The Austin Chronicle

Cheer Up Charlie's Last Hurrah on the Eastside

By Kevin Curtin, January 13, 2014, 2:30pm, Earache!

Cheer Up Charlie’s faithful clientele showed up in full force on Sunday for one last blowout at the bar’s East Sixth location. The queer-friendly hangout has now shut down and will reopen late next month in the old Club de Ville building at 900 Red River. Last night, in its original incarnation, CUC went out like a lion.

Both the tiny barroom and its expansive patio were packed with regulars toasting the good times at the bohemian watering hole. A large contingent were music fans there to witness a free and intimate performance by ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead. As TOD’s sister band Midnight Masses roared from the backyard band shell prior to the headliners, a slight rain began to fall and the patio’s pink parachute awning turned into an enormous jellyfish dancing in the gusty winds.

“If you came to see two Trail of Deads in a row, you’ll be very disappointed,” announced singer/guitarist Autry Fulbright, who, along with TOD mainstay and drummer Jason Reece, plays in both bands.

Indeed, Midnight Masses brings less distortion and proggy composition than its celebrated counterpart, opting instead for dark, mid-tempo rock with touches of neo-psychedelia. Fulbright, known mostly as a bassist, tops it all off with wordy musings about life and death, delivered in a smooth, dispassionate singing voice.

“Jason and I started this project six years ago after my father died and I’ve found music to be very therapeutic,” he said before launching into a song containing the lyric, “If he were alive, he’d be 63, and I wonder what he’d think about me.”

A long-running studio project, Midnight Masses’ recordings include contributions from all the TOD members alongside TV on the Radio’s Jaleel Bunton, the Dirty ProjectorsHaley Dekle, and Santigold drummer Ian Longwell. Fulbright expects the group’s debut LP this spring.

As TOD prepared to take the stage last night, Cheer Up Charlie’s booker/partner Maggie Lea navigated through the crowded backyard handing out sparklers and asking that everyone wait to light them until the confetti cannons went off. As the main act climbed onstage just before 10pm, black clad as ever, they warned people in the front row that instruments and emotions are known to fly into the audience during their performances.

Minor-key guitar noodling took form into “Mistakes and Regrets,” after which the cannons went off as the band launched into “Caterwaul.” On microphone duties, Reece navigated a dancefloor on fire with sparklers, then jumped into the audience to scream his guts out. Ramping up the hysteria, the local quartet closed with an explosive “Richter Scale Madness,” several bandmembers crowd surfing until the chaotic crescendo ceased to the hum of the amplifiers.

DJs kept the party rolling inside the club, but love blossomed on the patio even after the bands had loaded out. Twenty candles and a white cake reading “Anica & Becky” sat on a picnic table.

“I’m proposing to my girlfriend,” a pretty brunette informed me as I gave her my lighter to fire up the candles.

A half an hour later, a woman walked in to find a large group of her friends holding candles and smiling. Her girlfriend took her by the hand and spoke softly too her, then they embraced and everyone cheered.

Cheer Up Charlie’s has left the Eastside, but memories made there will last a lifetime.

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