This Little Underground 

In the spirit of the great Amer-ican holiday, these are my official thanks.

First, thanks to you, my regular readers, backers and haters alike. I'm grateful for those of you who value honesty. Hell, ditto for those who don't, because you're funny. Even if all you ever do is passively read from your home cave, thanks for at least having an active interest in the music scene.

But as important as spectators are, this isn't sports and this column was never meant to be a substitute for the Truth of actually getting out there and experiencing music culture. While other music columns are written from afar, this one is meant to let you taste it at the street level, and sometimes from within. But the most eloquent words could never capture that experience with justice, so I've never really tried to. No, my aim has always been to impel you to get out and into the scene yourself.

In fact, those who truly suck the marrow from this column are those of you out there in the mix making it happen every night. These are the people who make it all go. What may look like small talk over a bar is often a testing-out of musical ideas, a gut check of musical philosophies or the devising of a plan of action. This is how culture is made, and these thinker-movers are the people I'm most thankful for. You people are my inspiration, my homies.

In this age of infinite virtual entertainment, what we do is old-school real. It's a club and membership to it requires dues, but the doors are always open to those willing to put in the work.

Cherish these ass-busters. The fruits of their efforts are directly related to your own cultural enrichment. And support 'em, tonight! Because there's nothing more stupid than that backward-looking coulda-woulda-shoulda game. By then, it's too late and the only thing anyone can contribute is lip service. Fuck that.

You can maintain comfy company with the reality TV and Internet detritus that conspires to keep you contentedly suspended in quiet desperation. Or you can step out and live. That's between you and the mirror. But if you conclude that you're not down with being a drone, then I suggest you take the lead of the people I'm talking about. Get up and get out.

The beat

Oklahoman-turned-Texan band Jason Boland & the Stragglers laid down some all-out neo-traditional country — pedal steel, fiddle and all (Nov. 18, Back Booth). Sadly, the majority of today's country-music audience has a limited tolerance for the hard twang. That's because they're actually pop-music fans and don't realize it. But make no mistake, this is what mainstream country should sound like.

Neko Case finally got her ass down here for the first time ever (Nov. 19, Plaza Theatre). I dig her brand of studious, dark-roasted Americana, but holy hell, is this woman's voice the real deal. Now, it's clear to anyone who's ever heard any of her songs that her voice is good, but to be in its presence is to look brilliance in the face. It's a voice so powerfully singular in body, tone and grace that acrobatics would only dilute its richness. Thankfully, she knows this. With one of the most definitive voices of her time, Case is this generation's Patsy Cline. And she was met with a sold-out house and a standing O. Welcome to Florida.

Later downtown was Austin buzz band White Denim (the Social). Though confounding on record, they are completely kinetic live, weaving flashy hard rock into wildly unconventional knots that catapult them into another rarefied category altogether.

After exploding more than two years ago with some of the most impressively natural songwriting to come along in ages, local band Mike Dunn & the Kings of New England has finally followed up with a full-length (Sundowner). Though that protracted lull has mellowed the buzz a bit, here's hoping that the live energy of their CD release performance (Nov. 20, Back Booth) will reactivate deserved excitement over their refreshingly grounded brand of roots rock. Cool is relative and capricious, but honesty is eternal.

Brace yourselves: I'm taking a column break next week. Don't cry, dry ya eye, I'll be back with knives resharpened the week after.


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