Austin Lounge Lizards

Austin Lounge Lizards
Cactus Café
Austin, Texas

With a song catalogue somewhere in the triple digits and a recent 30th anniversary under their belt, the Austin Lounge Lizards have made a name for themselves in satirical bluegrass. Not that it’s a very large or competitive field, but if it were, word on the street is that they’d still be on top. As the name implies, the Lizards made their start in Austin, and with Hank Card and Conrad Deisler--two of the three founding members-- being University of Texas alumni, the Cactus Café is a familiar place for the band.

The tone was familiar in the Cactus as the band leisurely took turns tuning their instruments, chatting, and sipping beers before the show began. When it was time, they made their way up to the stage, all clad in Hawaiian shirts printed with lizards, and got right down to it with “Highway Café of the Damned.” It quickly became apparent just how dedicated their fan base is, as even in the first song, perfectly timed hoots and hollers could be heard coming from the crowd. Audience participation continued throughout the show, from sing-alongs like “Phlugerville,” a tongue twister of a tune, to enthusiastic howling in lieu of applause after “The Dogs, They Really Miss You,” which the band suggested they try the next day at the Austin City Limits festival.

Parts of the show were more theatrical than others, though all of it straightforward and yet decidedly tongue-in-cheek. When it’s declared that the show is about to turn a bit religious in nature, the Lizards lead into a “gospel” tune entitled “Jesus Loves Me But He Can’t Stand You,” all about the nature of hypocrisy commonly found alongside religion. After a vignette about how the band was invited, in all likelihood mistakenly, to a Canadian folk music festival, and that the spirit of Leonard Cohen came to save them from the oncoming disaster, banjo player Tom Pittman emerged in a black turtleneck to deliver a deadpan performance of “Leonard Cohen’s Day Job.” It’s touches like these that raise the level of performance from funny to enlightened and hilarious, all while leaving their fans bobbing their heads and swinging their feet.

The level of insight seems to come as second nature to the Austin Lounge Lizards, but so does musicality. Each member sings, and does it well, as evidenced by the two tunes executed a capella, including their second encore. What’s more, fiddle, banjo, and guitar solos were just as common as the wisecracks delivered onstage. At one point, the band noted how they have been trying all these years to get away with being a bluegrass band that doesn’t actually play any bluegrass. Instead, the ensemble cranks out foot tappers that tie up Texas culture and pokes a finger at the ridiculous current events the state and the country get themselves into. Never was their act serious, and it was a complete delight.

by Marie Meyers