US Art Authority, 7/31
July was a good month for the USAA, no? My appreciation for the joint has increased exponentially since the outdoor Body Wash, where we finally figured out there was a sweet patio outdoors. Anna and I had been stuck milling around in the parking lot between bands the first several times we went there. I don't what is about us psychologically that we're afraid to explore the full run of all the clubs at which we attend shows. We went to the Hole in the Wall four or five times before we even knew it had a whole outdoor bar area equal in size to the indoors floor space. The upstairs at Headhunters eluded us for months. You haven't truly bonded with a music venue until you've figured out where the kids sneak off to to smoke pot.
Sweetmeat are the real deal! A swanky party band made up of master-class players from Opposite Day and Invincible Czars, I hope they'll forgive me for waiting this long to go see them. For most of the good independent bands in Austin I walk away from a show thinking of one or two things in particular that the group does well and others should study. Sweetmeat do everything well. Their arrangements are top-shelf, keeping simple grooves fascinating by using every possible combination of instruments on stage. And then some -- add beatboxing to the seemingly endless repertoire of Opposite Day's gifted Sam Arnold. Since they're a dance band at heart, they replace the hairpin eclecticism of their two parent bands with songs that display their nonpareil musicianship in separate but equally valid ways. Fronted by a fire-and-ice duo of lady singers, Sweetmeat have stage presence to melt hearts. Gina Holton pairs her playfully suggestive lyrics with confidently physical body language, and Leila Henley provides wry harmonies and the most expressive pair of eyebrows in the business. Oh, and she blows a mean sax as well.
Czar Josh Robins is a scary-good guitarist -- during sound check, I was envious of his ability to comp with the jazz trio playing in the other room by ear -- but like bassist Greg Yancey and drummer Tommy Holton he's graciously playing a support role in Sweetmeat, contributing handclaps and spare keyboard parts when that's what is required. Josh, Greg, Leila, and Sam all get the opportunities to showcase their soloing chops in Sweetmeat but the focus remains always on making hips shake. They played very late Saturday, but exhaustion could not keep Anna C. and I from dancing exuberantly to their music. You'd have to be unconscious not to move to this band.
White Rhino would probably prefer if I waited to see them again before writing up a live show. While the lineup of bands booked by Megafauna's Will Krause was very good, the event's sponsor didn't do a terribly good job keeping things moving. The bands were rushed to set up, and the sound wasn't as good as at many of the other shows I have attended at the same venue. Even though they sounded muffled, I could still hear White Rhino well enough to know that I wasn't blowing smoke when I reviewed their EP Heroin Thunder. They're a fashion-blind, lovably crusty motorcycle rock band with wit and hooks. Their singer Michael Anthony Gibson even has a hilarious little hand gesture worked out for the memorable "wipe the powder from your nose" line from "Burn My Candle." They look and act the part of unreformed scuzz rockers, down to their choices of instruments... Thunderbird bass, shiny Les Paul... correct. The strongest material was definitely the stuff from the EP, but there was one other tune I quite liked. I'll see them again.
The full lineup made showing up early rewarding. Real Book Fake Book played first and were again strong. Squidbucket were less of an unified force than usual with a fill-in drummer but made the best of the opportunity, and even the chaotic Tornahdo seem to have developed more of an individual identity since last I saw them. But Big Rock Candy Mountain, of New Orleans, really sucked the air out of the room right in the middle of the show. I wasn't going to write anything about them at all, but then their guitar player had a little equipment-hurling hissy fit after equipment problems stopped them for the third and final time in their set. There's a lesson to be drawn from these jokers. You should learn not to suck before you start going out of town to play your music. Frustration and poverty will result otherwise.
Big Rock were a train wreck even when all of their pointless guitar effects were plugged in. What efforts the keyboardist and singer made to give their tunes melody and personality were sabotaged by an obnoxiously loud and inaccurate drummer, a mistake-prone bassist, and the guitarist's self-aggrandizing interest in playing parts that showed off his investments in equipment instead of in any way serving the songs. Don't bring that mess in Austin. They took way too long to set up and break down, which was terribly unfair to the bands playing after them. Sweetmeat were more graceful than I myself might have been about playing after one in the morning to a greatly diminished crowd. They deserved the opportunity to win new fans that BRCM blew so badly.
Bold-faced type: As I've been alluding to here and talking about constantly on my Twitter feed, there's going to be a print edition of Big Western Flavor, debuting at the end of this month! I'm excited and filled with ideas for the possibilities this new venture will offer. In addition to CD and show reviews from the site there will be a bunch of exclusive content in the 'zine, which will be free and will be available all over Austin. While this blog focuses on one man's opinions of local original music, good, bad, and indifferent, the magazine as we've conceived it has a different slant. It's going to be all about the things Austin bands do to build a community around their music. I want anybody who's in a band to be able to read it and think of things they could do to further their own projects, whether or not they sound anything remotely like the music featured. I've been conducting interviews nearly every day for two weeks and I'm pumped about the lineup: The Gary, The Sour Notes, La Snacks, Freshmillions, Neiliyo, Rich Restaino & The Obits, For Hours and Ours, The Cocker Spaniels. Plus local music news and poetry from Thax Douglas!
Speaking of community involvement, I could really use some help from BWF readers. If you're in a band or work at a local studio and have tips for use in the news and notes column, send them in. If you have a record or tour on the horizon, we want to know! The news section is going to be reporting, not criticism, so even bands I may have ripped in the past should get on board. (Those eternal optimists in The Midgetmen know what's up.) Also, if you represent a local business that would be interested in buying dirt-cheap advertising space in a free publication that's going to be on the floors of music stores, guitar shops, coffeehouses, venues, and the like all over Austin, we should really talk. Persuading your boss to buy an ad in the Big Western 'zine will not guarantee privileged coverage for your band... but it couldn't hurt. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and put "news item" or "ad inquiry" in the subject line as needed.
Free shows this week: It's five bucks more than free but I just found out about a show at Elysium Thursday night with Focus Group and cellist Randall Holt. Highly recommended! On Saturday you've got Lafayette with Wild Harem and Wine & Revolution at Cheer Up Charlie's. That one is confirmed free. Another no-cover show Friday at Rockin Tomato (3003 S. Lamar): World Racketeering Squad (really enjoying the pre-release copy of their What Is Nerdwave? out next month) and You Might Think We're Sharks.