Dancing About Architecture

Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can

Well, let's just call it quits, shall we? Austin's music scene is falling by the wayside at roughly the same rate we've been losing revered old blues musicians (R.I.P. T.D. Bell-- see obit). Liberty Lunch isn't an important concern to the city, not in the face of bringing in a faceless computer software concern to lord over what was supposed to be a new entertainment district for the "Live Music Capital of the World" (Take it, Branson, the slogan's yours).

And Clifford Antone, pleading guilty last week to drug trafficking charges, could end up singin' the blues from behind bars. Sentencing, says Antone, could be months from now, and the blues club legend says he's currently attempting to recuperate from the previous weeks' courtroom wrangling. If Antone ends up incarcerated, it would mean the silencing of a sorely needed voice crying out on behalf of Austin music; in fact, Antone is downright resentful about any questions regarding the status of his freedom. "Anyone who asks me about anything but music is missing the point!" he laments. "We need more pages on music, leave this stuff to the lawyers!" If nothing else, Antone's legal problems have brought musician friends out of the woodwork. Sue Foley is coming down to play Antone's this Friday (see "Music Listings"), "because we're good friends," says Antone, adding that he just received an encouraging call from James Cotton. Drug war be damned, it would truly be a crime to take Clifford Antone from the music scene that needs him as much as he needs it.

If the above situations aren't depressing enough, out of the blue (well, not completely) comes a flyer from the Electric Lounge announcing that Lounge Aid '99 is set at the venue for January 20-24 in a bid to save that venerable club from extinction. Co-founder Mark Shuman has been heard lamenting that this year is expected to be the last wherein the club can have their tented outdoor shows for South by Southwest, as the encroachment of the city's plans calls for apartments to start closing in on the Lounge's property lines soon, but Lounge Aid's origins are another story altogether. Is this a real emergency, you may ask, or is this just another case of a live music haven getting behind on its bills? Co-owner Mike Henry insists that Lounge Aid '99 is in fact a desperate cry for help. "We're all but down the drain," he laments, "and without a windfall we won't make it 'til South by Southwest." The major cause of the club's troubles isn't low attendance; Henry says that each year of its existence has been better than the last. The upswing hasn't been nearly enough, however, to cover the increasing costs of keeping the club alive, he says. "We're getting a good deal for what the property value is," he says, no doubt not wanting to upset the building's co-owner, Miles Zuniga's sister, but such generosity notwithstanding, Henry says that the rent, property taxes, and other expenses of the Lounge have nearly tripled in the past year alone. That leaves the club with a large dollar amount to earn in under a week, but in the interests of making sure people don't consider the situation hopeless, he stresses it is not an impossible goal (though he declines to be more specific). One question that may arise among musicians is how the club can be in such dire straits when it has a reputation for underpaying bands in the first place. "I'll be glad to show anyone my books," counters Henry. "We pay bands based on the door; they get whatever they draw." If there's controversy over the club's payment policy, there are also a number of bands who don't have a problem keeping the Lounge alive by appearing free for Lounge Aid. Among those confirmed to perform over the course of the extended benefit are the Gourds, Sixteen Deluxe, Spoon, Wannabes, Fivehead, Going Along Feeling Just Fines, Mittens, Bongo Hate, and a reprise of the Adults' recent venture at the Pixies hoot night.

Slicing the Watermelon

As you learned here last week, long-beleaguered local label Watermelon Records filed for Chapter 11 on December 31, 1998, enabling the company to have legal protection from creditors during a period of financial restructuring. So what's up next for the label? How about a merger with their distribution-mates at Sire, local blues label Antone's Records? One disgruntled former Watermelon employee calls it "the blind leading the blind," but Antone's Christie Warren confirms rumors that the latter label has been contacted by the former -- though nothing is confirmed at the moment. "We're big fans of theirs," she says, "and anything we can do to help them we're going to do." Watermelon President Heinz Geissler is a bit more vague on his plans, worried that premature talk could jinx his ideas for the future. "We're working on something right now," he allows, but declines to say whether it's with Antone's or another party. Whoever it is, he says he had hoped to have ink on paper this week, and expects to have solid news on Watermelon's fate to report in the very near future. He could have more trouble in the wind, however; Tom Pittman of the Austin Lounge Lizards says that he fears his band may be forced to sue Watermelon. Pittman claims that the band canceled its contract with the label in late 1998 after the label failed to pay a sum that was owed within the contractually agreed time. The Lizards hope to take their catalog to Sugar Hill Records, but, says Pittman, "[Watermelon is] resisting us, so it looks as though we're going to have to sue." Geissler, on the other hand, says that not only are the Lizards still under contract with the label "forever," he believes the two parties "have a good working releationship." Given Pittman's statement, I'd have to say I've seen better ones.

Don't expect Watermelon/Waterloo Records' owner John Kunz to figure highly in the label's plans. Kunz says that while he will remain a shareholder in Watermelon, he doesn't expect to be involved with the newly restructured company as he has in the past. Then again, he just may have his hands more than full with competition threatening Waterloo Records; rumor has it that a Virgin Megastore may be one of the planned businesses in the big shopping center in the works catty-corner to Waterloo at Sixth and Lamar. Calls to Virgin headquarters went unreturned, and Kunz says he doesn't wish to comment until he knows for sure the chain is building here, but he admits that he, too, has heard the rumors. In any case, the store wouldn't actually be open for a couple of years, one supposes, and by that time we should have time to decide on where to found a New Austin anyhow. (And whose brilliant idea was it to build at that spot and escalate the already overwhelming traffic situation at that uber-congested intersection? Ah, well, at least the Electric Lounge will have more potential customers -- if they're still there, that is).

Festival Fast Approaching

One element of Austin music that seems to be hanging steady is South by Southwest, though Brent Grulke is far from blindly optimistic. "Growth has certainly slowed compared to three or four years ago," he muses, "but there is growth." The conference is in better shape than last year, he says, and he feels it's somewhat insulated from the ups and downs of the industry, but admits that with major shakeups happening on the label front of late (see "Expectations of Future Growth" p.52), "SXSW may be a job fair this year for some people." The list of accepted bands is growing for this year's music fest, by the way, with Built to Spill, Calexico, Neko Case, Cubanisimo!, DJ Carbo, Dub Pistols, Freakwater, Fu Manchu, L7, Johnette Napolitano, Ninos Con Bombas, Queens of the Stone Age, and the comeback-crazed Right Said Fred among some 300 acts already confirmed (for the complete list see http://www.sxsw.com). Grulke says that everyone who submitted an application for a SXSW showcase should hear something from the conference by the end of the month, "even if it's that we still don't know what we're gonna do with you."

Mixed Notes

Among other famous Austin imports, there's news on two drummers; former Iggy Pop/Tin Machine pounder Hunt Sales' new project Touch Velvet appears at Jovita's this Friday, while former Frank Zappa sideman Mike Kenealley has said on the Internet that he's hoping to schedule skinbeater Terry Bozzio and Tony Levin for a spinoff of that pair's Black Light Syndrome album with Steve Stevens...

An advance copy of Monte Warden's Asylum Records debut has made it to the office here, FYI. The general public won't be able to purchase A Stranger to Me Now until March 9, though...

This week's band break-up is, I hear, the Recliners. Too bad. Those guys sure knew how to jazz up the Ramones...

Next Tuesday marks the release of Daniel Johnston's first new album since his Atlantic days. The new disc, from the Tim/Kerr label, comes on the heels of a California jaunt for Johnston, with new recording sessions and a New York art show planned for the immediate future. (Collectors' note: Austin Books is practically giving away original art by Johnston, if you don't feel guilty about contributing to his comic book reading habit.) Asked if any release parties were set for the area, Johnston said he'll be having some people over at his house for cookies and soda real soon...

Johnston's art also adorns the cover of the new LP from vinyl-prolific spacemen ST 37, titled The Secret Society. They'll have a proper in-store for that slab next Friday, January 22, at Thirty-Three Degrees, 8pm...

Next Wednesday marks Walter Tragert's retirement from performing, with a final show at the Continental Club. We'll miss ya, man...

It looks like Mark Proct is going to have some free time on his hands, what with his last management client Jimmie Vaughan saying bye-bye...

Some people still don't respect Fastball, it seems. Tony Scalzo was unceremoniously tossed out of the American Music Awards ceremonies last week for daring to bring his infant child along for the proceedings. The rug rat's presence was what called attention to the Scalzos, but Tony says that once he had been removed to the lobby, he was informed that he "wasn't supposed to be there" and given the boot. Scalzo admits he may have been underdressed for the occasion, clad in a collared shirt and black jeans amidst the sea of fashion-conscious industry types ("We must've looked like a bunch of Okies to them"), but says that despite the humiliating experience, he will still attend the Grammys, where Fastball has received two nominations this year. "I'm not gonna wear a suit, though," he stubbornly insists...

-- Contributors: Michael Bertin, 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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