A Really Big Shoe

The Rock & Roll Free for All

Rock & Roll Free for All mastermind Paul Minor (center) and some pre-millennial music junkies
photograph by Pedie Morgan

Sometimes it's deserted,and you can find more people waiting in line for a booksigning. Sometimes it's more packed than the photo pool at a celebrity funeral. It could be Sixteen Deluxe, Wookie, El Flaco, or Starfish springing an impromptu set of teeth-rattling rock; Spoon, Fastball, or the Wannabes putting snap and crackle back into pop; roots revisited with the Gourds, Bigfoot Chester, or the Damnations; or some brand-new outfit (Garnet, Deep Sombreros, Doenuts) with nary a 7-inch to their name. From Horseshit Gunfire's honky boogie and Earthpig's one-man strangeness to the Shindigs' shimmering poptopia and Pocket FishRmen's punk debauchery, it all takes place at the Hole in the Wall's Sunday night Free for All, a sort of Ed Sullivan Show for pre-millennial Austin music junkies.

The Free for All is the brainchild, baby, and budding empire of twentysomething Paul Minor, who began his long, strange trip through Austin's neon jungle at the tender age of 16 in the Urge. Minor fronts Free for All house band Superego, runs his own Nickel & Dime record label (home of two Free For All compilations), works a full-time security job at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (where Superego guitarist Jon Sanchez teaches music), and regularly gives pop history lessons to the country-club set in the Argyles, undisputed rulers of Texas' wedding circuit. Celebrating its third anniversary with a week of free shows (through Sunday), the Free for All already looms large in Austin music mythology. Superego's press kit is thick with Chronicle and Statesman clippings anointing the weekly gathering as essential. "Is there anything in Austin music you can't learn by going to the Sunday night Free for All?" wondered Ken Lieck in "Dancing About Architecture." Regulars wonder that every week.

Minor rarely, if ever, makes money off the Free for All. After he subtracts the often-hefty bar tab from Superego's guarantee, he splits whatever's left between his bandmates as a sort of gratuity for letting the night's other performers use their equipment. It's not quite as selfless as it might seem, though; after all, Superego is one of the handful of local bands with a set-in-stone weekly gig. Three years of Sunday nights equals around 150 shows, give or take a few, which equals a lot of practice for Minor, Sanchez, bassist Andrew Duplantis, and drummer Kevin Pearson -- so much practice that Minor says the band doesn't otherwise rehearse. As a matter of fact, the other members' various commitments necessitate a sort of revolving-door membership arrangement, and Superego often becomes whoever joins Minor onstage. Sanchez, Duplantis, and Pearson remain Minor's musicians of choice, though, and he plans on releasing Superego's follow-up to 96's Mellow Robust Satisfying debut in November, around the same time as an enhanced Argyles CD.

Superego's growth can't help but mirror the Free for All's. The days of confused musicians congregating onstage searching for the right key to play in are over (well, not completely... ), and these days Superego is a tight outfit equally capable of sprawling shoegazer epics and raucous, balls-to-the-wall Stooges covers. If they're not running through "It Scares Me," a racing dance-pop ditty that hangs beat for beat with Low Life-era New Order, it may be because Fastball's Miles Zuniga, ubiquitous axeman Jacob Schulze, Deep Sombreros saxwoman Allyson Lipkin, or all three, have joined the band to whip up a few old Stones tunes or try and fake their way through "L.A. Woman." Week in, week out, anything can happen at the Free for All. And with the cast of characters that assembles on Sunday nights, it usually does.

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