Dancing About Architecture
The Mercury enters a new orbit, how to build your own music festival, the Continental Club get's a new big brother, plus more food for thought about buildings and songs
Realigning the Planets
Mark Collins of the Mercury Lounge says that last weekend's Roy Hargrove shows, which the Mercury put on at La Zona Rosa while waiting for repairs to be completed to their new location above Jazz on Sixth, were a success. Don't look for him to try and take over La Zona, though. In point of fact, the Mercury has cut its La Zona schedule down to this Friday's Aceyalone show and next Thursday's Groove Collective show (see Music Listings), now just one show instead of two, because Collins doesn't want to confuse fans with temporary venues and whatnot. Meanwhile, it's business as usual at Jazz, where owner/operator Tom Prindible says he's dropping some $70K on repairing the damaged floor of the building's second story so the Mercury can get back into orbit. As I related last week, all involved have made safety their first priority in the matter, but Prindible points out that I had also passed on a bit of misinformation that needs to be cleared up; the fire marshal did not, as reported here, state that any portion of the establishment was unsafe. They're not even involved in this matter, having visited the restaurant/club last month to make sure exits were clear for the club side of the business, which of course, they were. Work on the roof/floor, however, hasn't interrupted service at the restaurant, Jazz still serving up their Louisiana Kitchen fare and the only danger there is getting a tummyache after gorging yourself on too many raw oysters (that was my own damn fault -- urp!). So go eat there with no fear of the Sword of Damocles, and get ready for the return of the Mercury gang upstairs on March 2-3 with Liquid Soul. After that, expect a long, fruitful relationship between Jazz and the Mercury, as Prindible, who says he'd initially been "hesitant to get involved in the live music business," assures us that working with Collins has left him with no doubt that the Mercury/Jazz teaming is "the best of both worlds."
It's the Time of the Season
South by Southwest is a humongous musical event in this city, starting off as it does with the Austin Music Awards and continuing with gigs by some of the best bands you've ever and never heard of. Speaking of the Music Awards, here's the final lineup: Texas Trumpets, Terri Hendrix, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kelly Willis, Sterling Morrison tribute hosted by Alejandro Escovedo and featuring special guests John Cale and Tosca, and Bob Schneider and his pals. With only a month to go before the official start date of SXSW (March 10 for the Film Conference and March 15 for Music), it's time for me to remind all those non-SXSWers out there, whether they be spurred on by malice or joie de vivre, be they rejected by the music fest or simply never entered, to start getting their own acts together and to start sending info to the Chronicle (4000 N. I-35 78751 or e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can set about the gargantuan task of assembling a master list of everything (!) musical that will be going on that week.
Of course, on the surface there's a new problem this year that both non-SXSW bands and the SXSW organizers themselves haven't had to deal with in the past -- the holes left by some of the city's most venerable venues having closed. "Losing Liberty Lunch was a nightmare, no doubt about it -- the same with Steamboat and the Electric Lounge," says SXSW's Brent Grulke. "It not only impacts us as far as venues for SXSW, it also means there are less places for people to develop as artists -- especially the rock bands. The conference has announced this week that they will be utilizing the building that was formerly known as the the Electric Lounge, though it will be called the Gallery Lombardi Annex, a reference to the art space next door, not a bizarre Vince Lombardi reference. Former Hickoids manager "Kernel" Mike Parker and wife Susan say that they're opening a new venue in time to participate in SXSW as well, with Opal Divine's Freehouse (700 W. Sixth) presenting "occasional" live music on their front porch stage after the fest as well. As far as the "competition" from the traditional cadre of independent musical celebrations that pepper the town during SXSW week, Grulke pooh-poohs the idea that the conference's need to utilize venues they haven't in years past poses a threat to independent events, opining, "I don't think that's going to impact anybody who's doing some kind of party."
So far, this columnist has heard surprisingly little from the non-/anti-SXSW fest front, considering how little time is left before the party begins. In fact, pretty much the only alternative event I've been contacted about so far is the Zombie by Zombwest (ZXZW) Undead Film Fest, a screening of flicks with a rock & roll/horror angle, set for March 10. This is the organization which received a lot of attention last year after being contacted by SXSW's lawyers regarding alleged trademark infringement. SXSW director Roland Swenson says the action was in response to the conference receiving a large number of calls from confused people asking if the two events were related. Swenson denies any ill will toward such enterprises, saying that SXSW (which also owns trademarks for events such as NXNW and NXNE) is merely protecting its trademark. "I don't have the time to scan the Chronicle for these things," he says, "but if something's in my face, I have to do something about it," further stating that "as far as I can tell [the organization who received the warning from SXSW last year] has no marketing strategy other than crying about us." SXSW's attorneys have since drafted a document with which would-be parodists can request legal approval to use such coveted phrases as "South by South Austin," and "Fuck by Fuck Off."
The music festival season continues all over the planet; Britt Daniel tells me that Spoon will be among the acts attending the Signal or Noise Internet music conference in Boston later this month, while a full page ad in the new Billboard asks: "Do you have what it takes? We would gladly take a look at your video or check out your demo CD. Naturally, we wouldn't want to miss on the next great superstar." The ad for Millennium Entertainment's series of festivals in conjunction with Sony doesn't tell you much (and neither does their Web site http://www.me-hi.com), but what is clear is that they have five fests planned for this year, with the first two set for Daytona Beach, Fla., on March 22 & 23, and then Austin in May. "With our help you could become the brightest star of the new millennium [and] get a deal with Sony Music," they claim, and perhaps you'll even "be the next ?" Hmmm. Though the Mysterians still bring in a few bucks touring the club circuit these days, I'd think they could've found a more lucrative act to utilize in their spiel. Still, I don't see any info about a fee, so if you got shut out of SXSW or just wanna check out some fest action in May, it can't hurt to call their toll-free number, 800/838-6049.
Houston El Movin'
One local club that seems to be safe from extinction for the time being is the venerable Continental Club. Part of the assurance in its continued existence is that unlike most of its species, it's capable of reproduction. As reported here before, a Continental Club is soon to be born in Houston, and this week owner Steve Wertheimer let loose with a bundle of details about his new pride and joy. The new club has been bought, with construction under way and a hoped-for grand opening happening the last week in April (Ronnie Dawson's set to play), though Wertheimer says an early May date is more realistic. The midtown club (3700 Main St.) will be about one and a half times the size of our beloved Continental, but other than that, Wertheimer says the two spaces will be "amazingly similar," from the general layouts of the buildings to the placement of the bar and stage -- even down to the pool room in the back. Austin artists and craftsmen like Jean Goehring, Todd Sanders, and Rory Skagen (who never sends me anything -- sniff!) are hard at work creating original murals and recreating important eye-catchers from the current club to display in its new sibling. Meanwhile, the Houston management team of Pete Gordon (Mojo Nixon & the Toadliquors, Neptunes) and El Orbits' David Beebe is hustling to get the doors open ASAP. Tentative grand openers are Jimmie Vaughan and Junior Brown (three nights and two respectively), to hopefully fulfill Wertheimer's plan to "go in there with both barrels blazing!" If that doesn't work, maybe he can throw in a set by the Geto Boys.
There was much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth at the semi-True Believers reunion last week at the Continental Club, wherein classics like "Hard Road," "Rebel Kind," "Train Round the Bend," and "Powderfinger" (with Alan Durham) rang out once more. "It was too loud, too brief, and completely out of tune," says Jon Dee Graham. The question was, how would longtime feuders Graham and Alejandro Escovedo get along? Just fine, according to those present, as the two shook hands and made up before a bemused crowd. "People made out like it was 'Reunited and it feels so good,'" half-sings Graham, before making like Jerry Lawler in Man in the Moon and grinning, "The truth is me and Al play golf every Tuesday." A new feud may be under way, however. A certain young Austin singer-songwriter with a tune on the soundtrack of Down to You allegedly called Graham a "bald, fat old man" a while back, and one assumes that's why he ended the evening with a cheerful "Good night -- I'm Ginger Mackenzie!"... "We felt it onstage. Not the water, but the energy" That's the Barkers' Will Walden turning a bad situation into a positive one as he recalls the flood that struck Friday night downstairs at Stubb's. He adds that the water was still a couple inches deep when the Damnations TX went on, with another source blaming the flooding on the fact that some women just will not get it into their heads that some things were not made to be flushed. Jeez, it's not bad enough that so many of Austin's clubs are going under; now we have to worry about them literally sinking!... At press time, believe it or not, there were still Bruce Springsteen tickets available -- though some 10,000 were snapped up on Saturday. On Tuesday, the Chronicle was told that there were still a few hundred left. Don't know if people saw the lines at ticket stands and said "forget it" or if the last batch of Boss followers in town is just afraid of heights. Either way, Waterloo Records will be following the Erwin Center's lead with a wristband/lottery system for this Sunday's Smashing Pumpkins' autograph session at 5pm. The 'loo will be exercising extreme caution for that, as they not only don't want to break any fire codes, but they also want to keep from disturbing their neighbors Amy's Ice Cream and Sparks, for whom the day before Valentine's is a big moneymaker. Rules include: No lining up before 4pm, lottery at 4:30 pm to determine your actual place in line, one set of autographs per person (no musical instruments!), bring empty sleeve/case only of album you want signed, and no audio/video recording -- but Polaroids are OK! And as for the band doing any impromptu local gigs, as they have been known to do in other cities with this particular promotion, you're guess is as good as ours. Yo, Billy, may we suggest the roof at Waterloo Brewing Company? Their annual pumpkin smashing contest isn't until October, so you should be safe...
-- Contributors: The Usual Bunch of Idiots (apologies to Mad magazine)