Friday, April 15, 2011

Sat and Sun

Said it would take two posts to take care of this week's good local shows, and here I am back for part two.

Saturday night: electro-tinged rock outfit Lean Hounds play at Cheer Up Charlies with Field Dress. The busy Megafauna are in action again at Hole in the Wall. Then Sunday instrumental metal titans Eagle Claw return from an East Coast tour with a show at Red 7.

Back with more shows next week.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Feels Like Summer

The show calendar for this week is so crammed with good local options that it will take more than one post to get them all across. Tonight, there's grunge revivalists the Bridge Farmers at Beerland with Leatherbag and The Pons. That's a free show, as is the Trailer Space gig with the all-screaming, instrument-swapping Dikes of Holland and Teenage News.

Tomorrow night (Thursday) offers the 7" release show at Hole in the Wall for La Snacks, with The Gary and The Zoltars in support. Great variety for that show, which gives you the chance to catch up with three of our favorite Austin bands all at once. Sources say it's only three bucks to get in, as well. Shells and Mermaid Blond also play Thursday at Scoot Inn for another recommended show. Pick your poison.

Friday night minimalist noisemakers Hatchet Wound and Soft Healer are at Beerland; one-man looping dynamo Daniel Francis Doyle returns to Mohawk; the new-wavey big band Rich Restaino & The Obits play Carousel Lounge; and the dissonant-but-beautiful Cruddy play a house party with Women in Prison (check Showlist Austin for more info).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Springtime for Westy

So it only took me five days of writing exercises to realize what I really wanted to do was cover local music again. For giving me a kick in the tail, let me thank Coma in Algiers, Cruddy, and Cowabunga Babez. I saw all of those bands last weekend and it made me realize again that local music can be a lot of fun if you approach it with the right attitude.

Here's some stuff from local bands for you to look at and/or listen to:

Megafauna have a show on Thursday at Emo's and they also have a new, improved web presence with videos and words of wisdom from bassist Will Krause. As I've written before, the female-fronted trio is like Led Zeppelin meets Bj√∂rk and their busy show schedule has rendered them into one of the tightest and most entertaining rock acts in town. We last saw them at Cheer Up Charlie's during SXSW and their set was full of new songs and cool riffs.

The Mole People have a free cover of Lou Reed's "I Can't Stand It" up for download on Soundcloud. It's a slower, more sensuous take on the song with funk guitar and an amused lead vocal. They have a new record almost ready for release called No Time for Love. I ran into some Mole People Saturday at the Parlor and learned that they have an alternate identity. When not everybody can make a show, they play as the Mole Men instead. The whole band of people should be together for a release show soon. Meanwhile, you can see their sister band Bike Problems Wednesday at Beerland or Saturday at the Parlor.

I've been listening to the new EP by Rocketboys leader Brandon Kinder, who has gone solo under the name The Wealthy West. The five polished songs tug at the heartstrings in a manner that will be familiar to fans of Quiet Company, with a little bit of the Eastern Sea's indie-folk style. Down-home production details on "Not a Pretty Pair" give a slight Americana flavor, and "Another Bad Idea" manages some singer-songwriter immediacy. The Wealthy West play Wednesday evening at the Cactus Cafe.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Break Time?

Having a music blog in Austin, even one that practically no one reads, isn't entirely worthless. I've made a lot of good friends in bands and I'm glad of it. But I dedicated all of my time to this project for a full year and the results were not pretty... no job and a trip to the mental hospital.

After my eventful January, I didn't want to give blogging up entirely. I figured I'd keep doing show picks just to have a reason for people to keep sending me CD's in the mail. After a few half-hearted weeks, I don't see much point in recommending shows any more. The listings are easy to find for anyone who cares. Hardworking bands get the message out, one way or another. Most importantly, writing is making me totally miserable and lonely and that was never the point. Since I was 11 or so I always figured I ought to write about music, since I was a better writer than anybody I knew and I loved music more than anything else. But that's not how it works... to succeed as a music writer nowadays I would have to dedicate myself to locating opinions about music that means nothing to me. So before I go completely off the deep end, I'm quitting while I still have these relative shreds left of my dignity.

I'll still pass on show announcements on Twitter and Facebook. But no more Big Western Flavor. The last time I considered stopping, I wrote that the blog had "served its function." I meant that I had learned all I could from it and I wasn't going to make myself any happier in persisting. I may have been right the first time. You can't make inroads into the entertainment business merely by smashing your head against the wall until it falls. That goes for bands as well as writers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Special for Valentine's

Tonight at The Grand on Airport Boulevard, A Giant Dog and the Flesh Lights play a Valentine's Day formal and it's free to get in. Pretty cool! Anna C. and I will be there. Oh, and a Valentine's treat for you and those you love today: New music from La Snacks! Let's see what we've got going the rest of the week.

WEDNESDAY If you enjoy your music loud and crusty, Eagle Claw and Bridge Farmers at Red 7 is an excellent pairing. The former is instrumental metal and the latter revivalist grunge but they're both really, really high-volume.

THURSDAY It's a record release show for The Sour Notes at Mohawk (more info and a stream here at Austin Sound), with Mother Falcon guesting on strings and For Hours and Ours in support. Meanwhile The Gary and Blue Kabuki hit Carousel Lounge. The Gary have a new record coming out real soon, too. It's called El Camino and I just got an advance... it's their first vinyl release and it was recorded by Steve Albini. The one and only.

FRIDAY The Zoltars, Dikes of Holland, and A Giant Dog play at... Emo's? Not Beerland? That can't be right. Also, We the Granada and Megafauna at Flamingo Cantina, with Sweetmeat. And new band The Magnificent Snails release their debut EP Baby Acid Trips at Club 1808. They have an indie rock-meets-worldbeat sound that's quite now; the EP is worth checking out.

SATURDAY I usually pick rock bands, so for a change of pace how about DJ Nick Nack and Bird Peterson at Beauty Bar? Been spinning Nick's Dearly Departed on and off since he handed me a download card at Fun Fun Fun Fest and it's cerebral, listening music... a contrast to the big beats he lays down as a club and hip-hop backing DJ. You can learn more about his world at the Crowd Control Records site.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In the Flesh

It's a real slow week for shows. I hope you'll write in and tell me if I'm wrong, but other than the XTC hoot night Saturday at the Carousel Lounge, I don't see too much to recommend this week. As for that gig, featuring Baby Robots and Bee vs. Moth among others, I really hope somebody does "Earn Enough for Us." And "Snowman." And "Senses Working Overtime." And the whole Black Sea record. But I digress.

Since there's not a lot of shows this week to write about, I guess I'll spend a second talking about one from last week. That Girls Rock benefit ended up being a heck of a good show, cold weather notwithstanding. I enjoyed all five bands! Bottle Service impress me each time I see them... they have winning chemistry. Planets have morphed from a rickety indie rock band into a hard rock powerhouse in front of our very eyes. Cruddy are a new name to me but I admire the way their discordant songs stop and start on dimes. They have a weird inbred logic working that might not be pretty but is definitely rock and roll. Yellow Fever are a band I've seen before and not liked, but I'm coming around on them. Their singer has an amazing voice, and although I don't like all of their songs I do like their drummer's cleverness and the tricks they pull out to keep being a duo from becoming monotonous. I made my mind up about them before too quickly. That hardly makes them alone among Austin bands. It's a good thing we're making second chances a major theme in 2011.

How about the Flesh Lights, though? What a good example of how writing show previews based on recorded material is doomed to fail. The Flesh Lights' recorded output is really good -- two excellent singles, with the A-side of the green one, "Jaye," standing as the song best lodged in my head by repeated plays -- but it doesn't give you any idea what they're like live. They're a force, with a hurricane starting on the stage sweeping the front of the audience up into it and pretty much everybody front to back shaking like their lives depended on it by mid-set. Their records are good, but they're not wild and primal the way they sound as a live band. The guitar races ahead of the bass and drums and it doesn't really matter when it laps them, because everyone's giving as much as they can. Even late at night on a frosty night, the crowd is ready to move when the Flesh Lights will it. I'm not leaving early when they're late on a bill ever again.

UPDATE Missed some stuff on Saturday: My homeboys in World Racketeering Squad are at the Parlor, the tread-laying post-hardcore kids in Markov hit up Trailer Space, and STEREO IS A LIE bring their high-intensity melodies to Ghost Room. Plus Follow That Bird! and Dikes of Holland at Mohawk. No excuse if you end up staying in on Saturday night!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Enough January

Ready for a new month? I am. February brings my birthday and Anna C.'s as well, plus beloved holidays such as Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, and Presidents' Day. It's a heck of a month. Start it off right with some local shows.

TUESDAY The Deerhoof afterparty at Mohawk is for serious: Sunset, Cartright, and Zorch will light it up inside after the headliners do their thing outside. I'm on the record as saying Zorch are my favorite band in Austin right now and this is your last chance to see them before the festival in March. Cartright are a band I am curious to learn more about. I saw them for the first time playing with Zorch on New Year's Eve. Zorch's full keyboard array wasn't working, so it was a bit of an experiment, but it still left me wanting to find out what the band Cartright sounded like in their own right. They also make really beautiful flyers.

WEDNESDAY One-man show Eagle Eye Williamson is at Club Deville. Haven't seen him live yet but I know from recordings that he does blues at its most primitive, one guy playing drums and guitar and howling. If you like unique performers, might be a good option. Anna recommends the punk band Teenage News who are at Beerland.

THURSDAY Just saw The Zoltars for the first time at a house party yesterday. I liked them. If you like the honesty and directness of the Moldy Peaches, this band might be for you. Loved the way their drummer kicked a tambourine with his foot instead of using a big loud bass drum. Kept the focus on the lyrics and melodies.

FRIDAY SuperLiteBike and Bali Yaaah are at Red 7. Haven't seen the latter yet, though their songs online have a certain hypnotic quality to them. Remains to be seen whether the effect their bass, guitar, and keyboards have through headphones translates to the stage. But SuperLiteBike are legit... one of my favorite modern rock-arena acts in Austin. The last time I saw them I was impressed by how their set flew by like clockwork, no pauses in between songs and changes sharply choreographed. They stand out from the norm here. The Girls Rock benefit at Beerland is worth a look too: Flesh Lights, Planets, and Bottle Service are appearing among others. We saw Planets last night and they were forceful. Wouldn't have expected that from the first few shows of theirs we went to. But Anna and I are all about ladies who love it loud and that's the spirit for this show.

SATURDAY Haven't seen them live yet but I really dig the Serious Tracers seven-inch. They're at Ruta Maya Saturday with a Huey Lewis tribute band. No, really. Yes, I know. That is awesome.

SUNDAY OBN III's and The Millipede at Beerland. I'm getting a lot more punk as I assimilate in Austin. Why? Because watching bands have a really fun time when they play shows is way preferable to watching them be miserable. The garage scene here is all about having a good time with your friends, I'm learning, and that's a really hard objective to be critical about.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Show Picks Now!

I'm still dazed and confused from Free Week, when I worked myself so hard to write about every band that I had opinion on that I ended up in the hospital. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do a music blog that takes advantage of my close listening skills without discouraging every band I come across from ever playing again. It's tricky. Here's some shows you might go to this week, if you like local music.

MONDAY Ringo Deathstarr at Emo's. The trouble I have with "shoegaze" music is that the musicians often take the name literally. Just because some late-80's British bands thought it was cool to be completely motionless doesn't mean every current band influenced by that style has to stand still as well. The last time Anna and I saw Ringo they invited up some other local music friends to jam and then knock stuff over on their last song. It looked like they were having so much fun! That makes a big difference.

WEDNESDAY A late update! Atmospheric instrumental space rock band Landing Station play Headhunters. Should be a free show. I have the Landing Station CD and it's pretty compelling for minimalist music. I wonder how loud they are live.

THURSDAY I hear people say that Austin has no good punk bands. Not true! It's just that there are so many bad punk bands that finding the good ones involves a lot of legwork. Let me save you some time and recommend The Creationists and Bang Bang Theodores, who play together 1/27 at Scoot Inn. Good arrangements, strong vocals, and big melodies from bass and guitar separate these two bands from the pack.

FRIDAY I discovered Transmography because their Michael Frazier doubles as the drummer in La Snacks; the bands toured together last year. Transmography is another one of those video game music/indie rock hybrids that are so prevalent nowadays. I haven't seen them live yet, but I hope to check them out Friday. They're releasing the first in a series of color-coded EP's and are asking fans to come attired this weekend in bright yellow. The show is at Beerland. Anna C. says she is interested in this concert because Awesome Death is playing it. Their combination of punk rock and theremin is more than she can resist. Also, at Beauty Bar art rockers paperthreat are having a release party for their new single. Can't wait to find out more about that; they're one of my favorite new bands in Austin. I've been listening to John Vinyard quite a bit for the next Demo Sweat column. If you're into the minimal, lyric-driven Iron & Wine neo-folk style, perhaps go check him out Friday at the Central Presbyterian Church (200 East 8th).

SATURDAY I haven't seen Amplified Heat in a few months and I feel like it's time to go check them out again. The last I checked in with them they were finding an original voice by blending in hardcore punk with their Jimi Hendrix-Clapton-Zeppelin classic rock center. White Ghost Shivers are playing with them, and that's a band I've been recommended several times. I recommend World Racketeering Squad shows all the time because I'm a big nerd and those guys are proof positive that being a nerd is no handicap to rocking triumphantly. They've been talking up this band Conquistador Incorporated for weeks. I've only listened to Conquistador's CD a little bit so far, but they are intriguing... kind of a mixture of Ween-ish genre shifts and Tool-like heavy guitar. Some of the tracks on their Ballads CD are awkwardly political, but when they hit the mark they're something new and substantive. Going to try and see them really soon.

SUNDAY My friends Justin, formerly of Sissy Face, and Andrea, currently of Bubbleface, have joined forces to start some sort of face-related supergroup. (That would be a good band name, Facial Supergroup. I can see it on t-shirts even now). They will mix Justin's guitar pop background with Andrea's interest in pure experimental noise and you can see them for the first time 7 Sunday at Blue Velvet (vintage store at 2100 Guadalupe).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Easing Back In

So I have been waiting for the universe, or at least some of my readers, to tell me what to do. I don't feel at all in the same critical space I was all last year, when I was angry and embittered towards most bands. My time with Anna C. in Austin has taught me that the whole point of making music is to have a good time with your friends, and part of me wants to delete every review I've ever written. A couple of days in a mental institution can fill you up with impulsive thoughts about dramatic gestures. But Austin does need good music writing, and bands do need to hear from time to time that they're not perfect. So I guess I can't quit the blog. And I guess I have to keep being honest about who I am, because otherwise how is anyone going to relate to my point of view?

Went to see Good Lazy System last night at the Parlor. There were some other shows this week I was more excited about going to. Literature and A Giant Dog were at Beerland on Wednesday and I really like both of those bands. Their seven-inch singles have been in regular rotation at our house. But I'm on some new medications, very strong ones, and I chose to sleep instead. Anna went and reports that those bands are still excellent, and she also liked the punk band Teenage News who were sharing the bill. Wanted to see Isle of White on Thursday since I quite like their songs and they were one of the first Austin bands I ever wrote about. But again I was out like a light by 9:30. So much for my rock and roll lifestyle. I guess I will have to work out how to stay up a little later.

I like Good Lazy System a bunch. I think they're on their way, and they were a lot tighter last night than the first time I saw them. They also chopped down a lot of the waiting between songs, which was their major hangup before. I listened more for their style than their individual parts this time, which is what I usually do when revisiting a new band. They have a good group sound and I particularly like the interplay between three different singers. They remind me of a Lookout! Records punk band, like Screeching Weasel or NOFX. Ben Gibbs contrasts Ariel Sauceda's more melodic singing with a rap-like bark. Guitarist Adam Antonacci sings a bit of lead too, and my favorite parts of Good Lazy System's songs have all three shouting together. I love multiple vocalists in bands of any type. I think drummer Aaron Bromberg should sing too, if he could hear himself through his heavy-duty ear protection.

My new strategy is to write about bands after talking to them, so I don't make any goofy mistakes. Some of the stuff I wrote during Free Week, when I was in a hurry and losing my sanity, presupposes that a writer can tell what a band's story is simply by listening to them and observing them from a distance. That's wrong. I always justified writing negative reviews based on the principle that you can learn something from every band, good or bad. I still think that's true, but I think for my part that if I'm going to learn anything and get better at whatever it is I do, I have to let bands tell me their stories themselves. Everybody is seeking something different out of their music.

So I'm going to keep telling you what I think, but I'm going to try and get the voices of as many Austin bands as I can represented on Big Western Flavor as well. It's what I need to do, personally and professionally. I bought a new phone and everything!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Show Picks 2020

So I'm still not sure what the plan is for the blog in the new year. I got way too focused on being a know-it-all and sort of lost the plot the last few weeks. Now I'm seeing things from a different perspective. I could use some feedback from regular readers. I think I'm going to stick to doing show picks and maybe some interviews until I shake the nagging feeling that I've been devoting all my energies to ripping apart something I don't fully understand. Anyway, hopefully I'll see you out at some shows this week.

TUESDAY I haven't seen them live yet, but I really liked the hypnotic quality of Bali Yaaah's recordings. I hear some Clinic, some 60's psychedelia, and some Depeche-modern electronic coming from the three-piece (guitars, bass, organ). I'm curious to see them do it on stage and Tuesday the 18th at Beauty Bar they're playing with Ode to Oscillator, Knifight, and Mass Rituals.

WEDNESDAY I traded in some old LP's for a clutch of local seven-inch singles at Trailer Space last weekend. Along with some cool stuff from the Flesh Lights and Serious Tracers, I picked up "The Grand" b/w "Qyjara" by A Giant Dog. Anna spent most of last night watching YouTube videos of the five-piece, who have a live show you need to see to appreciate -- a frontwoman with no fear, Motown bass with muscles, rowdy crowds. They're at Beerland with In Beds and Literature. Literature are a band my friend Sean likes to describe as "the Strokes fronted by Daniel Johnston." I think that's a bit glib but as good a description as any. Anna C. likes the way their lead guitar player dances lightly on his feet like Michael Jackson. For me, what's winning about Literature is the way the two guitar players interact instead of play on top of one another.

THURSDAY We've also been jamming the "Hot Pink Flares" 45 by The Sour Notes on a day-to-day basis. I'm a huge fan of bands and songs with multiple lead vocalists, and the tradeoff on the A-side of the single from Jared to Kelly is sweet. The Sour Notes are playing the Cactus Cafe, which is still alive! I believe the cover is six dollars which is a good deal for the Cactus. Saw The Eastern Sea there playing to a packed room and they sounded great. Little Lo open for the Sour Notes Thursday.

FRIDAY Flesh Lights and Bike Problems at Red 7. The "Jaye" single by Flesh Lights is nice. Bike Problems are nerdy punk of the highest order. Or, to go in the another direction entirely, Opposite Day and Megafauna at Flamingo Cantina. I love Opposite Day! Their songs and playing are unique. I wrote about them during Free Week, but it turned out that they weren't playing due to their bassist Greg being in Australia. I said then I'd reprint my praise of them when they were playing a show, so here it is: "I'm glad Opposite Day are playing... because I always feel like I should be doing more to spread the word about them. I think a lot of other writers have faced the same problem before me: How do you make a compelling argument for a band that really has no single obvious comparison point? Elvis Costello meets Primus? No... Richard Thompson meets Oingo Boingo? I'm stumped. They change meters and play bewildering figures like a prog band, but have many hooks and harmonies you don't need a calculator to appreciate. No matter what your tastes are, I defy you to watch Opposite Day and not come away astounded by their musicianship. Not only that, they've never let their ridiculous technical ability get in the way of songwriting -- 'Safety First' is unforgettable -- and despite their long years of high effort and low rewards, they still maintain a palpable enthusiasm and good spirit when they're on stage."

Megafauna, like The Sour Notes, are right off a tour. Will, Cameron, and Dani were tight already, and they bring a heck of a lot of force as a trio. I like sitting and listening to their CD Larger Than Human closely and trying to count through all the time signature changes.

I hated everything and now I like everything! The power of Austin music has brainwashed me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


So, I bit off more than I could chew trying to cover every show going on in Austin during Free Week. I'm glad of it... last year around this time there were only three or four venues participating, but in 2011 the idea really took off and extended beyond downtown. Very cool. Best time of the year, except of course for the weather.

But doing work, writing, going to shows, and other stuff, I didn't leave myself enough personal time. I stopped talking to my friends. I was mean to my cat. And mostly I took out my frustrations on Anna C., who deserves a lot better. Long story short, I needed a little vacation in the mental illness ward. Confinement, being presented with many new faces at once, and feeling threatened by the many schizophrenics and aggressively manic people that habit these sorts of wards (of which I have seen the insides of too many) all make the hospital a place I associate with sheer terror. This visit wasn't a cakewalk, but it went by more smoothly than the earlier ones. Belief in myself, and faith in the Austin community at large, made for less of an alienating effect than some of the other mental health clinics I've passed through.

So what made me work so hard I went crazy? Guilt, I guess... I started writing under the assumption that people in bands, especially bands in Austin, know that there's no such thing as bad press. But a whole generation has grown up living in a world of interconnectivity such that you don't think about what you like; you merely follow the consensus. Why try and make up your own interpretation of Black Swan when you can go read thousands of them online until you find the one that most closely resembles what you yourself was going to say?

So, for a few days I thought I had to kill the blog. Now I think I'm just going to use it for interviews and Demo Sweats. What I really want to do is move into writing press materials for bands. And continue to play music, but in as low-key and nondescript roles as possible. I'm going to learn the triangle and the maracas.

Again, I'm sorry if I hurt you or made your band break up because of a bad review. It's only one perspective, but I feel worn out trying to make this clear each and every time I make a negative comment. So I'm knocking it off with the live reviews and concentrating on doing interviews with the Austin bands that I think best fit my ideas about originality, style, command of the stage, and so forth. And if you want me to write a bio for your band, I can do that too. Find "Western Homes" on Facebook, send me a message, we'll work out a rate.

And Demo Sweat? People keep sending me CD's. I hope they will keep doing it. Getting obscure music for free almost every day is terrific. If I could just get some more acts to give me 45's, life would be grand.

Speaking of grand... we've been spinning a bunch of singles I got at Trailer Space on Saturday. A Giant Dog have an A-side called "The Grand" that's a boogie-woogie with X harmony vocals. The Fleshlights sound exactly what you would expect a band called the Fleshlights to sound like, with a sneaky good singer. And the Wesley Coleman Minor Threat tribute is pretty fun, oddly fun medleys of old humorless Dischord straightedge hardcore deconstructed by Austin's own drunkcore overlord. Buy local singles!

UPDATE: I forgot about show picks. I'm going to keep doing show picks too. Every Monday. If you're in a band and want me to recommend a show, same e-mail address as before.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Free City, Part Four

I am learning new things about myself every day this week, it seems. A lot of them are so obvious I feel self-conscious now. I think that the disconnect between my emotional difficulties and my wealth of music knowledge is keeping my blog from finding any regular readers besides those who agree with me most firmly. It's nice to know I'm not totally alone, but at the same time, there are a lot of Austin bands I love and my recommendations of them would carry a lot more weight if more than a handful of people read them. Trying to figure this out is going to be bumpy. You can already see it in action. I got a nice e-mail from Matthew Grusha from She Sir asking me to go see his band. I did. From my point of view, they sucked. I tried to explain why I thought so, once in a review that was written in such an awful equivocating style that a few regular readers AND a couple of first-time ones wrote in to tell me to knock it off. Then I tried to explain even more an in e-mail to the poor guy. I tried to point out how I'm a bass player, and I listen really closely to how bass and drums fit together, and I felt like their rhythm section was just no good at all in combination. He wrote back that lots of people had told him he was really good at bass and now he was so sad he was thinking about quitting music. Well, I give up. But please don't quit music because of me; I just really geek out on bass playing.

See, I never point out stuff like this. I just say "this is bad" or "this needs work" and I don't talk about the basis for it, because as a journalist I was taught to take myself out of my writing and as a human nothing makes me feel more awful than looking at a person I've just met and realizing I've been doing nothing but talk about myself at them for half an hour. I'm a good writer, but I'm a horrible communicator. I just can't express myself succinctly to save my life. In the sound-bite, 140-characters-or-less era, I'm an anachronism. I have the refined music tastes of somebody who's been writing or playing for 20 years (because I have indeed been doing so), but I have the social skills of somebody just out of college. Nearly all my friends, and Anna, are way younger than I am. I think the reason I love The Gary so deeply is because my two biggest hangups in life are becoming a grown-up and being in a good band and those guys do both so well.

Beauty Bar: Brownout, Maneja Beto, Roxy Roca, Este Vato
Beerland: Hex Dispensers, Damn Times, Manikin
Club Deville (Mind of Adi): uLOVEi, DJ I Wanna Be Her, One Hundred Flowers, STEREO IS A LIE, Monarchs, Erin Ivey, Eagle Eye Williamson, BK & Mr. E
Emo's outside: What Made Milwaukee Famous, The Lemurs, Ovenbirds, Salesman, The Authors
Emo's inside: Los Skarnales, Nick Curran & The Lowlifes, Jungle Rockers, El Pathos
Mohawk outside: Indian Jewelry, The Laughing, Astronaut Suit
Mohawk inside: Motel Aviv, Attak (In)Formation, Zorch, Look Mexico
The Parish: The Frontier Brothers, The Eastern Sea, MaryAnn and the Revival Band
Red 7 inside: Golden Boys, Broken Gold, A Giant Dog, Air Traffic Controllers, The Dead Space
Red 7 outside: Power Trip, Rat King, Black Congress, One Against Many, Tow the Line, Venomous Maximus
Red 7 early show: Thieves, The Stampede, Fingers Crossed, A New Hope
Scoot Inn: Thunderosa, Squidbucket, Rust
Stubb's: Art vs. Industry, The Pulse Electric, Lauren Burton
U.S. Art Authority: Low Victor Echo, Grand Child

Wow, what a night. Where to begin? Well, how about the band whose demo cracked my year-end top ten list.... sliding in right at #1. Holy gee, Zorch are an amazing band. They might not be quite for everybody -- I've played it for a few singer-songwriter types, like my former bandmate Dana, and they were bored up until the vocals came in. But if you're interested in the collision of modern genres, and like seeing the sort of band that leaves most listeners fumbling for meaningful comparisons, get into this band. The prodigiously talented and hilarious drummer Shmu plays live dubstep with one half of his body and skronky jazz-fusion with the other, all while singing in a voice that you almost have to step away and listen to his fine solo stuff to appreciate the pure beauty of. More than anything I like experimental music that isn't afraid to be pop when the mood calls for it, and Zorch are so good at that it's scary. The Gary are my favorite band in Austin, but Zorch are the best band in Austin the way I see it. I was talking to Evan Kleinecke, who records them, and apparently Zac Traeger has so many different crazy sounds coming from his keyboards and Omnichord that it's going to take literally dozens of amplifiers to make their in-progress album come out the way they want. Zorch are playing with the elusive Attak (In)Formation, who may or may not be the same band that made this CD We Are All Alive in Tune Butcher Bear dropped off here a few weeks ago. I've been jamming that stuff, man... it sounds like the missing link that led to Haunting Oboe Music, the first Austin band I really got excited about to immediately break up as soon as I realized I liked them. The other side of the coin -- pop music that's not afraid to get in there with bare hands and mess stuff up.

Squidbucket are a band I admire the heck out of, but they're such quiet guys that I don't know if they're going to be able to locate the progressive metal fans that would eat up their chops-intensive blend of Primus finger-popping bass, Tool-like guitar that has some southern rock in it, and the long-running epic structures of Mastodon and their ilk. How can we bring the hipsters to the hipster metal? If you like heavy stuff and/or guys who can play their instruments really well, go check it. Drummer Eric Brown barely breaks a sweat. Jason Erwin is a virtuoso guitarist with taste -- unlike a lot of guys with his chops, I can actually imagine myself learning to play a few of his parts by myself. Although not most of them. And Kurt Rightler is a gentle beast. His bass playing also drives the rising, Volta-esque jazz-jam-metal Tornahdo.

The Eastern Sea are a band whose It Factor is almost terrifying. When I first moved here, I listened to about a million different local bands on MySpace, just picking links at random from Austin blogs. There was one song by The Eastern Sea -- "The Box," I believe it was called -- that was one of those songs that I had almost memorized from the first time I heard it. ("Tupac's Herpes" by Explosion Horse is another one, although not for the same reason.) At the time it was recorded, The Eastern Sea was one guy, Matt Hines. I don't think very much of solo singer-songwriters, which is exactly what you would expect from somebody who played bass his whole life and just started playing the drums. The only two guys I feel can pull it off? Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. (Sorry, Iron & Wine, overdubbed harmonies are cheating.) But wow this song by The Eastern Sea before they were a band... it had a subject (working in a movie theater), a point of view, and a melody that put you right on the narrator's shoulder. Songs like this got Hines hooked up with Tomas Olano, a friendly bass player with amazing stage presence and a DJ-like ability to have a huge effect in songs by not playing, and Zach Duran, a drummer whose enthusiasm for playing quietly suits the band's naturally gentle approach. They've worked for a while on getting the rest of the lineup together, but that core trio is pretty golden. Matt would die in peace if nobody ever compared them to Death Cab for Cutie again... yeah, he has a high voice, but his fingerpicking style on the electric guitar and Duran's often orchestral drumming make them original. You know how I know they're legit? Because they can perform a song that totally diverges from their basic style, like the sorta Smashing Pumpkins raver "The Name," and totally maintain their personality while doing it.

However... The Golden Boys are representative of a billion garage bands I saw last year that I totally misunderstood. I get garage music in theory, but you have to understand about me that I just don't pick up on how people are trying to be perceived. I keep seeing garage bands, not having any idea what they're supposed to be and writing about the instrumentation, and then realizing I'm stupid. Hey, if you're in a band that is about attitude, please let me know that when you ask me to come to see you. Unless you have so much attitude that even an autistic person can tell, like ELVIS or Pataphysics or A Giant Dog. I like to flatter myself thinking my witless reviews are useful to people in bands because, hey, now at least they know what would happen if a Vulcan came to their shows. Live long and prosper, Golden Boys.

Ambles Round Town

Wanted to make a few comments about the shows we went to Tuesday night... we tried to see Riders Against the Storm at Red 7, but they cancelled. Every few months I ask myself why we go to so few hip-hop shows, and then we try to go to one and when we show up half the names of the bands on the "playing tonight" list are crossed out. I guess that's why. We went to Beauty Bar to see what was up there. Something kind of cool, a rock band with a lot of really antic upbeat-striking guitars. Luther from Eagle Claw was there to fill me in: name of the band is Pink Sugar.

We went to Emo's. We'll Go Machete were letting 'em have it. I tend to side with musicians as opposed to writers, since unlike most writers (and like many musicians) I'm a poor verbal communicator. I know from long experience that musicians are very sensitive about comparisons. It is strange to have someone you don't know tell you that your band, which you work very hard on and have very firmly set ideas about, totally sounds exactly like some obscure act you've never heard of... or worse, a band you have heard and don't like. Which is why it's good that I sat in my den a few months ago and watched We'll Go's Paul's eyes light up when I put Automatic Midnight by Hot Snakes on the turntable. There's some proggy construction to We'll Go Machete, but it's pretty well hidden underneath all the bludgeoning. Their drummer is tremendous. The Half Mile Fox Fur guys were there rocking out; they're another band that's all about rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. Melody? Ha, melodies are for sissies.

I'm meeting up with STEREO IS A LIE later on this week to do a story... they've got a record coming out, you know. They're one of the first bands Anna and I saw in Austin, and I have always been impressed by the way they do the part dreamgaze-part modern rock thing with suitable loudness, good vocals, and writing that gives each song its own distinctive arrangement signatures. They're a good example of the vast differences in the way Anna and I perceive bands... she's just not super into the style, but I don't care at all about styles. The way I see it it's not my business to tell a band how they should choose to present themselves. As a critic, you have to take the band on its own merits -- OK, given what style they are, what do they do or not do that makes them unique from another bands in that genre? With STEREO IS A LIE it's principally the songs, although the use of two-and three-part singing sweetens things further.

It was a weird experience seeing them. It reminded me that almost all the time, I see bands that are pretty early on in their existence and made up of musicians learning as they go. I went to maybe... dunno, five out-of-town shows all last year, and the last two weren't bands exactly notorious for their polish (Pavement and Guided by Voices). It was a genuinely peculiar time watching a band that's a finished product, as SIAL is. Rather than adjusting my internal mix around looking for errors to point out I just kept finding more strengths. Their bass player has some strong rock moves, not flashy, but just super confident, something I always like to see since I'm nothing like that myself. After the show we met Stereo singer Glynn, who has been one of the biggest Bell Riots supporters since we started, and now we know why... he pulled down his shirt to show us his "Star Trek" tattoo. Musicians, even handsome ones with great voices and British accents, are geeks.

A pretty girl handed me an Art vs. Industry flyer while I was at the SIAL show. I noticed also they had a ton of skillfully arranged flyers out in front of Stubb's, where they play on Friday. And I got an e-mail from a PR fellow saying the band always mentions me as someone they want to write about them. What the heck? You don't need to hire a PR guy to get me to write about you. You never have. All it takes is an e-mail. I like to claim I have a perfect record when it comes to remembering to check out bands who write me and ask, but obviously I need to start taking notes instead of relying on memory because I totally spaced on Western Ghost House, who wrote me middle of last year. But I did go see them briefly this week, and I'm going to try and go see more of them Saturday, when they're playing at Red 7. Black Eyed Vermillion, the band of the guy from my job Gary I was talking about the other day is playing there too. With multiple Mastodon side projects.

Oh yeah, left a thought hanging there. Nothing wrong with PR. If you have money and you want to spend it that way, it shouldn't affect how people judge you. And there's a lot of kinds of PR short of the ritzy full-service packages another musician at work was telling me about yesterday: "Ten grand just to play ball, man!" I know a lot of people who do promotion for musicians out of the good of their heart. Andrew Stone's manager Harrison is just a guy with a little agent experience who saw Andrew at a show and was so blown away he offered to rep him. He does it out of belief. Zorch seem surrounded by pretty girls who have been drawn to spread the word by the sheer radicalness of their music (and their considerable charm). I've been trying to help my friends Squidbucket, but frankly I suck at it and that's why it's been on my mind a lot lately. I tried pretty hard to read all of the metal blogs and magazines they were interested in, figure out how to write each of them, make a pitch and construct a story... and I got shut down. 0 for 45 or something. Not a single e-mail returned. This is the reality we live in (and the end of my PR career, sorry, Jason). There's just so much static out there -- anybody can record and burn a CD and sent an e-mail to a blog -- that it takes clout just to get a band listened to. Musicians in Austin owe it to themselves to be aware of this state of affairs, and do their best to spread the word on bands they like that don't have the means.

I'm not anti-PR. It's a free country, I'm not trying to become a Marxist rock critic or something. I feel like as a local music writer balance has to be maintained: I've got to go out and look extra hard at all these bands that have no money because somewhere among them are great ones, and no one will ever know because no one is looking at them. I can still go see a band that's being promoted heavily and think objectively. I don't mean to crack on AvI in particular, I'm going to go see them soon and I'll write whatever I think. I'm just pointing this stuff out because while I know that local musicians all know the deal back to front, I don't think enough young local writers do. You know that Spoon song, "Who Makes Your Money?"

Why I Wore Panties to the Rock Show

So, we played a show. It was not so great. I knew not everything was going to go right, so I figured it would be smart to deflect criticism by doing something outrageous. In the middle of the set I stripped down to nothing but Anna's panties. That helped me to have a sense of humor about a performance so disastrous I nearly started crying afterwards and only pep talks with Robert from La Snacks and Dave from The Gary allowed me to turn around and view the whole thing as a humbling step in the road. I will never view a band being terrible for the same reason at a show quite the same way again. (Although I am going right back to ripping them however I feel like doing. One experiment with "gentle talk" got enough negative feedback to let me know it was a stupid idea. Thank you for writing in, people!) The tradeoff is, if I am going to be honest about what I think, I have to be open about my own flaws. And the show tonight was a difficult emotional experience for me. Before we even started playing I began to freak out, and the entire show all I could think about was the fact that I would have to write the whole truth about how miserably The Bell Riots were failing.

So, here's what happened: We forgot about equipment. I feel stupid admitting I allowed this to happen and as the leader of the band it's totally my responsibility. We got used to having plenty of time to set up at practices and we forgot that at a show everybody needs to get everything set up and ready as quickly as possible. This isn't automatic... it requires practice and planning. We were running around like chickens with our heads cut off during a sound check that seemed to me as if it lasted 200 years. Scott had to set up Anna's amp and his own, Mike couldn't get his keyboards set up and didn't have a flashlight, I had no idea what had become of the setlists. I started to melt down and panic as the sound guy waited... and waited... for us to be ready to play. Scott salvaged the situation by staying calm, keeping a positive attitude, and cutting me off and talking into the mic before I started totally losing it. Then I had to struggle through a whole set knowing we were doomed before we even started. I am really proud of Anna, Mike, and Scott for having good attitudes. I am really proud of myself, sort of... I played a deeply sucky show and even though I knew it, I sat there with a huge smile on my face and rocked out as hard as I possibly could. Wearing nothing but very tiny panties. So there's that. Also, the songs themselves sounded great. We made mistakes, but not atrocious ones, and nothing that was near as bad as just the endless sound of silence.That was what so heartbreaking: If you just cut out the long, horrible quiet stretched between songs, it would have been a solid show, for our sixth ever and first downtown. But it was not to be. We have to spend half our next practice just working out equipment assignments and drilling on setting up and breaking down.

Has this happened to any bands before, in the history of bands? Yeah, it happens all the time. I know it. I knew it and I should have known it was coming. I thought I could manage work, practice, promoting, writing, baking, and quality time with my cat and still play a pretty good show. But I screwed something up. During the set itself, it was excruciating. I don't think I'll ever forget the experience of sitting there drenched in flop sweat listening to the sound guy say, "Yeah, some bass would be great" and realizing that two songs later I was going to have to take my pants off. We were doing a "bedtime" theme -- Anna wore a nightie, Scott longjohns, Mike pajamas... and I was supposed to strip down, as a bit. It would have worked awesome if I wasn't completely miserable. But hey, people still said they liked the songs, and a few guys (that no one in the band seemed to be able to identify) danced and yelled supportive stuff the whole time.

We're so lucky to have friends who came, supported us and said nice things even in the wake of a show that had me thinking at one point during the middle of it that I was all done, I was quitting music for good. That's how bad it was. Right after we finished Anna and I went to Emo's to see if A Giant Dog were playing yet and I had to hold her hand to keep from crying. I sat down and had a long talk about Austin music with Robert La Snacks and drank three beers, which is three more beers than I usually have at a show. I talked to some people and at least heard that our stage presence was good, the lyrics were audible (we were going for that with intentionally muffled drums), and that we sounded like the record.

At the end of the night Dave of The Gary and Anna and I had a chat about how every band has to suffer through nightmare shows sometimes. I don't know if Dave came back from his band's other show at Red 7 because he saw me really falling apart during our set or or just to be polite, but either way, I really appreciated his support. And that of everybody else who came. Thank goodness I made donuts. And thanks especially to the sound guy... I was so freaked out at the start of our set, and he was super cool about it... he even told us "Hey, it's Free Week" on the way out. I was careful to tip him. I wish I could have afforded more.

It could have been worse. Scott felt the same way I did, we talked about it, by the time all four of us got back to the house where Anna and I live we had agreed to see the whole experience as a positive one and made plans to practice our gear-schlepping this weekend. And also, the show as a whole was a real success. The club never seemed empty, Half Mile Fox Fur was unreal, and I was reminded yet another time that if you choose to make your music for bigger reasons than selfish ones, even the most embarrassingly terrible show can be a wonderful time. Everybody who came to see us, especially the many who wisely walked out in the middle of our set, I'm grateful that you listened at all.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Learning Is Fun

Wow, I had an educational day. One of the guys at my work is a real drummer; I found out my first day he drums for Hank Williams III's metal project Assjack but I have been avoiding going up to him and peppering him with questions because, well, that's not my job description. During the day anyway. But today he overheard me nattering on about my blog (as I will do) and without even having read it he gave me three hugely important points of advice that I'm going to repeat here. In 2011, I hope to hold myself to them.

1. If you're going to give criticism, write "I feel" or "I think" or "the way I hear it." I am really stupid for doing a blog for this long and not figuring this out. Well, not stupid, but emotionally disabled. I write exactly as I think and as I speak. It doesn't occur to me when I'm writing to be more careful about what I say will be received. I read everything intellectually because my brain doesn't process feelings naturally, so to me there isn't that much of a difference between "the band's performance was awful" and "In my opinion, the band's performance was awful." I am very fond, perhaps too fond, of my particular writing style, and including lots of wussy qualifiers makes me think I've deliberately weakened my point. But, now that people are actually reading from time to time, it's not all about me any more. I need to have more empathy for bands and I hope people will call me on it whenever I forget about this... while remembering to respect my point of view as well.

2. Most people only read what's written about themselves or their friends. That's why #1 matters, and why I end up having the same argument with people who get their noses bent out of joint over something I've said every couple of weeks. I have been assuming that people are following along as I am, reading every post. Boy, I am incredibly naive in a lot of ways. At least I know how to recognize when I've been obstinate about something for no reason! For the first few days at work I wouldn't use the handcart to move books because... I dunno and three days later when my back, legs, and knees were killing me I realized that there might be a reason why every other person who worked there was using a handcart. I want people to read Big Western Flavor as a story, because that's what it is: Anna and I and our adventures in local music. If I say something particularly overblown and realize it later, I often correct myself and apologize in a later post. Of course that does no good to the many fans of the band I offended who will never read my stuff again and tell people I'm a jerk. But even if I did write something mean about your band, I hope you will give me a little bit more of a chance to convince you I'm not just out to help myself or my own band.

3. Style matters. This is the biggest problem I have as a music writer... everybody, especially nowadays, is conditioned to hear everything first in terms of what genre it is and then move outwards critically from there (if they ever move beyond mere comparisons). I don't hear that way. I prefer not to give comparisons at all until I've seen a band a few times, which means sometimes I see a band once, don't like them, and end up totally missing the point. Of course I understand that garage bands aren't supposed to be tight, and punk bands aren't supposed to have complicated progressive songwriting, and for some bands the thing that makes them great has nothing to do with anything they're doing musically. Although I know this intellectually, it is very, very hard for me to listen to a band and immediately figure out what "style" they are. I have to listen to and absorb all the parts first. I examine all the details before looking back at the whole, and that's the total opposite of most people. So... again, I owe some bands an apology. I wish more bands' fans would react to negative reviews the way Quiet Company's did... when I dismissed them, I got a number of really smart, civil comments and e-mails from people who cared about the band pointing out a bunch of things I had missed. I saw them again with more to listen for and liked them a lot better. If you feel I was unfair to you last year, please e-mail and tell me -- nicely -- and I'll come to another show, look you in the eye and shake your hand, and write another review.

And I'm going to add my own #4, because I talk about "supporting local music" all the time and seemingly people don't know what I mean. Here it goes. Supporting local music does not mean writing show previews for the Austinist that include factual mistakes that make it clear you have never seen the band in question. It doesn't mean telling somebody you love their record when you don't because they have a trust fund and if you kiss their ass they might use their parents' money to press your seven-inch. It means going to shows. That's it. Go to local shows. Not just Free Week, all year. If you're in a band and you don't have infinite cash resources, pretty much your only chance of building an audience is going out to kajillions of shows and making lots and lots of friends, especially friends in other bands. If you're playing in an Austin band and you don't see at least two or three local shows a month that your band isn't included in, shame on you.

OK, finally, last night at the U.S. Art Authority, Anna and I checked out She Sir and Hidden Ritual. She Sir we'd seen once before at Emo's, and I'm glad I saw them a second time because it really drove the point home about what people keep telling me about the huge differences in sound from one Austin venue to the next. At Emo's, which has a great, powerful, PA, what stuck out most about She Sir to me was their vocals, not quite harmonious in the traditional sense but using two different voices in an arresting way. Their drummer was fantastic both shows. But at the USAA, perhaps in part because I was standing much nearer the stage, also probably because the PA sucked and the vocals couldn't be heard, all I could fixate on was the way one, both, or all three guitarists (they don't have a bass player, just two guitarists who trade off faking it on bass) seemed to be strumming up and down in the same pattern on every song. I would have liked to see more moments like the set highlight where they suddenly switched from vocalist to the other right as a dramatic change kicked in. I really love bands with multiple lead vocalists.

Anna didn't really pay attention the last time we saw She Sir... she is prejudiced against four-dude bands, but is working on it. She really quite liked them at this show, with the vocals, the drums, and the key sounds among the things she mentioned as digging. I kept trying to make myself listen for their keyboards, since that was a new addition from the Emo's show, and although there were a few sounds and rhythms that came from that direction that were interesting, I was preoccupied the entire time waiting to see something besides choppa-choppa-choppa tambourine guitar playing. Is it totally out of bounds to play the guitar that way? Of course not, but if it you do it, something else has to play off of it. As I heard it last night, She Sir only occasionally got the bass playing splitting the difference between drums and guitar. That Austin tragically lacks for bass players is common knowledge. Am I ever tempted to get the instrument I have played for 20 years out again and "go for it?" No. One look at the Austin Craigslist Musicians section is all it takes to remind me that I really like being in a no-pressure, having-fun-and-making-friends band with Anna C. Even if I am the worst rock and roll drummer since Meg White.

Hidden Ritual were a good band to catch for the first time last night, as my mind was buzzing about ways to keep giving my honest opinions while perhaps not needlessly making so many enemies. I don't want you to get an inflated opinion of their quality because I'm in a lenient mood -- I thought more than half of their songs were drab, and if it were up to me I'd flip the ratio of slow songs to fast completely. During the slow ones I started wondering if the enthusiastic applause I'd given them after their first song was too generous. But they gave me a lot of things to notice besides their mistakes. They used shaker a lot, which I always love... it's really hard for somebody not to dance while playing the shaker, and when one comes in and out over a drumbeat, it's a whole different layer to an arrangement that throws all the other parts to new places. The errors I heard by their drummer and keyboardist were totally overshadowed by their good part choices. The drummer used an unusual setup that had hand percussion instruments instead of big toms and (I think) a cajon instead of a kick drum. The guitar player shows a lot of awareness in the many different sounds you can make on the instrument even without years of instruction. I never heard anything in the least flashy, but I never started getting impatient waiting for something different to happen on guitar like I did with She Sir. The best thing about Hidden Ritual's set was that first song, which was an extended number with long building sections that, while keeping the same basic underlying structure, kept escalating the tension with new details from the guitar or keyboard. At the very end they juiced up the tempo suddenly and after all the gradual building it was a nice gust of wind in the face. They seemed more comfortable doing the long, slow drawn-out thing. My suggestion would be to try tightening up the ballads -- just cutting out a lot of repetition and making them short and sweet -- so they contrast more against the longer-form rockers. Almost forgot, their bass player is terrific,  and I could hear others in the audience pointing out the same thing. He really helps the band out when it comes to those long builds. His parts are well worth hearing for longer stretches. And I feel I should reserve judgement on the singing, which was not quite loud enough.

Oh, man, this is going to be hard. I really hate putting lots of "I" statements all over the place in my writing. Obviously I'm the one writing, who else would it be? I feel already like my points are being obscured. Oh well. It's a new year, time to be a grown-up and act with some consciousness about how the rest of the world sees me. (Update: Nah, I was wrong. No one cares what I think really and the few people who do think "gentle talk" is the enemy of clear communication. That resolution went by the board fast; it's good I am getting the feedback I need as I continue to evolve the blog.)

Speaking of seeing me... if you want to see Anna and I wearing really slutty outfits while eating donuts (you can write a nasty review if you want, even one without "I" statements), Wednesday at Barbarella we have a show.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Twist My Arm

I hate end-of-year Top 10 lists. They suck. They're always the same, they're just everybody patting themselves on the back once again and agreeing that indeed they all have wonderful taste and you can tell because they all have the same opinions and read the same blogs. Do Beach House and Sleigh Bells have ANY chance of lasting careers? Geez. I hate the state of "indie" music culture so much nowadays that I've completely stopped listening to it, risking missing out on occasional stuff that's worthy of the hype (Grizzly Bear) so I can save myself the abject misery of listening to the stuff that isn't (FUCK the Arcade Fire).

Anyway, I did do a top-ten list quickly because John Waycuilis of Austin Radar asked me for one and I wanted to try and rig it to get some local bands on the charts. I guess I can't mention it in passing and not replicate it in full. Here is the list exactly as I sent it to John, with no comments.

1. Zorch- demo
2. The Gary- Logan
3. The Cocker Spaniels- Sometimes You've Got to Fight to Get a Bit of Peace
4. Black Keys- Brothers
5. For Hours and Ours- On a Weekend (12" EP)
6. Markov- This Quiet
7. White Rhino- Heroin Thunder (EP)
8. Rich Restaino & The Obits- We're In This Thing Together
9. Megafauna- Larger Than Human
10. Spoon- Transference

Free City, Part Three

There's an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where, having just turned eighteen, Buffy has to pass a test from the Watchers' Council where she is injected with a chemical that takes away her super strength and speed. At work yesterday, I couldn't help thinking about that episode, "Helpless." I kept carrying stuff I was supposed to stock halfway across the floor and then realizing I was walking in completely the wrong direction, or sticking a whole roll of the wrong labels onto a stack of textbooks. The guys I work with, seemingly all of whom are musicians or photographers or graphic designers or creative people of some kind, were really forgiving about this. Seems like I'm not as different from everybody else as I like to think. Especially after getting a total of maybe four hours' sleep in five days.

All right, I'm well-rested now, and my superpowers are back. Let's do some more shows.

Beauty Bar: La Snacks, Black Gum, Boy + Kite, Grandmas Ghost
Beerland: OBN III's, Love Collector, Teenage News
Emo's inside: Yellow Fever, Missions, Spells, Silent Diane
Emo's outside: Ringo Deathstarr, The Carrots, The Ugly Beats, The Hi-Tones
Mohawk: T Bird and the Breaks, East Cameron Folkcore, Bridge Farmers, Maneja Beto, Guns of Navarone, Money Chica, Jacob Jones
Parish: White Rhino, Smoke & Feathers, Devil in the Drink, Ancient Wisdom
Red 7 inside: Woodgrain, Shitty Carwash, Betarhythm, Markov, (Devo Tribute) Big Mess, Pink Sugar
Scoot Inn: The Creamers, Expensive Shit, Air Traffic Controllers
Stubb's: The Long Tangles
U.S. Art Authority: Amasa*Gana, Venison Whirled, How I Quit Crack, Smokey Emery

Who would have thought the highlight of the "Local Music Is Sexy" show at Mohawk right before FFFF would be four guys (and a rotating tree branch) playing one note for twenty minutes? I didn't have any money for beer that night, like always, and by committing and concentrating on Amasa*Gana, I was able to attain a natural change in consciousness that was startling... and a total validation of the band's musical legitimacy. By watching their movements very, very closely, I was slowly trying to work out how and why the players were making minute adjustments to the mixers into which they ran all different kinds of sound sources... keys, guitars, violin. A lot of the time they didn't even play the instruments in the traditional sense: a guitar will make a little buzzing sound on its own when it's plugged in, so at times two guys in the band would be sitting there with guitars on their laps that they weren't strumming, they were playing the sound it was making on its own with their sound gear. That's really creative! By the end of the performance my frame of reference had changed, instead of hearing the band play I perceived I was listening to them listen. Fascinating.

With their hearts in DC, their feet in San Diego, and their actual bodies in Austin, Markov played the same show but they got a totally opposite reaction from me: I rocked out and banged my head so hard I was a little sore the whole weekend. Nobody at the whole festival proper got me moving more (except Big Freedia). After the set Markov's guitarist Andrew came to run out and give me a CD copy of This Quiet, which totally is on my 2010 top ten list. He didn't recognize me, although I had reviewed the record. People: If the sight of somebody rocking out in the audience happens to Markov so infrequently that the band members run to give the one person who does a free record, something is desperately wrong with Austin music fans. This band kicks ass. Put your black-rimmed glasses in your pocket and get stupid.

Update: Wow, news of more shows just keeps streaming in. Can't miss the chance to praise my friends in La Snacks. Robert Segovia is my favorite frontman in town, with his provocative stage banter, patented rock moves (most involve drinking beer in some way or another), warped convictions, and original vocal approach and lyrics. The band careens around behind him delightfully, and their rock smarts keep each song its own thing. I know Robert really, really hates his band being compared to Pavement (he never loved 'em) so I'm going to do it here just to tweak him.

Didn't I just say that I needed to see White Rhino somewhere with better sound? Parish tonight. Hmm. That could work.

I still haven't seen Guns of Navarone play yet and shame on me. Do you know how hard it is to play alt-country in Austin? Talk about a saturated market. I've heard so many bands in exactly this same style and the great songwriting on the Guns of Navarone demo sticks out in my memory like a power forward in a crowd of jockeys. I haven't listened to it in a few months and yet just hearing their name makes me start singing to myself: "They grow 'em COLD up there."

The Long Tangles are a really cute couple who have a lot in common with Anna and me: drummer Earl has been in bands a long time, keyboardist Coco is just getting started. By being adorable married people who play drum-keys pop, they're just begging to be compared to Mates of State. I will support them because every day I live with the challenge of being in a relationship with a person I'm also in a band with. Man, Anna is so awesome. You think it's easy being the girlfriend of a guy who sees everything in terms of how he can criticize it? I love you, Anna! Fuck that guy who shoved you at Emo's.

However.... I just flat-out don't like Yellow Fever. To me they are cool, but not good. Their music and their vocals are jabby, atonal, and unpleasant to listen to for me. Anna still has a little bit of cognitive dissidence going between her intellectual opinion and her emotional connection to our mutual heroine Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), who wrote about Yellow Fever on her old music blog before she welcomely quit to start Wild Flag. Yellow Fever are opening for Wild Flag on some tour dates, so I don't think a dissenting opinion from the likes of me is going to slow them down much.

I need to hear it from someone I trust that The Carrots have gotten their vocal harmonies together before I ever go see them again. Harmonies are really hard to do, and if I made a rule about only seeing bands who were perfect at them I could never see anybody except the Eagles (and maybe Band of Heathens) again. Especially my own band; we want to do four-part harmonies but our ambitions wildly exceed our experience. But The Carrots, though, for them harmony is the whole sales pitch, and when last I saw them I was not sold.

Bridge Farmers are one of those rare bands whose appeal I understood immediately, despite not liking them very much myself. If you're the sort of person who thinks the louder a drummer is, the better they are, you will love them. Good singer, too. I think the lack of quiet parts for contrast makes them rote, but super loud roaring psychedelia (Blue Cheer?) isn't exactly a field noted for its studied songwriting. They sound absolutely nothing like STEREO IS A LIE but they do have one thing in common... having talented singers who can project over high volume guitars and drums and be heard. That really helps. I have it out for singers, usually... it's because when I sing, it sounds in my head like Alex Chilton crossed with Mac McCaughan but apparently it sounds to other people like Fred Schneider crossed with Michael Gira. Seriously, I had NO IDEA I had a bass voice for like my first 10 years of playing in bands. It's hard to hear yourself objectively.

I hope nobody is getting the impression I only like dude-rock. I've given props to a bunch of good bands with female musicians lately... Ringo Deathstarr, The Creamers, Bike Problems, Blue Kabuki. I just don't particularly feel the need to point it out every time I see a band that has a girl in it. And I also feel like it's really important to hold females to the exact same standards I do guys. I'm really lucky to have Anna around for balance, although the more time she has spent drilling her guitar parts, promoting shows, and suffering through seven-hour band practices, the more she has come around to my side. Lazy musicians suck.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Now It's Here, Now It's Gone

The Gary, Shells, Blue Kabuki
Beerland, 1/2

I first saw Blue Kabuki at the Midgetmen's Neil Young tribute night. By the way they handled their business on "Hey Hey My My," I knew I needed to see a set of their original stuff as soon as I could. Now I need to go and see a full set, because Anna and I got there a bit late tonight. I saw enough to know that they're the real deal. Super-loud kick drumming locks in with the big strokes on a meanly downtuned guitar. I love bass players. I think almost any band without one could use one. But Blue Kabuki have it down so tight that they pull the duo thing off. The way the drummer makes up for the leftover space with pure force reminds me of Local H, a great Chicago band who deserved to be more than a one-hit wonder.

I've seen Shells a few times before, but never anywhere with good sound. Hearing them clearly and well-mixed pushed my estimation of them up a few notches. I thought they were good before; now I think they're damn good. It's funny how setlist choices can change the way you enter and follow the progress in a set. I've always read Shells as a blues-influenced band but last night at Cheer Up Charlies bassist Mike told me they listened to a lot of country too. They opened their set tonight with their most overtly shufflin' tune, city names in the lyics and everything, and it made me surprised their country jones never became obvious to me before. That's another good reason bands should try and write songs in multiple styles -- an audience can receive and warm to you in an entirely different way if you begin with different-styled openers each time. Boy, they're a good live band. After two years together they should probably have some stage tuners, though. The major thing about them I would change if it were up to me would be song lengths. Ryan Lentell's guitar solos are great and never too long, which you seldom see with players this good. He has a way of bending a single note in just that soulful wrong-but-right timing that makes me go "Woo!" before I even think about it. But frequently they intro a song with an instrumental that's the same as the verse and pull it out a little longer than necessary. They could start more songs going right into the verse, or use two forms instead of four. And more of a suggestion than a criticism: Mike gave me some nice comments about my writing that really picked me up in a big way the other night. He's a charmer. I think he should do the talking in between songs, if it needs to be done. It would fit the fire and ice balance he and Ryan have. Mike rocks out, hard, throwing his whole body about and going to his knees or over the drums if that's what the intensity of the moment calls for. Ryan communicates so effectively with his guitar that it doesn't matter that he doesn't dance a ton or have any knack for stage patter.

We ran over to see Western Ghost House at Emo's, but only in time for their last song. However: It was a knockout. It was good enough that I not only thought of several things I wanted to say about it, but I've resolved to see a full show of theirs as soon as I possibly can. Here's what they did: As I walked in, they were playing a very homey, very well-worn chord progression. They were tight, and the singer immediately impressed me (which is rare because I don't particularly listen for or have a particular affinity for singers). But just as I was about to write their songwriting off, KABLAM it went in a totally different rhythmic direction, the singer started to really grow on me, the drums handled the change completely on point and continued to rock out, the lead guitar went somewhere way different than he was when I came in. And then the song had another change where the same thing happened again. Well, hell yeah. I'm not going to try and describe their sound having only heard one song live, but... yeah, go see them.

I wish Emo's sound guys didn't try to make every drummer sound like "When the Levee Breaks." Going right from Beerland to Emo's, the contrast was extreme. Although by the same token drummers should know how to express their wishes to the sound guy if a mighty, reverberating, kick-centric arena sound isn't right for their playing style or their band.

Back to Beerland for The Gary. Every time I listen to them, even, let alone see them, I fall in love with them more and more. I've always appreciated Dave Norwood's singing in an academic sense: from the first I loved the way his low voice worked in tandem with his unique bass playing, and I knew his lyrics were really special. But I'm different from most music fans in that I really concentrate on singing last of all when I listen to anything. I go drums, guitar, bass, vocals in that order. I mostly write about instrumental performance because I think most people barely give that stuff any consideration at all, and I hate being like everybody else. But I listen to The Gary's records a lot. And also Jared from the Sour Notes told me something after that Neil Young show that totally made me go back and listen to them some more just purely focusing on the vocals. Jared said they "won" the night (which had a whole bunch of local bands giving their own spin on NY compositions) and what stood out to him was Dave's passion belting out the lyrics (which he had totally just learned and was reading off a sheet of paper). Could he sing the phone book and make it poignant? Totally, if he found a way to invest it with the joyful twilight desperation of The Gary's music and his own lyrics. Anna says they sound like a midlife crisis, but I don't think they're quite as bleak or dark as they would seem if you took every word literally. Their songs are often about people giving up on going nowhere. But their music itself is a celebration of the fact, one shot through with the intensity of a terminal illness, that for these guys it's getting dark but it's not dark yet. The fact that they can do this now but can't do it forever inspires them, and it's beautiful.