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Playback: Fit To Perform

Divine Fits debut at Beerland, Willie hops the Railroad, and Ume gets a call from Perry Farrell.

By Kevin Curtin, Fri., Aug. 3, 2012

Sam Brown, Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel, and Alex Fischel kick back in Austin.
Sam Brown, Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel, and Alex Fischel kick back in Austin.
Photo by John Anderson

"We've been playing together since October, but we've never done a show, so that feels weird," noted Britt Daniel at a local rehearsal space on Sunday. "It's something about doing shows that's the most fun, immediate part of being in a band. We haven't gotten to do that part yet. We've been doing the hard stuff of writing, recording, and signing papers." The Spoon frontman's new project, Divine Fits, was preparing for a string of shows, so I asked former Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs member Dan Boeckner how their upcoming album would come off live. "I always think about that. When we were writing and singing these songs, I was mentally putting myself in a small room packed full of people." On Tuesday, as the Hot Skull, the Fits played an unannounced 12-song set at the Continental Club, one night before their highly publicized Beerland performance. On why they chose such a small venue for the group's first tour date, Daniel was humble: "Well, we haven't put out our record yet – we didn't know how many people we're going to show up." About the venue, however, he was effusive. "Beerland is the quintessential great, sweaty, Austin summertime club. It seemed like it made the most sense for playing an intimate show. We wanted to make this show as fun as it could be for everybody – the audience as well as us." For my review of the show, log onto the Earache! Music blog, austinchronicle.com/blogs/music.

Skinny's Last Breath

The Marcums at Skinny's in February
The Marcums at Skinny's in February
Photo by John Anderson

Brad and Maggie Marcum sat cross-legged on the floor between the church pews and stage on Saturday as locals Some Say Leland plucked their heart strings. When the emotionally stirring set came to an end, patrons gave the couple consolatory hugs and thanked them for their efforts. This was it for Skinny's Ballroom, the live music venue they started just a year and a half ago. Despite the beautiful stage, crystal clear sound, and overall enthusiasm the Marcums show toward local music, the Downtown club just couldn't turn a profit. Still, fans and regulars said they loved Skinny's for its eclecticism and vibe. Scan Hopper opened its midnight set with a passage from Europe's "The Final Countdown." "It meant everything," said frontman Scott A. Hopkins, of playing Skinny's wake. "We played here more than anywhere else. It was a second home for us." The Marcums say they're out of the club business, but might consider putting on concerts in a nonprofit capacity.

Braindead USA

On Braindead USA, the new record by local firestarters Dikes of Holland, wrist-breaking chord progressions and sneering vocals meet in an indomitable mix of garage punk that sounds equally powerful coming through a cassette-tape adapter plugged into a bad car stereo as it does on headphones. Trust me, I've tested it. The two-minute songs have a Ramones-like consistency of speed and plain-spoken melody that make the album a short and intense joy ride. I recommend streaming it for free on the Dikes' Bandcamp page to bone up on the new songs before they ignite the Spider House 29th St. Ballroom on Saturday with a send-off show for a 31-date national tour that will unite them with fellow Austinite Black Joe Lewis for the last week. In a recent interview with Chronicle scribe Chase Hoffberger, spark plug singer Liz Herrera pondered the upcoming tour. "I'm just glad I don't have to go to work and that I get to live a life that I don't normally get to. People just work their job all fucking year long and have a week or two of vacation. We get more of that."

Big Willie Express

Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert, off the rails in Austin, 2011
Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert, off the rails in Austin, 2011
Photo by John Anderson

Willie Nelson's hopping aboard the second edition of the Railroad Revival Tour. The rolling roadshow where performers travel in antique train cars and play massive outdoor shows next to the rails will feature the Red Headed Stranger along with Band of Horses, country savior Jamey Johnson, and actor/musico John C. Reilly. "Growing up in Texas, if you're thinking of a train song, you're probably thinking of Willie Nelson," says tour founder Dave Conway of Dripping Springs. A staple of Americana imagery, trains have a symbolic value that represents more than steel and steam. "I like the idea of travel as an experience, not just going from point A to point B," says Conway. "The moments shared in between are special. You bring these artists together and they get to socialize and get creative together and it drives this amazing collaboration between the artists." Big Easy Express, a film documenting last year's trek with Old Crow Medicine Show, Mumford & Sons, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, captures the performers spontaneously jamming in the passenger cars between shows. Every concert on that tour sold out, but none faster than Austin's Eastside stop. Sadly, logistics made it impossible to repeat, so there will be no Austin show this year. Conway says in order to park the tour's 16-car caravan, the event space needs about 2,000 feet of track that isn't on a main line and it doesn't block freight traffic. Austin can't accommodate that, so last year they had to park off-site and fake it by dragging a couple of erroneous train cars in for effect. In addition to that, he says the October tour would fall too close to other previously scheduled Nelson shows in the Austin area. The trains will instead be stopping in Conway's hometown of Spring, 20 minutes north of Houston. Conway has scouted out a spot in Bastrop and promises that the next installment of the Railroad Revival Tour will stop there.

Half Notes

› "Some things are shocking," says Ume's Lauren Larson, who was outside a Jacksonville, Fla., club eating saltines next to a Dumpster when her phone rang. "This is Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction and Lollapalooza," said the voice on the other line. "I discovered your band Ume on Red Bull Soundstage and really loved it. Would you like to open for us at our Lollapalooza afterparty?" Hands shaking, she managed, "Yes, yes – we'd be honored. Thank you!" On Saturday, the local rock trio plays a sold-out aftershow at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom with Jane's Addiction and Franz Ferdinand. Lauren's husband, Ume bassist Eric Larson, adds that Jane's Addiction was likely the first heavy band he listened to. "To get a call from Perry Farrell saying he enjoys our music and wants to play with us is a real honor," he enthuses.

› Last week, the Austin American-Statesman reported that producers of the Austin City Limits Music Festival are hoping to double up for consecutive weekends as early as next year. According to the report, C3 Presents offered to increase its already generous donations to the Austin Parks Department, and the decision will be determined by a City Council vote. The planned dates for 2013 are Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13. The expansion reflects the high demand for the local festival, which typically sells out of passes in mere hours.

UTOPiA Fest is throwing a pre-party Friday at its Onion Creek Productions offices, 2708 S. Lamar #400, 7-9pm. They'll be giving away two passes to their fourth annual BYOB music and camping fest Sept. 28-30 in Utopia. The fiesta features local indie-folk outfit Sour Bridges, while the festival itself boasts Dr. Dog, White Denim, Ben Kweller, and Bomba Estéreo.

› Can't get enough Playback? Follow its newly minted Twitter account, @Playback_Austin. I'll be sharing concert photos, recommending bands, and expressing my extremist opinions about music.

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