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From High Bias: Stagestruck: THE WILD SEEDS/WANNABES/RITE FLIERS @Hole in the Wall, Austin, TX October 5, 2001 by Michael Toland

The music scene of the 80s is remembered these days for post-new wave synth pop, melodramatic heartland arena rock and that weird gated drum sound that seemed to permeate every popular recording. But there was something else going on underground, something that had nothing to do with fashion or fame. Back then, the term "alternative rock" actually fulfilled its sobriquet by offering sounds that were different from the mainstream, that truly were an alternative to Bruce Springsteen and Duran Duran. One of the strains of underground music was a guitar-driven, song-based sort of rock/pop that emphasized melody by using a simple presentation with no image or gimmicks‹just good songs played clean and neat. In Athens, Georgia, where many felt the style originated, they called it the New South or jangle pop, and R.E.M ruled the roost (and quickly outgrew the sound). In Austin, where the Reivers, the True Believers, Doctor's Mob, Grains of Faith, the Texas Instruments and the Wild Seeds rotated headlining slots, they called it the New Sincerity, and it was a scene every bit as vital as that of Athens. The bands got an hour of MTV's show The Cutting Edge devoted to them, scored record contracts with various indies and/or majors, toured the country and broke up at the advent of the 90s. The members of the various bands have gone to other, sometimes nationally recognized careers, leaving behind a handful of great records and a second wave of Austin guitar pop bands like the Wannabes inspired by their perseverance.

The unofficial hub of the New Sincerity wheel was the Wild Seeds, led by singer/songwriter/journalist Michael Hall, who has since gone on to a low-key but respected solo career and a staff writing position with Texas Monthly. Hall has recently issued a 20-song Seeds compilation on his own Aznut imprint, with most of this music seeing CD release for the first time. To celebrate Hall reconvened the final lineup of the Seeds for a record-release party at Austin's venerable Hole in the Wall, the club that gave many of the New Sincerity bands their start and one of the few that's fallen under the radar of the city's scene-destroying urban renovation program. Apparently, the band (Hall, lead guitarist Randy Franklin, harmony singer Kris McKay, bassist Paul Swift and drummer Joey Shuffield) rehearsed hard for this performance, because they sounded like they'd never been away. The quintet ran through its best-loved material as if they still played it nightly. Opening with "She Said," from the band's debut EP Life is Grand (Life in Soul City), the band immediately locked into the kind of melodic, soulful groove they perfected in the early 80s. Shuffield drove the songs powerfully but firmly, while McKay enthusiastically shook her tambourine, grinning widely during the entire show. Franklin peeled out tasteful leads and fills, while Hall and Swift held steady. Fittingly, the evening's true stars were the songs themselves. The Seeds regaled the crowd with much-loved classics like "Debi Came Back," "Big Mimosa Sky," the McKay showcase "All This Time" and the sardonic "I'm Sorry, I Can't Rock You All Night Long," as well as revelatory versions of deeper album tracks like "Long Gone Train," "Like a Fall" and the set-closing mantra "If I Were a Storm." Their two-song encore consisted of covers‹Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" and Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"‹but it was the main set that forcefully reminded the audience that hearing great original songs well-played is still the best way to spend a Saturday night.

While the evening clearly belonged to the Wild Seeds, the Wannabes and the Rite Fliers turned in solid, enjoyable sets as well. The 'Bes opened with two new tunes but then stuck to their own classics, to the delight of their loyal following (not coincidentally the same audience as that for the Seeds). "Itchin' Jenny," "Every Star Mary," "Boxing Manual" and a ferocious "I Am God" displayed their easy mastery of melody and louder-than-God crunch, and set closers "You May Be Right" (yes, the Billy Joel song) and "Glandma" proved that punk rock doesn't have to be anarchy to be exciting. This was the debut performance of the Rite Fliers, a tradition-minded jangle pop quartet led by ex-Doctor's Mob frontman Steve Collier and ex-Balloonatic songwriter John Clayton. (The two had previously collaborated in the promising but ill-fated Sidehackers.) Like the Wild Seeds, the Fliers did nothing radical, just played their hearts out with simple, catchy guitar songs and sincere presentation. A fitting opener to a night celebrating the sincerity in all of us.

Copyright © 2001 High Bias


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