Dancing About Architecture
Another live music venue closes. So much for the Live Music Capital of the World.
Bye Bye, Babe's, Bye Bye ...
The calls and e-mails came frantically to the Chronicle office on Monday -- scads of bands scheduled to play Babe's on Sixth Street were getting calls saying their shows were off, and the rumors were flying that the club was shutting its doors for the Guinness beer people who were opening an Irish bar in its place. Loose talk to this effect had been going around for about a month, in fact, and a caller to Dudley & Bob's radio morning show had blurted out the "news" a couple weeks previously, but Babe's owner John Jewett had reportedly been responding to all questions with the statements that no, the club was not closing, and no, the staff was not being fired. Jewett was telling the God's honest truth, says booker and longtime Babe's associate Saun Edwards -- Babe's isn't closing, and the staff isn't being fired. There's a big "but" that goes along with that statement, however, as Edwards found out when he walked in into the club Sunday night -- the evening that was to have been a long-delayed benefit to help cover his medical bills resulting from a vicious attack by a group of thugs as he left the venue at closing time a couple of years ago. The benefit was off, it turned out, the rock & roll side (aka "bar side") of the place had been gutted since he had left that morning, and a makeshift new office had been erected for his new duties on the remaining "grill" side of the establishment. And yes, an Irish pub is soon to take its place alongside the many other pubs and shot bars that now make up the vast majority of the increasingly deceptively named "entertainment district."
The panic from bands like Men From Nantucket, 100 Days, and Oddjob isn't surprising; while Babe's was never the first name on anyone's lips when asked about best-known Austin live music clubs, it was a dependable little joint for young bands who fall under the description of "mainstream rock" to learn their wares (ironically, their plight is worse than even that of so-called "alternative" and punk acts), and many of the club's acts have next to nowhere to turn in its absence. "We're just completely devastated," says Mike Krug of Back Porch Mary, a band who mostly play out of town, but considered Babe's their "local center" and played there every other week. The folks at Antone's, for one, say they've been flooded with press kits from bands who normally play Babe's, but a room with a 700 capacity just isn't the place to try to break new acts who haven't yet developed a following. Edwards says that seeing the demolished room, which had gone through $300,000 worth of renovations only two years ago to make it more band-friendly, made him "sick to my stomach -- this was my baby from day one." That said, he acknowledges how Jewett must have felt about taking what was an assuredly difficult offer to turn down. The music business, he confesses, wasn't bringing in enough money to support both sides of the venue, thanks to recently raised rent, taxes, and costs specifically relating to hosting live bands. "There's just not enough support from the music scene," he sighs. "I was telling [the bands], 'Guys, you gotta at least bring your families!'" but in recent weeks, the club only had three to five acts that he felt were drawing an adequate crowd. Edwards says he's looking at ways to include some rock nights on the "grill" side (now aka the "only" side) of Babe's, but the space is not really conducive to loud, full-band performances, and furthermore the venue doesn't wish to alienate the regular fans of their country/folk fare. He'd love to start up a rock club of his own elsewhere, he adds, but looking at things from a realistic point of view, he says, "I don't think there's a place in town where a person can do a rock club and be successful. I think that era is gone."
A Texas Howdy From Johnny Goudie!
Former Mr. Rocket Baby frontman Johnny Goudie obviously isn't planning on cooling his jets anytime soon, as seen by the audience at Johnny Depp's Viper Room last week. That crowd, which included Kacy Crowley, Kris McKay, Michele Solberg, Tara Veneruso, and film director Quentin Tarantino, saw Metallica protégé Goudie parading around the stage clad in a shirt (made by wife Traci) which declared on both front and back "Fuck You Fred Durst," apparently in response to the Limp Bizkit vocalist's support of the controversial Internet music service Napster. One journalist in attendance says Metallica's laconic Lars Ulrich, upon seeing the rude tee, quipped "That's eloquent," while a New Musical Express online news report (www.nme.com) on the matter included a photo of Durst lying on his back, legs akimbo, pointing to his sphincter, with the accompanying fabricated quote, "And this is what I think of Goudie!" NME also reported that Goudie "later backtracked and said the T-shirt reflected his hate of Durst and 'his jock-rock.'" What a charming "apology" -- sort of the equivalent of if John Lennon had told the world in 1966 that "What I really meant was, Jesus can suck my cock."
Stayin' Alive, Stayin' Alive!
Susan Antone has been seen back in town, looking hale and healthy following a long stint in rehab. It would be nice if she were returning under more pleasant circumstances than the sentencing of her brother Clifford Antone on drug-related charges, scheduled for this morning (Thursday) at 9:30am, in front of U.S. District Court Judge Nowlan, but at least as I hear it, she's seven months sober and feeling very fine. At press time, the Jimmie Vaughan show at Antone's scheduled for Wednesday (last night as you read this) was expected to turn into a Fabulous Thunderbirds reunion of sorts, with Kim Wilson and Lou Ann Barton both putting in their share of stage time. (If you missed it, look for Vaughan tonight at the Continental Club.) Susan's also working on a new book, said to be less photo-oriented and more revealing than her previous two tomes. Coincidentally, within moments of my hearing that Susan A. was in Austin, I received an e-mail from Sue Stack in Vancouver, B.C., who wrote to let everyone know that former Austin guitar whiz Evan Johns, who was at death's door from liver failure last fall, is now doing "great, fantastic, writing, singing, playing, and is in the process of releasing two new albums." One of those he's been recording with Canadian musician Chris Houston, and the other he recently recorded in Atlanta with an L.A. band called the Hillbilly Soulsurfers. "When everything is finalized and released," promises Stack, "you'll probably see him out on the road again. Oh yeah, and he hasn't had a drink since August of last year, so he's in better shape than ever!"
Two weeks ago, I spoke of the fascinating combo of Neil Innes of the Rutles/Bonzo Dog Band, Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, and Yo La Tengo covering a Daniel Johnston song recently at a UK concert. By the time Pearl Jam comes to Texas in October (10/14 in Houston, 10/17 in Dallas, and 10/18 in Lubbock, with a planned 10/15 Austin show scotched, and a second Houston show just announced for that date), they could be adding Johnston material to their set list as well. Jeff Tartakov at local Stress Records tells me that Eddie Vedder, following in the footsteps of his late fellow Seattlite Kurt Cobain, phoned to order multiple copies of the complete Johnston back catalog with the intention of listening to the tapes a lot while the band begins its European/North American tour in support of their new Binaural album. ("As long as guys like this don't start calling during dinner," snipes Tartakov, "I see no reason to get an unlisted number.") Vedder was inspired to call after seeing Johnston live at a recent Knitting Factory show; Pearl Jam had been known in their heyday to occasionally perform Johnston's "Walking the Cow" live (though they never committed it to tape), but Vedder revealed to Tartakov that he had learned the song through the cover version by pal Mike Watt and members of Sonic Youth under the name the Lucky Sperms. Don't expect to see Watt doing a lot of touring anytime soon, though local fans of the former Minutemen/ fIREHOSE member will be glad to know that 10 weeks after surgery for an internal abscess in his perineum ("I almost died but was saved with emergency surgery," he recounts), the still-bedridden Watt is beginning to play again and is expected to make a full recovery. This is not Watt's first brush with danger; a few years ago he was the victim of an hour-and-a-half-long meandering phone call from Gibby Haynes that was aired live in its entirety by local radio station 101X.
Please Release Me...
It's official -- Joe Ely is a Rounder Records artist, and his debut for the label, recorded Live at Antone's in January 1999, is set to come out "in June," though the specific date has yet to come across my desk. For those who like to deal in specifics, here's when to look for some other June releases: The new BB King/Eric Clapton disc Riding With the King is packed with Austin names; besides a lot of guitar playing by Doyle Bramhall II and a little by Jimmie Vaughan, songwriting credits on the disc go to Charlie Sexton on "I Wanna Be" and Craig Ross on "Marry You," both of which were penned in conjunction with Bramhall. The disc is due in stores on June 13. Right before that, Darden Smith has a new disc titled Xtra, Xtra coming out on June 11. Smith is also working on a dance/theatre production called "New Westerners" in between touring and preparing for his next album, due in spring 2001. Knife in the Water's new album Red River will be out on June 6. They're touring the East and Midwest with their friends Calexico and strange Bedhead-fellows Macha to celebrate. You can catch 'em before they leave Friday at Emo's with Gloria Record and National Skyline. Finally, after being pushed back due to legal troubles, Doug Sahm's country album The Return of Wayne Douglas on Tornado Records has a firm release date of June 20.
An e-mail from Jesse Sublett, proud papa of the Skunks, relates the following: "Check it out: (http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=333689288). The Skunks' first single, going for $190. This is like 10 times the amount it cost to make it. Cool, huh?" It's also a reminder of something we couldn't fit in our recent Gary Floyd piece: The former Dicks head has been frustrated of late that he doesn't own a copy of the "Dicks Hate the Police" single and can't find it on eBay for less than around $500. If you've got a spare copy, we're sure he'd be glad to make some sort of trade involving autographs or other Dicks paraphernalia. Contact Floyd through the Chronicle if you'd care to help with his plight... I'm told that this Saturday at 8:30pm, Christina Marrs and John Riedie will be tying the knot. Hmmph! They should've thought of that before she got knocked up! I've managed to avoid mentioning the veritable plague of weddings and babies among the music community for as long as I can, I suppose; the Asylum Street Spankers have got me stymied by actually conducting the wedding of their manager and female vocalist during their Antone's gig that night! Actual Reverend Guy Forsyth will be in charge of the knot-tying ceremony (wonder if he's got a ship captain's license as well?) and Pops Bayless and Mysterious John are expected to make a surprise appearance somewhere around the "or forever hold your peace" part...
-- Contributors: Christopher Gray, Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer