Austin Free Week
A dive bar near you
I'm not the settling type. Since I've been old enough to go to shows by myself, I've had mailing addresses in Chicago, Boston, Berkeley, Houston, Boulder, and now Austin. If I'd moved here sooner, perhaps I wouldn't have pulled up roots so many times. Here's what separates my latest adopted home from the others: Anywhere else, the slow touring calendar at the very beginning of January would be something about which to complain. In all of the other college towns in which I've lived (and I've lived in a few), culture simply shuts down from Thanksgiving to MLK Day. But in these parts, where the critical mass of underappreciated local bands presents both crisis and opportunity, measures have been taken. At just the time of year when the weather and the sparse selection of roadshows could serve as ample excuse to be sluggish about updating one's Austin music blog, here comes Free Week.
"Free Week" is a bit of a misnomer, since the parade of no-cover local shows lasts by my count ten entire days, the 1st of January through the 10th. The "free" part, as best as I can ascertain, is for real. And that's what really counts, for we unemployed writers who have been reduced to busking Patsy Cline songs up and down the drag so we can afford to buy our girlfriends Xmas beer. (If you see a very tall, very skinny guitar player wearing a Chicago Bears knit cap singing "I Fall to Pieces," tip liberally.)
I haven't seen a full comprehensive schedule for the "week" of shows at Emo's, Mohawk, Red 7, Beerland, Club Deville, and elsewhere yet, but a little research never hurt anyone. Here's a list of what I know to be on the table thus far, with some links and some picks.
Friday, January 1
Pick your genre: Red 7 has a diverse hip-hop lineup and a flattening mix of metal and hardcore, Mohawk is delivering the country goods, and the Emo's outside lineup has moody psychedelic folk to suit the probably cloudy weather. The Crooks are definitely worth seeing but the most tempting lineup is the garage pop menu inside at Emo's, headlined by the fine Ugly Beats, who have by far the most lovely album artwork in Austin. These things matter.
Saturday, January 2
Mohawk (inside): In Dudero, PJ and the Bear, The December Boys
Beerland: Flametrick Subs
Morbid curiosity might lead one to the Nirvana tribute show at Mohawk (which offers the added incentive of Lions, a band you're not going to get many more chances to see for free), but Emo's has an inside-outside theme night that Nuggets fans will see as irresistible. You've got the polished, justifiably buzzed-about Harlem taking the outdoor stage (along with the scuzzier tone and lovably obnoxious vocals of Woven Bones) and then inside you've got a variety of those bands that sound like they left their sanity back in the garden with Syd Barrett. Minds will warp! Also, a good opportunity to test whether it's literally true that fuzz guitars warm human bodies. It's curious how many garage acts we have in what's really a carport town, no?
Sunday, January 3
Club Deville: Sally Crewe, TBA
There's some good stuff on early at Emo's, but you can see polite, consonant country-rock any old time in this town (including most of the other days of Free Week). The late show at Red 7 is a lot wilder and a lot more interesting, headlined by the unique spazz-fusion of Tornahdo and featuring a number of other art-damaged improvisational bands that with prolonged exposure ought to make listeners consider taking the bus home rather than driving.
Monday, January 4
Mohawk (inside): Baron Grod, TBA
Nothing too exciting Monday. This will be a good night to stay home and recharge the batteries.
Tuesday, January 5
A rare opportunity to see some traditional "indie rock"-type acts at metal haven Red 7, even if several of the groups -- Lemuria, The Commissure, Orchestra of Antlers -- are touring bands. They must be really excited about Austin in January to come all this way to play a no-cover show. The can't-miss act for Tuesday has got to be the Obsolete Machines, whose dream/goth/techno-rock grabs you and won't let go.
Wednesday, January 6
Austin's uncommonly high band-to-citizen ratio can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes it's cool that you can book 10 bands all of whom sound like the same 13th Floor Elevators album track at one club for one night, but often the ear craves variety. The Wednesday Red 7 show might be the best of all Free Week when it comes to offering bands that complement each other without necessarily sounding all that much alike. You've got The Gary, who sound pleasantly like Eleventh Dream Day, Frantic Clam's glam-rock, the 80's postpunk/90's lo-fi Midgetmen, and the utterly unclassifiable Opposite Day, one of the most purely pleasurable rock and roll bands anywhere. Not to be overlooked, La Snacks top the bill with their easygoing, melody-laden approach and one of the most immediately likable lead singers in the county. A fantastic show at twice the price. Which would still be free.
Thursday, January 7
Emo's (outside): Jungle Rockers, The Skeletons, Nick Curran & The Lowlifes, The Sandworms, Heart & Soul Soundsystem
Red 7 (inside): Get Action DJ's
Lots of bands double- and triple-dipping during this undeclared festival, but that's all right, it's hard to complain that you're taxing your fans' pocketbooks when the shows are no-cover. If ever you had any interest in seeing Smoke & Feathers, well, you'll have no excuse not to have done so after this January. Thursday night is an action-packed evening but I find myself drawn to Emo's again for Haunting Oboe Music (if you like drummers, you've got to see this band), some similarly-minded psych-rock acts, and the palate-cleansing inclusion of The Eastern Sea and their great, wide-eyed songwriting. [I didn't find out they were playing until a few days after the original post, but Wiretree are one of my favorite Austin bands and they should be seen as well.]
Friday, January 8
Red 7 (inside): DJ Sambo
Stubb's (inside): Jesse Woods
Some interesting choices Friday. The Emo's indoor show has a few bands that do an amazing job getting their name out there and engaging the community. Club Deville offers a chance to see whether Corto Maltese have improved any since the last time I saw them (doubtful). Red 7 has a wall-to-wall bill of those relentlessly puritanical punk bands where one and exactly one member per group has the standard mohawk haircut. This gorgeous show flyer has me sold on the Mohawk indoor lineup. Beautiful work there by Bland Design, which I assume means Christian Bland.
Saturday, January 9
Who did you miss during the week? You'll have the opportunity on Saturday to make up whichever great show you most regret missing. Watch Out for Rockets have some of the best song titles in town, but for me it just wouldn't seem right to not attend at least one show at Beerland, my favorite joint in Austin. I love the three band names for that gig, don't you?
Sunday, January 10
Seems like we're coming full circle here -- Woolgather and A Giant Dog were two of the very first Austin bands that I listened to when I was still living in Colorado and contemplating moving down here to seek my fortune. They represent well the contrasting poles of rock in Central Texas, one stylish and modern and the other comfy and retro. I don't think it will surprise anyone that I tend to side with those with old-school sensibilities. I've been wanting to see A Giant Dog for ages but I've been too cheap and too poor to make it happen. No longer!
Thanks to my sources: Showlist Austin, Emo's, Stubb's, Beerland, Red 7, and Mohawk. The Parish Room hasn't posted the lineup for the 10th yet but as of 1/1 I've updated the listings with their shows from the 6th through the 9th. The Beauty Bar is supposed to have free bands and DJ's all week but their calendar is nowhere to be found, no one answers the phone when you call them, and they haven't updated their voicemail message since ACL. (Thanks to Kurt from Tornahdo/Squidbucket for the tip on the Friday 1/8 show there.) I've pretty much given up on trying to go to shows at the Beauty since it's pretty clear they have no interest whatsoever in putting any effort behind gigs for local bands. There's also a joint called Encore that I have seen on some bands' pages. I'm having trouble finding any more information about it. 'Nites has their own take on Free Week up, here's a blurb from Austinist, and here's the page of the folks who started it all, Transmission Entertainment.
If you are a band or a club that's participating in a show I've somehow overlooked, please let me know (so long as it's free). And if any club has an empty spot and wants to have me come and perform my rock opera in its entirety, I'm available.