Text & Photos by Michael Passman
Why is Austin The Live Music Capital of The World? The place is musically known for SXSW, Austin City Limits Music Festival, and Fun Fun Fun Fest. That’s umpteen to the degree of bands playing in just two weeks total out of the year. Legendary clubs like Antone’s and Emo’s are now large undertakings that are so far removed from their beginnings and uniqueness that they exist as they were only in name. Gone is the cheap or even free admission to see national acts, gone is the cheap beer. Every show gets bigger and it seems the ratio of VIP’s, guests, security, and bartenders to concertgoers increases. The volume seems to get lower and gets drowned out by everybody yelling and having bro moments. It seems Austin has grown up and decided it’s going to be like most larger cities: Exponential rents, housing shortages, cool, funky old places getting replaced by high rise condos, shi shi nouveau cuisine eateries, more day spas, traffic congestion, and a public transportation system that grows to meet the city’s needs a few years too late. We tend to call it The Cool Place That Gets Worse Every Year Capital Of The World.
On the other hand, everyone’s in a band, or a journalist, photographer, independent business owner, and often both or many. We have health insurance and mental health care for musicians, nationally renown record stores like Waterloo, End Of An Ear, and Antone’s Record Store. Once musically famous Sixth Street is now drinkathon and cheesy dance club paradise for frat kids and anyone who wants to venture into crowd stumbling mayhem, but Red River just got proclaimed a musical district, so the condos and flats continuously popping up along that street and tenants will have to accept the constancy and volume emitted from the outdoor venues lining three blocks. Good sized music venues are spreading North, South, and East. The number of live clubs is increasing.
As proof of holding The Live Music Capital Of The World title, here are highlights from just a month, minus Peter Hook and The Light, who have a separate story written about them, and minus legends Mudhoney, of whom were not seen after so many nights out that they would have interfered with recovery and my day job.
Labretta Suede at Legendary White Swan
Garage raunch from New York, originated in New Zealand. Half the band couldn’t make it, so they played as a two piece. There are high standards for a two piece: There’s Dex Romweber Duo. Everything has to be judged by that, but the DIY primitivism was nothing less than club wielding caveman goodness. Lux and Ivy would have been proud.
Golden Boys and Cosmic Psychos at Beerland
Nationally known and incredible live performers The Golden Boys, also known by many though Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Austin, played an always incredible set to enthusiastic and growing rowdy folks at Beerland, a legendary concrete room on Red River where the tall boys flow from hands up to the stage. Beerland is about as rock ‘n’ roll as it gets. No pretention, a dark room, overpowering red and blue lights on the stage, and nowhere to hide. It’s the closest thing to The Cavern Club, only louder.
Stopping over on their way to Gonerfest, Aussie punks Cosmic Psychos took the stage next. This was a rare treat to see such legends in a small club. It happens all the time in Austin, but still generates excitement. Call us lucky.
A mix of old and new. Utterly fun. There was a huge buzz the next day among the local crowd since so many love them but few knew they were playing.
X and Blondie at Stubb’s
Great combination. LA legendary rawness together with artsier NY punk/new wave innovators. X was better. X is amazing live, even after multiple times. Los Angeles is among the most important rock albums ever made and as a live act, X delivers. On the other hand, one should never miss an opportunity to see Clem Burke. The photo pit was at the back of the house by the soundboard. Oh wait, the sound guys said no, off to the side instead. Me plus one other photographer shooting through 70-200mm lenses with a DX crop. X didn’t make that decision. Pics shown just to prove it happened. One really can’t write about the concert experience unless they were actually a part of it. Being exiled to the back of the house with about a four by four foot square to shoot in doesn’t exactly lend itself to getting that feeling, does it Debbie?
A walk caddy corner afterwards to Club Deville (now closed) finds a calmer and hidden respite with John Doe, Aimee Mann, and El Vez. El Vez plays a one time only soul revue at The Scottish Rite Theater with Hunt Sales of Iggy Pop’s band the next night. Aimee Mann plays down the street at Paramount Theater and got heckled during her performance.
Tuxedo El Vez
El Vez is quite an experience, but the songs he picked as a one time performance alone was worthwhile. He crooned to People Get Ready, Power To The People, some Beatles, Motown standards, and a highlight was “En Le Barrio”. All songs were inflected with Spanish and stories of The Mexican American Experience that described so many negatives but made them stories, not to mention The Masonic backdrop on stage given recognition – “Am I Hebrew?”
Red El Vez
One could do a series of El Vez based on his suits alone.
White El Vez
Blue El Vez
Sharksin El Vez
Crooning El Vez
The opener was a great burlesque show, the band was tremendous with Hunt Sales, Dave Wolf, and Sharko from The Modern Don Juans on guitar. The show ended early, and most went on their way to the newest honky tonk in town, The White Horse, for Big Sandy and The Flyrite Boys.
Big Sandy lives up to his name. Songs about tequila and heartbreak livened up a growing dance floor with a hip thirty-something crowd that kicked up their boots and danced like they didn’t have a care in the world. Those who didn’t dance stood close by and wished they could. The band was great, the crowd was delightful, and happiness filled the room. The best part was not only a great band, but a crowd that danced their way through the show instead of standing around and talking. Old time rockabilly at its finest. On a side note, former Flyrite Boy Bobby Trimble was busy on the traps with The Ugly Beats playing The Continental Club at the same time.
The following evening was comic book punks Peelander Z. Mr. Lewis and The Funeral Five opened up. It was so loud and blistering that one needed to wear earplugs not just near the stage, but everywhere in the 1000 standing venue. I have to thank Transmission Entertainment for their insight since it prevented anyone from talking over the band like they’re the show themselves, which has become all too common in Austin. See Aimee Mann for details.
Mr. Lewis and The Funeral Five from a safe distance
Following them was Residual Kid. I’m not sure if they started high school yet, but they’ve come a long way in two years from neighborhood parties and street festivals. Impressive but not for their age, the set was blistering with mostly original songs and a surprise end with Nirvana’s Territorial Pissing.
The crowd was really middle aged, as in kids and their parents/roadies/managers. Even 10 years ago, this kind of support would be rare. The parents of the band and the kids who came out to see them were very supportive, although one has to wonder if it’s still rock ‘n’ roll if the parents like it.
What can one say about Peelander Z (pictured below, and at the top of this page)? There’s a yellow one, a pink one, a purple one, and a green one. Long ago, there was a blue one. More recently, there was a red one. How Peelander Green grew a few feet, gained twice his weight, and grew a long, red beard in just six months is baffling. Hey! Where’s Peelander Green? He might have suddenly been called back to teach Ninja High School with Red. Never mind. Songs about Steak, Tacos, So Many Mike, pots and pans passed around, and a limbo rope in the middle of the audience never gets old. Aside from that, it’s now Metalander Z, just go along with it. It’s more fun than you should be allowed to have in a few hours, anyway.
Mudhoney was the following night. I had to sleep and go to work the next day so I could earn more time off. As one can see, there’s a lot of rock ‘n’ roll year round in Austin, but you can’t do everything unless you’re among the population of trustafarian, fixie riding hipsters who can afford to miss their day jobs, you’re a habitual couch surfer with a trust fund, or you fit the joke “What do you call a musician/artist/blogger without a girlfriend? Homeless.” I’m sorry, Mark and Steve. I promise I’ll see you again soon.