Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Manny Moss
Outformation :: 10.18.08 :: The Parish :: Austin, TX
Coming into a dark, sparsely populated room at The Parish, one of my favorite venues in Austin, at ten o'clock on the dot, Outformation opened with a spot-on cover of Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See." Bandleader and guitarist Sam Holt has the perfect voice for this song, just gruff enough to give it the sandpaper rub it needs but still steeped in soul. But after that potent start, a lot of the songs seemed to meander a bit through their improv sections. "Cigarette Smile" started off strong, but towards the end the tempo seemed to crawl. Holt's sneaky guitar drew out some sonorous wails, and Gruver worked those keys into spooky depths, but it just didn't maintain the initial momentum. My perception of the first set overall was that it took awhile to get boiling. For every peak moment, there were extended intervals that felt lacking in pace and bogged down in repetition, making for an inconsistency in energy. During "Frenchy's Theme," for example, Holt and the rest of the band seemed slightly out of sync with each other. Taken separately as individual pieces, their technical skills were certainly on display, but the show just seemed to need a certain vital spark to get it really burning.
But not every show on that sometimes-rocky road working musicians travel can be a resounding triumph. The process of improvising onstage without a net is always a risk in and of itself. As a musician in this scene you are allowed some room to find your feet in the ebb and flow. The inevitable messiness of the artistic process and evolution is par for the course. If you are approaching your craft with honest and open intentions, it's an environment conducive to live musical gambles that can bring serious rewards, and as the night wore on we began to hit some pay dirt.
More folks gradually trickled in and the dance floor filled up with a crowd eager to move, and Outformation lit up in kind. A transition from a slow building start on "Center Stage" into screaming guitar and a driving rhythm section slid nicely into "36 Cars." This signaled a definitive upswing in the show. "Cars" has a rockabilly by way of The Allmans feel to it, and Gruver jangled those keys to make for some serious hip shaking. The jam was almost like a dialogue between Holt and Gruver. When each took over the reins, they whipped that pony hard. Those moments, such as the outro of another Marshall Tucker tune in the second set, "24 Hours at a Time," when they were laying down the sonic strata in tandem were especially forceful. Both are astutely versatile musicians. Holt's guitar can shred, it can sing or it can cry. Sometimes, it would just drop below the surface altogether. Similar props can be given to Gruver, who plays both driving rock and soulful piano or produces psychedelic organ hypnosis, switching things up quickly and with ease.
The second set felt brighter and tighter than the first, more brawn, spitfire and wildness on display, like the frenzied shredding build up of "Start It Out Again." It felt like the band was playing more as a unit during the improv portions, resulting in some serious balls to the wall eardrum kicking. Grady Upchurch's bass and the drum and percussion double attack of Lee Schwartz and Jeff "Birddog" Lane got their chance to step up with a couple of taut featured moments. The "Drums" was dead on and certainly hit in all the right dance-focused and weirdo, tribal spots of the cerebrum, like that portion should. After a funky-ass "Titles Of Movies Will Not Appear On Bill," a rollicking cover of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" seemed incredibly apt to dance those pumpin'-for-the-man blues away. Ending with some ferocious work by Holt and Upchurch on "Camper" > "Titles," this segued helping of songs was a barreling journey into reckless night, and had me up front and moving across that dance floor with abandon.
|Outformation :: 10.18 :: Austin, TX|
The neon and drunk show on 6th Street was rumbling outside, ready to absorb us after we tumbled down those Parish Room stairs after the encore, on our way to chase down last call and discuss the highs and lows of the show. There is no unified theory of live music. It's something that's so often just felt, whether it's your feet flying across a well-worn dance floor or some kind of colorful stew simmering in your head. When Outformation lets loose, it's easy to feel swept up in their momentum. With a compelling history behind them, a solid musical foundation under their feet and their arms reaching for higher skies, there's bound to be some welcome body damage when they embrace that unruly monster.
10.18.08 :: The Parish :: Austin, TX
Set I: Can't You See, Cigarette Smile, Frenchy's Theme, One More Time, Maneki Neko, Can't Change The Past, Down & Out, Center Stage > 36 Cars, Faded Memory, Carnac
Set II: Long Hard Ride > Breaking The Chains, Fastburn, Valley Blue, Start It Out Again, 24 Hours At A Time > Bass > Drums > Titles Of Movies Will Not Appear On Bill > Maggie's Farm > Camper > Titles Of Movies Will Not Appear On Bill (Reprise)
Encore: Outlaw Women, Eleventeen, 90
JamBase | Long Haul
Go See Live Music!