A rock out, a rock opera, and a rock show. Must be Rocktober.

Crank County mayhem
Crank County mayhem (Photo By Gary Miller)

Rock Ad Infinitum

Even before the Red River Rock Out got under way last weekend, the biggest question looming over the nascent festival was obvious: How would this weekend be different from any other? Red River is indeed thriving, but as the Rock Out organizers noted here last week, its appeal is largely confined to the underground. And when the dust settled, after North Carolina's show-stealing Crank County Daredevils finally ceased their thunderous hillbilly Motörhead assault on Headhunters well after 2am Sunday, it was clear that's where it remains – for now.

Women of Rock & Roll Panel
Women of Rock & Roll Panel (Photo By Gary Miller)

Crowds varied wildly over the weekend, from the Daredevils' packed houses at Headhunters and Room 710 to the handful who showed up at Emo's outside Friday to watch Austin's Ends rip through songs from their imminent second album. Likewise, the expected freakshow/street fair turned out to be a few tents in the parking lot next to the Red Eyed Fly, though there was never any shortage of alternative lifestyles on display.

As for the daytime events, the Beerland short-film screenings and Room 710 poster exhibition were both sparsely attended, but a healthy crowd – including Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman – came out to the Austin Music Foundation's Boot Camp panels at the Red Eyed Fly. And nothing quite compared to the Dead Motley Sex Maidens' well-titled "karaoke apocalypse" at Club de Ville, which found the entire patio rocking out to AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."

Elsewhere, tortured Boston twopiece the Dresden Dolls cast an enthralling spell that peaked with a wicked piano-and-drums cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." The post-Eastside Suicides thrust of Faster Disaster, glam-punk makeover of Quatropaw into the Addictions, and Velvet Revolver-ish Backstage Suicides, all relatively new local bands, each proved ready for prime time. Fifteen minutes of throat-grabbing garage from Minneapolis' Midnight Evils was evidence enough why Tim Kerr agreed to produce their next album. Familiar faces Kissinger, Hobble, the Bulemics, and Attack Formation each turned in strong sets, as did, hopefully, the 70 or so bands "TCB" missed.

If too much music in too little time can be called a problem, it's a damn good problem to have. Some groused that the Rock Out's booking was a little too tilted toward the 710/Headhunters side of the street, but things have a way of evening out – this weekend, in fact, at Beerland's Bloodstock with the Cuts, Baseball Furies, Nervous Exits, Kodiaks, and Winks, to name a few. On Red River, the names may change, but the rock remains the same.

Southern Rock Opera

First it was the Drive-by Truckers, now it's Green Day. Soon, it'll be ... Daniel Johnston? Fresh on the heels of the Discovered Covered tribute album ('Phases & Stages,' October 8, 2004, Music), Houston's Infernal Bridegroom Productions recently received a $15,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation's Multi-Arts Production Fund to produce a rock opera based on the work of the eccentric Rejected Unknown genius. "[Daniel's] always wanted to do it, and we feel like we could do it right," says IBP artistic director Anthony Barilla. The idea sprang to life when a member of Johnston's band, the Nightmares, who also plays with the company broached the idea after a show at IBP home base the Axiom last year, and Johnston agreed. "We've always had a strong connection to the local music scene," says Barilla. This is, in fact, familiar territory for the award-winning alternative theatre group, which has previously staged the Kinks' A Soap Opera and several original musicals, more so because Barilla grew up a Johnston and Glass Eye fan in Austin, inspired that "he had a DIY thing but it wasn't punk rock." Johnston will collaborate with the IBP orchestra, and has already started writing the music, though Barilla won't even guess at the final product and what form it will take. "He's in the riffing stage," says the director, who expects the work to premiere in late 2005.

Channel Surfing

Still getting used to BOB-FM, Austin welcomed another grab-bag format to the radio waves last week at 102.3 on the dial, now home of "World Class Rock." Program director L.A. Lloyd makes no bones about the reason for the change. "We're trying to get our ratings higher," he says, adding that the impending expiration of the syndicated Bob & Tom morning show's contract also factored in the decision. The former Z-102 hasn't so much switched formats as adjusted, ditching many of what Lloyd terms the "classic rock staples" (adios, "Magic Carpet Ride") and anything harder than Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days" for less swaggering fare like R.E.M.'s "So. Central Rain" and Paul Simon's "Graceland." Unlike BOB (so far), Lloyd says live DJs will return to 102.3 soon, as will a locally produced morning show and Little Steven's Underground Garage. "We want to make it sound like an Austin radio station," he says. To do that, Lloyd is looking for inspiration at the other end of the dial. "I'd really like to pull from the NPR crowd," he says. "Everyone knows how successful KUT is for a noncommercial station." Meanwhile, the airwave upheaval continued next door at 101X, which last week dismissed longtime program director Melody Lee. As Napoleon Dynamite would say, a station like L.A.'s beloved Indie 103 'round these parts would be flippin' sweet!

Photo By Gary Miller

Dead to rights

Far be it from Trail of Dead to sit on their hands while awaiting the January release of fourth LP Worlds Apart. Before embarking on a time-killing monthlong tour, including a stop at New York's CMJ Festival, Conrad Keely (shown) and mates treated a buzzing Emo's crowd to a robust preview last Thursday. Though Worlds is the unruly quintet's most melodic album to date, they provided plenty of old-school crashin' 'n' bashin', perhaps most of all on the new album's embittered title track. An A-list of Austin indie rockers watched from the wings, and will no doubt return to the scene for Trail's homecoming show Nov. 13.

Illustration By Nathan Jensen

Bullet the Blue Sky

Ailing Texas Top Hand Don Walser's ongoing health problems have prompted his family to move him into an assisted-living facility, where wife Pat will join him upon her release from the hospital. Son Al says the best way for well-wishers to reach the Walsers is to e-mail or send cards and letters to 6006 Eureka Dr., Austin, 78745.

Best of luck to all the locals joining Trail of Dead at NYC's CMJ Festival this weekend: America Is Waiting, the Meat Purveyors, the Murdocks, Sound Team, the Transgressors, Western Keys, and Zykos. Other CMJ bands with Austin ties include Palaxy Tracks, Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!, and Vietnam.

It's Kid Rock's fireworks just before the real thing this Saturday at Bocktoberfest in Shiner, Texas' Green Dickson Park. Also on the bill, starting at noon, are Bill Pekar, Cory Morrow, Asleep at the Wheel, Lyle Lovett, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Staind.

Gothtober is in full swing this weekend: Break out the Bela Lugosi capes and dance to Love & Rockets, Tones on Tail, and more for Elysium's salute to the Bauhaus diaspora Friday, while Maneja Beto, Shane Bartell, and others pay homage to the Cure Saturday at the Flamingo. Starting time on that one should be 10:15pm.

Explosions in the Sky's haunting Friday Night Lights score isn't the only local music at your neighborhood Tinseltown: Jon Dee Graham's "Big Sweet Life" appears in the John Travolta/Joaquin Phoenix firefighter vehicle Ladder 49.

Austin jazz-pop chanteuse Sarah Sharp has rounded up several musician friends – Eliza Gilkyson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Will Taylor, and Darin Murphy, among others – to volunteer for KUT's fall pledge drive Tuesday during John Aielli's 9am-1pm Eklektikos shift. 90.5 on your FM dial.

Friends and admirers of Blaze Foley, including Mandy Mercier, Barbara K, Gurf Morlix, Calvin Russell, and the Texana Dames, mark the CD release of Oval Room, unreleased material from the late Austin songwriter's final live recording, 6pm Sunday at Ruta Maya International Headquarters.

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