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Wednesday, Jul 29 1998
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8 1/2 Souvenirs /The Derailers
Although you may have a hard time deciding between snakeskin cowboy boots or patent leathers, you've got to put on your dancing shoes for this show, which pairs two of Austin's hottest acts -- 8 1/2 Souvenirs and the Derailers -- in an intriguing double bill at Bimbo's.

When 8 1/2 Souvenirs -- who derive their name from the Fellini film and a song by Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt -- first appeared in Austin over five years ago, they almost single-handedly ushered in the swing dance movement in that town; suddenly top-shelf martinis began to replace bottles of Rolling Rock in audience members' hands; smoke from gigantic, smelly cigars clouded the air; and the intricate loops and swirls of swing dancing crowded the Texas two-step off the dance floor. They were forgiven, however, because they introduced Texans to classic Reinhardt and Serge Gainsbourg as well as obscure Italian and Spanish numbers with such flair and enthusiasm that they managed to transform even the dingiest hole in the wall into a Paris cafe just after the liberation.

While the Souvenirs have ridden the current wave of nostalgia for swing music to a record contract with RCA Victor -- which has already reissued their 1995 release Happy Feet and will release a new album early next year -- it's impossible to peg them as merely another bunch of hipsters in zoot suits. Lead guitarist Olivier Giraud grew up in Paris, bringing a knowledge of old European standards that has the band swinging effortlessly through music in several different languages. Piano player Glover Gill is a throwback to the days of vaudeville, while drummer Adam Berlin and bassist Kevin Smith cut their teeth in country and rockabilly bands. On top of this typically Austin eclecticism, the Souvenirs have gone through several female vocalists over the years, but new frontwoman Chrysta Bell is said to be the best one yet.

The Derailers, meanwhile, don't have an identity crisis -- they're happily stuck in a time warp that somehow seems to get fresher the longer they stay in the groove. Frontman Tony Villanueva and guitarist Brian Hofeldt are Buck Owens & His Buckaroos, circa 1964, harmonizing, twanging, even using the pedal steel guitar and wearing seersucker suits and ducktail haircuts. You keep thinking they're going to run out of new material and go down in a slather of Brylcreem and Lone Star Beer, but on their newest Watermelon release, Reverb Deluxe, they continue to produce original music that sounds 40 years old.

-- David Cook

8 1/2 Souvenirs and the Derailers perform Saturday, Aug. 1, at 9 p.m. at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus (at Chestnut). Tickets are $12; call 474-0365. 8 1/2 Souvenirs also play a free in-store performance at Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, on Aug. 1 at 2 p.m.

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David Cook

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