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Culture Reviews
Louie Austen
By Michael McAtavey
Louie Austen is insatiable. With his 30-year anniversary in the music business coming up, the silver-haired crooner is still innovating and creating, following in the footsteps of his musical idol, Miles Davis, who“[was] the kind of person who kept on learning throughout life.” Riding a renewed wave of popularity from crooner-meets- electronica collaborations a la Tom Jones, the classically trained Austen continues to delve into virgin territory, with new projects ranging from remakes of his old favorites with a symphony orchestra, to recording sounds in a junk yard, to working with a heavy metal group. He says heavy metal captures the raw energy he craves in his search and destroy mission against ageing. On stage, Louie says it’s “1000% or go home, fella.”
I got a chance to talk with the unlikely cult favorite before Friday’s show at Settebello, whose posh setting attracted an interesting mix of Moscow’s hippest clubbers, solidniy lyudi, and even a burly, goateed entourage of competitors from the following night’s extreme fighting championships.
Austen described himself as a curious and energetic kid who was “always looking for the piano in the room” whenever he got to a new place. After studying classical singing in Austria, he got out of the country that he described as creatively stagnant, “like growing up in Idaho or something. … All the theatres were government controlled, all the emphasis was on classical style.” He made his way to America, where he spent the seventies performing. Despite some interesting collaborations with the likes of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, he eventually found himself locked in to the hotel and resort lounge circuit. He returned to Austria at the end of the decade, where he went on to play at the Hilton and Marriot hotels.
“Thank God!” Louie said of his recent career shift away from that scene. “I find I need people who are about 25 years younger than me to get the energy level I need,” he said, going on to do a humorous impression of what he characterized as “the older generation” lounge singer, laconically shuffling around the imaginary stage. “That attitude's okay when you’re playing a lodge,” he explained, “but not when you’re in front of 20,000 people … [out there] I wanna see blood, I wanna see smoke!” I have to admit that during the interview with this devil in his blindingly white double breasted suit, I could feel an almost palpable wave of energy coming from him. He talked like he was no mere old lounge lizard who ‘also digs the new stuff that these crazy kids are into,’ he seemed one of the kids himself. I returned to my table, eagerly slurping my Jameson’s in anticipation of a night filled with innovative electro-lounge.
Thus, you can imagine the confused puppy-dog look on my face when Louie delivered a set consisting largely of the exact mausoleum crooner standards that he was mocking earlier that night. His first ten songs included such snorers as “That’s Amore,” “New York, New York,” and “Strangers in the Night.” The electronica set, sandwiched in between the aforementioned snoozefest and two closers – “That’s Life” and “My Way,” had many numbers that just fell flat. For one song, replete with marimba and synthesized “ooh-la-la-la” backup vocals, Louie invited us to “imagine a nice beach, blue sky, and a nice beach party.” I haven’t the heart to notify Miami Sound Machine’s lawyers. The only track that knocked my proverbial socks off was “I Believe in Love Again,” a perfect blend of Austen’s classic crooning against a backdrop of 80’s New Wave beats from his 2003 release, “Easy Love.” Other than that the show was lukewarm, and left me pondering the whereabouts of Austen’s progressive energy to which so much lip service was paid before the show.
Louie Austen has managed to develop a loyal following among the youth sub-culture that many musicians half his age would envy. My question is: why did he spend the night catering to the hotel lounge fossils that he is so glad to be rid of, and not to the youth culture that turned out in such great numbers to see him on Friday? I’m hoping Louie Austen isn’t the one trick pony that it would be easy to characterize him as, but proof otherwise remains to be seen. On your next visit to Moscow, Louie, you’re going to owe us something special, and what’s more, something new.

11.10.03
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