The Austin Chronicle

Dancing About Architecture

By Ken Lieck, March 24, 2000, Music

Punk Me Till I Bleed

If some of the bands at South by Southwest 2000 weren't "real" enough for some people, the scene along Red River certainly got more than real enough over the course of the music festival. Over at the Red Eyed Fly, trouble was to be expected at the Junk Records showcase night on Saturday; the River City Rapists and specifically singer Johnny Motard had SXSW reps on edge due to their general reputation and past trangressions at NXNE and other music fests. The Rapists' set came and went without incident, however, as did the remainder of the evening, until Bulemics singer Gerry Atric decided a juggling career was in his future and neglected the common wisdom that says not to begin your lessons using glassware. Atric hurled a bottle and a liquor glass into the audience, one of which ricocheted off a pole, and the resultant shrapnel put a former club employee in the hospital with an inch-long-plus gash to the forehead. "I don't think there'll be any more punk rock at the Fly for a long time," mutters general manager John Meyer, who finds himself torn over the issue, because he knows and likes most of the members of the Bulemics, and he enjoys all the elements of punk shows -- except those in which people get hurt. Then again, before our conversation had even ended, Meyer was already making exception to his ban for the extra-conscientious Chumps, his ire dissolving into practicality. "Okay, when we do have punk shows," he intones, "everything will be in plastic cups!"

The same night at Atomic City, the atmosphere was a bit blacker than usual as well (which is no mean feat at a leather/latex.industro-goth hangout like Atomic!), as tensions had built throughout SXSW and reached a fever pitch after Chronicle Music editor Raoul Hernandez was booted unceremoniously from the venue after allegedly lighting up a joint during the showcase of former Dicks frontman Gary Floyd's new band Black Kali Ma. Standing on the sidewalk pleading to be let back in, Hernandez was then on hand to witness an unrelated patron brutally removed from the club in such a way that resulted in yet more calls for EMS. Atomic City management did not deny the incident, in which Hernandez says the victim was "picked up and slammed to the pavement." In fact, they admit no less than three such violent removals of unwanted club patrons occurred that evening, saying that in each case, their security was "justified," in that the person removed had first made a violent move on the club's personnel. Despite a reputation in the neighborhood for having unnecessarily extreme security, club management asserts that this sort of incident only occurs with any regularity during SXSW, a sentiment previously shown by signs the club had erected indicating severe dissatisfaction with the type of bands chosen to play at Atomic Cafe during the Fest ("If You Want to See Crappy Rock & Roll Bands, Come in Here"). The night ended with one of the employees of the showcase's sponsoring label, Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles, also being ejected from the club, and the nightclub's sudden cancelation of a planned after-party for said label. "The whole point was to get them some new customers, and labels [who might have more appropriate acts on their rosters] to want to route tours through there," explains SXSW booker David Thomson, explaining why SXSW books certain clubs "against type" (i.e., hip-hop at the Back Room). "They certainly blew that with their attitude." In both cases, no charges have been filed as of yet with the Austin Police Department, though in the Bulemics' case, videotape of the chain of events exists and Meyer says he understands that charges may still be pending.

Emo No Mo'

Saturday night, despite the injuries suffered by some and inconvenience experienced by others, might still end up immortalized in the memories of some under the simple description "punk as fuck." Beyond a few stitches here, some ass-kicking there, there was a real downer in Austin's punk rock scene on Sunday evening when it was announced that Eric "Emo" Hartman was "out." Out of what? Out of Emo's and the punk rock club business in general. The sale of the club that bears his name will be finalized when the TABC license changes hands to new owner Jason Sabala, current Emo's manager, who with a partner has bought the name and business from the man who's been called Emo for longer than the club's nearly eight-year existence. Sighs Hartman, "The club needs me full-time and I just don't have it -- with my day job, my family doesn't ever see me." That family includes Britney, age six, who you might recall from a Chronicle cover a few years back, and the two-year-old Sheridan, who was born on the club's sixth anniversary as the Melvins played on (Awwww! Isn't that cuuute!!!). "It's hard," admits Hartman. "I sorta wanted to go through SXSW without people knowing about it. I still have the Houston Emo's, so I'm not totally out of it." Hartman's not the type to look back through rose-colored glasses, either, and if there's one thing he's glad to be done with, it's that. "I will never miss another person bitching about paying $3 to see a band. Seemed like we were one of the best-loved clubs around the country, and villainized by people around town who were always saying, 'I remember when it used to be free.'" He also cited tough competition in town over good bands in appropriate genres, and concludes. "I don't want to sound bitter about it, but I'll let someone else play the games." That will be Sabala and company, who intend to keep the club true to its legacy.

And for one last farewell on the subject of punk rock, whether or not you've already been hearing chatter about it for weeks, as I have, the word is now official: The Pocket FishRmen are breaking up. Look for two more gigs (Hole in the Wall 4/14, Red Eyed Fly 5/13) and a farewell album later this year. Clubs and bands may come and go, but with the FishRmen gone, the town may never again find itself inundated with numerous songs about sex with gorillas. This is truly a sad day.

Take the "D" Train

The long life of the FishRmen is a good indication that Austin is a relatively healthy town when it comes to accepting humor in music, as was all the chatter throughout this year's SXSW Music Festival and Conference over Tenacious D, the overweight duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, folk/rock open mike survivors whose very existence pokes arrows through the hearts of "real" musicians, and whose incredible popularity in Austin is almost beyond fathoming. They are, after all, known only through a handful of 15-minute HBO specials shown at God only knows what time of the morning and on local access' The Show With No Name on occasional Sunday nights. In the days and weeks before the coming of SXSW, people kept turning their unaware friends on to the D, and by Saturday night's show at the Austin Music Hall, a most astonishing number of people in town could be heard spouting lines from their shows and songs -- the single exception being Statesman critic Chris Riemenschneider, whose blurbs continued to refer to them right up to the day of their performance as a "gangsta rap" act, and who followed his faux pas with the obligatory "I didn't get it, therefore no one else did" review. Among those with a clue and a sense of humor, Hunter Darby of the longtime SXSW regulars Wannabes confesses "this is the one time I've pulled rank" when the band found they were originally playing opposite Ten-D, and demanded (and got) their showcase slot changed. Unwittingly returning the favor, the pair spent their last few hours in town following a private, two-hour Sunday show at the Speakeasy that drew appreciative, high-level fans from both the Statesman's Michael Corcoran to the Chronicle's Louis Black, by showing up to see Darby's Diamond Smugglers turn the cool march evening into a Hot August Shite. None of this is to say that just because a performer doesn't take himself seriously, he must be good. "I hate to sound like the guy who doesn't get it," sputters Speedy Sparks, attempting to remain calm, before exploding, "But I don't get it!!!" Sparks is reliving his time onstage with the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, who announced to SXSW personnel a mere two hours before his Saturday La Zona Rosa showcase that there had been a misunderstanding: He didn't need a pickup amp, he needed a pickup band! Sparks had been jamming at home with the also-legendary George Tomsco, guitarist for Tex-Mex instrumentalists the Fireballs and buddy of Buddy Holly. The two were having a wonderful time when they got an emergency call from SXSW. Soon, Sparks, Tomsco, Rusty Trapps, and Mike Vernon all found themselves packing their equipment up and heading for the "Ledge." Unlike the D, it's difficult to explain exactly what Norman Odam, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, actually does. Rather than the Spinal Tap school of insider satire, the Ledge falls into the Tiny Tim/Wild Man Fischer type of "crazy man with an out-of-tune instrument" branch of (not particularly) popular music, and to say that he wasn't what Sparks expected is an understatement. "For 25 years, I've been seeing this guy's name," he bellows, "and wondered, 'Where are his records? What does he do?' Every one of these motherfuckers knew, and not one of them told me he's a complete insane idiot!" Much of the Ledge's audience couldn't really peg him, either, and the fact that the stellar backup band was so competent (the wise strategy was to just play and let him holler along to whatever they were doing -- which worked) was probably what kept many from leaving the show. By the latter half of the set, however, when the beer-bellied, pasty, balding cowboy had all but traded in any attempt at singing for hobbling goofily around in worn-out briefs, doing the "jeans-'round-the-ankles strut," even the most hard-core weirdness fan had probably had their fill of his act. "I saw him years ago and he did the same thing -- it's all part of the act," declares former Butthole Surfer and current River City Rapist member Jeff Pinkus. "He was showing off to Gibby [Haynes], and of course Gibby 'dropped trou' as well and joined him." Told of the earlier incident, even the still-shocked Sparks softens up a bit. "Okay," he admits cautiously, "Now that I would've found funny!"

Mixed Notes

SXSW no-show: Big Daddy Kane. SXSW visitor with no apparent reason to be here: former MTV veejay Mark Goodman. SXSW weirdness: Truck hit on railroad tracks Saturday outside former Electric Lounge, despite Paul Minor's attempts to stop train with bare hands... "The more Doug Sahm the better," was Bill Bentley's not-unexpected reply to hearing that the Doug Sahm Hoot CD, recorded live at the Hole in the Wall on February 10 of this year, beat his in-the-works tribute to Sahm to the racks -- and to the studio, for that matter. The Gourds, Damnations TX, Shandon Sahm, Joe "King" Carrasco, Alvin Crow, and more appear on the current, lower-budgeted disc... TV/movie producer Rob Thomas (the one from Hey, Zeus and Dawson's Creek, not the one from Santana) is currently hoping to use the Wild Seeds tune "Debbie Came Back" as the theme song for his next, still-untitled TV series for Fox, about a family that buys a hockey team in fictional Sparta, Texas (which is to San Marcos what Arlen is to Elgin). Author/singer Michael Hall was somewhat astonished by the news, saying he hadn't even played the song in a decade. It hails, by the way, from the Mud Lies and Shame album which features an early performance by Fastball drummer Joey Shuffield, whose current band played an impromptu four-song set during the High Times day party at Stubb's on Saturday, after having been seen about town during SXSW with new pals Mike Mills of R.E.M. and Wallflowers guitarist Michael Ward. Hall will no doubt take more time to consider the offer, but after being informed of some names on the potential cast list, chuckled "anything to do with Ned Beatty is all right with me...

Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer

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