Over the years, whenever Ive urged friends to attend concerts by Los Angeles-via-St. Bernard Parish performer, Imagine the Band, Ive always prefaced with, Maybe the third time you see it you dont laugh as hard, but the first time, it blasts your mind. This January 14th however (days before driving back home to New Orleans after two weeks of near-fruitless job hunting in Austin) I caught Imagine the Band (aka E.P., aka Eric Pierson, aka Egos Personos) for about the 12th time in my life, at Beauty Bar in Austin, and I admit to laughing as if Id never seen his shtick before.
Opening the show were Focus Group, a good instrumental indy-rock band with electronics, trombone, and more heart, spirit and fire than many of the Austin bands Ive seen these past two weeks. This shows closers, Frantic Clam, also rocked, though both bands still lacked some essential fire or edge. Even the best Austin rock bands Ive seen (and most have been technically good, if not interesting) suffer the same near-blandness. I think the problem which is probably not a problem for most rock fans is that Austins bands seem to lack any Black music influence. Not that every band has to have roots in Motown or hip-hop, but aside from Austins T-Bird and the Breaks, Ive heard nothing but pure white sounds on 6th Street. I thought indy-rockers at least dug Prince.
After Focus Group came E.P., whos been repping this Imagine the Band concept for, amazingly, over 10 years now. When I long ago interviewed E.P. for OffBeat (before he lost both his St Bernard home and his marriage to Katrina and so left for L.A.) he explained that hed had all these great, funny songs written, but couldnt find a backing band. So he donned a wetsuit and a headset and just starting performing his songs alone, a capella, while interacting with an imaginary band. At one point in the Beauty Bar show, E.P. struggled on the ground with a playful bandmate who was getting too rough: Hey man! Lay off! E.P. shouted, half-nelsoning himself, I thought we worked this out in the bus back in Philly! Then they got back up and busted into Knife Fight.
The fun, smiling crowd at Beauty Bar (trendy haircuts and tight clothes be damned, Austin people are super nice, like in New Orleans) reacted in the universally typical way: seeing E.P. up there jumping around sweating in his wetsuit alone, half the attendees crowd around. Within 15 seconds most walk away, unable to understand the long silences that make up E.P.s bandmates solos. Ten minutes in though, everyones back at the stage-front laughing and bobbing along to a beat that isnt there.
This next song is called Track 13! E.P. announces, then directs the soundman to turn up the tracks in his headphones (spoiler alert: the in-jack on E.P.s headphones is tucked into his underwear; nor did I spot a soundman at Beauty Bar). E.P. crouches, ready to rock, then Wait, soundman. I said Track 13 E.P. crouches, waits. Oh man you know what? he slaps his forehead, Soundman Im sorry, its called Track 13 but its actually number nine on the CD. Sorry dude.
Do yourself a favor and check E.P.s myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/egospersonos