American Music Club, South by Southwest, Austin TX, March 20, 2004

If ever there was a band to be filed under "unfinished business" it would be American Music Club. In late 1994, leader Mark Eitzel pulled the plug on the band amidst a cloud of mounting debt, commercial failure and acrimony and set sail on a solo career that rivaled AMC in its highs and lows. In recent years it seemed Eitzel went wherever the wind would take him — recording a covers album in Chicago and re-recording AMC classics in Greece — but now he's back home in San Francisco with American Music Club. Original members Vudi (guitar), Dan Pearson (bass) and Tim Mooney (drums) are back and Marc Capelle (keys/trumpet) has taken the place of Bruce Kaphan (pedal steel). Late last year they began work on a new album and played sporadic shows in California, now they're doing select dates across the US and UK, beginning with these two appearances at Austin's annual clusterfuck, the South By Southwest festival.
The first show was at Bigsby's on bustling 6th Street at 1 am and the second at The Red Eyed Fly on slightly less bustling Red River at 6 pm the following evening. The sets were 55 and 45 minutes respectively, typically truncated for SXSW, and featured a fine balance of old and new. Classics included "Johnny Mathis' Feet," "Sick of Food," "Why Won't You Stay?," "Dead Part of You," "Outside This Bar," "Nightwatchman," "Challenger," and "Bad Liquor." New tunes included "Ladies and Gentleman, It's Time," "Another Morning," "Only Love," "Patriot's Heart," and "Home." The new ones were just as good as the old ones and I was surprised by how much most of them "rocked." The band's energy and enjoyment was as palpable as ours: these guys were born to play together. Perhaps "Home" is Eitzel's confession on where he stood before the reunion when he emotively bellows "I got lost! I started to hate my own skin!" Eitzel seems considerably reigned in with the band, less self-deprecating and spontaneously combustible, but still lovably disagreeable at times. Danny and Mark quibbled over what song to play next as often as they playfully slam danced. Tim was a tornado on drums and intently watched Eitzel for cues. Marc head banged and bounced in his seat while playing keys. And Vudi was as calm and collected and eccentric as ever sporting big hats, scarves, cowboy boots and what looked to be a guitar made of metal. After band members and fans alike convinced Mark back on stage at the final show, he announced "this is the last time we're ever playing this fucking song" and they launched into an explosive rendition of "Bad Liquor" that left the South Texas evening air sizzling.
Of the approximately 1,200 acts playing 56 venues city-wide, American Music Club were the main reason I was there and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Welcome back guys. Check for future dates and the budget "1984-1995" compilation CD.