Off the Record
Local booker Max Dropout was hired on the spot at Beerland after breaking up a fight at a Riverboat Gamblers show. Five years later, Dropout debuts his own garage-punk festival, Ground Zero Texas, beginning tonight (Thursday) with a ceremonial Champagne toast at Sound on Sound Records, hosted by Oakland's Nobunny, and carrying over to Beerland for the remainder of the weekend (see Music Listings for a full lineup and interview with Saturday's headliner, Pissed Jeans). One obvious highlight is the reunion of Memphis' underground heroes Bad Times. "The last time they played it was to open for the Pagans at the Blackout Festival in Chicago," enthuses Dropout. "That's what we're trying to pick up the slack on; there won't be much time for sleep." The Spits, Tunnel of Love, the Hex Dispensers, and Cheap Time amp up at the Skatepark of Austin Friday afternoon, while Denton's the Wax Museums and surf punks Bleach Boys, along with a slew of special guests, are scheduled to appear at afterparties at undisclosed locations. "This isn't about the resurgence of a sound or style," Dropout concludes. "When you walk through that door this weekend, expect the bands to be harsh, unapologetic, and confrontational."
The Kids Are Alright
Most high school groups never leave their parents garage, but the Steps isn't your average teenage buzz band. The local fourpiece and Austin City Limits Festival '07 veterans drive a hard line between the Strokes and Kings of Leon and recently returned from a five-stop European tour to push its debut single, "Outlaw," on hip imprint Young and Lost Club. "We were detained in customs for seven hours to acquire temporary work visas," recalls modest 19-year-old singer and guitarist William Thompson. The group is currently working on an LP with local producer Frenchie Smith, who predicts, "In a year, this group will be one Austin will be proud to call its own." The Steps' stairway leads to Antone's on Saturday for local headliner Alpha Rev's EP-release party.
Like every great rockabilly act of the 1950s, the Black's David Longoria has his own signature move: the shoulder shake. Saturday night at the Hole in the Wall, the local quartet shimmied through its new vinyl-only Donna EP, climaxing with the jailhouse bop of "Cellblock."
The Late Show with David Letterman
While in town for a Habitat for Humanity project, David Letterman booked his own Late Show at Antone's last Saturday night with bandleader Paul Shaffer alongside Asleep at the Wheel. Musical guests included Carolyn Wonderland, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, whose version of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood" was, in the words of host Susan Antone, "truly something else." "We've done the Letterman show a couple of times, and this past summer when we were up in Wyoming, Paul came in and sat in with us for a few hours," confides the Wheel's Ray Benson. "He knows the musicality and versatility of our band." The following day Shaffer joined the country institution in the studio to help put the finishing touches on their untitled Western swing collaboration with Willie Nelson, which will feature interpretations of Milton Brown and Bob Wills, among others. "It was an idea that Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records had about 30 years ago," Benson says. "It's about time for it to happen."
Reunions are notoriously hit or miss, but after a scorching, sold-out show last March at Stubb's and a solid new album, Beyond (Fat Possum), it's safe to say that Dinosaur Jr. more than lives up to the legacy it left behind after 1988's Bug. "There's a lot of bad music these days; maybe we just sound better in comparison," posits indie rock guitar god J Mascis. "It had been so long that even I had forgotten how great Mission of Burma was live. Seeing them was kind of inspiring for us." Judge for yourself Friday as the original trio hits Emo's with Awesome Color and Austin's Grand Champeen. For those looking to start their sludge feast early, improv instrumentalists Tia Carrera smokes out Room 710 for a free, Chanukah-themed happy hour. For the rest of the interview with Mascis, see austinchronicle.com/earache.
Trying to Never Catch Up
Now that the rest of the world has had a chance to catch up with What Made Milwaukee Famous, the Austin-based indie pop outfit is putting the finishing touches on its highly anticipated sophomore effort, What Doesn't Kill Us. "We've been working the first record for six years now, and we're not getting any younger," says singer Michael Kingcaid. Produced by Chris Michaels of Furry Things at Cacophony Recorders and due March 4 on Barsuk, the new album is as versatile as it is emotionally heavy, while the bouncy, horn-laden "Sultan" is the catchiest single since Spoon's "The Underdog." "We're right on the cusp of where we want to be," Kincaid surmises. Expect to hear new tunes on Thursday when WMMF lights up Emo's with Silversun Pickups, Lemurs, and some dude named Britt Daniel.
Blues before Sunrise
Following tours with Charlie Musselwhite and Marcia Ball, local bluesman Seth Walker (right) is finally getting his shot on the national level. Hyena Records, the Nashville label home to Dale Watson and James Blood Ulmer, reissued Walker's self-titled third LP last month. "This business is such a long process that you have to enjoy it along the way," he says. "That's what Musselwhite taught me, to be patient and allow the rest to follow." Walker stops off at the Saxon Pub on Saturday before heading to Florida for a string of dates with Johnny Winter.
• After negotiations with the city of Philadelphia fell through, C3 Presents announced last week that the Vineland Music Festival will take place Aug. 8-10 – the weekend after Lollapalooza – on a private, 500-acre farm in Vineland, N.J., capable of hosting upward of 80,000 people. The destination event, which will feature on-site camping, will be produced in partnership with Festival Republic, Melvin Benn's UK promotion company, an affiliate of Live Nation that's responsible for the Glastonbury, Leeds, and Reading festivals.
• Gorch Fock guitarist Kevin Stack is the latest chef to strap on an apron for Central Market's Austin Music on the Menu series. The noise rocker will whip up some bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with Gorgonzola and a couple of J.J. Cale and Grateful Dead tunes on Friday with help from fellow seafarer Win Wallace.
• In the tradition of CB4, Blues Brothers, and Spinal Tap, the biopic band Dewey Cox & the Hard Walkers, led by actor John C. Reilly of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, brings its spoof Americana soundtrack to life at Stubb's on Friday.
• Chad Butler, better known as Pimp C, one-half of the notorious UGK, responsible for putting Houston hip-hop on the map, was found dead Tuesday morning in a hotel room in Los Angeles. Cause of death has yet not been determined. He was 33.