Chest Cavities, Empty Kneecaps, and Elbows
Redrum's real life, all-ages 'School of Rock'
"Dude, I service society by rocking. Okay? I'm out there, on the front lines, liberating people with my music. Rocking ain't no walk in the park."
In the film School of Rock, Jack Black's character, Dewey Finn, whips privileged, well-mannered high school kids into authority-thwarting rockers through months of intensive undercover rock schooling. It's a coming-of-age tale, full of rock star dreams and parents who, really, just don't understand. But most teenagers don't have that luxury; they don't have a jittery musician has-been to teach them power chords. So they have to go to the cramped practice spaces, play one low-paying gig after another, and make it up as they go along.
Spending a week straight riding a barstool isn't uncommon in Austin, but spend an entire week in one particular club and you get to see what's under the bar, the stage, the bathroom stalls. As a first-timer to the Fourth Street all-ages live music venue Redrum, I wasn't familiar with most of the bands playing that particular week, so it was an academic venture on some level. For the 25-30 bands that appear on Redrum's stage every week, especially first-time bands, it's a lesson in rocking.
"If anyone wants to get violent, it's your last chance."
Those ominous words float across the heads of the crowd at Redrum this Monday night, spoken not by Vin Diesel, but by the tall, dark-haired singer for Cicada 17. The Austin quartet is having a demo CD release and DVD taping tonight, and their funky, screamy, bouncy metal echoes off the walls. One guy with long brown hair is banging his head near the front of the stage; a girl in ripped fishnets tries to stop her boyfriend's hiccups; nervous college boys scour the room for chicks; an older lady with a tattoo peaking out of the top of a low-cut shirt stumbles to the bar.
Redrum used to be a much smaller venue above Coyote Ugly on Sixth Street, in the heart of downtown's bacchanalia. The space where Redrum has now sat for more than a year was once City Grill, whose deep-fried remnants still remain: the slightly rustic wood floors, industrial piping along the ceiling, a wood-paneled bar that runs the length of one of the walls. For the past 15 months, said walls have been decorated with fliers and posters for upcoming shows, a red velvet curtain lining the wall behind the stage. Red lightbulbs cast an eerie glow on the room, while the outdoor patio lets in the evening's 40-degree breeze and the unintelligible screams of young males, perhaps drunk on $2 Jäger shots. There's a backwoods cabin vibe here, like we're throwing a party when our parents aren't home.
Locals Pretty Pretty are the last band of the night, and I become temporarily fixated on finding out how they came together. An ad? A Christian singles party? The singer/guitarist has long blond hair and a metal scream; the bassist is wearing eyeliner and black boots; the drummer, with his black-rimmed glasses and black T, wouldn't be out of place in an emo video. They're awesome. Their songs are Motörhead-ish throttlers with sludge metal breakdowns and singer Jerry Howard's voice veers between a David Yow screech and a King Diamond falsetto, with a bit of the creepy chick from Evil Dead (you know, "I'll swallow your soul!"). The jostling "Whores and Sluts" is destined to be a classic. Another gust of cold wind blows in through the open patio doors as Howard howls. It feels like being holed up in a scene from The Shining, except replace Jack Nicholson with the dreadlocked guy in the Metallica T-shirt who's punching the air.
There's an unspoken rule of rock: When there are more people onstage than in the audience, you still rock out like you're opening for Van Halen. Tuesday's World Series game keeps many people in, but for several excited males at Redrum, it's entirely possible to still, as they say, "fuckin' party!"
Dead Aim is throwing down a full-frontal funk-metal assault, and later Verneshot plays a cover of Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows" that's pretty good. They seem like they're from Minnesota. Singer Logan's vox invoke Tool, and their MySpace profile lists the influence of Incubus, Deftones, and Led Zeppelin. Good kids. A perky blonde walks around handing out demo CDs for the band, and two young girls whisper to each other in the corner, pointing to one of the guys on stage with a naughty smile.
"We're Stone Dakota," announces a young man. "I don't think anyone, uh, knows us." Stone Dakota is a local fourpiece, and the singer/guitarist is wearing a blue bandana ã la Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies. Their sound isn't too far off either. They race through old-style thrash and double-bass breakdowns like a high school house party band version of Sepultura. Both singer and bassist share the vocal chord shredding duties, and at some point the singer's bandana comes off, unleashing a headbang-ready mop of hair.
"Go for it!" screams someone at the bar as the 'Stros and the Sox duke it out. Save for the guys in bands, the crowd is mostly female. It seems there are a lot of girls who "know the band" here. Do these bands have groupies? It seems so wrong for bands so young, but it's definitely part of the rock tutorial, and I'm briefly reminded of Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" video. Later, I spot an older lady with blond curly hair talking to one of the guys in a band that played earlier. She's going for it. Teacher wants to see you after school.
"Dude, my socks are not emo"
The kids are not alright. The kids are angry, the kids are heartbroken, the kids have allergies. But Sean Padilla is excited. The exuberant 24-year-old plays as the Cocker Spaniels, just him and his guitar, and he's winding his way through catchy songs like "The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show."
A couple is making out near the front of the stage as 3 Guys in a Rio's power pop sets the mood next. These guys jump off their amps no fewer than three times during the course of the set, a definite hallmark in the tradition of rock schooling. At one point the guitarist chugs his beer and throws the bottle into the crowd in an act of punk rock defiance. Plus 100 points. Padilla politely picks it up and throws it in the trash. Minus 1,058 points.
"I prefer playing all-ages shows because all-ages shows are focused more on the music than they are on the alcohol," remarks Padilla. It's his first time playing Redrum, and in a few weeks he'll embark on a one-man tour.
"Music shouldn't have an age limit," says Geoff, drummer for 3 Guys in a Rio. "It should be something everyone can enjoy. I understand why many of the clubs downtown have minimum-age restrictions, but as long as a club is run by competent management, the club can't do anything but gain business by making it all ages. Redrum is letting in a pretty diverse crowd, at least within the rock genre."
Redrum is one of the few venues in Austin that hosts all-ages shows every night of the week, and for bands in the under-18 set, it's one of a handful of clubs to play. In a competitive live music scene like Austin's, it's an important place. Redrum books roughly 28 bands a week, which is roughly four bands a night, both road acts and locals. Almost every genre of music has been represented: indie, punk, blues, country, hardcore, hip-hop, even techno.
As a lesson in dynamics, Sacramento trio Brilliant Red Lights stabs us with their jagged post punk. Like the Talking Heads at the Rapture, the Police chasing Modest Mouse, they incorporate punk and New Wave sounds. Locals Aphid tear a page from the hard rock handbook, laying down serious fist-pumping anthems and even a few serious, harder-edged ballads. You've always got to have a ballad.
"I rode it last night!"
An older gent is describing how he rode a mechanical bull for five seconds last night, which is pretty rock & roll. And it's thoroughly hilarious, because all the other guys are nodding in unison, like they all suffered the same fate on different occasions.
The crowd this Thursday night is more of the Hot Topic nu-punk crowd, and it could be because tonight is the MySpace.com fall tour. Most of the acts that have played this week have profiles on the site, with audio clips free of charge. It's grassroots promotion for bands. In the crowd, pins from various punk bands adorn bags and jackets. The girls have spiked hair and are wearing ripped GBH shirts. The guys have jagged asymmetrical haircuts and highlights and are wearing girls' jeans. What happened? And what's up with the Jennifer Aniston for Men haircut that's going around? Is this emo now? Have guys discovered the feminine mystique through their romantically wanton lyrics? Have they evolved and do they know what it feels like to have a vagina?
"Um, no they're just more comfortable," says one male fan when questioned about his butt-hugging jeans.
L.A. quartet Agent Sparks is playing an adorable Cali-punk sunshine scream-pop cover of Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings," and the kids who were actually alive when Nirvana recorded that tune nod in approval. As Greeley Estates, a screamo band from Arizona, sets up to play, their lanky, petite singer takes fragile sips from his water bottle and does mouth exercises. This can only mean he's about to scream his uvula out, and he does. For 45 minutes straight. What's he screaming about? It doesn't matter. Two guys to the right of the stage scream along with him. The guitarist bends himself into a split, and it looks like it hurts. His jeans almost rip. Emo shows have not always been known for their gender equality. Traditionally, at least in the mainstream rock canon, it's dudes screaming their latest journal entry to other dudes. Tonight, there's an equal dispersion of ladies and gents pushed against the front of the stage, screaming lyrics back, being young and tortured.
Mike Boudreau, Redrum's 36-year-old manager and booking agent, surveys the crowd. He's a hulking man with a shaved head, dressed in a Red Foxx T-shirt. He stands out tonight. His process of booking bands is very School of Rock.
"Every band has a try-out night Sunday through Wednesday," he explains. "If they play well, they get a Thursday show. If that goes well, then the weekend."
In the 15 months in its new spot, Redrum has hosted bands from 30 states, and Boudreau contends the club is better-known nationally than locally. Still, it's their goal to develop local bands through constant gigs, in hopes that one day they'll be too big for Redrum.
"I'd like to see bands get back to community," he says as we lounge on the patio overlooking Waller Creek. A dreadlocked couple sits next to us. "Those people under the bridge there, they're not smoking cigarettes," the girl giggles. Boudreau rolls his eyes and smiles.
"The underground is in trouble," he says. "It's not as healthy, and there hasn't been a breakout band [in Austin] to step up in a while. It's a wide-open scene right now." Boudreau's track record also includes booking at the Back Room and Liberty Lunch, but he likes that Redrum is off the beaten path. "We're the Sabine district," he jokes. "I have a lot of guys from bands work here, so you get that familiarity. [It's also] promotion fliers, posters, handbills. Our motto here is: Throw it against the wall and see what sticks."
Raylene likes that motto. She's attended a few shows at Redrum and likes to go during the week because it's "better than hanging out with kids I go to school with, because they all like David Gray and Dave Matthews Band." Raylene's tough, with long black-and-red streaked hair and a nose ring. She looks like she could be 35 or 15, and alludes to the fact that there may be a girl here tonight who's been spreading rumors about her. Ah, how far the lineage of rock & roll feuds has come.
Back inside, locals Leaving July are clutching our hearts in their hands and spitting out vitriol and razor blades. Their latest CD, Mundane Phenomena, is tight and fast punk, the kind that has engendered other locals like Born to Lose, Air Tight Alibi, and Firekills to become regulars at Redrum.
"Bands basically ask Mike to help them out, and he does it because he cares about music and the scene so much," says Leaving July guitarist Sherman Smith. "It's not uncommon to see hip-hop one night but then all metal bands or screamo on other nights. I think that kind of diversity is great."
After my fifth beer (and, yeah, a fucking Jäger shot), I start to sway back and forth to some song about broken promises, throwing my right fist in the air, as does a young girl next to me. She rams her elbow into my side in a fit of rocking out, throwing both hands in the air and doing a jumping-jack-like motion, her fingers forming devil horns. I retreat to the bar, outrocked.
"Rock is so much fun. That's what it's all about filling up the chest cavities and empty kneecaps and elbows."
Jimi Hendrix said that about rock & roll in the Sixties, and it's true now. There's another axiom that applies: "It's Friday night, kick ass and drink beer." Sleeping Giant's singer delivered those words as they broke into another power punk meets metal dirge. Blood of Patriots followed suit with their D.C. poli-thrash, pulling a few Eighties rock solos out. The thing about the solo though: It has to be under 45 minutes or it's just considered wankery.
Waxdart is the headliner tonight, and it's the CD release for Enemy Combatant, their Bush-bashing masterpiece. The great thing about Waxdart is that they look like the kind of guys you'd see smashing beer cans against their heads in the parking lot of a convenience store in a Kevin Smith movie. Then they get up on stage and it's all Bill Hicks ideologies and political rants and Pantera riffs. Named after a Bill Hicks song, Waxdart's got the rock posturing down, the madman screams, the crazy guitarist (the song "Jimmy's So Faded" is one of the best party songs ever). For them, and for the bands that played this week, it's all about getting you to uncross your arms, move to the front of the stage, and embrace their sweaty rock handshake. Rocking ain't no walk in the park.