The Austin Chronicle

Dancing About Architecture

Running Out of Steam

By Ken Lieck, August 13, 1999, Music

With the closing of Liberty Lunch over and done with, you'd think this column could finally manage to go a week without a lead story telling of the demise of a popular, longstanding center of live local music. Think again. This week, Steamboat owner Danny Crooks revealed that his club is losing its lease on its two-decade-plus home in the heart (or perhaps as the heart) of Sixth Street's entertainment district, another victim of someone else with more money wanting the property. "A year ago they told me I was going to lose my liver," sighs Crooks, who has been suffering from a string of health problems and injuries, "and now they're going to take my heart away instead." After several years of attempting to raise enough money to buy the property himself, Crooks received notice last week from his landlord that the venue had 60 days to vacate the building, and has since discovered the new tenants will be the owners of the San Antonio club the Aquarium. Apparently, said owners offered enough green for the prime Sixth Street spot that the landlord couldn't refuse. Crooks says he's already "out running around like a crazy man" looking for a new location for his club. Location, however, isn't as important to him as getting the right building, and doing so quickly, as his personal finances are not in good enough shape for him to go several months without employment and then attempting to start a new business. As such, he says there are several former movie theatres and even spaces in strip malls that he believes could be the location for the new Steamboat. He's even talking with Wayne Nagel about having Steamboat share a location with a new ARC.

"Location," however, is precisely the reason Aquarium owner Jeff Van Del Den cites for wanting Steamboat's building. He's certain that it's perfect for the business he intends to open -- even though he's not going to know what business that is until he's through with the expensive renovations required to bring the building up to city code (Crooks operates under a loophole that allows him to stay open, but with a lower official capacity than otherwise). Van Del Den is not unaware of the current establishment in the building he's moving into, and even says "I love the Steamboat," noting he went there often in his college days. However, he has no qualms in adding that "It's time [for Steamboat] to move on." Crooks says he can't blame his landlord Saxon Fox for taking the lucrative deal, saying "You have to do it, it's a business thing," and figuring that the free renovations Fox will get out of this deal would alone equal the price he had hoped to pay ($350,000) to purchase it earlier this year. By the time he had raised the cash, he says, Fox had changed her mind about selling, and Crooks says he now realizes the Aquarium deal must've been on the table by that time. Furthermore, after attempting to negotiate with, instead of against, the Aquarium see if he can't stay open a few months longer while they wrestle with permits and other red tape, Crooks says that Fox reports that Van Del Den instead has handed him a deadline to be out by October 4, though Crooks plans to make his exit on September 27 following 10 days of shows benefiting the club's moving expenses. Why not go right up to the 4th? Crooks' son's band PigGie Hat is scheduled to play NXNW in Portland, Oregon, on October 1, with dad on chaperone duties -- thus derailing rumored plans for PigGie Hat to officially sink the 'Boat with a 24-hour "Bonecrusher" marathon. Crooks also says he plans to fight Van Del Den in court, do everything he can to give him bad press, accept offers such as a recent one by Dale Dudley to organize pickets and on-air attacks against the new venue, and "sic every city inspector in town on them -- I'm not going to just roll over!"

In the meantime, Crooks says he still has investors interested in helping him set up a new Steamboat, and as a music commissioner involved in getting Liberty Lunch its loan from the city, he hopes the City Council will stand behind him as well. He even opines that a move "could be the best thing that's happened to Steamboat, and the worst thing that could happen to Sixth Street." And he just might be right. Whether or not you like Crooks' particular taste in music (or pants), the 'Boat is virtually the last vestige of the old, classic Sixth Street, and by kicking Crooks out, Van Der Den is likely to find himself with a lovely historic building in the center of a boring stretch of shot bars where even the most vacuous tourist will find himself bored after the first 20 minutes. In any case, I suggest you utilize your time with Steamboat well during the next 60 days and check out the usual local bands there, or try the Jeff Buckley tribute night this Sunday or one of the hip-hop nights Crooks had begun to work into his schedule -- for a guy who admits he knows nothing about the genre, the (tentative) booking of Kool Keith and DJ Spooky for August 21, courtesy of Hip Hop Mecca, as well as next month's planned GZA date, ain't bad.

And as always, as one club closes, two more venues arise, hydra-like, to take its place. Paradox is now booking some live music, while next Thursday marks the official opening of the "New World Jazz" emporium the Bombay Room, with Elias Haslanger & His Quartet providing the night's entertainment, above the Clay Pit at 1601 Guadalupe.

Liver Transplants

Last week marked the appearance of a CD by the Mad Cat Trio, aka Danny Barnes, Mark Rubin, and Erik Hokkanen. Since Hokkanen worked with the other two on a number of projects, including the Newton Boys soundtrack, Rubin calls the trio an "honest side project" of the Bad Livers, and as often is the story with that eclectic combo, there's an interesting tale as to how the disc came to be. The Cats, it turns out, played a KUT Live Set back in 1993 and promptly forgot about it until recently, when a fan asked "Why isn't this stuff commercially available?" After giving the Livers' label Sugar Hill the first option to issue the material, Rubin went ahead and put the disc out on his own LumpyDisc imprint ( That's good news for the fans, but even better, Rubin says this is only a start - he's now looking at 30 to 40 hours of recorded material from the Livers and related projects dating back to 1990, with plans to release much of the best. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), among the moments not captured on tape during the last decade are Paul Leary guesting on vocals during an "ill-advised and poorly rendered" Livers rendition of the Butthole Surfers' "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave," and a guest appearance on steel guitar by Ministry man Al Jourgensen, who Rubin says carried and consulted a Mel Bay guide for the instrument throughout the performance! As far as new material from the Livers, Barnes will head to Austin in September to continue work on the half-finished third album for Sugar Hill, entitled Blood and Mood, with plans for a release around SXSW time next year. Hokkanen returns from touring with Wayne Hancock in October as well, so a Mad Cat Trio reunion may happen, but plans currently call for only one local Bad Livers show in the forseeable future, to occur at the Hill Country Hoedown on September 26. Mark your calendars.

Not Quite Daniel Johnston

I wouldn't believe it if I didn't have the proof in front of me, but Daniel Johnston's new album is indeed here in front of me, following a long series of debacles featuring major Atlantic and indie Tim/Kerr Records -- in the end the disc appears to be the debut release from producer Brian Beattie's new label Newimproved-music. I say "appears to be" because Beattie says that no, the album isn't really out and Newimproved isn't Johnston's label. No, the Newimproved CD is a limited edition of 2,000, in beautiful, expensive packaging, that Beattie is issuing for the Austin-only market simply because he couldn't wait any longer for people to hear it. For those outside of Austin, negotiations continue, though it looks like indie label Which Records will "officially" take over as Johnston's label in the near future. Johnston will do an in-store performance at Waterloo Records on Friday the 13th for the new disc, entitled Rejected Unknown, and fans can next set their sights on Novenber 15, when artist/biographer Ron English releases Hi, How Are You, his 200-page book on Johnston. The book is already available for pre-order on the Internet through and other such sources (but then, so was Rejected Unknown a year ago). Finally, fan Matt Groening has requested Johnston record a version of his song "Rocket Ship," presumably for use in an upcoming episode of Futurama.

Mixed Notes

Local group the Publicity Seekers have just released a novelty single entitled "(Hey There) Georgy Bush," but all joking aside, George W. Bush is going to be our next president. So admitted even his staunchest detractors in attendance at Monday's fête for Lance Armstrong, where W. proved he has all it takes -- the ability to "schmooze like a superstar" with everyone in sight. One minute looking tight with a slew of right-wingers, Bush turned and then made himself so at home with Vallejo that one observer remarked "he looked like he was gonna go smoke a joint with them." (The photo here appears to have been taken about five minutes later, if you know what I mean.) Musically, the highlight of the show was Vallejo, Soulhat, and the Scabs together performing the Queen B-side "Bicycle Race" (Call Kevin McKinney for a good volume deal on used bike bells)...

Remember that Everclear fracas from last week? Well, it appears the girl who was allegedly assaulted has filed charges against two members of the band...

Are Fastball getting too big for their britches? Well, they're big enough for them, or at least VH-1 thinks so. MTV's slightly less teen-obsessed sibling had slated them for an episode of Before They Were Rock Stars and were approaching locals and soliciting early footage of the band members before Miles Zunigatemporarily pulled the plug on the deal, saying the band wasn't interested in being part of the show, which locates early clips of rockers and divas performing in malls, karaoke bars, and puppet shows. Perhaps Zuniga knows of some secret footage we don't, since the band members have been grinding away in cool bar bands since they cut their teeth, and you'd think they'd be fine. In any case, Hollywood Records has apparently managed to convince Zuniga that doing the show is a Good Thing, and has already been assembling footage of the Beaver Nelson Band and Big Car toward producing the segment (congrats to underemployed Paul Minor, who will doubtless see a nifty payday for the reams of early Magneto USA footage he's accumulated). Some advice to VH-1, though: With the speed that musicians go from flavor of the month to forgotten heroes these days, you could save time and money by shooting bands for both Before They Were Rock Stars and Where Are They Now at the same time...

Say goodbye for a while to Brown Whörnet and the Kiss Offs as they head out on tour. The former's last show before hitting the road will be at Stubb's with Pong and the Migas tonight (Thursday), and the latter's will be on Friday at Emo's with Marky Ramone & the Intruders ...

If you fail to get into Wilco's secret gig on Sunday (that's not much of a secret anymore), and you get to Austin City Limits Monday only to find you left your ticket in your other pants, the Austin Music Network is taping a Wilco show (or at least Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy) on Sunday to air Monday at 10pm, about the time you get back home, so that's something of a consolation, isn't it?

-- Contributors: Christopher Gray, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser

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