Playback: A Weekend on the Crust

Cruising Austin's Eastside with the Gospel Truth, Chumps, and Stza

Chumps lead singer Sean McGowan gets his last licks, 6.14.03.
Chumps lead singer Sean McGowan gets his last licks, 6.14.03. (by Kevin Curtin)

I didn’t cross the highway into Downtown all weekend, missing the opportunity to hear tough-guy bikers rev their fancy custom motorcycles on Sixth Street or ogle at the leather-skinned, Harley-babe eye candy. My loss. All the entertainment I needed went down on the Eastside.

Thursday: The Gospel Truth’s record release, Hotel Vegas

The Gospel Truth vacuumed the carefree vibe out of Hotel Vegas with a gripping 45-minute set. The slashing, scraping, muted guitar work of Patrick Travis, who doubles as drummer for the Golden Boys, combined with the aggressive bass fuzz of fiery new band member Dave Petro, and the metronomic drum storming of Brandon Bennett Crowe amounted to a notably industrial sound – not “industrial” in the black fingernail polish kind of way, but, like, big machines: repetitive, deliberate, inhuman.

Atop the sinister polyrhythms, singer Mark Tonucci, wearing aviator sunglasses and a coy smirk, shouted distorted rock & roll lyrics, grabbed his chest like he was having a heart attack, curled his lip like Elvis, and mashed a keyboard into superfluous noise – which I love, because a keyboard player should be either shitty or great, without any middle ground. With his loose frontman demeanor, Tunocci leaned on his mic stand like it was his third leg until the audience snatched it away from him and pumped it in the air like a scepter.

The Gospel Truth’s debut full-length A Lonely Man Does Foolish Things, recommended for fans of post punk, rock & roll, and any of Steve Albini's bands – comes out tomorrow on 12XU Records. Scoop it off East Austin shelves at Trailer Space, or across town at Waterloo Records.

Friday: The Chumps’ final show, the Legendary White Swan

The next night, the corner of Rosewood Avenue and Chicon Street, my home for the last four years, appeared more happy and alive than I’d ever seen it. Tents had already been pitched inside the park for the next day’s Juneteenth celebration, and hundreds poured out of the projects to watch a parade of motorcycles cruise into the Republic of Texas Biker Rally. A rail-thin man holding a red solo cup staggered in the road, attempting to high-five each passing biker, his enormous smile revealing he only had four teeth.

One stoplight up Chicon’s hill at the Legendary White Swan, the vibe was equally jubilant. The typically low-key neighborhood hang was packed to the rafters with dudes in black T-shirts and ladies with flopped-over mohawks that looked like My Little Pony manes. They’d all mobbed the Eastside watering hole to bid farewell to local punk favorites the Chumps.

On the back patio, local filmmakers Richard Wymark and Chepo Peña interviewed old-schoolers for a documentary about Austin's music scene in the 1990s, one they’re calling A Curious Mix of People. Inside, the body heat, anticipation, and overall inebriation turned the club into a pressure cooker as the headliners plugged in.

Opening charge “I’m a Chump” blew the lid right off. Beer rained from the rafters, fans shouted over the PA system, and the invisible barrier between the band and the audience immediately vanished, leaving the band encircled with fans. Friday night, singer Sean McGowan’s shouts of “Don’t cry for me!” had new meaning.

Some stringy, shirtless old punk began choking me from behind as I photographed the band. When I turned around to return the favor, I found him crumpled in a ball on the dance floor, unconscious; someone else had already knocked him out. Good riddance. Across the room, another fight or two broke out, requiring several hard-fought ejections.

The Chumps didn’t even notice. They had their own mayhem to deal with: literally piles of people taking to the stage to shout along to classics like “I’ve Got a Problem” and “Needle Beach.” When they played “Fuck You, I'm Rich,” every accessible middle finger in the building got hoisted into the air. In a song I’d never heard, McGowan sang ‘How the wild ones become the mild ones.” I couldn't help but think, looking around at the chaos these aging punks still provoke, that sentiment didn’t carry a lick of truth.

After the anthemic “Rock City Rejects” left every vocal chord in the building good and fried, the Chumps brought on quasi-member Bill Jeffery for an enthusiastic trumpet lead on “Pharmacy.”

“This is the last song,” reported McGowan beforehand. “We’re tired. There’s no more after this. We're done.”

The rowdy crowd blocking them in and chanting “Chumps, Chumps, Chumps!” wouldn’t let that happen, so they stuck around for one more.

“This was written by a great band, and we’re going to ruin it,” McGowan announced. I’m not sure how many of the people in attendance were familiar with Rose Tattoo’s first album, but everyone sang along. The chorus was self-explanatory: “Nice boys don’t play rock & roll.”

Saturday: Stza at Banana House

Leftover Crack is a local band now.

The best-known crust band from the millennial punk boom no longer seems inextricably New York, but rather Austin, where lead singer Scott Sturgeon, better known as Stza, has been a regular at punk shows for about a year and a half. Furthermore, local guitarist Ian McDougal of Riverboat Gamblers has received initiation as lead guitarist of Leftover Crack, a position the band has outsourced since founding member Ezra Kire quit a few years ago.

On Saturday, Stza and girlfriend Lauren Oakes hosted a party at Eastside punk abode the Banana House to raise money for their pooch Iggy, a Boston Terrier who recently lost a leg after getting smoked by a car.

Standing under a string of rope lights in the greasy, grassy backyard, Crack & Oakes dueled with acoustic guitars and harmonicas on favorites from Stza’s songbook of Choking Victim, Leftover Crack, and Star Fucking Hipsters tunes while Oakes prettied things up with nice vocal harmonies. Highlights included the SFH single “Two Cups of Tea” and the LOC/World Inferno Friendship Society collaboration “Soon We’ll Be Dead.”

Later, McDougal joined Stza for some Leftover Crack songs, including a kumbaya version of “Born to Die,” and even fielded my request for Choking Victim’s “500 Channels,” which they fucked up pretty bad.

We still convinced friends to sing along: “When there’s no hope, I smoke some crack, I’ll shoot some dope. When there’s no enemies, I’ll sit and stare at my TV. And in my ignorance, I’ll be a slave and a sycophant.”

Crack and Oakes soon head to the East Coast and Europe for a string of shows before Leftover Crack’s European tour begins in July.

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