The Medecine Show, Helios 6/27/2005
So I went to Helios (formerly the Mausoleum) this past Monday night to see the Monday night "competition" since I'm off my regular Mondays for the summer.
I had heard many cool things about this band and actually caught a few minutes of them at the Continental Club about a year ago. I wanted to see them in their weekly residency element, plus I like Helios.
So the first thing I notice is the place is packed. As I walk up the gateway (the place is surrounded by handmade wrought iron) I see there's a line at the cover charge register. Helios often has a band upstairs and another downstairs and they ask you who you have come to see- that's how the bands get paid. You are welcome to watch all the acts on the bill one th cover charge is paid. It's always pretty cheap at Helios.I quickly notice that everyone in line is trying to scam their way past paying the cover. Luckily the doorman is not buying it, but it makes for a lot of congestion at the door. Most of these folks look underage and I'm old in this crowd. I muscle through the line and tell the doorman loudly that "I'm ready to pay" and not on some make-believe guest list. He thanks me and I let him know that I'm there to see The Medecine Show.
Well, The Medecine Show is not yet on- it's about 10:30 or so, so I head upstairs to see The Trade.
The Trade is a surprisingly legitimate jazz group with a couple of really good players and the rest of the guys are no slouches either. Young and not quite as young, they are very good. I was impressed and people were genuinely enjoying the music. I listened for a while and then decided to go back downstairs to get a spot to watch the Medecine Show.
By this time it's after 11:00 and the band has not yet started downstairs. The room is full of very young hippie type kids (like Agora coffeeshop) and their all drinking Lone Star tall boys. I can't help remember that when I was underage nobody but me would touch Lone Star, especially the gilrs I took out on dates. Here we are 15 years later and all these little girls are drinking Lone Star out of the can. Wow. I'd say 40% of the people here are underage, surely with fake ID's since the doorman checked mine.
So the band, after a long feedback filled soundcheck (this is a tiny room) finally goes on at 11:45 PM (!) This is on a Monday. Their fans are pumped up and pretty drunk already.The lead singer is dressed in raggedy clothes and wearing a tophat. Greg Harbar from the Gypsies (accordion) is sitting in with them and the bass player has a real washtub bass, skiffle style with a string that he pulls with a board as leverage to adjust the pitch. The banjo player is very loud through the P.A. and banjo is an instrument that cuts through a room without amplification. They go into their first song which is called "the Medecine Show Theme Song" and the crowd is dancing and clapping. I guess summer break from high school and college has made this the thing to do on Mondays. The dancers are a pretty varied cross section of folks and most of them seem to be dancing the fake square dancing that's popular with fratboys from A&M and Texas Tech. It's worth mentioning that the band is billed as sort of a bluegrass-retro experience and they are true to the stereotype of young rock and rollers playing bluegrass type country. The standards are there- "I Saw the Light", "Rocky Top", and some others. They go into the "Cotton Eyed Joe" and the dancers go nuts, flailing around the room. The cigarette smoke is starting to get to me, as it's very thick. Young folks who smoke smoke a lot. I've come to the conclusion that the band is fun, but fairly boring to me, as it's really sort of jus a jam session and party. The singer also sounds kind of like Robert Earl Keen, which is not a good thing and also these days is just a little too common amongst younger "Texas" artists. The coolests member of the band is definitely the washboard player, who has some skill, but but is having the time of his life. That's always cool. he's worth seeing alone, and this band is too, it's just not my bag. The string bass player is also interesting, mainly because of the challenging job of playing a one-string bass by ear. He's fairly in tune (impressive considering the noiseiness of the rest of the band), but he has the characteristic of reversing the one and the five of a country two-beat bass playing pattern. This was consistent for all five of the songs I witnessed, a short litmus test, granted, but I couldn't handle any more after spending 2 1/2 hours in the smoke.
Overall, if you like the young kids' party scene and dig kind of jammy bluegrass/country/rock you should go to Helios on Monday night. Otherwise the rest of us old folks can just stay home and listen to the records. - David