Amplified Heat; Arctic Blast; and smoke-free Mondays
When the mercury started dropping Friday afternoon, "TCB" licked its lips, not because they were chapped, but because Austin's annual "arctic blast" usually makes for a wild weekend. Sure enough, upon arriving at Room 710 that night, we were greeted by the melodic throb of the Pretty Please and a cracklingly good Masonic. No Friday the 13th would be complete without a little Sabbath, and distaff tribute band Mistress of Reality had a full Flamingo throwing their devil-horns up on the pulverizing "Children of the Grave" and "Electric Funeral." Back at 710, Grand Champeen missed a prime chance to cover "Moonlight Mile" as the snow fell outside but ripped on "Rocks Off." Saturday, the cold receded but the pace didn't as a trip to the Pawn Shop Recording Studio brought a preview of brand-new band Death at Sea think Echo & the Bunnymen meet the Cult, only better. Nightfall found plenty of ice in the veins of the Beauty Above, who unspooled a fog-shrouded web of mystic metal at Elysium, and Ian Moore, whose Parish set suggested Ray Wylie Hubbard taking a pass at Beck's Sea Change. Sunday was all about warmth, because after cozy Free for All sets from Lauren Fogel, Miranda Brown, and Andrew Duplantis, the Conrads really got things cooking. At their first show in a year, the reconstituted Houston-Austin quartet simmered through two full hours of Gulf Coast soul and honky-tonk heartbreak, heavy on the Doug Sahm and Gram Parsons, but also throwing in the Tailgators, Two Hoots & a Holler, and Banana Blender Surprise. Anyone who missed their renditions of Fabulous Thunderbirds staples "The Crawl" and "Fine, Fine, Fine" was left out in the cold, but it was all a warm-up for this weekend's two-night Drive-by Truckers stand at Stubb's anyway.
Scene Stealers: Amplified Heat
Stop me if this sounds familiar: Three Hispanic brothers hit town and bowl people over with their hair-raising take on the blues. True, this could apply to a certain popular San Angelo trio, but Red River regulars know the correct answer is Amplified Heat. Northwest Houston natives Jim, Chris, and Gian Ortiz have been playing around town since 1999, but changed their name from Blues Condition when too many people showed up at their gigs with the wrong idea. "We were too loud," explains singer/guitarist Jim, the eldest at 31. "They expected Stevie Ray Vaughan covers, and we came out with the volume all the way up." With both band names referencing Cream, and the band's über-blues being filtered through childhood faves Metallica, Slayer, and Motörhead, Red River audiences have been considerably more hospitable. "People understand what we're trying to do," says Jim. Indeed, it's not unusual for the unsigned band to play several times a week up and down the street. Once they secure reliable transportation, Amplified Heat plans to tour, but for now would be happy printing more copies of their sold-out debut EP. "It went really fast," says Jim. "Before, we used to hand people CDs. Now they ask us for it."
Amplified Heat gets the Led out at Beerland, Tuesday, Feb. 24; Emo's, Wednesday, Feb. 25; and Headhunters, Sunday, Feb. 29.
Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em
For now, at least. With minimal fanfare, the first provision of the controversial smoking ordinance passed by City Council last year went into effect Feb. 1. Live music venues must now set aside the first Monday of each month to be smoke-free all night, though those not normally open Mondays are not required to do so. The remainder of the ordinance goes into effect May 1 and is likely to have a much more profound effect, because it requires the purchase of either unrestricted or restricted smoking permits. Unrestricted permits cover venues that derive at least 70% of their revenue from alcohol and forbid entry by anyone under 18, while the restricted variety requires an enclosed smoking area with a separate ventilation system and no under-18 entry during the smoking hours of 2pm-6am. Ironically, those most affected are kids too young to (legally) smoke, because most Austin bars and clubs will be unaffected past having to shell out for the permit, but those that allow under-18 entry will have to choose between confining all-ages shows to that first Monday or going smoke-free across the board. Vince Delisi, senior sanitarian with the city's Health and Human Services Department, says he hopes to have permit applications ready by March 1, and that enforcement of the ordinance will largely be complaint-based. "I just don't have the staff to go door-to-door," he says, so stay tuned.
SXSW Sprinkles: Hey, Remember the Nineties?
In the words of one of that decade's most eloquent statesmen, what's the deal with all the Nineties bands playing SXSW? Everyone originally thought this year's festival would be a combined episode of VH1's I Love the 80's and Bands Reunited (i.e., Mission of Burma, Metal Urbain, Dramarama, the Church), given further credence by recent adds Joan Jett and the Romantics. Now, however, the 04 list is equally flush with acts whose golden years went down during the Clinton administration: Sponge, Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty, American Music Club, Bettie Serveert, Tracy Bonham, Cake, Cracker, Lisa Loeb, the Posies, and Urge Overkill. How 'bout going back another decade for Graham Parker, the Eagles' Bernie Leadon or the Cowsills' namesake Susan Cowsill? Those interested in tomorrow will want to check out two new versions of SXSW 02 headliner Norah Jones both male (Jamie Cullum) and female (Angela McCluskey) Kristin Hersh's new band 50 Foot Wave, and former Babes in Toyland mistress Kat Bjelland's new Katastrophy Wife. Keep an eye out for Cafe Tacuba buds Control Machete and Mexico's N.W.A and El Tri, as well as "Mad World" breakout Gary Jules, England's the Cooper Temple Clause and
, and Canadians Broken Social Scene and the Stills. With more than 1,100 acts set to go and a schedule now online at SXSW.com, Music Festival Creative Director Brent Grulke sums up the activity level at HQ in one word: "frenzied."
Mr. Kite's Corner
Hats off to Ben Webster for turning his birthday party tonight (Thursday) at Beerland into a benefit for a most worthy cause. Canned food, clothing items, and cash donations collected at the Attack Formation frontman and sometime DJ's big night will go to the brand-new Casa Amiga rape crisis center/shelter in Juarez, Mexico. Providing tunes are the relentless Walter Daniels/Wade Driver duo, hardcore pummelers Sea of Thousand, punk-blues growlers the Crack Pipes, and a "secret band" that may or may not be the Formation in one of its dozen incarnations (and spellings). 9pm.
Bullet the Blue Sky
Hot off the wire comes news that guit-steel scorcher Junior Brown has signed with Telarc Records, which will release his first album since 2001's Mixed Bag in August.
The first round of the Austin Music Network's High School Battle of the Bands was postponed due to last weekend's "inclement" weather. New dates are this Saturday, 2-6pm, and Feb. 28 at the Flamingo Cantina, with the finals still on for March 20.
Upstanding citizens the Yuppie Pricks have some community service requirements to fulfill, so they're hosting a party Friday night at the Elks Lodge, 700 Dawson, with Huff Rally and the Cruel & Unusual. 9pm.
The Parish is now featuring weeknight happy-hour shows from 5-7pm with no cover, free food, and cheap drinks. So far the lineup includes Nathan Hamilton & No Deal Mondays, Grupo Fantasma side project Brownout Thursdays, and Shane Bartell & Matt the Electrician Fridays.
Austin noisemakers ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are the only Texas band in the 2004 Coachella festival lineup. Currently working on a new album with Mike McCarthy, they'll hit the stage sometime before Radiohead and the Pixies on Saturday, May 1.
Ailing icon Alejandro Escovedo's plans for a secret show Tuesday to coincide with the Cactus Cafe's 25th anniversary were scotched when his father died last week. Condolences.