By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
Greg Garing wears a lot of black -- black leather pants, black shoes, big black belts, long black coats. Occasionally he breaks up the moody tedium with a sassy splash of gun-barrel gray -- but never on Sunday. His hair is also black, long, stringy locks that have been strangled under globs of thick dye. Garing's face is thin and anemic, but not lacking in majesty. He currently dwells within the cement thickets of New York City, in a loft, no doubt.
"She holds her head above/ The clouds and all she loves/ And walks as though she has nothing to hide/ But her face is stained with tears/ That time can never heal/ And her eyes are but illusions/ For she's almost dead inside, almost dead inside," sings Garing on Alone in his splendidly delicate, somewhat fatigued voice. Despite all this doom and gloom, he's not a goth; he is a country singer, an accomplished player of banjo, fiddle, and mandolin, and a man inspired by Hank Williams Sr. -- before 1994, he didn't even know who Blixa Bargeld and P.J. Harvey were.
Garing was born in Erie, Penn. While his classmates were getting stoned and rocking out to AC/DC, Garing was in his parents' dusty attic unearthing old swing, bluegrass, and Irish folk albums. (According to the 31-year-old musician, bluegrass legend Bill Monroe pierced his heart with the first note.) He taught himself to play and went south, where he staked out Monroe's nightclub until the elder picker invited the 18-year-old boy onstage. By 1993, Garing had his own honky-tonk band, and Nashville was his -- A&R hounds were slavering; retro hipsters like Marianne Faithfull were flocking; and the press was comparing him to none other than Williams himself. Then a weird thing happened. B.P. Fallon, who had helped to shape the careers of T. Rex, Led Zeppelin, and U2, played Garbage for the young country singer. The narcotic combination of Shirley Manson's voice with Butch Vig's drum loops changed Garing. He found Harvey; he devoured Tricky and Ruby; he began to create something new.
There is no doubt that Alone is a country album -- banjos wail, guitars are picked and plucked, fiddles chirrup, and Garing sings mostly about love (including an ode to his late hero Bill Monroe) -- but this is a country album for a chemical age; hobo trip hop, if you will. The empty spaces between each soot-flavored banjo lick are filled with layers of psychedelic warbles and hypnotic backbeats. Garing's mournful voice beats a hasty retreat across a fanatical mandolin line while a guitar chases him down with fierce Ventures-derived mirth; drummer Andy Kravitz and bassist Mike Watt drive the congregation forward, giving everyone something to dance to, until Garing augments his wistful croon with surprising grit. Like The The's Hanky Panky, a 1995 tribute to Williams, Alone is a highly complex serving of meat and potatoes that somehow reminds you of that emptiness found in the heartland.
Garing performs at Bruno's on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 9 p.m.; call 550-7455 for a ticket price. He also appears at the Bottom of the Hill on Thursday, Oct. 9, at 9:30 p.m. Jill Tracy opens; the Nields headline. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455.
You remember the Jam? Style Council? The infallibly swank Paul Weller? Well, sometime in the early '90s, Weller came up with a theory that modern music was going to retreat -- finding sustenance and inspiration in blues, soul, gospel, and the like. He poked around. Unfortunately, he only got as far as his neighborhood bar, where some bad pub rock band was doing covers of the Commitments. Apparently, he thought they were brilliant. Weller's latest album, Heavy Soul, is as unique and innovative as the name might suggest -- the one-time voice of a generation reduces himself to background music for aging bikers on nonalcoholic retreats. Weller was great back in his day, but here he has no excuse. No one, and I mean no one (not even the aging bikers), needs Lynyrd Skynyrd with violins. Weller performs at the Warfield on Thursday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m. Johnette Napolitano opens. Tickets are $20; call 775-7722.
Just in case you haven't heard, the Greaseball street party is the perfect one-stop rockabilly shopping spot. Here, you can get your prerequisite Lady Luck tattoo, your first Duke-greased DA, and a really cool Greaseball T-shirt with a sexy pinup girl (your future-ex-rockabilly-girlfriend should look something like this). For those already hip to the scene, and dedicated to the lifestyle, this is a great opportunity to show off your classic car and listen to over 20 live bands that understand the logistics of touring with a stand-up bass player. For the third year in a row, parking on 11th Street will be restricted to vintage cars only, but this year the live music happens at Slim's instead of DNA. Highlights include the Big 6, Ray Condo, and Hot Rod Lincoln on Saturday, Oct. 11, and Ronnie Dawson, Dale Watson, and the Derailers on Sunday, Oct. 12. Both shows start at 1 p.m. Tickets are $30 per day, or $50 for a two-day pass; call 522-0333.
-- Silke Tudor