by Sophie Block
Live music is awesome no matter what, but some concerts just put all other shows to shame. Such was the case Saturday night at Emo’s, where I transcended back to the late 60’s watching Amplified Heat: Austin-based true rock’n’rollers whose musicianship is even more illustrious than their hair. And that’s saying something.
Amplified Heat is comprised of brothers Jim (guitar and vocals), Gian (bass) and Chris (drums) Ortiz. Their rock and roll is psychedelic and bluesy, with nothing more than bass, guitar, “Ringo Drum Kit”–and stacks of huge Fender amps: enough amp-age to build a small shelter where you could hide from the outside world and pretend that you can rely on music for sustenance and not need a day job. With three albums under their belts, they’ve honed in on their talents, delivering equally righteous jams and solos.
Their collaboration is so solid and the guys are so fluid on their instruments (we’re talking serious speed; accuracy; complexity) that it’s no surprise that they have been playing music together since they were kids. Having grown up in Cali, Columbia, and eventually settling in Texas, their influences are broad but all share the thread of down and dirty rock’n roll. Listeners pick out elements of Cream, Motorhead, Black Sabbath and Texas’ own ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
They opened the show with boogie rock “Give It To me” off their new record On the Hunt (Gonzolandia Records, 2010). Jim’s vocals were gritty and energetic right off the bat, and he carried that same energy til the end. The set had excellent drum and guitar solos, but lacked a shining moment from bassist Gian. His playing was impressive–there were no simple bass lines the whole night. He explored different scales and harmonies, and I would have liked to have heard a couple of solos from him as well.
Chris’ large cymbal already had a big chunk missing when the show began, and he pulled of another piece while playing and threw it off the stage. Jim broke a string during the set, which resulted in him throwing his blue Fender on the ground and picking up a white one to finish out the show. Jim provided fuzzy distorted tones with his box wah peddle that made my ears ring til Sunday. Both he and Gian used feedback at all the right times to intensify their music. With all those amps, all they had to do was spin around real quick and rub their guitars like Jimi Hendrix against the wall of noise boxes. Cover your ears!
When Jim he spoke he reminded me of Hendrix, delivering lines like “We’re gonna play some blues whether you like it or not, because rock and roll comes from blues, you know what I’m saying,” and “It rains and it pours, it’s cold and it’s hot: Welcome to Texas. [pause]. I said Texas, Mother Fuckers!” He also made sure the crowd “showed some love” for the opening bands.
Though it was busy night at Emo’s at first, the crowd dwindled as the night went on. White Ghost Shivers as Boomtown, Mr. Lewis and the Funeral 5 and the Hi-Tones opened for Amplified Heat. Mr. Lewis and the Funeral 5 enchanted the crowd with circus-y tales in the style of Tom Waits or Murder by Death. They sang about whiskey, murder, ghosts, drunken mobs and burning bridges. Each member was topped with a fedora or a pompadour, and their pirate-meets-mobster antics and facial expressions made for an animated performance. Boomtown were loud and theatrical, and danced around the stage. It was too bad the packed audience lessened by the last act, because Amplified Heat was the gritty dirty cherry on top of the rockin’ sundae.