CD/DVD Review: Arcangels, “Living In A Dream”
The Austin Rehearsal Complex (ARC) opened on March 1, 1990, using funds provided by the city’s arts council to get started. A few months later, in August of that year, the Austin music community was shattered when the scene’s biggest star, Stevie Ray Vaughan, was killed in a helicopter crash following a concert in Wisconsin. The loss to the community, and the world, was incalculable.
The musicians most directly affected by Vaughan’s death were the members of his band Double Trouble, bass player Tommy Shannon, and drummer Chris Layton. In the wake of the tragedy, the two sought refuge in their music. Layton would come down to the ARC and play drums, mostly by himself. It took awhile before Shannon could even bring himself to leave his house, but when he did, he came to the ARC as well. There he worked with his friend Doyle Bramhall II, who was taught guitar by Stevie Ray Vaughan, and was at one time thought to be his musical heir. Also working at the ARC at the same time was Charlie Sexton. Sexton had played his first gig at age 11, and later opened for the Clash on a tour of Texas.
Even before Stevie Ray Vaughan died, Layton had run into Sexton in the hallway at the ARC and suggested that they, together with Bramhall and Shannon, should play some gigs around town while Double Trouble was off the road. After Vaughan’s death, Bramhall and Sexton both thought that Layton and Shannon needed to play in order to begin the healing process. The four started jamming, and by late 1990, they were playing shows around town. By then they were called Arcangels (get it?). Gary Gersh, then head of A&R at Geffen Records came to an early gig in Austin, and signed the band quickly.
Steve Van Zandt produced the band’s self-titled debut album, which was released in April of 1992. The word began to spread as a result of touring and television appearances, and it looked like the record would be a hit. Then personality conflicts and substance abuse problems intervened, and it was all over for Arcangels before it really started.
Bramhall went on to make a solo albums, tour with Roger Waters, and spend eight years on the road with Eric Clapton. Sexton released his own solo albums, and became a producer of some note, working with artists like Lucinda Williams, and Edie Brickell. As for Double Trouble, they found a role backing hotshot young guitarists angling to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan. Then in 2001, they recorded as Double Trouble. One of the guests on the album was Doyle Bramhall II, and the album was produced by Charlie Sexton.
Damaged relationships were repaired, and personal demons were overcome. No less than Lance Armstrong, a fan and friend of the band, asked Chris Layton if the band would be interested in reforming to play at the inaugural Austin City Limits Festival in 2004. Armstrong was one of the festival’s founders. Before anyone realized it, the band was back together, and playing pretty regularly. At some point everyone decided it would be a good idea to document their live performance. Thus, this Arcangels CD/DVD package, Living In A Dream.
In March, 2005, two shows were scheduled for the band at Stubb’s in Austin. Actually, the shows were rescheduled after being rained out in February. It rained both nights during the band’s performance, creating all sort of havoc, but the band, and the crowd hung in there. Cameras malfunctioned, and some of the camera crews abandoned the project, just leaving the venue. Some footage is still missing, resulting in some odd jump-cutting here and there on the DVD.
The first audio disc presents the Stubb’s performance, using audio from each night. The DVD is a video record of the event. There had been no new Arcangels songs since that one and only album until now. There are studio recordings of three new songs here, including one by Sexton, “Crave and Wonder,” one by Bramhall, “What I’m Looking For,” and a surprising cover of Paul McCartney’s “Too Many People”. The three new recordings, along with a live version of “Spanish Moon,” make up disc two of this set.
I’ve been a fan of Charlie Sexton’s since “Beat’s So Lonely” threatened to make him the next big thing back in 1985. That didn’t quite work out for him, but everything happens for a reason. There is not one bit of bullshit or artifice in the music of the Arcangels. It’s just good, solid rock and roll played by accomplished musicians and songwriters. There is no leaping about or striking of rock star poses in evidence. The band seems to be aware of their strengths, and how to make best use of them. When I saw them play in Austin earlier this year, I found it easy to understand what all the fuss was about.
There’s nothing fancy about Living In A Dream. If you’re old school, and not easily impressed by the latest flash-in-the-pan band, this may be just the tonic for you, veteran musicians playing music of substance and style, absent pyrotechnics, laser lights, strobes, or attitude. Charlie Sexton’s song “The Famous Jane” will tell you anything else you may need to know.
Living In A Dream is available from the band’s website: Arcangels.
Here’s a little of what I saw earlier this year, when the band played SXSW at Antone’s. Tommy Shannon has retired, so that’s not him on bass, but you’ll still get the idea: