Emo's Free Week leaves 'TCB' broken, battered, bloodshot, but happy

Keep Austin Free: What Made Milwaukee Famous
Keep Austin Free: What Made Milwaukee Famous (Photo By Mary Sledd)

Super Size Me

The cobwebs are dissipating. Slowly. Any sudden spike in area Alka-Seltzer sales can be directly attributed to Free Week, Emo's grand experiment to determine if Austinites would be interested in seven straight days of no-cover shows. Suffice it to say, they were. The 13-year-old Red River anchor was packed every night save Sunday's experimental night, and even then a sizable audience was on hand to watch former Terminal Mind member Steve Marsh churn out backwoods blues on a homemade guitar under the appropriate alias of Spelunker. More representative was the previous evening, when a bursting inside room bore witness to a bottom-heavy display from Oh, Beast!, the ghostly post-punk acumen of Single Frame, and a snarling set from the Arm that ended abruptly when a disgruntled fan took it upon herself to unplug the bassist's effects pedal and was tossed in the ensuing melee. Though no less crowded, Monday was altogether more peaceful for the pleasant indie-pop of Vacation Gold, Masonic, the Fall Collection, and especially Dead Whale Tide but the real drama came later, when four people were arrested en route to the same afterparty. Tuesday's emo-punk bill brought a roomful of people more used to getting free music online than in person and sage advice from Rubberhed frontman Mike Boudreau: "If you're moshing and knock somebody down, please help them up." No one from Gorch Fock offered to pick anyone up Wednesday after their bleating set which began and ended with a sinister cover of U2's "Vertigo" flattened the audience like a demonic steamroller, finishing what Storm the Tower and Ignorance Park started. Meanwhile, Morgan Spurlock's fast-food cautionary tale, Super Size Me, played on the big-screen TV, leading "TCB" to draw some disturbing parallels to his own music-glutted life. Nevertheless, San Antonio's Animals of the Bible had Thursday's full house pop-locked into a comfortable Krautrock groove, before up-and-comers the Sword unleashed a frightening Seventies instro-metal attack that left dozens of jaws on the floor, and the Attak (iN) Formation topped it off with some once-a-year strangeness. While Camp X-Ray, Dallas' Constance, and Velorum gnashed their guitars inside Friday, fans of Recover and the Rise who had lined up outside as early as 7pm brought new life to the art of stage-diving outside. Tight jeans and Converse hung from the rafters during the Rise's political throwdown, before the night climaxed with Recover vocalist Dan Keyes literally walking across a sea of hands, probably because that was the only place left to stand. By this point, "TCB" was having a little difficulty standing, but Saturday brought a welcome gust of second wind. Inside, Pompeii started things off with some well-sculpted, cello-assisted shoegazing, before yielding to recent transplant Sally Crewe's terse, salty Britpop. The Chapters wove an Interpol-like web of shadowy intrigue as the outside rapidly filled up, hitting critical mass about the time What Made Milwaukee Famous launched into their exuberantly quirky rock. A trip back into the sea of bodies inside was well worth it for Svengali's splintering near-hardcore, as This Microwave World, never better, positively electrified the outside stage. They set the bar so high it was hard to imagine even Zykos clearing it, but they did with a set so intense it's a wonder singer Mike Booher didn't keel over from an aneurysm. And that was Free Week. It was a beautiful thing, watching people turn out in droves to watch all these great local bands, but it's worth pointing out that their shows rarely cost more than five bucks anyway. Now, if you'll excuse "TCB," he's going to crawl under a rock for a very, very, very long nap. See y'all later.

The Octopus

Now only eight weeks away (eep), the SXSW machinery is running at full steam. Once again, the Music Festival received a staggering number of applications – 7,000 or thereabouts – and Creative Director Brent Grulke says he'd like to keep the number of showcasers to last year's total of around 1,200, if possible. "We're very much trying to keep it in the same ballpark, but we'll see how well we do with that," he sighs. Partially due to the breakout success of Scotsmen Franz Ferdinand at last year's Festival, Grulke says the number of international acts accepted into SXSW 05 is "sky-high," up to 300 over last year's 210. Besides a load of UK performers, Grulke anticipates large contingents from Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, France, and Japan. "Most of the international acts that we accept, the vast majority, are already well established in their native country, so the quality level is extremely high," he says. Indeed, most SXSW success stories arent quite as dramatic as Franz Ferdinand, who were already signed to Sony when they blew everyone out the back wall of Buffalo Billiards. "The expectations were pretty high that something big would happen, so its pretty easy to track that kind of buzz," Grulke explains. "It's a lot more difficult to track the buzz of, say, an Austin band that picks up an indie deal or a tour." Even if it's something as simple as picking up a booking agent or publishing deal, bands that move their careers forward during the Festival almost never do it by accident. "To reiterate the old saw, SXSW is a tool," Grulke says. "If people use it effectively, it means they've done work in advance, know who they want to meet with, know who they want to see them, to move along in a direction they had already charted."

Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, and Natalie Maines (l-r)
Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, and Natalie Maines (l-r) (Photo By Gary Miller)
Britt Daniel of Spoon
Britt Daniel of Spoon (Photo By Gary Miller)

Farther Along

Britt Daniel of Spoon, whose long-awaited new album is being mastered this week, premiered the poker-faced "Mathematical Mind" during Sunday's Tsunami Relief: Austin to South Asia benefit at the Austin Music Hall. Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison were joined by Natalie Maines (l-r, above) for Robison's "Travelin' Soldier," and Gato Negro Ruben Ramos crooned "13 Years" with a hale-looking Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham. Appearing with his "Liberty Lunch band," Joe Ely opened his charged set with a verse of the spiritual "Farther Along," and songbird Patty Griffin took the sold-out crowd's breath away guesting with headliner Willie Nelson on "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground." Organizer Michael Hall estimated Sunday's take to be around $125,000, to be distributed among several charities, including CARE, UNICEF, and the American Red Cross.

Bullet the Blue Sky

• San Angelo police are investigating allegations of sexual assault against Los Lonely Boys drummer Ringo Garza and his wife, stemming from an incident between the couple and two unnamed women last week in the Garzas home. No charges have been filed, and the band is understandably keeping mum. "We don't want to try this case in the press," manager Kevin Womack said Monday, adding the Boys would perform at next month's Grammy Awards and soon begin recording their next album at Willie Nelson's Luck studios as scheduled. A similar statement from the Garzas' attorneys said, in part, "Los Lonely Boys have become popular very fast, making them targets for people with less honorable intentions."

• Popular local swing trio Hot Club of Cowtown have decided to call it quits after eight years. The band, which recently joined Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson on their minor league ballpark tour, will tour in February and play assorted dates through October, but no final Austin show has been scheduled. More information at

• Trooper of the Week goes to Rockland Eagles guitarist Andy Thomas, who broke several ribs after jumping from the stage during last Friday's Grand Champeen show at Hole in the Wall. Despite his injury, Thomas plans to don his getup for the Rank & Revue anniversary party tonight (Thursday) at Emo's, alongside the Crank County Daredevils, Broken Teeth, Ignitor, Grady, the Bulemics, Scott H. Biram, and more.

• From "Five Pound Bass" to "Farm Fresh Onions," food has long been a favorite subject for Robert Earl Keen, so it's only natural he'd eventually show up on the Food Network. The A&M alum sings a song about fajitas on the Jan. 17 episode of All American Festivals, which visits the Great Texas Mosquito Festival and Fajita Cook-off in Clute. Air time is 8:30pm.

• Just a reminder: Don't forget to vote in the Chronicle Music Poll, online or p.60.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

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Free Week, Emo's, SXSW, Brent Grulke, Tsunami Benefit, Los Lonely Boys, Hot Club of Cowtown, Rockland Eagles, Robert Earl Keen, Music Poll

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