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Published: 2009/10/14
by Brian Robbins

Jeff Austin: Not All Show

Coming out of the first chorus, the Riders rip into a break, David Nelson working the piss out of his B-bender Tele and then handing it off to Cage, who lets loose with wild-arse abandon on the pedal steel. You can taste the stink of hot amps in your mouth just listening – sustained notes almost-but-not-quite turning into roars of feedback – but these guys are pros at this stuff and never let it get out from underneath of them. All the while, Jeff Austin’s mando can be heard chugging away, holding down the rhythm and biding its time.

Another verse, another chorus and now we’re well over five minutes into the song and headed into another break. There’s some really bad craziness happening: Cage is making the steel wail like something big and awful that’s trying to claw its way up out of the tar pits and Michael Falzarano and Nelson are thumping out big crashing chords as the drums and bass try to keep all hell from breaking loose – and then the mandolin emerges from the middle of it all, sounding sweet and clean and brave.

And for the next couple of minutes, Jeff Austin rules Horning’s Hideout.

The solo starts out with a few double-stops to clear the throat, then takes flight with little light flutters of notes. Austin brings the heat up smoothly, working from a graceful run along the neck punctuated with light hammer-ons to a make-you-flinch wild flail – and even though what you’re hearing is simply flesh and pick and bronzewound strings attached to a little wooden-bodied instrument, the way he pushes the thing gives it just as big a voice as anything on the stage.

It has more to do with heart than it does with volume.

Austin’s windmill-on-speed final attack forges a path for the rest to follow, eventually evolving back into a chunky rhythm. The band pushes the jam into the old Stones’ song “Last Time” before swinging into one last verse and chorus of “Eden.” It’s a rolling, tumbling beast as it heads to the end – but now that the mando has spoken, it seems to be the pack leader for the rest of the song … the big critters having been awed by the little one’s power. As the song lands in a smoking, squonking heap, a voice – Falzarano, I think – says simply, “You know Jeff.”

It’s a hell of a performance. Couple that with what turned out to be Marmaduke’s last performance with the band and it’s no wonder that Buddy Cage speaks of the day the way he does.

When I share Buddy’s remarks with Jeff Austin, he sounds truly honored – almost embarrassed: “Oh, that’s so cool for him to say that, man. It was just an amazing day and a major honor to be on stage with those guys. To have Buddy say that about my playing is one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten … you just made my whole day, man.”

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