Lucky Dogs show their bite
Gruene Hall, Gruene, Tex., Dec. 4, 1999
By Eli Messinger
GRUENE, TX - Texans, by their very nature, are fiercely proud of their state. And there's few places this comes across more resolutely than in their music. So, given the confluence of three great Texas musicians - Charlie and Bruce Robison and Jack Ingram, the oldest dancehall in Texas, a hugely enthusiastic crowd of 500 mainly Texans and a sound truck to record the whole thing for possible release, the result was an ecstatic, can't-fail Saturday night in the Lone Star state.
The Lucky Dog tour - all artists are on the Sony label - wound up its three-week run with brilliant hour-long performances from each of its headliners. Bruce Robison opened with a set drawn primarily from his two CDs. Backed by a full band, his songs seemed a bit complex and laid-back for a Saturday night crowd at Gruene, but most everyone followed along enthusiastically, and even kicked up their heels to "The Good Life," "Red Letter Day" and "12 Bar Blues." Robison's wife, Kelly Willis, as well as brother Charlie, slipped on stage to help out with a number each.
Second up was Charlie Robison - the nominal crowd favorite. While brother Bruce leans towards folkier presentations, Charlie is a hellraiser. His broad humor warmed up the crowd, and fans sang along lustily to "Barlight," "You're Not the Best" and "Sunset Boulevard." His band's dynamic playing instigated two-stepping and swing dancing all the way to the back of the hall.
Ingram and his stupendous Beat Up Ford Band closed out the evening. Ingram may be babyfaced (his brushed-back, center-parted blond hair creates more than a passing resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio), but his confidence and ability to get a song across from the stage is breathtaking. "Work This Out" and "Mustang Burn," seemingly slight on CD, were like dry kindling in search of Ingram's lighter - and live performance is obviously his first flame. Older tunes like "Beat Up Ford" and newer ones like "Biloxi" were positively incendiary. With only an hour to play, Ingram stuck mostly to originals, slipping in just a cover of NRBQ's "I Want You Bad."
All three vocalists returned for an encore tribute to the recently departed Doug Sahm. Bruce Robison noted that midwest audiences hadn't seem to know who Sahm was. No such problem deep in the heart of Texas.