Words & Images by Ed Fairchild
Outformation :: 02.18.06 :: The Parish :: Austin, TX
Outformation :: 02.18 :: Austin
Atlanta's Outformation took Austin, TX's Parish by storm on Saturday, February 18th, a mid-point on the band's 2006 Winter Tour. For guys who are very familiar with the road, these players made themselves right at home in the heart of Texas' music capital. The audience welcomed the humble, rowdy crew like its own rock-star brothers.
Outformation is one of the better roots-rock bands most folks have never heard. They play together as if they have lived in the same neighborhood for a hundred years, and I discovered after the show that this is nearly true. The majority of the band members grew up within a block of each other in Chattanooga, TN.
As irony would have it, percussionist Jeff "Birdogg" Lane used to walk past a garage in that 'hood' and listened intently to the trio jamming inside. On several occasions, he wanted to go up, find out who was playing, and introduce himself. Years later, when the band was playing a hometown gig, bassist Grady Upchurch pointed out the garage and said, "I used to live right there," and the rest just fell into place.
Sam Holt - Outformation
A relatively new band on the circuit, the core members include Sam Holt (lead guitar/vocals), Lee Schwartz (drums/vocals), Grady Upchurch (bass/vocals), and Jeff "Birdogg" Lane (percussion). Also among Outformation's regular onstage cast of friends are Clarke Keown (guitar/vocals) and CR Gruver (keyboards, of Polytoxic, not at this show).
Sam Holt, guitar tech for Widespread Panic, is a remarkably talented musician, and the backbone of Outformation. Often appearing as if he's playing in a trance, Holt evokes the spirit of many guitarists who have already left this earth. Wielding a very unique guitar and amplifier once used by the late Michael Houser, Holt pushes the limit with a Houserian tone, albeit in fresh hands.
The guitar, Fender's Telecaster Deluxe Plus, is a unique Telecaster body fitted with Stratocaster hardware. Five specially crafted guitars were made for Houser after production ended, and they are loaded with tricks and pick-ups like no other guitar out there. Houser once explained that production ended because guitarists "didn't want all that shit on there," but Holt, like Houser, has learned how to use these key elements to add richness in timber and ferocity in tone.
Jeff "Birdogg" Lane - Outformation :: 02.18 :: Austin
Several of today's most important bands are trios. They achieve a great sound but are often limited by a narrow musical scope. Outformation, fielding as many as five to eight players, traverses a broad range of music. Truly listening to each other in musical conversation, the musicians deftly maneuver through intricate transitions. Together, the band crafts scientific soundscapes, twisting and turning beyond the trappings of pre-rehearsed songs with a roaring Southern rock appeal. Outformation brings a lot to the table, but there's much more cooking in the kitchen.
Drummer Lee Schwartz is a literal time machine. Seated in the dark tucked behind the drums, he may be hard to see sometimes, but he is never unheard. Schwartz is able to take the vocal lead on a significant chunk of the repertoire while maintaining highly complex rhythms. Many singing drummers have a hard time with this, but Schwartz has an obvious mastery of it.
Grady Upchurch's wicked five-string bass affords him the range to play all the complicated notes and yet to leave enough space between strings to drop the big bombs on the crowd.
Holt & Keown - Outformation :: 02.18 :: Austin
The somewhat crazy "Birdogg" Lane adds a percussive spice to the jam. Marrying a dazzling array of percussion instruments with a perfect ear, "Birdogg" gives the music an extra kick that everyone loves.
Clarke Keown, who is for all intents and purposes a band regular, offers a classic guitar sound that complements the other players and completes the group as a whole. I can't imagine the show without him.
From the outset, Outformation had the crowd moving in a captivated state. The set list thoroughly reflected the band's polychromatic style and clearly resonated with the audience. As I looked around the room, even the people brought by friends or who were there simply because it was a Saturday night soon zeroed in on the stage. Others had their eyes closed as well as their mouths (except to cheer). Everyone in the house got the Outformation.
The group's new album, Tennessee Before Daylight, is a must-hear for anyone who appreciates down home Southern music. Produced by Widespread Panic's Jojo Hermann, Outformation's tight, stylistically rich debut CD offers something for every listener and is already getting national distribution by independent giants Redeye Distribution. So if it's not in your local music store, request a copy and check it out.
Be sure to check out JamBase's feature with Sam Holt and Jojo Hermann Outformation Enters the New Era.
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