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Daily Texan: Shoulders punches in after European tour

BYLINE Alvaro Rodriguez - 02/28/1992

The music of Shoulders carries a hint of the eerily surreal - an insane, incandescent, gut-level beauty. Seeing Shoulders perform live is like a trek into the distant European past, almost dizzying in its whirlwind trumpet, pounding parade drum, stand-up bass antics. When Shoulders recently returned from an extended excursion to France, they bounded straight into the sterile studio to record an album of both old and new songs for the European market. Friday night, they stomp upon the Austin stage for the first time this year at Hole in the Wall. Michael Slattery, ringleader and vocalist of Shoulders, found his stay in France "a humbling experience. You go out into the world ... you've taken things for granted in the U.S., and in Europe you find it hard to order a bowl of vegetable soup." The French were "incredibly receptive," says Slattery. "I was so impressed by them, that they could be communicated to. Some nights I'd scream my balls off, and they seemed to know what I was saying. Instead of feeling like, "pumped up,' it was more humbling than anything. "Then we came back and faced the studio," says Slattery. "We're a live band. Suddenly, we're in this technologically constrictive environment. We get humbled and humanized in a different way then." The new album, entitled Trashman Shoes, will be released in France in March. "The majority of the songs were ones we hadn't ever recorded before," says Slattery. Some of the songs, however, like the title track, are approached at from different angles with the current lineup, what Slattery calls "the core." "This is the best band Shoulders has ever been," he says. Along with Slattery, "the core" of Shoulders consists of Todd Kassens on guitar, Chris Black on bass and occasional keyboards, and Alan Williams on drums. Often, however, Shoulders includes other players like cellist John Hagan and the multitalented David Crawford of Poi Dog Pondering on trumpet, trumbone, sousaphone, accordion, etc. But for a band that tears down the walls in its live sets, "the studio is a different medium," says Slattery. "I don't think I personally am really ever sure how things come off. It's aural, you know. But you have to taste and smell it, too. It goes through the ears and then has to seep through the rest of the senses." A six-song EP was previously released in Europe, says Slattery, and a single off the album was played on European radio. "I felt like, when we were looking to get signed, that Europe would be a better point of entry. European radio was really ambitious, really interesting. They don't seem to have any qualms about different musics and different bands. They don't take for granted the intelligence of the audience. "With radio in the U.S., you wonder what they're thinking. Do they have to shove Michael Bolton down our throats? There's lots of stuff out there, different voices than we give credit for. But that's the curse of Top 40 radio." Anyone who's seen Shoulders play live should be familiar with a rallying call of certain members of the audience. From the pits of their bowels, people scream for the song Elephantitis. It's a ditty Slattery began to avoid, but may resurrect for Friday's show. For Slattery, Elephantitis is "not a novelty song" anymore. "It's very specifically dealing with ego and libido. They swell, you know. It's about man's imperialistic endeavors and the way they grow to humongous size. "When you're coming home," says Slattery about performing in Austin after such a dry spell, "It's like going back to that old rollercoaster ride at Six Flags. You get closer and closer to it, you get your ticket. And it's not a letdown. You always come back to that special rollercoaster. We don't limit ourselves to a certain style; we don't overcommit ourselves to certain instruments. "Shoulders is like street lingo - like "shooting from the hip,' " says Slattery. "It's a straight punch from the shoulders. That's so you know where it's coming from." Editor's Note: Shoulders are so gung ho about being back in town, they will be playing their music all weekend long. Apart from Friday's show and a Saturday night stint in Houston, Shoulders is part of a truly gargantuan benefit Sunday for Barton Springs sponsored by the Save Our Springs Coalition. The Texas Independence Celebration features five hours of music provided by Butch Hancock, Tish Hinojosa, Willie Nelson (!), James McMurtry, Lucinda Williams and Darden Smith. Also included is the comedy of Turk Pipkin and Esther's Follies featuring Kerry Awn. The Texas Independence Celebration takes place from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at La Zona Rosa, 612 W. Fourth Street. Advance tickets may be purchased at Waterloo Records and are available at the door. SHOULDERS Where: Hole in the Wall , 2538 Guadalupe St. When: Friday

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