Rockin' out with KISS and Godsmack in spite of the poster ban and smoking ordinance

Smoke Signals

As if Austin's economic future wasn't uncertain enough, things could really get dicey in the next few weeks when the City Council finally takes action on the much-debated smoking ordinance. The ordinance is scheduled for a first reading at today's council meeting (Thursday, 2pm, 3700 Lakeshore Blvd.), after which the city's governing body could vote on it immediately, table it for action at a future meeting, or refer it to a task force for further study. The clock is ticking, though, as the current council now has less than a month to go, and outgoing Mayor Gus Garcia has publicly acknowledged he'd like the ban to be his legacy. Local bar owners are understandably nervous, as reports from cities where similar ordinances have recently passed have begun filtering back; a recent New York Times article estimated a 40% drop in business after the Big Apple's ban passed in March, with comparable figures also coming out of Dallas. Those favoring a ban say it's much too soon to draw any lasting conclusions and that the slumping economy and wartime jitters could be as much to blame. The bar owners, meanwhile, say that since Austin already passed a public-smoking ordinance in 1994, this ban is more about legislating morality than public health and that it could deal a crippling blow to the already-struggling live music industry. "There's nothing stopping anyone from doing a nonsmoking bar," Elysium owner John Wickham points out. "They already tried that with the Acoustic Cafe, and it lasted maybe six months."

Fight for Your Right (to Poster)

Although the smoking ban has gotten the lion's share of attention recently, another ban that's been less than helpful to the live music community appears close to unraveling -- or may in fact have already done so. When the Court of Federal Appeals in Seattle recently ruled that the port city's ban on public postering was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, Austin poster artists (of which there are legion) took notice, because the ordinance in question echoed the capital city's almost to the letter. Austin's ban was already on shaky ground after being challenged last year from a most unlikely source: the Travis County GOP, who upon discovering the ban also applied to political yard signs and other publicly displayed campaign paraphernalia, applied for and received a temporary injunction. A petition campaign is currently under way to repeal the ordinance, but Bill Narum of G0-GO Studios says all that's really necessary is to increase public awareness to the point where the City Council realizes Austin is enforcing an unconstitutional law. How stringently that law is even being enforced these days is itself in question. Multicolored hip-hop and Latin gig posters remain a fixture on the Eastside, and a flier touting a hip-hop show at the Flamingo Cantina has been affixed to a telephone pole outside the Chronicle offices since well before the April 9 show date. In other poster-related news, SXSW's Ron Suman reports that the Flatstock exhibition will return to next year's Music Festival after an installment at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival Labor Day weekend.

Comings and Goings

Lately, the Austin music scene has seen more job-swapping than the NCAA men's basketball coaching ranks. As of May 18, Wendy Morgan, current director of Music Marketing for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, will be the new executive director for the Texas NARAS chapter, the position vacated somewhat involuntarily by Carlyne Majer late last year. Over at KGSR, onetime morning man Kevin Phinney is back in the booth with wake-up deejay Kevin Connor. Before Phinney signed on, Connor and fill-in co-host Jenn Garrison got to talking about the Austin Music Network, leading Connor, also the chair of the Austin Music Commission, to offer Garrison, who co-hosted AMN's Check This Action with the Chronicle's Margaret Moser in the mid-Nineties, the job of AMN program director. In trouble with Johnny Law, meanwhile, are local Frunttbutt members Marc Ridgway, Chad Jeremy Holt, and Jessie Charles Miller Jr., who along with Vu Minh Nguyen were arrested last week and charged with forgery, trademark counterfeiting, and engaging in organized crime in connection with producing and selling bogus wristbands during this year's SXSW. An Austin Police Department statement said police believe 4,500 fake wristbands were printed, at a value of more than $500,000 ($115 each). Suspect Jonathan James remains at large. See SXSW Counterfeit Bust for more. Finally, not at large is Alejandro Escovedo, who was hospitalized with hepatitis C complications after a performance in Tempe, Ariz., April 26. Escovedo was later released, but was advised by his doctor to rest for two months and has had to cancel his upcoming European tour.

The Producers: Gene Simmons (l) and Matt McCormack
The Producers: Gene Simmons (l) and Matt McCormack (Photo By Traci Goudie)

KISS and Tell

Imagine getting a phone call from one of your childhood idols saying he's heard your album and wants to record one of your songs. That's what happened to local singer-songwriter and longtime KISS fan Matt McCormack. A few months ago, McCormack was surfing past Gene Simmons' Web site when he noticed a call for submissions for Simmons' upcoming solo album. Intrigued, McCormack sent in a copy of his album Here We Go Again and didn't hear anything until about three weeks ago when the notorious pussy hound and rock & roll destroyer called to say he had taken a liking to the song "Pride." After a couple more weeks of e-mailing back and forth, Simmons flew to Austin last week and spent three days recording the song at Slaughter House Studios with McCormack, co-author Ryan Carter of Dewato, and studio owner Mark Addison, Nina Singh, and Will Sexton. "He sang it great," relates McCormack. "He was such a gentleman about it." Simmons also accompanied the crew to the Bitter End, where he was "mobbed," and doled out plenty of music-business advice and tales of his dalliances with Cher and Diana Ross. "He was just flooring you with all these stories, giving you all these little classic rock moments," McCormack says. "Everything was about girls and money and sex and how he owns it all. It was real tongue-in-cheek." With Simmons, how could it have been anything else?

Photo By Todd V. Wolfson

Road Trippin'

Onetime Austinite, now itinerant troubadour Davíd Garza pulls into Stubb's Saturday night, and he won't be empty-handed. Far from it: He'll be performing songs from the five new albums he's recorded for his own Wide Open label. There's the electric/electronic Amorea, lo-fi Secret Album, folky Alarm Spring, and Covers/Colcha, an English/Spanish collection of songs by Lydia Mendoza, Roy Orbison, Iris Dement, Los Tremendos Michoacanos, and several others. Then there's Summer Songs Four, a rock opera documenting the presumably fictional battle between the Bears and the Artcloud Army. "The only unifying style is I performed all the instruments myself," says Garza by phone from the Midwest. Garza recorded the discs in Austin, New York, Los Angeles, and the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, a 3,000-acre pecan farm 30 miles east of El Paso also favored by fellow "Texas freaks" Pantera and Ministry. Though lately he's been grappling with the elements and a car that wouldn't start, living on the road seems to suit the former Twang Twang Shock-a-Boomer. "I love it," he says. "I have places I can always come back to." Besides Austin, those places are L.A., where he's been holding down a weekly slot at the Largo with Jon Brion, and New York, where he'll start a residency at the Mercury Lounge later this month. Garza also appears on KUT's Eklektikos today (Thursday) at noon.


101X Smackdown!

Spring is radio-station festival time, and the first big one, 101X's Springfest, hits Friday afternoon in Waterloo Park. Blur, the White Stripes, and the Donnas may be on the station's playlist, but obviously it's still nü-metal that pays the bills. A brief guide:

RUBBERHED: Rubberhed represents Austin with a coarse, infectious sound that splits the difference between Bad Religion and Agent Orange, as heard on their new EP, Throw Your Voice. (4pm)

SEETHER: South African trio Seether wants you to believe everything will be "Fine Again," but after spending time with songs like "Fuck It," "Broken," and "Pig," that may be something of a hard sell. (5pm)

TRAPT: Californians Trapt hit it big with "Headstrong," which melds the belligerence of Disturbed with the radio-ready heavy hooks of Linkin Park or Alien Ant Farm. (6pm)

EVANESCENCE: Arkansans Evanescence are early front-runners for Newcomer of the Year, thanks to their haunting, inescapable single "Bring Me to Life." But how long before vocalist Amy Lee goes solo? (7pm)

GODSMACK: Pierced in all the right places, the Bostonians' third CD, Faceless, is currently getting mucho airplay due to gut-wrenching single "Straight Out of Line." (8:30pm)

Gates open at 3pm; tickets $30 in advance or $34.50 day of show. Afterparty at the Vibe with Smile Empty Soul and Cold; free with ticket stub. (11pm)

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Smoking ban, City Council, Gus Garcia, John Wickham, poster ban, Bill Narum, Ron Suman, Flatstock, David Garza, Matt McCormack, Gene Simmons, KISS, Slaughter House Studios, Wendy Morgan, NARAS, Kevin Phinney, Kevin Connor, KGSR, Austin Music Network, Jenn Garrison

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