The Year in Austin, 2000
By Christopher Gray, Fri., Jan. 5, 2001
Austin spent 2000 much like it spent 1999, gridlocked in its B-movie identity crisis between hardwired high tech hub and laid-back lefty oasis, and nowhere was this ongoing drama -- more soap operatic than The Sopranos, but less so than wrestling -- as manifest as it was than in the local music scene.
The self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World" is in fact home to many different "scenes," and in 2000, they all made their presence felt; from the Grammy Awards (Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson) and the Kennedy Center's National Heritage Awards (Don Walser) to a nondescript house in East Austin where a guerilla radio station tried to stick it to The Man -- and actually succeeded until a convention of Fortune 500 CEOs hit town. Meg Ryan paramour and Gladiator Russell Crowe had people paying thousands of dollars on eBay to come see one of his band's gigs at Stubb's, while too many local music acts to mention couldn't pay their friends to show up on a Wednesday night.
It was that kind of year, as the ontological myth of Austin's music scene continued to pick up speed in oddly refracted ways, like Kathie Lee Gifford introducing Fastball at the KHFI Christmas show. Back in the real world, musicians struggled to meet their everyday living expenses, not to mention trying to find time to write, rehearse, or God forbid, record. Perhaps Radiohead captured the 2000 zeitgeist best on Kid A's "How to Disappear Completely" -- "I'm not here ... This isn't happening."
Then again, every night something was happening, and on occasion, we even heard about it over here at the Chronicle. If we were extra-lucky, we saw it firsthand. Plucking a dozen moments out of the ether to sum up 2000 is arbitrary as all get-out, but at this point let's just get it over with.
The big, bad FCC decides a handful of local, low-power radio stations represents a clear and present danger to total corporate media domination, not to mention national security. Before they can readjust their ears to playlists dictated by actual human beings and not ad sales, Austinites (at least those that even noticed) look on helplessly as the government acts with a swiftness of purpose not seen since Waco. In the process, the agency previously best known for keeping the word "ass" off basic cable becomes responsible for a bigger thwarting of democracy than even the presidential election.
1. Microradio Ga-Ga
A city-sponsored music and arts network is surely one of the most noble public undertakings since polio vaccines. Unfortunately, this isn't Europe. The Austin Music Network limped along through new management, an ill-advised but unavoidable change of venue to a crowded restaurant (Threadgill's was the only place that offered safe harbor), and no money or equipment to produce new programming. Viewers are left with What's the Cover? host Rob Mahoney reading the Chronicle's club listings off a prompter as uncomfortable-looking diners try to squirm out of camera range, and by the middle of December, even that's gone in lieu of several days of a hand-scrawled message about "technical difficulties."
2. If They Shoot Horses
Austin groups continued chasing major-label windmills -- when they weren't taking shots at each other. Fastball's The Harsh Light of Day, Dynamite Hack's Superfast, Goudie's Peep Show, and Vallejo's Into the New all bowed on some corporation's dime to the sound of one hand clapping, both locally and beyond. Spin magazine names the Hack's folk-damaged cover of N.W.A.'s "Boyz-N-the Hood" one of the year's Top 20 singles, an opinion not shared by the Comptonites themselves: MC Ren calls the song "fucked up" on Rolling Stone online, while Dr. Dre refuses to appear in the video.
3. 'I Don't Hear a Single'
Meanwhile, back home, Vallejo's "Dynamite Wack" becomes a favorite summer party record and MP3 sensation, even as it manages to overshadow anything else on their major-label debut. Toward the end of the year, Dexter Freebish make some noise on CHR with "Leaving Town" -- albeit not yet as much as the first time the song came out, when it was called Semisonic's "Closing Time." Everyone is soon back at their rehearsal spaces jockeying to record a snappy, radio-friendly retort to 2001 sacrificial lambs the Riddlin' Kids.
The hype surrounding three midsummer gigs by surly matinee idol Russell Crowe's outback bar band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts reaches epidemic proportions. Fans make pilgrimages from around the globe to Stubb's outdoor amphitheater, then are stymied when they can't find a parking place. Crowe's workmanlike music fails to inspire much more than a few hot flashes and a petulant phone from the actor's "people" to Cox Communications higher-ups when the Austin American-Statesman runs a less-than-rave review. Much to her disappointment, Chronicle scribe Mindy LaBernz hears from neither Crowe nor his people about her "Live Shot."
4. 30 Odd Minutes of Grunts
Local noise-rock quartet ...And They Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead leaves behind a string of broken bodies and equipment almost as long as their name. The year starts smashingly enough at South by Southwest 2000, when the group's showcase at the former Electric Lounge is rudely interrupted when a train T-bones a pickup truck parked on the nearby railroad tracks. Then in England, drummer Jason Reece needs stitches after Trail's battering-ram set list inspires a pubful of Brits to rush the stage. They recover in time to play some European festivals and appear on the USA Network's Farmclub.com show. Although Farmclub boss and Dynamite Hack check-signer Jimmy Iovine declines to tender them an offer, they avoid serious injury from flying drums and microphone stands, plus, they get to meet Bono, and steal a bit of Southwestern punk rock thunder from newly anointed underground saviors At the Drive-In.
5. Dead Men Walking
The bizarre world of online file-swapping comes home when the Gourds' locally beloved cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice" shows up on Napster as a choice nugget from the vault of Vermont jamlords -- and onetime Orange Mothers openers -- Phish. Snoop, who knows what time it is, raves about the Gourds' version to MTV News, just as undergraduates nationwide swallow their hackey sacks in shock. Phish try to atone by taping an episode of Austin City Limits, but the stress proves too much and the band goes on hiatus soon after. The Gourds stay busy preparing the terrific Bolsa de Agua, keeping Dallas Cowboys fan Kevin Russell away from sharp objects, and looking for the ghost of Doug Sahm in the alley behind Hole in the Wall.
6. Is That Your 'Gin & Juice'?
A rash of architectural mishaps gives bands something else to worry about besides low paydays and carpal tunnel syndrome. While installing a sprinkler system for Sixth Street eatery Jazz, a crew drills a number of holes in support beams that forces the club to move its grand opening to La Zona Rosa. Over at Stubb's, a burst pipe forces the Barkers to skirt electrocution as they play their first-ever show to an underwater audience. A similar situation happens not long after the opening of the Continental Club's Houston branch, when a water main rains on a bustling Friday night crowd. In Austin, the Hole in the Wall clears all but two pool tables out of the back room to create a larger venue. The room debuts as "Townie Hall" at SXSW, and after several near-cases of heatstroke at packed summer gigs like the Cheap Trick Hoot Night, the PA is up and running by December. The Hole then moves on to the larger problem of getting its regulars to go home.
7. We Built This City
South by Southwest 2000 sets new records both for the number of showcasing bands and the amount of divine wrath it incurs. Torrential rains sweep away much of Thursday night's crowds, while members of the Chronicle's music staff and Scottish band Departure Lounge are nearly roasted like duck ô l'orange when a fire breaks out at the Radisson hotel. Elsewhere, Chronicle Music Editor Raoul Hernandez and friends bear personal witness to the WWF mania sweeping the nation when they're "escorted" from the Atomic Cafe just prior to some poor sap becoming the unwitting target of a security goon's impromptu bodyslam demonstration. Things get so out of hand that La Zona Rosa co-owner Kelly Gruber is served with a warrant for biting one of his own bouncers on the hand. (Reports he was driven to it by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy's inane ravings go unconfirmed.) Festival reps are dispatched to sign Tenacious D to a lifetime contract.
8. Welcome to Austin --
Apparently everyone, as Austin's homegrown legacy, Hoot Nights, become more common than jokes about George W.'s interleckchal capacity. Sensible Austinites were already crying "uncle" after the Yoko Ono fete at Gaby & Mo's, but a snootful more were on the way: the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, Cars, Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin, Monkees, Highwaymen, Brian Jones, the rest of the Rolling Stones, a double bill of Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett, and a guy that used to be in the Byrds (Gene Clark) who most people have never heard of. The SIMS foundation is forced to consider an alternative method of fundraising when it turns out most musicians only enlist the support group's low-cost services after disputes relating to learning "Just What I Needed" over "My Best Friend's Girl" turn ugly.
9. Who Gives a Hoot?
As ever, 2000 saw more comings and goings than the Driskill lobby. Babe's, the Texas Music Saloon, Shaggy's, and Top of the Marc all said their abbreviated goodbyes, while Room 710, The Drink, Scrap Bar, Opal Divine's Freehouse, Momo's, and the Metro all rose to take their place. Hank's Roadside Cafe did both, opening and closing in the span of about six months. For his part, local Buddha of the blues Clifford Antone looked forward to four years of swapping rare Guitar Slim recordings for cigarettes. The Pocket FishRmen, Shindigs, Sixteen Deluxe, Solid Gold 40, Handful, Greatest American Gomez, and Stretford all did their final encores, but the community's single biggest loss was when alt.rock superproducer John Croslin pulled up stakes for San Francisco shortly after producing Kissinger's gem of a debut Charm. The former Reiver was reportedly heard to remark he wanted to move somewhere rock & rollers and dot-commers had a better chance of peacefully coexisting.
10. You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello
To Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, whose Rio Grande-wide grin appeared no less than five times (alongside everyone from Merle Haggard to Mayor Kirk Watson), six if you count the Grammy-winning caricature on the Ride With Bob cover. First runner-up is Doug Sahm, who didn't let a little thing like dying stop him from appearing in the column three times. Yoko Ono/Patti Smith pal Jody Denberg, Christina Aguilera admirers Dexter Freebish, Japanimated punks the Sexy Finger Champs, bon vivant Bob Schneider, and fourth Yo La Tengo member Daniel Johnston all tied for third with two apiece.
11. Special 'Dancing About Architecture' Camera Hog Award
Dr. Eugene Chadborne and Hank Williams III (tie). Chadbourne, who "plays" instruments like a modified garden rake, got into the honky-tonk spirit with a salute to the music of Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, and Bob Wills best described as shitkicker performance art. Still, no out-of-towner caused more fur to fly than Hank Williams III. At first, the Lonesome Drifter's grandson said he couldn't afford to move here, but apparently he could afford to throw a tantrum at his SXSW Stubb's performance and walk offstage after about 10 minutes. After thunderous receptions opening for Beck in January and Dwight Yoakam in July, plus a pair of off-the-chain Continental Club shows and a November make-up date at Stubb's, Hank III is heard to inquire if either Dale Watson or Wayne "The Train" Hancock had any room on their couches.
12. Honorary Texan of the Year
Well, well, well. After 2000, it's a good thing another year with three zeros won't be along for another millennium. We won't even get into the Austin Titty Limits Web site, the redneck/Primal Scream football-induced donnybrook at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Jon Blondell being carted off to the clink after showing up to play a school benefit at the Governor's Mansion, Yo-Yo Ma's surprise double bill with Kathleen Hanna's Le Tigre, KISS nearly suing their biggest fans SINIS over copyrighted "Ss," former Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan's Buchananesque racial epithets, or Kitty Gordon's Nina Singh being smuggled past immigration in the trunk of a car at the Canadian border. Stories on Austin music and musicians popped up everywhere from British music bible MOJO to Playboy and The New York Times Magazine, so at least we gave the world plenty to laugh at last year. Besides the 43rd president of the United States.