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Flock descends to hear Crowe sing
Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle

"AUSTIN -- One hundred sixty-five miles is a long way to go to catch a virtually unknown country-rock band playing a barbecue joint. Compared to some of the others queued at Stubb's Bar-B-Q on Friday night, however, the drive from Houston was a relatively light sacrifice.

"In a line that began in front of Stubb's on Red River Street and stretched around the corner for nearly two blocks to Interstate 35 was a 2,000-plus throng of mostly women. It looked like the biggest bachelorette brisket party ever thrown.

"Some had been waiting more than 12 hours to grab a spot close to the outdoor stage. Others paid $100 to $300 and more per ticket on eBay. Many were University of Texas students and a few flew in from Toronto or London. All came dressed for hot weather clubbing and a chance to grunt. Or at the very least a chance to get cozy with the band called Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.

"TOFOG -- the acronym the group is known by -- has no hit singles, no major label record deal and sells its albums primarily over the Internet. How can an indie country-rock band inspire such a crowd?

""I passed up a trip to St. Tropez with my boyfriend to come to this show," said Elizabeth Strapp of Long Beach, Fla., who waited in line with her sisters, Laura Strapp and Jennifer Grace. "It will be worth it if he takes his shirt off."

"Don't know who the "he" doffing his shirt is? Been to the movies this summer?

"TOFOG's lead singer and guitarist is the crystal-eyed lead actor from Gladiator. The exceedingly handsome guy with brawny arms that protruded from his tunic to kill men twice his size in the movie's Roman Colosseum.

"The new beau of Meg Ryan.

"The Oscar-nominated star of The Insider who's among Hollywood's most-coveted commodities now that Gladiator has earned more than $180 million domestically and $409 million worldwide.

"Russell Crowe, actor and New Zealand native, could have sat on stage making noise with his armpits and still drawn a cluster at this show.

"The plan was to come to Austin for a couple of months, record a new TOFOG album and play a few local gigs on Friday nights just to stay loose.

"Nice and quiet. No big deal.

"Not a chance.

""Move out of the way," a female voice shouted at the one male standing near the front of the line as the gates opened. "There are women who want to get in."

"She wasn't kidding. Crowe's quiet summer vacation was no longer on the QT.

"Melanie Carmichael, a 37-year-old mother of three from Des Monies, Iowa, readied herself to go in after holding the line since 5:45 a.m. with a friend.

""I've never done anything like this, but my 8-year-old daughter thinks its pretty cool," says Carmichael, who ordered her tickets for the second of three Friday shows off eBay for $100.

"Standing next to her wearing matching handmade "Grunt Girls" kerchiefs were Jill Jaffe of Los Angeles and Sara Baird of Carthage, Mo. The two women, both 26, met online while buying their tickets and decided to meet in Austin and see TOFOG together.

""I've downloaded some of the songs off the Internet," said Danette Radisson, a Houston middle school teacher who drove to the show with her sister Linda. "The Insider got me very curious to see him."

"It all had to be very validating, if not a little frustrating, for Crowe and his band of Grunts. Yes, all the money raised was going to benefit the People's Community Clinic, an Austin nonprofit community medical center, making it a huge crowd for a good cause.

"But the two-hour-plus set of 20 songs seemed lost amid talk of Crowe's earlier ride around town on a motorcycle (true) and rumors that Ryan and Jodie Foster would be in attendance (untrue, according to the band's public relations reps). Many fans got so caught up in the spectacle that they missed the music.

"Too bad, because it wasn't too bad.

"On the amphitheater's half-shell stage adorned with the flags of Australia, New Zealand and Texas, Crowe demonstrated that he's a spectacular storyteller with not a half-bad Shiner Bock-enhanced growl.

"In Texas that's high praise.

"The Legend of Barry Kable was a meandering Bruce Springsteen-style yarn that substituted the outback for the back roads of New Jersey. What's Her Name was a great example of the measured spare guitar-strummed beginnings to full bass drum bashing, amp-smashing climax that TOFOG does best.

"Alternating between guitar playing and hip-wiggling dances, Crowe came off as the clear leader in the ever-growing "actors with side careers as rock stars" genre. His ability to negotiate chord changes certainly could rival Keanu Reeves' bass licks with Dogstar and his harmony leaves Bruce "Bruno" Willis dying hard.

"All of this says as much about Crowe as it does the rest of TOFOG. The rhythmic dexterity of guitarists Dean Cochran and drummer Dave Kelly should not be questioned. And the falsetto backing vocals of new guitarist Dave Wilkins were marvelous. All would be quality additions to a Texas rock band booked by the Continental Club.

"If Crowe, with his bed-head tangle of wavy hair and devilish smile, ever did lose his way in a song these guys righted him so quick no one noticed.

"And it didn't matter if he was stripping to a tank top, mimicking a Texas accent or offering a beer bottle cap up for auction on eBay, he pleased. It will be interesting to see if, with time, TOFOG can bring people out as much for the music as they do for the between-song theatrics by the band's leading man."

--Thanks to Jellybean for posting