Dancing About Architecture

Behind Closed Doors

Nineteen ninety-nine sure seems to be off with a bang. First comes word that Clifford Antone, charged with trafficking some 3,000 pounds of marijuana and expected to begin standing trial next week, will announce his intention to plead guilty to at least one of the charges against him rather than demand his day in court. Seeing as nearly all those indicted in the case (28) have already done exactly that, the decision doesn`t come as a surprise, but sources within the Antone`s organization who confirmed the nightclub namesake`s intentions, are understandably scared about what might happen to the Austin live music mogul; he was sentenced to five years in prison back in 1984 stemming from a charge of possessing some 1,000 pounds of marijuana.

Also behind closed doors with his lawyers is Watermelon Records president Heinz Geissler, who confirms that the local indie label, long rumored to be ailing financially, filed for bankruptcy on December 31. Geissler points out that the long-running Austin music industry business filed a Chapter 11 petition (financial restructuring and legal protection from creditors) rather than Chapter 7 (out-of-business liquidation), saying that the label has plans. "Big plans," he corrects. "We will definitely stay in business, so this measure is basically a `time-out.` That`s a good way to put it. More than anything, this is about re-organization." Geissler insists it`s business as usual at Watermelon, the label`s 1999 release schedule thus far unaffected by its financial restructuring (upcoming discs include Damon Bramblett`s debut and new albums by Duane Jarvis and Johnny Bush, among others), and denies the label will be sold to, among others, Warner Bros. publicity honcho Bill Bentley, who put in an offer to buy the label back in December.

"No. We had offers, but quite frankly, that would mean I would be out and that`s not gonna happen. We have a plan, and it`s a good plan. Unfortunately, my lawyer says I shouldn`t comment on why we had to do this, but I will be able to tell you more next week." Stay tuned.

Awards of the State

The Grammy nominations were announced this week and Texans showed up for a total of 37 nods, give or take a couple depending on how you analyze the awards system (believe me, it`s not easy). Fastball and Lucinda Williams came away with two nominations each; the latter landed in the "Best Contemporary Folk Album" category up against Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett among others, and in the "Female Rock Performance" category for her song "Can`t Let Go," wherein she faces Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Ani DiFranco, and Sheryl Crow. Talk about a cross-section of competition!

Fastball, meanwhile, wound up in the "Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group" lot for "The Way," nominated alongside biggies like Wallflowers, Verve, Aerosmith, and Hole, as well as with a nomination for "Best Long Form Video," a category about as prestigious as an award for "Best Bar Code." In fact, the band`s video is nothing more than a 12-minute video press kit that`s not even commercially available. Sounds like Grammy`s going senile. Make that gone senile.

Other varied acts, from polka kings Brave Combo and pop pixies Sixpence None the Richer to soul sermonizers like Kirk Franklin and Erykah Badu, all placed as well, as did Flaco Jimenez, nominated twice -- once on his own, and twice with Los Super Seven. And that ever-Texas-dominated category "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" was admirably clutched at this year by Jimmie Vaughan for "The Ironic Twist" from last year`s Out There. In a manner of speaking, Vaughan had already presented a special prize to his audience here in Austin, in the form of his three-night stand at Antone`s in December, which featured guest appearances by Fabulous Thunderbirds vocalist Kim Wilson (making this a pseudo-reunion show) and the notoriously jam-shy Billy Gibbons. The ZZ Top frontman`s appearance in town led to much amusement that week, much of it involving the aforementioned Fastball, as Gibbons also attended that band`s taping of Austin City Limits, which led to the `ball boys including ZZ`s "Thunderbird" in their set (which they normally don`t do within the borders of the state out of respect).

Gibbons thought he had seated himself in a discreet corner of the bandstand, but when the show airs, you can expect to see heavy footage of him in the audience since Miles Zuniga announced the song as being dedicated to "somebody special in the audience tonight," noting that when Fastball was just another trio from Texas, they always wanted to be ZZ Top. At the rate the band is going, it just might happen, too. In the meantime, it appears that a chat between Gibbons and ACL`s Terry Lickona revealed that the original Little Ol` Band From Texas has never been averse to taping a Limits episode of their very own, and given that this year is the long-running PBS show`s 25th anniversary, as well as the long-running ZZT`s 30th, a very special show just might be in the works as we speak. Wonder if Gibbons can talk his two bandmates into performing "The Way"?

Giving the Gate to `98

And then, suddenly, New Year`s Eve came and went, and between the various members of the Chronicle music staff, we heard a lot of loud music, smelled a lot of toxic sparkler smoke, and saw some pretty amazing things.

Antone`s had the closest call to missing the holiday (well, apart from Austin Blues, but I`ll get to them later), with a visit from the Fire Department coming at 11:30pm to demand that people start vacating the club. No, Antone`s wasn`t the place where sparkler fumes threatened to choke yours truly (that was the Hole in the Wall), the AFD were there strictly to deal with what they believed to be an unsafe number of people inside. Two hundred people had to leave the club before the fun could resume, so unpleasantness resulted as everyone tried to make sure they were the ones who got to stay, chants of "Hell, No! We Won`t Go!" going up all around. Meanwhile, a smaller and more savvy group led a separate chorus of "Pay the fine! Pay the fine!" and in the end, the firemen got the crowd down to an acceptable size (plus one; Billy Gibbons managed to gain entry) and Ian Moore and company managed to kick things back into gear with a mere three minutes left until midnight!

The most bizarre nightclub moment of Amateur Night belonged to the Bates Motel, however; while Squat Thrust was on the stage playing, another well-attended squat thrust was occurring in the alley behind the club. Spectators say that a Channel 7 TV news van turned into a Motel 6 when a cameraman from the station and a lady friend decided to make a little news of their own over the course of the station`s live broadcast from on top of Maggie Mae`s.

Sixth Street merchant Eric "Walleye" Luckett, who rents the parking space where the lensman allegedly was mounted atop his own Maggie Mae, says that he found the couple rolling tape when he went over to complain about the station taking his parking spot. He snapped a Polaroid of the act, he says, and notified the van man that he`d get the pic when he paid his fee for using the space. The couple agreed to pay Luckett, he says, but then managed to get away without ponying up their "porking fine." Luckett says the photo is now in "a nice safe place" and is up for bids, though another cameraman from the local Fox affiliate, who was not present at the time of the incident, says that since three Channel 7 crews were working in the vicinity, it would be difficult to tell which cameraman was zooming in and out that evening. He adds that he doesn`t recommend settin` the van to rockin` while a live feed is knockin`, noting that, "You should definitely drop the mast first -- otherwise, it could snap!"

Openings, Closings: It`s Not Over Now, Babe`s & Blues

Irate Popa Chubby fans (you know who you are) found themselves with a particularly unhappy New Year last week when they arrived at Austin Blues to find that a grand non-opening was in the cards for the club. One such fan contacted Chubby and reports that the singer "received a call on the 30th with no explanation [why] the show was cancelled." Austin Blues` Colsten Bergher reveals that the cancellation was due to the exact reason you`d expect; the club and the city had not come together on all the necessary inspections, licences, and whatnot required for a New Year`s opening. "It was unavoidable due to the holidays," sighs a wiser Bergher, adding that the current plans call for the club to open on January 12, with Chubby perhaps playing that night or soon after.

The Austin Blues problem was hardly the most unexpected club news to come from the 600 block of East Sixth Street this week. That honor goes to the sudden announcement that Jim Hawk has taken over Babe`s Bar & Grill. Yes, that`s the same Jim Hawk who was fired by the club`s previous owners mere months ago when they decided they weren`t happy with the acts he was booking such as Alvin Crow, Don Walser,and Dale Watson, all of whom had longtime residencies at the club. Hawk says that he and partner John Jewett had been looking for a location to start a new establishment when, lo and behold, a mere 30 days after his departure from Babe`s, he got a call from his ex-employers.

"What goes around comes around," chuckles Hawk, saying that he hopes to bring back as much of the lineup he had on the restaurant side of the club before his ousting. Walser says he won`t be returning to Babe`s, because his bad knees have made dealing with parking for Sixth Street gigs too difficult. I didn`t talk to Watson, but considering the country maverick has weekly slots at Ego`s on Tuesdays, Threadgill`s on Wednesdays, and both the Electric Lounge andGinny`s Little Longhorn on Thursdays, I`d like to see him find the time. "We don`t want to [specifically] be a country bar," says Hawk. "We just want the best talent in town, and these days, that seems to largely be country acts."

In other ins and outs, it looks like Technophilia on the Drag will not be closing after all, as one of the co-owners has decided to make a go of it solo, but longtime recording haven Stupendous Sound Studios has gotten the big boot from its home just off the Drag. Disgruntled owner and Pocket FishRmanCris Burns says disgustedly that he was ousted to make room for a new hair salon.

Meat the Puppets!

As you know if you read last issue`s piece on Curt Kirkwood, the Royal Neanderthal Orchestra has decided to drop a few syllables from its name and continue on as the new permutation of the Meat Puppets, the moniker under which the band will be playing at Emo`s January 17. I might suggest that they go with the name "Texas Meat Puppets," but considering all the trouble the Texas Meat Purveyors had with their moniker, I`ll give Kirkwood a break. The "old" Meat Puppets haven`t been forgotten, however; Rykodisc has just sent out advance copies of a previously unreleased live album from 1988 as a launch for the reissue of the band`s entire back catalog. Those discs are set for the usual Ryko luxury treatment of fancy liner notes and bonus tracks, meaning we can finally expect to hear some of those Marty Robbins tunes that Paul Leary got them to record during the production of Too High to Die. Speaking of Leary, heavy rumoring has him doing some guitar playing on a solo album by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, who as you recall, produced the Butthole Surfers` Independent Worm Saloon album; looks like it may be time to dig the "Zeppelin Butt" jokes back out of the mothballs.

Mixed Notes

The benefit for the family of former Not For Sale member Mike Chester`s family set for Dec. 23 was cancelled due to the inclement weather that night, and it looks like the delay has expanded the show into two; one this Friday at the Hole in the Wall with the Punkaroos, Pocket FishRmen, Texacala Jones, Sangre de Toro,and Byron Scott`s new band Spy a Go-Go.Next Thursday, a second benefit happens at the Flamingo Cantina with the Punkaroos, Reddy & the Kilowatts, Ass Nipple, Ignorance Park, and Mofungo. Chester was killed recently while attempting to stop a robberyŠ

On the injured list is Dave Wesselowski, former bass player with the Naughty Ones, Gary Primich Band, Ted Roddy`s Tear Joint Troubadors, and 47 Indians, who suffered compound fractures in both wrists while working a construction day job in Nashville where he had recently relocated. He will have to undergo months of physical therapy and has amassed a huge medical bill. A benefit for him will take place this Sunday at the Continental ClubŠ

-- Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser

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More Dancing About Architecture
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The last installment of "Dancing About Architecture."

Ken Lieck, Jan. 3, 2003

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