEW: Matt The Electrician and Kris Delmhorst

February 2, 2018 - Cactus Cafe (Austin, Texas)

By Sean Claes
Cactus Cafe is a great listening room on the campus of University of Texas and it was the perfect location for an evening and song-swap with Austin's Matt the Electrician and Massachusetts' Kris Delmhorst
This is probably my favorite kind of show, for I feel in an environment like Cactus Cafe singer-songwriters are able to peel some of the layers away from their songs and share stories and inspirations about the creative process. Plus, with this night, it seemed like we were getting a glimpse into the reunion of two friends catching up, laughing and playing together. Almost like they were hanging out in their living room and we got to watch.
Photo by Sean Claes
Matthew Sever is Matt The Electrician. (who, as the name suggests was an electrician in his former life - in the 1990s) took the stage first, shared a few stories, and played a few songs from his discography, which runs a dozen records deep. 
Photo by Sean Claes
Just before launching into a fantastically speedy rendition of "Change The Subject" (from  2007's One Thing Right) he mentioned that February 3 was going to be the 14th anniversary of his quitting drinking alcohol and the song was written after attending a potluck/gathering with his wife, the week he decided to quit drinking, where he knew nobody. That gave a whole new perspective to the opening lyrics: " If I never gave up drinking / I would surely have a beer right now / Talking politics and religion / I don't wanna be here right now."

He also played "The Bear" and "California" off his 2017 release The Doubles which is a collection of the 7" singles he's released along with renditions of those tracks featuring the trio with which he currently performs.

A treat of being in a listening room setting is artists sometimes try out new material. Sever debuted a song that he'd never played live, which I believe is called "Angels Chasing After Me." He realized, and pointed out during the track, that the riff he was using was the same as "What's So Funny" off his 2009 release Animal Boy and promised to change it. He explained that this show was his first gig of 2018 after taking about six weeks off, the longest time away from stage since he'd begun his career.
Honestly, if he'd not mentioned it, nobody would have known he'd not played live in a minute... but it made for a few funny references. Once he played his set, it was Kris Delmhorst's time to take the stage.
Whereas Sever has a laid back, conversational and sometimes quirky approach to his storytelling style, Delmhorst has what I'd describe as a classic singer-songwriter style. Her songs are beautifully composed stories of life and love. 
Photo by Sean Claes
I was first introduced to Delmhorst's music in 2003 with the release of her Songs For A Hurricane. She was a regular performer at Cambridge, Massachusetts' Club Passim where my sister and brother-in-law frequented.  I caught her in 2007 (I think) during SXSW at a restaurant-turned music venue on 6th street. I recall that, while being impressed with her music, the venue didn't suit her. Well, fast forward a decade and The Cactus Cafe made for the perfect backdrop to showcase her beautiful voice and poetic lyrics. 

She settled onto the stage after a fun little volley with Sever where he couldn't think of the city in Massachusetts where she hailed from, so it was dubbed "Northernville." 
With 12 albums under her belt, she also had a dearth of great material to pull from. Delmhorst is touring on the release of her 2017 album The Wild. She treated the crowd to songs off the album like "Temporary Existance" and "Rules To Games."

After her set, they took a short break. When that concluded, both Sever and Delmhorst took the stage together and riffed off each other while playing back-up to each other's songs. Sever switched from guitar to trumpet and Delmhorst switched from guitar to violin. It was definitely a wonderful sight to behold.
Photo By Sean Claes

Probably my favorite song of the night was a track that Delmorst never released and I can find zero reference to it online. Her and Sever are part of a songwriters game that consists of a song title being sent to them on a Monday and they have a week to turn it into a finished song. During the play of this game, the title "Russian Girl" was sent out. She turned it into a great tongue-in-cheek song about a friend who has been in the dating pool for a long time... recalling that he should consider a fantastically flawed girl he'd once dated (might be insane, drank a lot, but she recalled he thought she was "OK").

Photo by Sean Claes

If you ever get the chance to see Matt The Electrician or Kris Delmhost live, it's totally worth it and you will leave musically fed. Those who were lucky enough to see them together... well.. we got one of those once-in-a-lifetime treats that will go in the books as a beautiful musical memory.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

REVIEW: 10 Years, From Ashes To New, To Whom It May, Broken Valor

January 23, 2018 - Come and Take It Live (Austin, Texas)

By Sean Claes
For the first time in 2018, I walked through the doors of Austin's Come and Take It Live... and for the first time in a much longer time I was there to see a road show. Four bands, none of them from Austin. I was invited to the show by the publicist for From Ashes To New (Lancaster, PA) who was opening for 10 Years (Knoxville, TN) whom, ironically, formed 19 years ago. Rounding the band out was To Whom It May (Galveston, TX) and Broken Valor (Houston, TX)

The atmosphere was perfect for this line-up of rock/melodic metal bands. Surveying the crowd, it was pretty nice to see a diverse and mixed age bunch of folks. There was your old-school metal heads standing alongside a new "Xs on their hands" breed of live music fans.

Broken Valor

First up was Broken Valor. They came out the gate hard with a sound that was straight-forward barroom metal. Vocalist Kelly Allbright commanded the stage like a seasoned pro.
To Whom It May
Next up was To Whom It May ('I' III I III). Got to love a band that comes in with the Willie Wonka “Wondrous Boat Ride” audio playing in the background. Lead vocalist Jonathon Jourdon surprised me when he had a voice that didn’t match his metaltastic beard. Kind of a Layne Staley meets Robert Plant tinge to the vocals... in the best way possible. The music was a melodic metal groove that built up throughout their set and and peaked with the final song, which I believe was called "Signal Fire."
From Ashes To New
The already crowded club (really packed for a Tuesday night) seemed to double in size when From Ashes To New hit the stage. These guys are one of the most high energy bands I’ve witnessed live in a while. The songs were great and they owned the crowd from the first strum to the last bass drum kick. The combination of lead vocalist Danny Case's emo-infused rock combined with the flows of rapper Matt Brandyberry made for some solid tunes. 
The mentioned that this was the first time playing Austin since they came though during SXSW in 2015 and I think Austin approved. They can come back anytime. Perhaps as a headliner next time? 
10 Years
Come And Take It Live was standing-room only when headliners 10 Years hit the stage. This tour was in support of their 2018 release (how to live) AS GHOSTS which is the band's 8th release since they formed in 1999. The ambient hard rock the band performed was great and the crowd was in tune with each lick.
Over-all this was a great line-up of music and for those who braved the Tuesday night air to catch a show... we were all rewarded. Come and Take It Live is such a great venue and I'm so glad there's a mid-sized place in Austin to host great local acts as well as road shows like this one. Credit goes to owner Anthony Stevenson for keeping the metal alive in the ATX. It's also nice to make a right off IH-35 to Riverside to catch a rock show again.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

DAY TRIP - Flea Market - Kyle, Texas

A Mini-Mall of Mixed Treasures
An Impressively Inexpensive Adventure    

By Sean Claes

Early January saw some amazingly cold weather and some dreary days. The type of day that you don't want to wander around outside, but you've got to get out of the house, right? I found the perfect day-trip for those in the Austin area. The Flea Market in Kyle, Texas.

I know, a flea market invokes thoughts of dark smoky places where the broken toys of your childhood gather dust next to an old VHS of Over The Top... and about 10 years ago when I visited the Flea Market in Kyle it was kind of true to that thought. But, in recent time, they've stepped up their game and there are some great booths with some amazing discoveries. It's also smoke-free inside.

Kyle Flea Market (Web |Facebook) is located at 1119 N Old Hwy 81 in Kyle, Texas. It's just off IH-35 on the southbound access road. They are open from 9a - 5p on Saturdays and Sundays year round.

Driving up that dirt road towards the big tin-roofed building that sports a huge "KYLE FLEA MARKET" on the top - I felt like I was going to an old-school swap meet. There were folks with tables on the grounds in front with piles of clothing and "sellable junk" akin to a big multi-family garage sale. I found out later that anyone can "buy" a space outside for a few bucks. I took my parking space (it's free) and decided to bypass those folks and walk into the building.

Once inside, there are what seems like hundreds of "booths" that feel more like individual stores within the building. The layout is a large rectangle with two walkways... stores on either side. There's toy stores, an art space, stores with paintings, some refinished furniture spaces as well as some with "upcycled" furniture. There are some antique, knife/weapon, and feng shui spaces. Some hand-made knit items and some college-themed hats/shirts/collectibles. Yes, there are some "garage sale" flea market booths, but they are outnumbered by manicured "antique" stores. 

In other words, they've done a great job turning this place into a pretty nice and safe place that the entire family can visit and get some great deals. It's well lit and the booth owners (for the most part) are really nice and welcoming and ready to chat you up or sell you a new-to-you item.

 One of the stores I walked into took me back in time to college... in San Marcos, Texas. There was a Hastings there and this space had some of the signage from that location. Almost bought a huge newsstand sign for $10... but decided to leave it there for someone else to discover. I chatted with the owner and he uses this space as a sorting space for a consignment store he owns in San Marcos called Junk In Da Trunk. Because of this, it was one of the stores where you dig for treasures instead of find the wares displayed. Oh, There was also a cheeky laundry sign that made me chuckle. 

 On the other side of the spectrum, there was a fantastic upcycled furniture store (Booth 70A) where I found some fantastic bar stools that were turned into functional art pieces. The owner, who holds this space as an overflow for a North Austin upcycle furniture gallery (where the prices are likely tripled) had them retailing for $30 for the pair. They now reside on my back porch... but what drew me into the space was a "mounted deer head" piece that was both beautiful and funky. 

In addition to the stores, there is a modern art space in the back corner of the space encased in glass. It's the Dirty Dark Place, an "errant, artist-run project space." The current installation, entitled "Bornagain"  evokes a post-apocalyptic living space complete with makeshift seating, fly-paper chandelier and camouflage toilet paper. It's definitely a modern art piece that is open for interpretation and feels both awkward and right at home at the Kyle Flea Market. 

Once I got my modern art appreciation in, I walked into a store that reminded me of one I'd find in Chinatown Center in Austin. Gold and Green Jade has a large display of feng shui items and a great assortment of maneki-neko (often referred to as the "Chinese Lucky Cat"). The owner, Kim Lee, was really welcoming and gave me a nice tour of her space 

 Of course, not trip to a space like this is complete without finding some funny, strange and just plain weird items. That is part of the fun of going to the flea market, isn't it?
I found a few funny t-shirts, a box of wrestlers, a painting of a cactus playing the guitar and some other great items. 

So, if you've got a few hours to kill and a few bucks in your pocket to spend, I'd highly recommend checking out Kyle Flea Market. You won't be disappointed.


This is a fun game I like to play with my kids (10 and 13). Everyone has $5. Get the coolest/neatest/most interesting thing you can for that price. The great thing is... most of the booth owners will work with you on price (sidenote: This game is also great for helping the kids get comfortable talking with business owners and other adults)

The day we went, we played this game and here are the results of our $5 finds:
The author & his kiddos with the $5 finds game results.