Written by James Killen
Feb 15, 2013 at 10:00 PM
ImageI remember friends from high school graduating from UT in Austin with marketable degrees and remaining in Austin, working as waiters or landscapers just to avoid leaving town and starting their adult lives. Austin might as well have been Never-Never Land for those Peter Pan sort of folks. I still get an occasional yen to visit Never-Never Land, myself, and nothing gets me in the mood better than a psychedelic jam band. “Austin” plus “Never-Never Land” plus “jam band” equals “Soul Hat”.

The chemistry of Soul Hat is basically between vocalist/ guitarist, Kevin McKinney and guitarist/ vocalist, Bill Cassis, with a hard driving immaculate rhythm section of bass and drum. The original line up lasted from 1990 through 2000 when drummer, Frosty Smith and bassist, Brian Walsh moved on, but lately Kevin and Bill have been getting out and doing some shows, at times as an acoustic duo and at others with a couple of the amazing drummers and bass players in the Austin music scene. Last year, Brian Walsh returned to the line-up. They have been greeted by old fans with enthusiasm.

Friday night’s show at the Continental featured opening act Thunderado. They are a Houston based trio that has a sound drawn from ZZ Top blues rock, rockabilly and country rock. Although, I don’t believe that they have broken any new ground, they are not a cover band. Their original songs are witty and their performance entertaining with plenty of guitar posturing and references to old blues idioms, like “wig hat”. Their sound is tight, but the most memorable feature is the way that Hunter Perrin (guitar) and Paul Beebe (bass) harmonize their voices. They seem to open at the Continental regularly, so go ahead and get there early enough to check them out. They really are a lot of fun.

ImageKevin McKinney came on the stage to set up, looking almost like some kind of 1980’s psychedelic Christmas elf with his knitted cap and green and brown shoes with red laces. The band kicked off the set with “Build It Up and Tear It Down” featuring the clear dual lead guitar work of Bill and Kevin, like Dickey Betts and Duane Allman. Without stopping they edged in to a new tune called “There’s Something Fishy Going On”. The guest drummer, Conrad Choucroun, fit right in like he’d been there all along with the hard driving rhythm. They continued with a couple of other new tunes, “She’s a Record Buyer” and “Sea of Information”, putting weight behind the rumor that there will be a new Soul Hat CD out this spring.

The band returned to old favorites like “Big Backyard” with its wandering bass solo and “Love Me Now”, that could easily have been mistaken for a long lost Band of Gypsies composition. The thing about a great jam band is that they can carry you off with the improvised meandering intros and bridges. Kevin and Bill raise you up by alternating soaring guitar solos and plant you back firmly on the ground as they settle back into the next melody driven by bass and drums. I must admit that I was carried through several songs without even thinking to write down the titles.

After a brief equipment adjustment the band lit out again with “Dirty Old Man” featuring a scary good drum solo. That was followed by what could be Austin’s Never-Never Land theme, “Here” with its densely woven double leads and sentimental lyrics. The planned set list ended with the syncopated rhythms of “Praying for Rain” featuring an amazing McKinney lead as he rotated through his effects pedals while strumming fervently.

I have no idea how many encores they played or how the show ended that evening because I had to leave Never-Never Land, to the sounds of “Bone Crusher” through the parking lot. I’ve only known Soul Hat through their recordings and a short acoustic set that I caught some years back. I’ve played “Live at The Black Cat” for years, admiring the pure musical chemistry that flowed on that disc. The one thing that I wondered, I can now confirm. Yeah, they’ve still got it.