Rock: Arc Angels bring back memories at House of Blues

09:57 AM CDT on Sunday, July 8, 2007

By MIKE DANIEL / The Dallas Morning News
E-mail mdaniel@dallasnews.com

Many lived a dream in the House of Blues on Saturday. Or, more precisely, a memory.

An abominably short but cloyingly sweet memory, at least in terms of a music career. It lasted one album of 12 songs – four of them singles – and 37 months, barely 12 of those in the national spotlight. Its sudden formation was spurred by the permanent loss of a musical legend, and its premature demise was spurred by the temporary loss of a musical soul.

Arc Angels, arguably the greatest post-Stevie Ray Vaughan meeting of Texas blues-rock minds, performed just its second concert in Dallas since incinerating itself in October 1993. And blessed be, it looks like we'll be seeing more of it.

One had to be paying attention to notice co-frontman Charlie Sexton's offhand introduction of a new song, especially since the band – himself and his counterpart, guitarist-singer Doyle Bramhall II, along with Double Trouble back-liners Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton – had just beforehand run through a sparse and almost ballad-like version of one of its iconic hits, "Sent By Angels."

But the presentation of "Crave and Wonder," which contains the same standardized, pop-friendly Texas blues underpinnings as most of Arc Angels' creations on its solitary 1992 release, validated a long-standing hope that the cogs of this act would bury their collective hatchets someday and make wondrous new music together.

That the sold-out House of Blues Music Hall show was being filmed by at least three on-stage camera operators provided another clue that Arc Angels' gigs here and in its Austin home since May are more than a way to artistically pass time. Particularly for Mr. Sexton and Mr. Bramhall, who both have active solo careers and constant requests for studio and road work (Mr. Bramhall supported Eric Clapton on stage during his world tour last year), a future Arc Angels DVD release can mean only one thing: reunification.

And that's so freaking cool. Arc Angels formed barely a month after Stevie Ray Vaughan perished; the reverence and vitality in Mr. Shannon and Mr. Layton can be readily heard through their playing on Arc Angels' lone self-titled album. And what better way to build upon the legacy of Texas' greatest rock guitarist than with a band with them in it as well as two Vaughan protégés, each of which approached blues-rock guitar slinging from different planets?

It worked, but just for a while. Arc Angels' songs were pure songs and not flashy, trashy solo vehicles, and Mr. Sexton's considered demeanor and songwriting ambitions flew in the face of Mr. Bramhall's then-rampant orneriness and heroin use. Thus, the band collapsed.

But their friendship was rekindled several years later, and Arc Angels eventually began performing sporadically in 2002.

Now, this: a subdued, mature and extremely taut 90-minute set sprinkled with trivial oddities (Mr. Bramhall's guitar-strap issues, Mr. Sexton's fetish for switching guitars, Mr. Shannon's total lack of animation) and some soaring high points, such as the psychedelia-primed cover of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "I Want To Ta Ta You Baby" and the strung-out string striking that capped off "Shape I'm In."

During that piece, the syrupy Mr. Sexton and hyper-angular Mr. Bramhall jammed the beat out in a jagged five-minute solo mashup that came within a high-E string of collapse numerous times, but improbably held together via a glue of ego, key and ultra-sensitized aural observation.

It was as if two incompatible down-in-the-dumps life forms got drunk and decided to try to get it on through a sorrowful, yet hopeful, alien love dance.

Yeah, I know: something straight from a dream.

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