Off the Record
Can You Hear Me Now?
My Bloody Valentine at the Austin Music Hall on Tuesday amounted to a deafening, 80-minute reverie of shimmering guitar auroras and strobe lights that climaxed with the numbing closer "You Made Me Realise," a 17-minute force field of screaming ecstasy and jet-engine feedback. For a full recount, check out Chronicle Music blog Earache!, austinchronicle.com/earache.
Smoke in the Kitchen
"We comply at 85 [decibels], but it's a struggle," Stubb's booker Charles Attal told the Chronicle in May 2002, when changes to the Austin sound ordinance were first proposed (see "Keeping the Peace," May 3, 2002). "To say 75 decibels would put us out of business isn't spin; it's the truth." Contrary to what OTR reported last week, restaurants in the Sixth Street and Warehouse entertainment districts are not exempt from the clarifications City Council made to the Austin City Code on Feb. 26 regarding outdoor live music at restaurants. That basically means that even venerable venues such as Stubb's and Threadgill's aren't allowed amplified sound that exceeds 70 decibels, as measured from any point on the licensed premises' property lines.
Restaurants with outdoor music components that are currently zoned Central Business District, Commercial-Liquor Sales, or Downtown Mixed Use – essentially all of the properties Downtown and on Barton Springs Road – can apply to change their use from "restaurant (general)" to "cocktail lounge" in order to then acquire a conditional-use permit, allowing for live music at 85 decibels. City Council is hoping to ease a bit of this convoluted transition by passing an ordinance today (Thursday, April 23) that would waive the fees associated with this change and direct City Manager Marc Ott to expedite the permit-review process necessary for all such applications. There's one catch: The move still requires approval from the Planning Commission.
"Typically, in the past, we have had a lot of neighborhoods that are reluctant to embrace cocktail lounges or bars in areas where there are restaurants close to residential," Greg Guernsey, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, told the council on March 12. "There may be resistance to the acceptance of a cocktail lounge."
Meanwhile, restaurants that fall outside of those zoning categories, most notably Güero's Taco Bar and Jovita's, are still stuck between a rock and a hard place. "It's 70 [decibels] on South Congress," Güero's owner Rob Lippincott appealed at that same council session. "It's always 70. We'll have to just not have amplified music anymore. We paid $80,000 into the music community last year for Austin. ... It seems unfair, I guess to me, that we would be told for 14 years one thing and then starting last week something new."
Although Council Member Laura Morrison, who requested the ordinance be declared an emergency, apparently has no qualms with the current sound cap, stating at that same session that some clubs are choosing to operate at 70 decibels, fellow Council Member Mike Martinez says that he's working on the creation of an appeal process for such restaurant/venues to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
"For me, it's not about a decibel level; it's about compatibility," Martinez says. "While we absolutely support live music, that doesn't mean that you can simply plug in an amp and play whenever and wherever you want. ... This is one of those policies where one size simply does not fit all." Morrison did not respond to requests for comment.
If any press makes good publicity, then Vega just had the best week ever. After a sold-out show with Crystal Castles at La Zona Rosa on Monday, April 13, the Austin-based synth-pop specialists were booted from the following night's bill in Dallas by the headliners, who claimed Vega stole one of their guitar effects pedals. Crystal Castles ultimately canceled the gig altogether, citing inadequate sound, which led to an online uproar from disappointed fans. "It ended up really working to our advantage," surmises Vega frontman Alan Palomo (pictured), who returned the misplaced guitar pedal in question. "It was the biggest audience we've played to and a lot of great exposure." Palomo's no stranger to blog notoriety, either. His former outfit, Denton's Ghosthustler, produced a Nintendo Power Glove-adorned music video for its single "Parking Lot Nights" that went viral in 2007, and he's a loose collaborator in the Gorilla vs. Bear-championed, drone-psych project Neon Indian. Yet, Vega's far and away his most exciting work to date, a dazzling brand of vintage Italo disco stuck in interstellar overdrive that, along with bands such as Futurecop! and Miami Horror, is establishing the genre of dreamwave. "It's a happy medium between more melodic and whimsy dream pop and the dance single-oriented New Wave," explains Palomo, whose debut, Well Known Pleasures, drops digitally next month. Vega gets down at Beauty Bar on Friday, April 24.
Born in the Bayou
The unlikely crossroads be-tween the Old Settler's Music Festival and the annual Record Store Day turned out to be the parking lot of End of an Ear on Saturday, April 18. Lafayette, La.'s Beausoleil translated its tumbling Cajun music through covers of Julie Miller's mournful "Little Darlin'" and the bayou soul of Bobby Charles' "I Spent All My Money Loving You" that left approximately 100 locals shuffling in the gravel for the better part of an hour. After heavy rain forced the Old Settler's Fest to move performances from the Bluebonnet Stage to the covered Discovery Stage on Friday, the festivities finally got swinging the following afternoon thanks to fiddler Sarah Jarosz, a scorching performance from Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women, and a memorable jam session between the Lee Boys and the Travelin' McCourys. End of an Ear, for its part, notched record numbers, with many of the exclusive titles selling out well before OTR arrived on the scene.
• Pearl Jam is headlining the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival, C3 Presents temporarily leaked on Monday, which coincides with a taping for Austin City Limits that week. The grunge godfathers last performed locally in 1995 (with the Ramones opening) and recently repackaged its breakthrough, Ten (see "Phases & Stages"). The full lineup for ACL drops Tuesday, April 28. From the scope of C3 Presents' other summer job, Lollapalooza, things are looking good (Lou Reed, Bon Iver, Dan Auerbach). Congrats to locals Heartless Bastards, YellowFever, and Car Stereo (Wars), all of whom made the cut. In the meantime, do yourself a favor, and check out Light in the Attic's impeccable reissues from Rodriguez. Word has it the Detroit street poet is headed this way.
• The catalog from Austin's avant-garde reissue specialists, Unseen Worlds, is now available for download through Anthology Recordings.
• The greatest gift: Marcia Ball's 60th birthday bash at Antone's in February raised $53,200 for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the local pianist announced on Tuesday at HAAM's second annual Corporate Battle of the Bands.