Playback: Conjunto Los Pinkys
Jim Morrison plays Conjunto (Los Pinkys) at a Full Service Circus and other strange days
The best Tex-Mex in town isn't sold in a restaurant. It's served up every Sunday at the White Horse, where a multigenerational group of Eastside veterans – Conjunto Los Pinkys – brings together country-fried hipsters and Mexican old-timers for dance music that's distinctly Austin.
"Its roots are Mexican of course, but with the flavor we do, people take a lot of pride that it's Texan music," explains bajo quinto player Bradley Jaye Williams, who founded the band in the early Nineties after migrating from California. "When you listen to conjunto long enough, you can tell a Mexican player from a Texas player, or even a valley player from a San Antonio player."
You certainly can't sound more "Austin" than Chencho Flores, who played his first show on Sixth Street in 1947. Fellow Pinkys accordion player/vocalist Isidro Samilpa wasn't far behind. Back then, if his band got $10 for a performance that was good money. When asked how else Austin's changed in his eight-decade career, Flores offers a practical example: "Back in those days, you could stop at a red light with a cop next to you, pick up your beer and drink it, and then wave bye. It's not like that now."
Earlier this month, Conjunto Los Pinkys tracked a load of songs at Jim Eno's Public Hi-Fi studio. During a break in the session, Vicente Alonzo and Samilpa remained to duet on some old songs. Alonzo's grandson, bassist Javier Cruz, pointed to the elder statesmen at work. "That's history right there."
Williams met most of his bandmates a couple of decades ago around the corner from the White Horse at the old Esquina Lounge.
"That was the place to go to see conjunto music on the Eastside," remembers Williams of the shuttered hangout. "You could pull up your vehicle, order a drink from your front seat, and just listen to the music."
Those were the days, but so's today if you ask Williams.
"There's something special going on too, more than just a good dance." He smiles, thinking about his White Horse gig. "It's an East Austin stage open to all the musicians who can still play."
One of those players, Flores, pipes up: "There's a lot of old people there too," he laughs. "They still remember me in my prime."
Full Service Circus
If not the hardest working band in Austin, Full Service at least demonstrates a most intimate relationship with their fans. Known for their 2008 takeover tour, in which they staged parking lot performances at every date of a 311 and Snoop Dogg trek until the former invited them on as support, the local quartet has continued taking audience engagement to the extreme by allowing fans to book personal shows, streaming their practices online, and even dressing a crowd of 2,000 in homemade Full Service headbands. This weekend, the heavy sunshine rockers outdo themselves with the Full Service Circus, a weekendlong festival bringing their peripheral followers to Austin.
"Part of the pitch for this circus is that everyone already wants to go to Austin," explains guitarist-vocalist Bonesaw Kepner. "So we're going to be ambassadors and take them to all our favorite spots, showing them the best of Austin." Round the clock activities include trips to Barton Springs, team sports with the band, backyard acoustic performances, shopping on South Congress, constant pizza parties, and a Friday night show at Antone's. They've also turned their South Austin estate into a circus and fan headquarters.
Such interactivity works, too. After a pair of puppet show telethons streamed online, the locals sold 230 festival passes to out-of-towners, a remarkable feat for an unsigned band. Aside from entertaining loyal die-hards, the Circus serves as a showcase for an act that feels like it's been dismissed because of touring with "white boy reggae bands."
"We've matured," affirms Kepner. "This is a way to reintroduce the band as it is now and make us fresh again."
When the Music's Over
Phoning in from a stop on his book tour, Doors drummer John Densmore recalled Jim Morrison losing his shit when the band licensed a song to a television commercial. "He was so angry about 'Come on Buick, light my fire.' He said, 'Oh great, well, I'll just smash that car on television with a sledgehammer!' And he didn't even write 'Light My Fire'! He only wrote one line – 'Our love becomes a funeral pyre.' The rest of it is Robby [Krieger]'s lyrics. He cared about the whole catalog and I love him for that." Densmore's second book, The Doors: Unhinged, details his legal battles against Krieger and Ray Manzarek, who aimed to commercialize Doors' songs and used the band name and Morrison's likeness for their Doors of the 21st Century performances. "Jim was so adamantly against commercials and he's my ancestor now, so I need to honor that," stresses the 68-year-old L.A. native. While he felt confident during the trial because he believed in the mission, the conflict was an "incredible emotional strain." This book, coming five years after Densmore's court victory, might actually help wash away some bad blood between him and his bandmates. "I sent them the last chapter of this book to make sure they knew how much I love them because we created something so much bigger than us in a garage and they're my musical brothers." Densmore signs his book at Waterloo Records on Tuesday, May 7, 7pm.
› David Wingo's résumé as a film score composer, including new Jeff Nichols film Mud (see "Clear as 'Mud'"), for which he recorded with Lucero, and the soundtrack for upcoming David Gordon Green comedy Prince Avalanche, a collaboration with Explosions in the Sky, can't yet dwarf his achievements as a songwriter – even though he considers the former a career and latter "What I do for fun." Ghosts Go Blind, the musically dense third album from his Ola Podrida project, spins a nostalgic work of damaged serenity, simple in form and complicated in theme, with reflective, detail-oriented songwriting. It's also phenomenal midlife crisis music. "I recently realized, 'Oh shit. I'm old.' Everyone's getting married and having babies and I thought I was still 25," laughs Wingo over coffee. "A theme on this album is that struggle of remaining in the perpetual irresponsibility of youth." Pick up a copy of Ghosts Go Blind at Ola Podrida's show with Trail of Dead and American Sharks at the Belmont on Saturday.
› The Austin City Limits Music Festival's 2013 lineup remains secret until next Tuesday, but no one told Matthew Bellamy who, during a Canadian Radio interview last week, let it slip that his Grammy-winning rock band Muse would be playing the local fest. ACL hits twice this year, Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13. Tickets for both weekends go on sale May 7.
› Austin Psych Fest 2013 (see "Live Shot") brought in 3,300 paying fans to the idyllic Carson Creek Ranch, compared to last year's 1,900 at Emo's East and Beauty Ballroom. The crowd peaked at 4,000, likely during the performance by hosts the Black Angels, who pulled the festival's largest crowd on Sunday night.