Just Like Starting Over
Different, but the same. Or the same, only different. Even Mr. Miyagi couldn't quite put into words the vibe at the Hole in the Wall Sunday night. Paul Minor tried, affirming from the stage that, "This doesn't feel like a momentous, bizarre occasion -- it just feels like another Free for All." That anyone at all could be standing on the stage was momentous enough, considering that just under a year ago everyone thought the Hole's next gig would be with the wrecking ball. Factoring in the significant makeover to the club's interior, it was a little bizarre. The raised ceilings, elongated bar, and brand-new carpeting gave the room a distinctive supper-club feel, and even on a rented PA, the sound was much clearer and brighter than before. (It was still plenty smoky and will probably remain so according to "Naked City," p.15.) Perhaps most impressive was the turnout, with even more people inside the club than outside "catching up" in the parking lot. Musically, things hardly skipped a beat. Former Jane Bond keyboardist Matt Hubbard, joined by Superego rhythm-mates Andrew Duplantis and Kevin Pearson, plus Jupiter Records' Jason Enright on guitar, kicked the night off appropriately with some back-alley beatnik blues. Moonlight Towers, playing their first Free for All, fit right in with a melodically charged, Limey-suffused set that climaxed with a wistful cover of John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" and the Stones' majestic "Moonlight Mile." Superego welcomed original guitarist Jon Sanchez to the bandstand and wasted no time going into "Wasted Days, Wasted Nights" before heading deeper into the well for "Eastern Bloc" and "Beautiful Lie." It was a perfect night, but this is no fairy tale -- past this weekend's anniversary shows, there's no real guarantee that regular live music will continue at the Hole. Hard as that may be to imagine, it's just further proof that we live in a different Austin now (RIP Al Ragle), one where dreams of a musical utopia are forced to coexist with the sometimes-harsh realities of the bottom line. Though new general manager Matt Allen says he remains confident live music will be more than occasional -- last week's early shows with the Nortons and Horse Wreck were also successful -- the new owners are said to be reluctant to charge a cover for fear of alienating potential customers. They had little reason to worry the next night, as the Damnations and Orange Mothers drew a crowd that filled every available inch of expanded floor space. Still four more chances to help them see the light, with the Golden Arm Trio and Heybale! tonight (Thursday), Daniel Johnston and Scott H. Biram Friday, the Pocket FishRmen and Wannabes Saturday, and another Free for All Sunday. Finally, anyone worrying that the scrubbed-up Hole might be too respectable can rest easy: Sanchez, whose new project Jon Sanchez's Summer Wardrobe debuts Sunday night, managed to have his picture taken with O.J. Simpson while touring with Ginger Mackenzie in Florida last summer. "He was just so charming and accommodating," says Sanchez. "I was petrified." So maybe things are back to normal, or as close as we're ever going to get.
Texas' chief boogie chillen ZZ Top cruise into the Erwin Center Friday, accompanied by the Double Trouble-backed Kenny Wayne Shepherd, but with their 14th LP, Mescalero, still no closer to seeing the (official) light of day. Longtime Top publicist Bob Merlis says the delay -- Mescalero was originally slated to come out this spring -- is due to the latest regime change at the band's label of the last decade, RCA. "Basically, they recorded it for one administration and delivered it to another," says Merlis. According to him, new RCA head Clive Davis, upon hearing Mescalero, was reputed to say, "I think we can do more." Merlis' colleague Amy Treco, press liaison for this Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers tour, confirms the party line. "[Clive] liked the album, but thought something special should happen to it." While it's been widely speculated this "something special" will turn out to be the Santana treatment of numerous chart-friendly guest stars -- meaning Avril Lavigne's two-way should be going off any time -- Merlis says changes to the album have yet to be determined. During all this, he says the band has been "really open-minded" and "hopeful that [Davis'] interest in the release will make it more anticipated." Though he admits that not having new product out hasn't exactly helped the current tour's ticket sales, he points out that a recent show in San Bernardino, Calif., "essentially" sold out, and furthermore, it was in his estimation the Top's "best show ever." With the band heading to Europe this summer before more U.S. dates in the fall, Merlis says it's unclear when they will be available to address Davis' suggestions, but points out that new songs "Buck Nekkid" and "Peace" have been well-received on the road. As for the band's long-delayed 4-CD box set, Merlis reports that it's more or less ready, but will have to wait until after Mescalero's release to shake some more tush.
It appears that once again we Texans are going to have to show them damn Yankees how it's done. Less than a week after Long Island's much-anticipated Field Day wound up a rain-drenched morass in Giants Stadium, the final lineup for September's second Austin City Limits Music Festival has been released. Along with previously announced headliners like R.E.M., the Rev. Al Green, Lucinda Williams, and Ween, new names such as Dwight Yoakam, Steve Winwood, Mavis Staples, Steve Earle, Beth Orton, Yo La Tengo, the Polyphonic Spree, the Beta Band, Hank Williams III, the Dandy Warhols, Kings of Leon, and Drive-By Truckers have been added. Plenty of locals, including Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen, Shawn Colvin, Spoon, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Bob Schneider, Del Castillo, Ruthie Foster, Patrice Pike, W.C. Clark, and the Derailers will likewise be doing their best to rock Zilker Park Sept. 26-28. A "99.9%" complete list, according to ACL Music Fest booker Charles Attal, is available in the ad in this issue (p.88) or online at www.aclfestival.com. Attal says that despite the extra day and extra stages, he doesn't anticipate the workload to be much more than last year. "Obviously it's more labor, but we know the logistics of the park really well, and it should run really smooth," he says, adding he expects crowds to increase by at least 20-30%. Three-day passes are still available at the "early bird" rate of $65, but hurry, because the price goes up this Saturday. Look for plenty of ACL Fest ink in Esquire magazine courtesy of the Chronicle's own Andy Langer, who recently became the first regular music columnist for the esteemed men's monthly in more than a decade.
This Just In
Despite being notoriously hard to reach (just ask my parents), "TCB" continually finds himself inundated by more new music than he knows what to do with. A few recent local highlights:
THOSE PEABODYS, Unite Tonight (Tiger Style)
SETUP: Austin fourpiece take on the Datsuns with a full tank of FM riffs and denim-clad bravado.
VERDICT: Dazed and Confused: The Next Generation.
JULIE DOIRON/OKKERVIL RIVER, Split EP (Acuarela)
SETUP: Ex-Eric's Trip chanteuse and spectral Austin folk-rockers throw in together for split release on a Spanish label.
VERDICT: Stark, disquieting campfire tales for post-grads roughing it in Big Bend.
LOS LONELY BOYS, Los Lonely Boys (OR Music)
SETUP: Eagerly awaited debut from Willie Nelson-approved San Angelo hermanos, due in August.
VERDICT: Get ready to hit the dance floor with this bilingual tour de force.
GEORGE STRAIT, Honkytonkville (MCA Nashville)
SETUP: King George weighs in with his yearly album.
VERDICT: Of course your mom will love the ballads, but loads of fiddle and steel guitar suggest Fort Worth has been crossing Strait's mind a lot lately.