Monthly Archives: September 2006

Spinning My Wheels

Spinning My Wheels

Ford’s public-relations department reduces a Mustang test drive to a pony ride.

September 21, 2006 

The invitation arrived the week before September 1: The Shelby GT500 will be in Birmingham next week . . . as part of a 16-city tour. We’d love to get you behind the wheel of the vehicle while we’re in town. Right now, we’re in the process of securing some track time for members of the media to drive the vehicle at Barber Motorsports Park. If you can’t make it out there, we’d be happy to bring the car to you.

I couldn’t wait. The chance to drive a 2007 GT500, promoted as “the boldest, most powerful factory-built Ford Mustang ever,” was a dream come true. As I would soon learn, my first mistake was trusting Ford’s public relations spiel.

Arriving 20 minutes before my scheduled 10 a.m. drive, my Ford contact called to say that his crew would be late returning to the track from an appearance at a local television station. It would be 10:45 before I would get to hop in the car. To kill time, I wandered among some 1,000 vintage and modern Mustangs that were on hand for the 30th Anniversary Mustang Stampede, an event sponsored by a Mustang enthusiast club. Proud owners wiped fingerprint smudges off their cars while boasting of the engines under their respective hoods. Some spoke of automotive design legend Carroll Shelby, who began designing cars for Ford with the Cobra in 1962 and Mustangs in 1965. Shelby, a Texas chicken farmer who won the 1959 Le Mans (in overalls and cowboy boots, no less), recently reunited with Ford to update the GT500 and other Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s.

Auto designer Carroll Shelby in 1963. (click for larger version)


As my time neared, my Ford contact approached me apologetically with bad news: my drive in the GT500 would now be delayed until 11:40. Apparently the track time Ford had promised was being shared with Mustang club members taking their cars out for a spin. Skepticism prompted me to ask, “I will get to drive, right?” My contact muttered back, “I think so.” So at 11:35, when a Ford test driver handed me a helmet as he directed me to the passenger seat, I knew I’d been had. My test drive was now a test ride. But since I would be in a GT500 on an honest-to-God racetrack, at race speeds (the Shelby GT500 has a top speed of 150 mph), I anticipated a thrill.

I was wrong. The “test driver” was actually a Ford spokesman who had been feverishly promoting the Mustang GT all morning as though he were a sweaty, desperate car salesman. He continued the sales pitch as we buckled up. After being forced to return to the driver-certification tent twice because the now-irritated Ford rep had not secured the proper wristbands (color-coded for driver or rider), we finally zoomed onto the track. The rep apologized profusely through his helmet for the endless delays, though I could barely hear him. Telling me I would feel the G-force pushing on my sternum, he whipped us through a couple of turns before spotting a caution flag for a spunout 1966 Mustang. Slowing down, the test driver apologized for not being able to get up to speed as I wondered where the G-forces were hiding. We ran one more lap, but the track remained under caution; I felt silly wearing a racing helmet while traveling 60 mph, and was so bored I had my arm resting outside the car window. The Ford rep reached over and angrily snatched it back inside.

“Roaring” back into the pit area, the GT500 came to an abrupt halt and the Ford rep revved the engine as if to prove a point. He apologized again for the lame ride. I said that was OK and walked toward the parking lot, feeling like a sucker. My grandfather would have laughed. He always hated Fords. He used to laugh that children getting pony rides at the state fair got a bigger thrill than those poor souls who drove Fords. My family has owned nothing but GM and Chrysler vehicles for as long as I can remember. I never would have guessed that my biggest thrill that morning would be hitting 110 mph in my seven-year-old Dodge Stratus while driving back to Birmingham—without wearing a helmet. &


The Set List


September 07, 2006

(By J.R. Taylor, except where noted.)

Elf Power/Geoff Reacher

Tenacious D and “South Park” have already done it better, but Elf Power deserves credit for a dozen years of winsome prog folksiness. The band—or, more accurately, Andrew Reiger—can also claim to be the least irritating of the Elephant 6 collective. Does anyone remember the Elephant 6 collective? It was a group of bands who wanted to sound like the Beach Boys but played like Brian Wilson drooling in the sandbox.

Anyway, Back to the Web will probably be considered Elf Power’s big sell-out. The album was even released on Rykodisc, a label which has certainly been busy signing legitimate power-pop acts. To devotees, however, the band’s biggest sin will be recording a consistently fine collection of ’60s-inspired psychedelia that holds to a driving beat. But the band’s still addled enough to ask you to endure the cutesy cacophony of Geoff Reacher as an opening act. (Tuesday, September 12, at Bottletree; 9 p.m. $10; 18+.)

Kaki King

Even Herbie Hancock succumbed to trying to be a soul singer, so it’s no surprise to see a vocal turn by the reigning sexbomb of soulful, weepy, acoustic guitar. The only problem with …Until We Felt Red is that it deprives us of what made Kaki King so unique. Still, her wispy and gorgeous vocals aren’t overbearing—or even memorable. If you really like her singing, then you’ll be frustrated that she simply murmurs with the melody. If you don’t care for vocals, then her voice is easy enough to ignore. That’ll make everyone happy while they enjoy an evening of fine music to be put on hold to. (Thursday, September 14, at Zydeco; 10 p.m. $8-$10; 18+.)

Edwin McCain

Yes, a lot of his output sounds like a fatigued Allman Brothers finishing up a half-hour jam on a Dan Fogelberg tune. To his credit, though, McCain took being dropped from his major label as a challenge, and his recent albums have adapted his woodsy self-love into a setting for determined pop sounds. The new Lost in America turns McCain into a singles act for a decade that’ll never let him near the radio—not that standards were particularly high when he had his radio hit in the ’90s. (Thursday, September 14, at Workplay; 8 p.m. $20.)


The New Bomb Turks had the good sense to break up, but The Supersuckers go on and on—although, to be fair, the Turks’ dissolution left The Supersuckers without much competition on the blaring, drunken punk front. The band is still worth seeing live. You just wouldn’t know it from the new Paid EP, where they’ve got nothing better to sing about than being a punk-rock band with country influences that long ago ceased to be shocking or interesting. Oh, well. If people cared about Supersuckers albums, then they wouldn’t be on the road yet again. (Thursday, September 14, at The Nick; $12. Eddie Spaghetti and Pacific Stereo open.)

Tony Joe White

With his distinctive Louisiana drawl, Tony Joe White defined rock ‘n’ roll soul music with his 1969 rhythm ‘n blues gem “Polk Salad Annie.”

While performing on the Texas-Louisiana roadhouse circuit in his early years, White’s musical world took an abrupt turn when he heard the Bobbie Gentry hit “Ode to Billie Joe,” which inspired White to give songwriting a shot. “I heard that song on the radio, and I thought, ‘Man, how real can it get. I am Billie Joe.’ So, I decided that if I ever was goin’ to sit down and try to write, I was goin’ to try to write somethin’ I knew about, and somethin’ that was real. And in a couple of weeks time I started on ‘Polk’ and ‘Rainy Night in Georgia.’”

In 1970, Brook Benton had a hit with White’s drop-dead gorgeous “Rainy Night in Georgia.” White has re-recorded the song for his latest CD Uncovered, which includes the late Waylon Jennings in one of his last recording sessions, as well as Mark Knopfler, J.J. Cale, and Eric Clapton. If you’ve never heard White sing “Rainy Night in Georgia” live in that irresistible, growling voice, it’s worth getting out of the house for. His prowess with an electric guitar, especially when played through a wah-wah pedal, is pretty seductive, too. —Ed Reynolds (Friday, September 15, at Workplay; 9 p.m. $12-$15.)

The Damnwells

Birmingham has probably already seen more of The Damnwells than anyone in the band’s hometown of Brooklyn has, but this would be a great show to catch for those who missed their five Birmingham shows last month. Air Stereo is out—on an indie label, no big surprise—and it’s a fine follow-up to the neurotic country tones of their major-label debut, Bastards of the Beat. Bastards is slightly more catchy, but Air Stereo has a quieter, folksier pop veneer worthy of tonight’s venue. Don’t take them for granted, either. It’s amazing they’ve survived this long, given their track record of avoiding interviews—and, yes, I’ve considered the possibility that they just don’t like me personally. (Friday, September 15, at the Birmingham Museum of Art; 8:30 p.m. $5-$15.)

Barton Carroll

It’s been a long time since anyone has been excited over a true brooding genius who sounds like his recordings were smuggled out of a mental ward. Barton Carroll is pretty much the first real thing to come along since the first few recordings by Smog—whose paperback musings can’t stand up to Carroll’s mighty lit-wimp-rock leanings. And even though he’s from Seattle, Carroll’s damaged and chatty intellectualism is pure Birmingham. You can catch him at Bottletree later that evening, but the quieter setting of Laser’s Edge is probably much better for all parties. (Saturday, September 16, at Laser’s Edge CDs.)

Barton Carroll (click for larger version)

Marshall Chapman

Before there was Cindy Bullens, Marshall Chapman existed to make sure that nobody cared about women in rock. She didn’t do much for women in country, either. Chapman’s songs have been covered by plenty of very cool recording artists, and you can usually find her songs on their worst albums. Her dull parodies of rock ‘n’ roll were routinely overpraised by East Coast critics trying to create a vaguely hip practitioner of boogie-rock. Chapman’s sole decent album, 1978′s Jaded Virgin, is mainly notable for producer Al Kooper’s grand struggle to make her sound slightly more relevant than Jimmy Buffett. Not surprisingly, Chapman and Buffet would go on to many collaborations. Now she occasionally puts out a new album when she isn’t puttering around her mansion with a theater or book project. The latest one is painfully dull even by her standards, and recording it probably interfered with her plans to open a restaurant. (Saturday, September 16, at the Moonlight Music Cafe; 8:30 p.m. $10. Claudia Nygaard opens.)

Enon/Tokyo Police Club

Enon makes reliable pop that’s fortunate enough to draw upon two songwriters—one seriously fey and the other determinedly radio-friendly. Not a memorable melody in the bunch, though. In contrast, Tokyo Police Club is the surprising culmination of just about every failed, overhyped rock band of the past few years. They’re no supergroup; the band is just a bunch of young kids who’ve managed to improve on the influence of crappy bands.

Or maybe they took the time to cultivate derivative greatness from a serious study of overhyped crappy bands from slightly further back. There may not be anything new about the discordant tones and the decadent poses, but at least admire them for a delivery that suggests they’re secret devotees of flower power. (Sunday, September 17, at Bottletree; 9 p.m. $10; 18+.)

Rogue Wave/Jason Collett/Foreign Born

We all want a scene full of quirky and fun alt-pop bands that regress back to the glory days of AM radio. Rogue Wave, however, is not that band, and pretending that they are will not create that scene. Instead, we’ll just get more bands fleshing out what would’ve been pretentious home-studio noodlings with winsome vocals and steady beats. Maybe you can close your eyes and pretend it’s kind of like Brian Eno’s pop years, or you could simply accept this as a good reason to get home early after enjoying the opening acts.

Jason Collett is one of the many guys lost in Broken Social Scene’s expanded touring lineup, but his solo release, Idols of Exile, is surprisingly impressive alt-rock—albeit with the expected trimming of country and psychedelia. Nothing unfettered about it, though. The success of the live show could depend on whether he’s brought along the French horns.

Foreign Born is a fairly hot L.A. band that attempts to package their lush and melodic ’80s recycling as some kind of trance music. They’re doing enough things right to make that seem believable. (Tuesday, September 19, at Bottletree; 8:30 p.m. $10; 18+.)

Band of Horses



Band of Horses (click for larger version)


Nobody’s saying they aren’t as pensive and gorgeous as Barton Carroll, but fellow Seattle citizens Band of Horses venture into acid-folk territory with Everything All the Time. “Acid-folk,” for those too young to know, is like “prog” without the gong. You can’t argue with the self-knowledge of a mopey band that plays ten songs in under 40 minutes, either. That includes a real epic that breaks the four-minute mark. This is all very gorgeous and mellow—but don’t bring anybody who’ll talk during the show, because these acid-folkies can get awfully touchy. Especially the ones who look like they just wandered in from Spahn Ranch. (Wednesday, September 20, at Bottletree; 9 p.m. $10; 18+. Chad VanGaalen opens.)

Kathy Griffin

She used to be one of those comics for people who need to pretend they have clever friends. Now she’s one of those comics for people who want to be extras in a reality show. (Thursday, September 21, at the Alabama Theatre; 8 p.m. $37-$41.)

Terri Hendrix

The most rocking thing she’s ever done is her album of kiddie music, but that’s just another thing that makes Terri Hendrix seem so endearing. Never mind that there’s a certain banality to her jazzy country lite-pop. She still puts the best possible spin on vaguely authentic Americana. Hendrix remains capable of the occasional great tune, and her recent work is finally getting to be as memorable as her own personality. They also really like Hendrix in the U.K., probably because they get Nashville winsomeness confused with Midwestern wholesomeness. (Friday, September 21, at the Moonlight Music Cafe; 8:30 p.m. $10. With Lloyd Maines; Brianna Lane opens.) &