Live at Liberty Lunch

The Neville Brothers

Liberty Lunch, Always

Burning Spear's Winston Rodney photograph by John Carrico

Burning Spear's Winston Rodney

photograph by John Carrico

It was a hot Sunday afternoon late in the summer of 1978. Having arrived in town only two weeks prior, I ventured for the first time down to an otherwise deserted section of West Second Street for some kind of music and egg cooking competition. No roof, no mural, just a gravel pit for a dance floor and a few dozen hippie-types strewn about. Not an auspicious introduction, but the first of probably hundreds of visits I would subsequently make to Liberty Lunch over the next 20 years. The club made its mark initially as a mecca for reggae and world music in the years immediately following the death of Bob Marley, 1982-'85. Virtually every spring and summer weekend featured a top-notch Jamaican or African band. The most memorable of these were Dennis Brown in '82, the Gladiators in '83, and Burning Spear's first Austin appearance in probably '85 to no more than 300 people. Sometime in the late Eighties, Trouble Funk tore the house down with its riotous D.C. go-go grooves. Also around this time, Sun Ra & his Arkestra launched a Liberty Lunch throng way out into space. As magical a set(s) by a local band as I've ever heard was delivered by New Sincerity-era stalwarts Zeitgeist on two separate nights somewhere around '85-'86. Any number of Joe Ely's David Grissom/Bobby Keyes-band gigs from the mid-Eighties stand out, while Stevie Ray Vaughan jamming with Johnny Copeland around '81-'82, and the Replacements and Hüsker Dü late in the decade also stick out vividly in my memory. But the one night that immediately came to mind when first presented with the task of choosing my most memorable show at Liberty Lunch was a stupendous Neville Brothers gig on an already giddy and celebratory Sesquicentennial weekend in early March, 1986. At this point, many critics were calling the Nevilles America's premier party band and although I'd already seen them umpteen times before (and after) this night, they were never better. The Lunch was packed with sweaty, undulating bodies entranced under the gris-gris spell of the funkiest band in the land, which on this night, was simply on fire, cranking out scorching waves of rhythmic intensity. Fiyo on the bayou, indeed! For me, the spirit of Liberty Lunch has always expressed itself through its relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere, encouraging you to get loose and commune with the music and with your fellow music lovers. It's about people connecting in a very special way with music. The Nevilles, for one, as the visiting house band of that era, epitomize that spirit completely. Just last week for Sonic Youth, walking into that no-frills, steamy inferno we've all come to love, I kept reminding myself how much I am going to deeply miss Liberty Lunch. When it goes, a very special, essential, and irreplaceable part of Austin's musical heart and soul, as well as its heritage, will disappear with it.

-- Jay Trachtenberg


Liberty Lunch, Late Seventies

Without a doubt, one of the great lost Austin bands was Joe "King" Carrasco's first combo, El Molino. Made up of a ragtag marriage of local and San Antonio musicians, El Molino all looked like they'd just gotten out of jail (a few of them had), and could play in almost any state of consciousness, ranging from near-coma to plugged-into-the-cosmos. In the late-Seventies, Carrasco wheeled this zany bunch into Liberty Lunch for a gig that still makes me giggle and cringe, often at the same time. Granted, the group had played a few other shows, but they tended to be at lean-tos on East First Street, where you needed either a map or blind luck to find them. Carrasco really hadn't penetrated the Austin rock radar in any real way, so playing this night at Liberty Lunch was like El Molino's coming out and going away party all rolled into one. When its leader called an El Molino show, it was a roll of the loaded dice on who would show up; the band's only album, Tex-Mex Rock-Roll on Lisa Records (a label named after Carrasco's girlfriend at the time), was still sitting in huge piles at the singer's West 221/2 Street pad, and no one really knew who was actually in El Molino. But that night at Liberty Lunch, the stars were out in strength on the bandstand: sax player Rocky Morales and trumpeter Charlie McBurney had somehow made it up from San Antonio, along with their sidekick Richard "Eh Eh" Elizondo aka "The Penguin." Ernie "Murphy" Durawa was on drums, and Speedy Sparks had a night off from working the door at Soap Creek to play bass. On lead guitar was none other than Ike Ritter, head of all things psychedelic, a down-home cosmic traveler of the first order. Token straight David Mercer had taped his Farfisa organ together, Carrasco came with guitar, cape and crown ready to wear. The evening had the air of a big time twist-off. After a brief opening set by newcomer Lucinda Williams, the El Molino men started trying to find the stage. Back then, the lighting at Liberty Lunch was along the lines of glorified flashlights, and the darkness coupled with Morales' ever-present shades (not to mention the gravel-filled ground) had him bumping into walls and having to crawl onto the bandstand like he was mounting an angry bull. Same for McBurney, who for some strange reason looked to Morales for leadership. Ritter was still in the car preparing his head, while Sparks, the king of la mañana laid-back-ness, couldn't be bothered. Only Mercer was in his proper place, waiting for the Keystone Kops of Austin Rock to find their spots. But, holy guacamole!, when they did hit it, El Molino came on like the funhouse had taken over Austin, and were intent on tickling the town's Cosmic Cowboy/blues brigade into a two-out-of-three free-for-all hands-down victory. Songs like "Jalapeño Con Big Red" and "Mezcal Road" leaped off the stage with such spirit that no one there could help but be overwhelmed. Before long, there was a huge cloud of dust kicked up from dancers on the gravel, making it seem like Carrasco had his own smoke machine blowing full force. Joe King himself was running around the Lunch with a

50-foot guitar chord, swinging from light poles and jumping on tabletops. Beer bottles were flying and people were falling down from sheer excitement. About halfway through the set, Ike Ritter's flight-mix must have kicked in, because monstrous guitar runs started pouring out of his Stratocaster, egging Carrasco into even further lunacy. Two hours later, the band came crashing down with a burning cover of "Wooly Bully" that might have made Sam the Sham hang his head in shame. Joe King Carrasco forever earned his crown that night, and El Molino made it into any thinking-person's Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, there weren't to be any more gigs, as Carrasco turned New Wave the next week, forming the Crowns and starting to play Raul's. For me, the night ended Blue Wave, when I wound up at the Austin Police Department swearing -- when I was allowed to make my single telephone call -- that I was in San Antonio. ¡Que, que que!

-- Bill Bentley


Liberty Lunch, 1982-'83

Trying to remember just one memorable night at Liberty Lunch is nearly impossible. After all, as someone who covered the Austin music scene on a daily basis for the Statesman for five years and then spent eight more years in Austin up to my neck in it, I spent a lot of time there. And even when I wasn't actually there, when the wind was blowing the right/wrong way and the windows in my Clarksville bedroom were open, I could sometimes hear it. It was the perfect summer evening place. A rapidly warming Shiner Bock in one hand, a good band on the stage, and you were set. The booking policy was so enlightened that you had to go at least once a week, because you could catch the best new bands, mainstream acts in search of a little intimacy with the audience, and especially fine examples of reggae and what's now called world music. A local act getting a headline slot there had arrived. A touring act could count on an opener that would keep it on its toes. What was my most memorable show? Joe King Carrasco leaping into the crowd in the course of one of his manic sets? Dan del Santo's Professors of Pleasure inventing a new kind of music ahead of their time? John Cale, alone with just a piano, banging out "Fear"? The Raul's Reunion reminding

Bad Mutha Goose's Billy Pringle (right) photograph by Todd V. Wolfson

Bad Mutha Goose's Billy Pringle (right)

photograph by Todd V. Wolfson

us we'd grown older but still carried something special in our hearts? Ronald Shannon Jackson & his Decoding Society blazing a rock-inflected jazz trail, then coming over to our table to introduce the older black woman who sat at one end as "Beulah, my maid," only to have her punch him playfully and introduce herself as his mother? One at random, then. I'd developed a passion for the music of what was then Zaire, with its chiming guitars and irresistible rumba rhythms. It was the toast of Paris and Brussels, but the lack of Zairois in the U.S. meant that we probably weren't ever going to see any. But somehow, Tabu Ley Rochereau, one of Zaire's great vocalists, mounted an American tour, and it stopped at Liberty Lunch. It was the kind of night only someone who had grown up next to the Congo River would find refreshing. I had a mad crush on a woman who loved to dance, not exactly my strong point (think of Galvan's experiments with electricity and dead frogs and you've got it). I wrangled a date with her, thinking this would be right up her alley, and as it turned out, I was right. The band was dressed to the nines in the latest fashions -- a must for Zairian sapeurs -- with the giant Tabu Ley Rochereau looking particularly good, and the band's three guitarists weaving a web of counterpoint that eventually hypnotized us as we stood there side by side, moving in perfect harmony with the music and each other. Zairian bands usually play for hours, so the 2am cutoff time made this gig a piece of cake for them. We left, drained, and I drove the gal home, where she gave me a big kiss before she jumped out of the car. I felt wonderful as I got back home, walked into the bathroom, and noticed in the mirror that my T-shirt was soaked through. I took it off and tossed it in the bathtub, where it made a loud splat. The woman is long gone from my life; that was our best night, I'm afraid. And now Liberty Lunch is going, leaving a legacy of such nights for thousands of people. If I had to sum up what I liked most about it, I guess I'd say it was the kind of place that repeatedly booked bands who put on shows that made you go home and splat your T-shirt in the bathtub.

-- Ed Ward


Liberty Lunch, 1984

Trying to settle on one show at Liberty Lunch is a lot like trying to pick one film that stands out in my mind: It's too much to ask. Too many to count. Instead, let's go back to the summer of 1984, and my first introduction to a club that was as formative to my musical tastes, and indeed my life in general, as the then-recent discovery of hardcore, Shiner Bock, and grrrls with purple mohawks. That was the summer I moved to Austin from backwater shithole Amarillo to attend UT, and it remains perhaps the most important single season of my life. Liberty Lunch wasn't my first stop-off (that would have been Voltaire's basement, where Ruta Maya now stands), but it seems like I caught more shows and had more fun there than anywhere else for a long, long time. Along with Paul "Martian" Sessums -- literally the first person I ever met in Austin -- I'd show up at the Lunch around 7pm for shows that weren't slated to begin until 10-ish, all the better to quaff a few cold ones and hang out discussing the finer points of who sucked more, Reagan or Thatcher. That was the summer that Martian's band Criminal Crew (featuring Oi! Scott, Richard "Dicko" Mathers, and some Irish guy named Kevin) opened for seemingly every punk rawk band that came through town. That was also the summer that the Dead Kennedys played the Lunch, with NYC's Cause for Alarm, Dutch politicos BGK, and Austin's Offenders. By that time, the DK's were well-known to the mainstream music press, and as a result the show was packed to the rafters, with people coming in through the open-air non-roof and shimmying down the support poles. During the opening acts, that large open area in front of the stage (I hesitate to call it a dance floor) was wall-to-wall punks, but by the time the Kennedys took the stage, a disturbing number of fratboys and their loping ilk had manhandled their way to the stage area and squeezed out any number of disgusted leather jackets. Jello Biafra arrived onstage hobbled by a velcro support cast on his left leg -- the victim of excessive anticism at a previous show -- and performed the majority of the band's set perched on a stool. Midway through their version of "Take This Job and Shove It," some woefully idiotic anti-fan gave Biafra's wounded knee a vicious yank, sending him into paroxysms of pain. I have a picture of this from the next day's Daily Texan, Biafra bent over backwards on the stool, back arced, face contorted in a rictus of agony. It was a helluva show, nonetheless. That summer, I also managed to catch the last seven-odd performances of Austin's legendary Big Boys, including their disastrous riot and cop-strewn finale in early September, when "Fun, Fun, Fun" suddenly turned into anything but. I'll miss Liberty Lunch more than I can say -- we all will -- but I have a scrapbook crammed with flyers, set lists, and by god, I still have that ratty old leather jacket that accompanied me every time.

-- Marc Savlov


Liberty Lunch, 1985

Ty Gavin at the Raul's Reunion photograph by Todd V. Wolfson

Ty Gavin at the Raul's Reunion

photograph by Todd V. Wolfson

For all its legend as an Austin music institution, I prefer looking at Liberty Lunch as a personal marker, beginning in the mid-Seventies when Shannon Sedwick and Michael Shelton dreamed up the open air cafe/music venue as an extension of their Esther's Follies empire. Distinguished by Doug Jacques' aquarium mural on the west wall, the club's first drawing card was the food, but within a couple years, the lunch part had been shelved in favor of music when Sedwick and Shelton opted out and Mark Pratz and J-Net Ward stepped in. The funky, bare bones interior and lack of a roof were classic Austin for a Seventies-era music venue. Back then, funk was a virtue, not a shortcoming. By comparison, the Armadillo seemed deluxe. The first bands to consistently pack the place were salsa jazz group Beto y Los Fairlanes, whose Thursday night gigs became touchstones for an affluent, casual crowd of hip upscale thirtysomethings partial to Hawaiian shirts, sundresses, and cocaine; and the Lotions, Austin's first reggae band and trailblazers who tapped into the city's dawning Third World music consciousness. Liberty Lunch became personal in 1980 when the band I began managing, Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns, played a mid-week gig in the late winter chill that was attended by less than 100 people. One of them, however, was Daisann McLane, a writer from Rolling Stone based in New York who wrote up a profile that helped put the band on the map. We didn't do too many shows at Liberty Lunch, but I always admired Mark, J-Net, and Louis Meyer for their willingness to give the band an 80/20 split of the door -- a generous share compared to other promoters who offered guarantees with extra percentages (after paying for overhead) that never seemed to materialize. In that respect, the Lunch was a rare exception: a venue that worked for the bands, rather than exploiting them. The defining show of all shows for me was a Butthole Surfers concert late in 1985. It was a few months after the birth of my first son and for some strange reason, I felt compelled to take him to the show, holding him in my arms (maybe it had something to do with our babysitter, Becky, playing BS records to him). Instead of being a denizen of clubland, I felt detached and very much like a parent. Bearing witness to Gibby Haynes lighting fires, then, and singing through a bullhorn (way ahead of that trend) while prancing menacingly in front of a medical film that seemed to have something to do with eye surgery, was quite a new revelation. I put cotton in my newborn's ears and watched a musical version of the apocalypse unfold: Gibby ranting, Paul Leary spewing and rattling electrifying jolts on his guitar, King and Teresa joining Jeff to churn out a mesmerizing rhythm. It was dark, it was scary. Wild. And thoroughly entertaining. It was also my cue to leave the club life behind. There were a few more shows after that; some of the best shows by the True Believers, the other band I managed, were at the Lunch. Their slash-and-burn attack, their rollicking, semi-sloppy attitude were a perfect match for the club. I'd still drop in at the Lunch during South by Southwest, mainly because it was the coolest venue to see bands year in and year out. But after this year's fest, I asked a friend who did roadwork for one of the headliners if Liberty Lunch should be saved. No way, he said, going into a rant about the club having no restrooms, no backstage to speak of, rickety framework, and a stage in the throes of collapse. It made me wonder if maybe the time really has come for the wrecking ball. After all, in the shiny, spiffy new version of Austin, state-of-the-art facilities matter to most folks. To me, though, looking back and letting all the great music I heard there blur together -- a roster perhaps even more impressive than the Armadillo's -- I realize that for a few of us, the music still matters more. That became clear to me the other night when I took my kid, now 14 and taller than I am, to see Limp Biskit in Dallas. I won't say I got it, whatever it is for Limp Biskit, but that night at Liberty Lunch beholding the Butts in all their raging psycho-glory, with my baby in my arms, sure helped me understand.

-- Joe Nick Patoski


Liberty Lunch, 1986

Rockdale, Texas (pop. 5,600) is only about 60 miles northeast of Austin. But as any kid from rural Texas can tell you, they might as well be in separate galaxies. Liberty Lunch is one of the reasons for that. For teenagers in Rockdale, opportunities to get wild and dangerous are few and far between. "Wild" usually meant drinking a six-pack of beer at a creaky old bridge over the San Gabriel River, and "dangerous" meant risking getting caught there by the sheriff. Whoo-eee. So, other than a passing familiarity with country music, little could have prepared a bumpkin college freshman for the spectacle and rowdiness of catching the Hickoids at Liberty Lunch in 1986. I had been to Antone's a few times (great, but a different aesthetic altogether) and Sixth Street (like now, a regrettable waste of time), but Liberty Lunch immersed me in a whole other world. Toto, I think we're still in Texas, but in a sick, parallel universe. The Hickoids were Austin's early contribution to the "cowpunk" genre. Instead of a countryish group with a bit of a punk attitude, the Hickoids were a raging, full-on punk band with really perverted cowboy trappings. My new friends in the Royal Order of Pythons -- an infamous (at least in our own minds) club devoted to silliness of all sorts -- revered the Hickoids as patron saints, so seeing them for the first time was a rite of passage into the organization. I really only remember three things from the show, although they are some of my most vivid memories of college (despite chugging several Milwaukee's Bests out in the parking lot). The first two were the Hickoids screaming the themes to Hee Haw and Green Acres while shredding their guitars to bits. That really appealed to the redneck in me. Somehow, they were ridiculing my roots and revering them at the same time, although I doubt many of my fellow Rockdalians would have understood. Then there was the crazed slam-dancer who attacked me. This would be the "dangerous" part. People in Rockdale just don't slam dance, which was exactly why I had to dive right in. I got stomped on, knocked to the ground, and kneed in the face. It was glorious. But apparently I shoved some guy the wrong way. Suddenly, this jerk is all over me, beating the crap out of me -- or trying to, anyway; he wasn't very good at it. Just as quickly, my friends pulled him off me and began pummeling him. A little shaken, I decided to call it a night and avoid further contact with the asshole. But I wasn't scared off permanently. The older Pythons insisted that the Raging Woodies were worth seeing. The lead singer handed out Gummie Bears to the audience. I had to go back. After all, people just don't do things like that in Rockdale.

-- Lee Nichols


Liberty Lunch, 1987 or so

It's really going to happen, isn't it? No more sweating in that cavernous, warehouse-size club. No more squatting outside sharing a 40 with your pals because you can't afford the cover. No more nightmarish fantasies of waking on that nasty dressing-room couch with a splitting headache and no idea where you are. All too soon, Liberty Lunch will be just a pile of sky-blue cinderblock rubble. My own quartet of noise-makers, EMG, churned out our set of speedmetal-hardcore mayhem there back around 1987, graced by the presence of a pig's head hanging from the rafters by an orange extension cord. There was a rather sparse crowd of 100 or so faithfuls; after our flurry of noise, sweat, and beer, we retired backstage for serious alcohol consumption. There stood the Exploited's Wattie with his mates; middle of summer and the guy's dressed in the full kit of bondage pants, Doc Martens, 18-inch mohawk, and leather jacket. His demeanor and odor helped me keep my distance, until he turned to me and let loose a string of indecipherable grunts and clicks. I gave him a deer-in-the-headlights stare and a pointed, "Huh?" He repeated the remark and was met with the same blank stare. After a pause, his roadie/translator/handler said in a heavy Glasgow burr, "He really likes your band, and you can have one of his beers!" I thanked them and treated myself to a cold Heineken from the washtub. Quaffing it deeply, I swelled with pride at the affirmation from a punk icon, but I burped and the feeling went away. Soon Wattie and his pimply faced droogs, the Exploited Mach VI, were flailing away, all buzzsaw guitars, paddle-beat drums, and football-chant lyrics. Songs about Reagan, songs about Thatcher, songs about how punk's not dead and what it's like to be a punk. Then suddenly the moment we were waiting for: Wattie got fed up. Angered by the antics of some skinhead, Wattie swung his mike like a lasso and planted it firmly on the skin's cabeza, a rewarding bvvfft echoing through the PA. At the end of the night, we had $70 and a Wattie-loogie on our drummer's rug. Oh, our old friend the swine head: It was a bit greasy and ripe, since we'd already gotten some mileage out of it, but after being used for a spirited game of parking-lot soccer, we tied it to the rear bumper of a Caprice and kicked it under the car for a nice barbacoa-con-road-rash surprise for the owner. Now that's punk rock!!!

-- Jerry Renshaw

(l-r) Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcie LaCouture, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely photograph by John Carrico

(l-r) Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcie LaCouture, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely
photograph by John Carrico


Liberty Lunch, September 1987

I remember me and my buddy Chris being the first people in the place. What's now the office -- the space adjacent to the foyer by the women's bathroom -- was back then just an open area. I looked around to see if anybody else was there yet, and sure enough, there was Bob Mould sitting by himself in a chair in the corner, just smoking a cigarette. That's all. This was long before I was jaded -- so young I probably shouldn't have even been there. Thank God for good fake IDs. I thought it was cool to see the guy I paid to see just hanging out like an ordinary person. A couple of hours later, after sets by Austin's WayOuts and Boston's Christmas (quite possibly the worst band ever), Liberty Lunch had filled up and that same guy, still looking ordinary and still wearing the same jeans, tennis shoes, and T-shirt stepped on stage with Grant Hart and Greg Norton, plugged in his flying V guitar, and with his two bandmates, let loose an aural assault. No stage show. No theatrics. No witty banter. No posturing. No irony. No nothing. Finish one song, then rip into the next. The only thing of even remote visual interest was watching Mould stagger around the stage in an almost trance-like state -- possessed even -- during the songs on which Hart sang lead vocals. It was just three guys -- guitar, bass, and drums -- and pure, naked aggression pouring out of the speakers for over two hours. Twelve years later (has it really been 12 years?), the set list is understandably fuzzy. If they didn't play Warehouse: Songs and Stories in its entirety, they did almost all of it. "Books About UFOs," "Sorry Somehow," and "Whatever" got played. "Something I Learned Today" and "I Apologize," maybe. Exactly what they played, however, is no longer important, although I vividly recall an eruption of adrenaline from the crowd when Mould tore into the double-stop intro riff of "Celebrated Summer." What matters is how they played: furious, fashionless. Hüsker Dü stripped rock & roll of all its ersatz baggage -- its sexuality, its ego, its mythology -- tapped their anger and frustration, and let it flow unimpeded. The result was elemental. Watching the Minneapolis-based trio do it live on stage at Liberty Lunch that night begot my hope that something could and would subvert all the damage MTV and its paint-by-numbers stars had already caused. Unfortunately, post-punk wouldn't earn that distinction, nor had I any way of knowing how near the end it was for post-punk bands: Hüsker Dü would call it quits after the tour; the Bob Stinson-less Replacements would rapidly deteriorate into a bore; and at least Soul Asylum would release two more good albums before turning into Tabitha Soren power-ballad wimps. It took a couple of years, but Nirvana eventually did burst the dam and take the younger "alternative" bands with them into the mainstream, rearranging the pop landscape if only for a while. However, what I thought was the beginning of hope in retrospect was more of a eulogy. But what a fucking funeral. That night was my Beatles on Ed Sullivan, my "Anarchy in the U.K.," my Nevermind.

-- Michael Bertin


Liberty Lunch, April 5, 1988

People say Austin is an easy town to fall in love with, but it didn't work that way for me. Much of my first year here (1987) was spent piss-drunk and despondent in the dank solitude of my freshman dorm room. I was growing apart from the past with nothing in mind for the future, a predicament exacerbated by my fear of academic meltdown and an unrequited crush on a comely goth girl who just wanted to be friends. The one bright spot was music. Whether it was John Lee Hooker at Antone's or the Butthole Surfers at the Ritz, a cathartic evening of gape-mouthed head-bobbing always restored my faith in life and the living. No matter how many shows I saw, though, I still felt like a mere observer to the action. My T-shirt and jeans personality couldn't help but be invisible amongst the bolo ties, studded leather jackets, and mohawks. Then, one mild Tuesday evening in April 1988, I forked over $6 to see Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper at Liberty Lunch. While Mojo and Skid's butt-rocking, spit-shower of glorious vitriol was dead-on, it was seeing opening act Glass Eye for the first time that really etched this night into my permanent record. Three or four songs was all it took to make this ambitious quartet my favorite band in town, if not the world. Glass Eye was a strange and wonderful animal. At heart, they were a pop band, but instead of playing it straight like most of their New Sincerity-era counterparts, they shredded obvious chord progressions and pasted them back together in an unconventional yet strangely melodic manner. Glass Eye had just released their third (and best) album, Bent by Nature, and the breadth of its charms was astounding. Brian Beattie's up-front fretless bass lines and growling vocal made "Living With Reptiles" sound playfully evil, while Kathy McCarty's understated guitar riffs and emotive voice gave "Christine" a sound as bittersweet as summer's end. Keyboard/accordion player Sheri Lane and drummer Dave Cameron (both of whom left Glass Eye a year later when original members Stella Weir and Scott Marcus returned) bobbed in and out of the proceedings with artful aplomb. Cameron's tribal drum segue from "Love Gone Wrong" into an improbably fantastic version of Paul Simon's "Cecilia" closed the set perfectly. In addition to digging their music, I also admired the way Glass Eye took to the stage in an unassuming, self-depreciating manner. Seeing them onstage wearing plain ol' everyday clothes said more to me about acceptance than an entire army of funny haircuts. "The girls in the band project a genuinely cool aura," reads a telling 1988 entry in my journal. "You know, like the girls in high school who didn't get offended when you'd fart or pee behind a bush." In time, I would come to know plenty of people with genuinely cool auras, and Austin would start to feel like home. Glass Eye finally broke up in 1993, never having received the attention they deserved. Watching their last show, also at Liberty Lunch, brought back five years of fond memories about the band and how that first show set the stage for better things to come. I've had other favorite local bands since then, but nothing quite matches the spiritualizing rush of being blown away by a band in your own backyard for the very first time.

--Greg Beets


Liberty Lunch, 1990

"Gawwww-damn! I'm in Austin, Texas!" I thought, as the crowd surged and swayed. I hadn't been this packed into a club since Public Enemy in NYC. It had been years since Pylon toured, and we were all here to see it; these slackers seemed to have the same affection for the old Georgia new wave band as I did. The power of the music made me feel giddy, lightheaded, connected. It had been a long time since I'd been in a crowd this devout. I had just begun my Austin odyssey by arriving in time for South by Southwest 1990 to meet the Pocket FishRmen and Happy Family, two bands with whom I worked from my teeny record label in Florida. "Wanna take my car?" Joulsie had offered earlier that day. No one really wanted to go out that night, but she knew I did. They lived here, after all, and during this week, their town was turned into an annual circus. It was not something they looked forward to, but I did. Taken aback, I took her up on her hospitality. Pylon, for chrissakes, was playing. I couldn't miss this. Bands like this rarely, if ever, bothered to tour down my little peninsula. Parking was easy among the blown-out warehouses and eerily empty streets. As I rounded the corner, a crowd appeared. It was exactly as I had imagined. I had only glimpsed Liberty Lunch from that MTV "Cutting Edge" Austin episode. The Reivers! Rank & File! Butthole Surfers! Daniel Johnston! My heroes had all played here. And here I was, ready to see it for myself. Once inside, I felt home, like I had been here before. Liberty Lunch's craggy walls and rickety roof seemed to hold years of secrets. "Shiner Bock!" I eagerly ordered, remembering where I was. The path to the bar was easily navigable, but I only took advantage of it twice. After the show, I called it a night, and found Joulsie's car after a bit of panic. I made a left on Lavaca. After about a block, I realized that I was going the wrong way down a one-way street, so I took a quick right and managed to do the exact same thing again. Blue-and-reds flashed behind me. Before I could reach for my license, a blinding beam hit me like headlights on an Okeefenokee doe. "Step out of the car," the man gruffed with a Texan twang that made me grin stupidly, which is exactly the wrong face to show a cop at 2am. "How much have you had to drink tonight?" he barked. "Two Shiner Bocks, sir," I dispensed a little too readily. "Two, huh?" The light drifted from my phosphene-blitzed eyes. Despite my temporary blindness, I noticed that the light was now trained on the backseat. Suddenly, I reverted to Catholicism. Recalling that St. Christopher no longer took care of wayward travelers, I ticked through the roster of saints, hoping to find one to help me out of this jam, or at least hide anything incriminating in Joulsie's backseat. Before the Virgin Mother could intervene, the lights hit me again. "Close your eyes; stretch your arms out to the side," he ordered. I complied instantly. "I see you know this drill," he quipped as I wondered why he would think that anyone with a television set or halfwit wouldn't. Each gauntlet he threw, I mastered, taking care not to appear too smug or confident. I touched my nose. I touched my toes. I walked the line. I saw the light (I couldn't see anything else). "One last test," he said. "Say your ABCs..." Immediately, I launched into that nursury rhyme standard. "... backward," he interrupted. I gulped, hard. Mysteriously, letters began tumbling out of my mouth, "Z-Y-X-W-V-U-T! ..." He laughed and slapped me on the shoulder real hard. "You aren't from around here, are you?" he asked. "No, sir," I said, thanking the Virgin. "This is my first trip to Austin." "You here for that music thing?" "Yes, sir." "You aren't drunk, are you?" he smiled, again taking one last opportunity to bathe my face in blinding white light. "No, sir!" I grinned -- just a True Believer.

-- Kate X Messer


Liberty Lunch, Early Nineties

When asked to spin a yarn from my good ol' UT days, I rummage. Football game? Dorm romance? Nothing surfaces when I muse north of MLK. But when I loosen the boundaries, the most hallowed of halls instantly springs to mind: Liberty Lunch. I began the Nineties as a wobbling freshman foal and took my first brave steps into the Austin music scene when I crossed the club's threshold. At first, I stuck with the college-y pop of national touring bands, and though not risky, those nights of music, fan, and artist interaction shaped my musical education, the only schooling that really stuck. The Cave Dogs, for instance, introduced the theory of band ownership. My college friends (actually most weren't even in college) loved the band sight-unseen for their poppy EP and cover of "What's New Pussycat?" When the boys hung out in that little alcove beside the stage, had a laugh and a beer, and signed my friend's yo-yo, we believed their parting promise of seeing us next time around. We knew they were ours, and we knew they'd be back. We also owned the Chickasaw Mudpuppies, but our claim, more communal than personal, mattered less than the uniqueness of our possession. Standing up front (always up front), we grinned at the clamor made by two little dingy guys, one stomping and howling from a rocking chair, the other careening about with his guitar. Theirs was an odd, earthy pop -- probably not pop at all -- but we liked to bounce and sing along, nonetheless. Oddly, the biggish Liberty Lunch stage taught me the basic rock tenet that something quite small can kick up a powerful noise without flashing lights or pyrotechnics. But then, Jellyfish. Their thinly budgeted Spilt Milk tour pulled up to the club with a lighting person on staff. Still, Lite Brites and undulating Christmas lights merely buttressed their pop cathedral worshiped in by hordes of local musicians. The promise of strong musicianship and songs will draw musicians to a show as readily as to a free happy hour buffet. The Jellyfish crowd was striking for the varied locals in attendance, who, mouths agape, occasionally looked around for confirmation that a harmonic feat did indeed just happen. The princely Jeff Buckley drew a similar musician crowd, yet his Liberty Lunch show resonates for its sour vibe; the singer stood away from his band who were shoved in the shadows. He indulged in his vocal wanking; his Cohen cover of "Hallelujah" dragged on aimlessly. Where was the power, the immediacy of his Electric Lounge gig? We groused, we yawned. When we'd had just about enough of him, we departed haughtily with the demand that his next time be better. But like so many artists who I clearly remember jumping into vans with a smile and a wave, there was no next time. As it turns out, pop moments are fleeting, along with college and crushes and the like. I suppose I knew that, but places that house these moments are supposed to hang around so we can always drive by and sigh, and maybe even venture in just long enough to humiliate ourselves by not quite fitting in anymore. My favorite local songwriter described a song-in-progress about those ingenue years when girls flash their hotrod bods with the brazen belief that it all lasts forever. He hasn't even written the song yet, but the video for Buckley's "Last Pretty Summer" looks a lot like my years spent at Liberty Lunch, when I watched bands who no longer exist, singing songs that I've forgotten. But in their presence, in that place, man did we glow.

-- Mindy LaBernz

Dolly Parton and Ray Benson photograph by John Carrico

Dolly Parton and Ray Benson

photograph by John Carrico


Liberty Lunch, Fall 1992

Lunchtime is over, then, and I am tempted to burp and say my blessings, not with a catalog of brilliant moments (there were plenty), but rather with the story of a vaguely dim one: namely, watching the Congolese superstar Tabu Ley Rochereau end an otherwise fine show with a patently absurd take on "Let It Be." "Lalabee, lalabee," Rochereau intoned blissfully, deep in a McCartneyesque rapture, "there will be an answer, lalabee." It was a crystalline moment, no doubt, lovely and bizarre, but in the end nowhere near as formative as my first Meters show in the fall of 1992. I was 22 then, new to town -- a scant six months of Lone Star living under my belt. I was loose, juiced, and deep in love with Austin. The first fluttering crush had by then evolved into something more meaningful, and not least among my new love's charms was the steady kick of the town's live music scene. Growing up in Knoxville, schooled in small-town Connecticut, I had seen my share of good shows, but they were always anomalies. In Austin, it was an everyday thing, and each week I'd open up the Chronicle to see what revelation I would have next. As often as not, the shows of choice were at Liberty Lunch. One Thursday, I cracked the paper to the news of an upcoming show by the Meters, veteran groovehandlers whose redbean funk had provided the beat for more than one rental pad dance party in far South Austin. I lived in a houseful of expat Tennesseans, and we saved our six-pack change for weeks to scrape up money for the tix. It was money well-scraped, as we knew it would be, and on that night we were bathed in a steady stream of pure and undiluted funk, tight and smart and built from the nuts and bolts of New Orleans rhythm and jazz. Tremendous stuff. I don't remember the particulars of the show -- besides Leo Nocentelli's incredible guitar, Russell Batiste's drumkit held together by chains, and the silent satisfied awe that accompanied a post-show pitcher of Pabst at the Deep Eddy Cabaret -- but I do remember the feeling that night; of being young, invincible, and madly in love with the sounds of my new hometown (never mind that the Meters hail from New Orleans). It's the standard Austin epiphany -- the gates of paradise thing -- but it never grows old. The original Lunch was surely home to many such moments; here's hoping the new Liberty Lunch does the same. These are worried times, to be sure, but as the lights go out at 405 West Second, a small slim comfort can be found, not in the words of the Meters' Art Neville (I never did quite understand what "Hey Pocky A-Way" was supposed to mean anyway), but in the overearnest tones of that wily bastard Rochereau. "And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me. Shine until tomorrow, lalabee."

-- Jay Hardwig


Liberty Lunch, Tuesday, November 2, 1993

What an introduction. I had seen my first big show in Austin, Radiohead and Belly at the Terrace, a few weeks back, but this rainy Tuesday was the first sold-out Liberty Lunch sauna an 18-year-old UT freshman from Friendswood ever squeezed into. I'm convinced I haven't been the same since. My hearing seconds that, though that could be all the times I've been back. But in all those times it was never that full again. Or, mercifully, as hot. Rarely has it been as loud, thanks to the band. In peak Siamese Dream form, Smashing Pumpkins flat-out rocked; Billy Corgan was one-tenth as insufferable as he's become, the drummer hadn't been kicked out yet, and I still wanted to be an orchestra teacher. It was a long time ago. The Pumpkins were fresh off "Hummer," "Mayonnaise," and "Silverfuck" and were never as incandescent, not at Lollapalooza the next year or the Erwin Center in 1996. The set list is hazy (forgive me), but there was a crushing "Cherub Rock," a rumbling "Quiet," and a juiced "Rocket," I'm pretty sure. And they definitely hadn't forgotten Gish. The songs almost didn't matter as much as the procedure. They would go along at full-tilt, with absolutely punishing force, until one of those quiet interludes Corgan is so fond of, and all of a sudden this feeling of overwhelming calm would descend. Then Jimmy Chamberlin would shatter it to splinters with a drum fill and it was back to 11. In a room full of what must have been 1,300 people, at least, that sound was oxygen. In circumstances like that, the music becomes more important than even breathing. Ask the people who had to be carried outside, the myriad floaters, or the human wall of tattoos attempting to contain the pit. For those who preferred being throttled by Marshalls instead of flying bodies, physical safety was never as big a concern as heatstroke or hyperventilation -- we were simply packed in too tight to move enough for anyone to be seriously hurt. Even that became bearable after the sweat poured out long enough. I was standing by that first set of posts back from the stage, stock-still for at least two hours. The imprint of those 120 minutes is burned into me with a laser, and even long after this glorious club is gone, it'll be on the back of my eyeballs every time I hear "Soma."

-- Christopher Gray


Liberty Lunch, November 6, 1993

Leaning up against the chain-link fence outside La Zona Rosa on a warm Saturday night, 40oz. malt liquor chilling my hand through its brown-bag wrapper, the heavenly sounds of Joan Jones' mighty voice enveloping my inebriated soul, and I wondered aloud: "Maybe we should just head in? Check out this show instead?" Sun 60 was opening for Big Head Todd, who would come on shortly, hot on the heels of some breakthrough album or another. "Nah," said my far more reasonable older brother. "I wanna go see Uncle Tupelo." And so we did. That stagger over to the Lunch was one of the smartest moves I ever made, as this would be the last time I ever got to see Uncle Tupelo play together. I'd seen them a few times before back when we shared a homestate (hence my half-willingness to forgo this show), but this time they were out supporting their latest album, Anodyne, the band's swan song and quite possibly the best record ever recorded here in Austin. Drunk and charged by Ms. Jones' primer, I was in the mood for nothing short of musical revelation. The unwitting progenitors of the movement did not fail to deliver, their Johnny Cash-meets-Hüsker Dü hybrid (as I once heard them described) by this time tempered by songwriting maturity and fleshed out by the addition of Max Johnston on fiddle-banjo-dobro. The sound was immaculate. Every song was better than the last one. Banging out tunes from every record -- "Train," "Postcard," "Sandusky," "New Madrid" -- this band out of a southern Illinois factory town made every person in that room understand that something important was happening. I didn't know about the tensions that had been building between the lead egos of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, and from my perspective (perched on a slight rise in Liberty Lunch's concrete floor -- just right of center near the middle as I always am), there was none. They rocked. Farrar's guitar solo toward the end of "Chickamauga" remains to this day the most physical and inspired piece of playing I've ever seen him produce. Farrar remained mute, and Tweedy showed only the beginnings of the smart-ass demeanor he continues cultivating to this day. This relatively unknown band from Belleville was very near its end, and with their passing, so too would end an important period in my own development as a music fan. Just for this night, though, I reeled out of the Lunch, happy and drunk as a line cook on payday (which I was), singing aloud as I had so many times before: "If I break in two will you put me back together? When this puzzle's figured out will you still be around?"

-- Christopher Hess


Liberty Lunch, February 6, 1995

I'll never forget the day, February 6, 1995. Exactly 50 years after Robert Nesta Marley was born. If that day had any desire to evaporate from memory, experiencing Steel Pulse at Liberty Lunch embedded the date deeply within my soul. More than any other club, Liberty Lunch has defined reggae in Austin. All crucial roots rock has touched down on the low-standing, rectangular stage on West Second Street: Burning Spear, the Twinkle Brothers, Killer Bees, Judy Mowatt, Culture, Peter Tosh, and on and on. Reggae is such a Liberty Lunch staple that one could almost glance off Steel Pulse's February date as just another excellent entry on the blackboard calendar behind the bar. But to do so would be to greatly underestimate the sonic stalwarts from Birmingham, England. The seven-piece earned their name well that night, breathing new life into tunes from their politically charged warehouse of songs, such as "State of Emergency" and "Gang Warfare," for over two hours. Yet, even though it was the King of Reggae's half-century mark, it was still a Monday night in February -- hardly an idyllic irie setting. Nevertheless, the vast, gradually sloped concrete floor was populated by a typical Austin mixture: hippies, Caribbean lovers, party hounds, activists, freaks, Rastas, Lunch regulars, and technophiles. Liberty Lunch, then as always, has served as common ground for different groups to mesh; ironically, this is also an Austin trait that the city government, which sold Liberty Lunch down the river, likes to brag about. That night, Steel Pulse's horn-enriched riddems shot out only two Marley songs ("Kaya" and "Get Up, Stand Up"), but his spirit was clearly present among the muraled walls, because on that chilly winter night, a hot, heavy-duty pulse flowed through the steel girders and steel roof of the humble concert hall. No question Liberty Lunch's facilities are spartan, but it has something other venues don't: history. Real, influential history, not merely an invented marketing concept. The venerable Wagon Yard is also the portal through which many musicians view Old Waterloo. Take it from Winston Rodney, Burning Spear himself, with whom I spoke in the Lunch's backstage lounge before his galvanizing show last fall. "I have so many memories here," Rodney said, gesturing around the graffitied space. "For many years I have been coming to this place. Before it -- it was nothing." Prophetic.

-- David Lynch


Liberty Lunch, November 7-8, 1997

The first time Wilco played Liberty Lunch, after the release of Being There, Jeff Tweedy wore pajamas. The second time wasn't quite so formal. The band's tour-ending two-night stand may have been more than a year and a half ago, but it's the final shot in my personal Liberty Lunch highlight reel. I can't think of anyone better to occupy it than the best American band of the late Nineties, one that isn't from here, but wields a musical arsenal that covers most of Austin's aesthetic flanks: snotty punk, bar-band barrelhouse, brightshiny power-pop, woozy psychedelia, self-indulgent jamming, and of course, that country music thing. There's also a personal reason. The first show I ever saw at Liberty Lunch was Uncle Tupelo (with Texas Instruments and Balloonatic) on September 20, 1990. I remember the date because it's my birthday, a fact that doorman Alex commented on -- his was the day before or the day after, I can't remember which. Liberty Lunch was a friendly place when I was just a three week-old Austinite, and it remained so seven years later, when J-Net Ward (one of the first things I learned as a Chronicle journalist was how to spell her first name) provided the plastic cups for our bottle of Tres Generaciones. See, there's something to be said for beer-and-wine only licenses. I suspect the members of Wilco had tossed back a few shots themselves on this particular weekend. The shows were a mess, in the best possible sense. By the time the stage had been overrun with roadies for a "whoopee, we're going home!" covers free-for-all (the only song I can remember is AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long"), Wilco could have been carrying the metaphorical weight of any number of equally ragged, in-the-moment moments by certain bands at magical times in their career. Some I'd seen with my own eyes: Sonic Youth, Pavement, My Bloody Valentine, Giant Sand, the Flaming Lips. Others I'd missed (Oasis, Hole and worst of all, Nirvana, a night on which I took one look at the crowd snaking around the corner to South First Street and headed home). Many were before my time in Texas. The list of great bands who know that the Liberty Lunch is the only club in Austin they really belong in is huge. It has and will always seem a little wrong when one of them is on another stage. But I suspect that since most everybody besides the Afghan Whigs views Liberty Lunch as a group of people rather than a building, we'll be saying the same thing about the new place in no time at all.

-- Jason Cohen


Liberty Lunch, July 7-8, 1999

The Golden Note. Heard so often, by so many -- management estimates 250,000 annually -- over the years at Liberty Lunch. That impossibly sweet, perfect note atuned to every fiber of your being. That sound that makes you close your eyes and wish with all your might that you could somehow preserve something that's vanishing into the air even as it's being created. Music. The kind not retained in your ears or mind, but tattooed on your consciousness, written in your soul. Often, it was music you lived with, listened to every day, knew by heart. Music that makes you salivate like a Pavlov dog. Other times it was as new as the blink of an eye, a sound that made your spinning head snap up. For someone who moved to Austin in 1993, in the thick of the "alternative rock" revolution, those Golden Notes were provided by the sounds of the moment: The Reverend Horton Heat, just after the release of an album he will never best, the Gibby Haynes-produced Full Custom Gospel Sounds of ..., playing on a hot night to a packed house bathed in red light; Rage Against the Machine and another packed house chanting, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" Smashing Pumpkins going off like an atomic blast as Liberty Lunch employees fought to keep out those who so desperately wanted in; Oasis; Blur; Garbage; Sixteen Deluxe, Stereolab on Halloween; Spitiritualized; Flaming Lips; Foo Fighters -- the night ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smears stole the show (probably every night); any Fugazi gig. Last year's underattended Mudhoney show in support of the underheard gem Tomorrow Hit Today, and Mark Arm spitting out "Dicks Hate Police" during a riotous encore. And just as Liberty Lunch was always about punk/rock, so too did remnants of reggae and world music remain: the Wailers' Aston "Familyman" Barrett, Bob Marley's only bassist, eliciting sounds from his golden bass as dense as the earth's core; Justin Hinds, a contemporary of Marley's, performing a jawdropping, late-Sixties ska/rock steady two-hour set as if he'd been frozen in time; any number of Burning Spear shows. All leading up to this: Liberty Lunch being torn down for a computer company (Kirk Watson, you will never be forgiven). All leading up to two nights of Sonic Youth, shows that could easily have been a similar disaster considering that the 20-year alt.rock institution had every piece of its musical equipment stolen just days prior to its two sold-out shows in Austin -- booked to commemorate the dying former lumberyard. Shows that those in attendance will attest to for years to come. On consecutive nights, the Golden Note sounded from the very first chords emanating from Thurston Moore's guitar, though it came in fits and starts on the first night; excitement colliding with nerves, something that generally works wonders on hard-charging rock & roll. Which is precisely what Sonic Youth played. Yet, like old jazzbos will tell you, the second set is always better. It was here, too, exponentially so -- by like a 100 times. From the moment Moore began playing "Schizophrenia" to the final encore, in which Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Renaldo barked "Death Valley 69" in a way that put to shame all those other "modern rock" bands, the Sonic Youth was "on." Standing in a corner of the club, by the open garage doors through which a familiar, tantalizing breeze passed ever so cautiously (you could always find a place to stand and see in that room), I tried to commit every note, sound, and emotion to memory, knowing that this was indeed the end. Beautiful friend, the end. May that Golden Note come to rest at 815 Red River.

-- Raoul Hernandez

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