The Howling Hex with Matthew Shelton
Friday · Publico
If there was an "Indie Rock & Roll Hall of Fame," Neil Michael Hagerty would be a first-ballot inductee. In the '80s, he was a key component of what turned out to be an Indie/Underground music supergroup, Pussy Galore (which also included later Blues Exploder, Jon Spencer, and NYC Avant/Indie drumming legend, Bob Bert). The mythology surrounding that trashy outfit (drug use, infighting, etc.) carried over to Hagerty's next project, Royal Trux, an equally dissonantly explosive band co-fronted by singer Jennifer Herrema.
Like PG, Royal Trux combined unhinged, noisy experimentalism with the dirty, mangier aspects of classic Rock & Roll. And like PG, Royal Trux divided critics — the Trux entry at musical encyclopedia allmusic.com eagerly points out that some questioned whether early Trux albums were even to be considered music. The inaccessible-by-design band became the epitome of the ill-conceived, broad-swath signing frenzy in the post-Nirvana'90s; Virgin Records swooped up Royal Trux for an unsurprisingly short period of time. Their sophomore major label release, Sweet Sixteen, featured an album cover photo of the most disgusting, filth-filled toilet you'll ever see (it makes CBGB's legendary crusty bathrooms look like a suite in the Trump Towers). Needless to say, it was the band's last record for Virgin and they returned to the comfy confines of Drag City Records for a couple more CDs.
To say the least, Hagerty isn't about creating bright, shiny Indie Pop ready for radio play. After Trux ended in 2001, the prolific Hagerty put out two solo albums and started The Howling Hex, a collective that reflects Hagerty's old self only in its dirty-needle Psychedelia.
While still non-commercial and challenging, Hagerty's post-Trux work filters the chaos through a more diverse array of formats. The most recent Hex release, 1-2-3 (on Drag City), is a collection of three limited-edition, vinyl-only recordings, originally released in 2003 and 2004. The compilation finds Hagerty and his rotating support cast sounding like the Velvet Underground tweaking on meth ("Doing Fine"), a catchy, femme-fatale Neo-Folk group ("Breakaway," featuring singer Lyn Madison) and mind-scrambling collagists ("Aim Pride Show"). It's an incredibly dynamic collection that shows that Hagerty indeed does have some "Pop" instincts, but the broad range of the other material shows that he's still not ready to glisten everything up and have another go at the major label system. Hagerty is one of those artists who seems to do art solely for himself — if you want to come along for the ride, all the better. (Mike Breen)
Afterhours with The Trojan Rabbit and patientZero
Saturday · The Gypsy Hut
With five critically acclaimed, immensely popular albums released in their native language in Italy, Afterhours probably didn't need former Afghan Whigs frontman/current Twilight Singers mainman Greg Dulli's benediction to be successful in Europe. The band has racked up critical applause and numerous awards back home, including for their previous release that notched a "Top 10 Italian Albums Of All Time" nod (although I'd be curious who else was in the running? Pavorotti? Vivaldi? Morricone?). But Dulli's fervent promotion of the band in the U.S. went from typical fandom to full-on fanaticism when he produced their latest disc, Ballads for Little Hyenas, and put off his own recording to join the band on tour in Europe as a rhythm guitarist. Afterhours' enigmatic frontman Manuel Agnelli returned the favor by touring in the Twilight Singers and contributing to two tracks on the Singers' 2006 release, Powder Burns.
Afterhours play Rock & Roll with equal nods to classic Indie Rock and the Progressive Rock sound more typified by contemporary Italian artists. Imagine Blue Öçyster Cult with the jagged, moody lyricism of Leonard Cohen and you're getting close. Sung in both English and Italian, the music is Grunge-laden and guitar-layered with atmospheric Folk Pop touches that make for an intriguing listen and an even better live show. What makes the mix even more fun are multi-instrumentalists Enrico Gabrielli and Dario Ciffo, who thrash about on violin, sax and clarinet throughout.
Last fall during a support gig in Columbus, Ohio, with Dulli's Twilight Singers, the band won over an early, lukewarm crowd with sweaty determination and a flair for the dramatic. Their live take on Hyenas' "White Widow" was mesmerizing — replete with rhythmic hand claps and staging that felt like a more masculine, cooler version of the Bay City Rollers.
The band's short American tour stopped in Austin at South By Southwest last week, and included a special date in New Orleans with Dulli. They'll play the Gypsy Hut in Northside this Saturday. With special guests or not, this is a show worth catching. (Sean Rhiney)
Sunday · 20th Century Theater
A dervish is defined as a member of a Sufi Muslim sect that practices austerity and humility and utilizes dance as a path to true enlightenment, hence the oft-heard but rarely cited term "whirling dervish."
When five friends from County Sligo in Ireland convened in 1989 to record an album's worth of the region's traditional music, they began as the Boys from Sligo but they soon rechristened themselves Dervish as a reverential reference to any spiritual aggregation that finds some sort of inner divinity through the use of music. It's an apt name for the band, who perform traditional Irish songs as though they were prayers played with an almost congregational unity. Although Dervish has endured a number of personnel shifts over its 18-year history, four of the five founding members remain; Liam Kelly on flutes and whistles, Shane Mitchell on accordion, Brian McDonagh on mandola and Michael Holmes on bouzouki.
Perhaps the most significant addition Dervish has made came just two years into their existence when they welcomed vocalist Cathy Jordan into the fold, which strengthened the band enough for them to record their debut album, 1992's Harmony Hill. It took until 1998 to finally cement the fiddler position when All Ireland Champion Tom Morrow joined the band, and that year also saw Dervish swell to a sextet with the addition of guitarist Seamus O'Dowd.
In the nearly two decades that Dervish has been together, the band has notched any number of amazing accomplishments — their history is littered with numerous accolades for Traditional Irish Album of the Year and Band of the Year. Dervish is so respected as a musical and cultural entity that when the Irish government traveled to China last year on its largest trade mission in history, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern invited the band to join the delegation and perform for their Chinese hosts. Another huge honor came last year when Dervish were chosen to present Ireland's four entries in the Eurovision song contest in order to determine which song would represent Ireland in the worldwide competition in May of this year.
Dervish has shared stages with an almost schizophrenic array of talent, everyone from James Brown and Oasis to R.E.M. and the Buena Vista Social Club, and the audience that comes to see them is every bit as diverse. In doing so, Ireland's favorite musical sons (and daughter) have become a worldly Dervish. (Brian Baker)