The Resentments remember Stephen Bruton at Saxon residency
'It's two or three hours that's all music and no business'
If you’ve lived in Austin since the latter days of the 20th century, chances are pretty good you’ve caught the Resentments at the Saxon Pub on Sunday night at least once. In a town rife with residencies, this one stands apart for both longevity and quality.
First, let’s meet our core Resentments. At stage right is bassist Bruce Hughes, who’s been in that seat for 20 years now and has played with many Austin acts across the decades. The only member with a longer tenure is immediately to his left, guitarist Scrappy Jud Newcomb, known for his tenures with Loose Diamonds, Ian McLagan and others. Joining him on guitar in the center of the box is Miles Zuniga, the Fastball co-founder who’s approaching a decade in the Resentments fold.
To his left is “newbie” Jeff Plankenhorn, a multi-instrumentalist and Joe Ely/Ray Wylie Hubbard sideman who came aboard about a year after Zuniga. Behind them all is drummer John Chipman, who took the seat after beloved percussionist Mambo John Treanor died of cancer in 2001.
The lineup looked entirely different way back in 1998 when this thing got started. An American-Statesman photo from that year shows Resentments founder Stephen Bruton with a cast that included guitarists Jon Dee Graham and David Holt plus bassist Keith Carper. The unlikely presence behind the kit was major-label country star Hal Ketchum, who’d played drums with R&B bands as a teenager in upstate New York.
Newcomb and Hughes came aboard shortly thereafter. What began as a way to liven up quiet Sundays at the Saxon succeeded well beyond anyone’s expectations. The Resentments got a record deal, and they toured Europe and Japan. Their Sunday-night show became a template for Bob Schneider's Lonelyland, which is now going on two decades of Mondays at the Saxon.
It hasn’t always been easy. After the grand success of those early years, Graham peeled away as his solo career bloomed. Then Bruton got cancer, eventually becoming the second band member to die from it. This month marks 10 years since his passing.
“After Stephen passed away, we were kind of lost at sea,” Hughes says. “We didn’t know if we were going to keep it together. There was a period of about a year when we were like, ‘I don’t know.’”
Newcomb remembers a lot of Sundays with makeshift lineups while Hughes had big tours with pop star Jason Mraz and Chipman gigged regularly with Band of Heathens. "It was tough, because I wanted to continue it," he says. "We really had to start to rebuild it, in a way."
New blood helped keep the Resentments going. Newcomb points to the addition of Zuniga as a turning point. "It reminded me of when I started playing all those years ago with Jon Dee and Stephen," he says. "It was a very different sort of show than what Miles was used to, and he was really excited by it.
"That was sort of when the lights came back on in the office. It was like, OK, we're getting back on track. It was only a year more before Plank was on board, and he ramped it up even more. It's amazing how similar it feels now to 1999."
Bruton’s legacy still looms large over the modern-day lineup. “We’ll still play a song of his generally every Sunday,” says Hughes, noting that there’s never a set list, one of two fundamental rules. The other: No rehearsals. That also stems from Bruton, who was raised on the late-night “cutting rooms” in his native Fort Worth that were essentially proving grounds for serious musicians.
“It was that type of aesthetic, I think, that Stephen really wanted to bring," says Hughes. “It was: Show up, suit up, show off. That was kind of the deal.”
It still is, 21 years later. But “show up” doesn’t mean you have to be there every week. Part of what keeps the wheels turning for the Resentments is that the lineup can be different from week to week, or month to month. Early 2019 found the five principals on board most of the time. But inevitably some members are away on tours with other projects.
No problem. When Hughes was out a few weeks ago, they brought aboard quite a ringer in Texas/Nashville songwriting ace Gary Nicholson. When Zuniga was the lone representative a couple of times in recent months, he asked former Robert Earl Keen guitarist Rich Brotherton and Saxon’s happy-hour fixture David Grissom to join in for a trio show they jokingly dubbed “the Resemblements.”
“If there’s one Resentment, then they’ll populate it. Sometimes it’ll just be a solo show,” says Hughes, noting that he, Newcomb, Plankenhorn and Zuniga all have played alone under the Resentments banner. “But it’s a lot more fun to have a couple of people, so we’ll bring people in.”
On a Sunday in late March, all five core members held court, bouncing through a mix of originals and well-chosen covers. Newcomb, wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt just after Mick Jagger’s health had required cancellation of some Stones dates, sent one out to Jagger as they launched into “Waiting on a Friend.”
Later, the band mentioned they’d not had a chance to celebrate the recent birthday of a longtime Saxon bartender. When they launched into Bruce Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch,” she came bounding out from behind the bar to lead a line of dancers weaving their way between the tables and the stage.
The vibe: Requests are encouraged. Zuniga notes with sly humor that proper form is to write them on a bar napkin and pass them up to the band, ideally with a modest financial incentive attached.
What you’ll see this month on Sunday evenings could be the full cast — Hughes estimates that over the course of the year, about two-thirds of the shows feature all five members — or some variation thereof. It's likely they'll bring back some Bruton songs as they remember their founder a decade after his death. No matter what, expect a memorable night at one of Austin’s hallmark residencies.
"It's two or three hours that's all music and no business," Newcomb says. "It's just purely sitting down and playing music. And when you're in the middle of it, I can't think of a better place to be."
If you go: Music begins around 7:30 p.m. and cover charge is $10. The band usually plays two sets and wraps up around 10 p.m. The tables in front generally fill up fast, but high-rise tables around the edges provide more options, and there’s standing room plus a few chairs around the horseshoe-shaped bar that dominates the back half of the room. The Saxon is located at 1320 S. Lamar Blvd. For a quick bite to eat before the show, several options are within walking distance, including Maudie’s, Odd Duck, Luke's Inside Out and Ramen Tatsu-ya. The Saxon's small parking lot is almost always full, but street parking along the Lamar Square Drive loop just a block or two away is usually available. More information at thesaxonpub.com.
Pro tip: Arrive early on May 12 and May 19 as the new kid in town, our April Austin360 Artist of the Month Pat Byrne, teams with Andrea Magee for a separate-ticketed “Irish Invasion” show that has become one of the Saxon's best new recurring shows this year.
About Austin360 Residency of the Month
Outdoor festivals, industry confabs and a legendary TV show all had a hand in creating Austin’s reputation as a music town. But the primary reason we’re considered the Live Music Capital of the World is what happens in the clubs week in and week out. A huge part of that is residency gigs. From weekly shows with world-class musicians that last for years to temporary spotlights on rising stars that run just a month or two, residencies consistently offer great opportunities for both locals and out-of-town visitors to hear what Austin music is all about. In this series, we’ll spotlight a different residency each month. If you have a favorite ongoing residency gig or know of a cool limited run coming up, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our residencies guide at austin360.com/residencies.