Casual Victim Pile II

SXSW 2011 Picks 2 Click

Casual Victim Pile II
Photo by John Anderson

Eagle Claw

SXSW showcase: Wed., March 16, 9pm, the Ale House

Late Sunday afternoon, on a bright and busy corner of Cesar Chavez on the Eastside – muscle cars booming by with subwoofer tones lower than their rides – Eagle Claw readies a rehearsal in the front room of bassist Luther Smalls' rented house. No one in the instrumental metal quartet bothers to close the door.

"We could play at 2 in the morning and no one would complain," laughs drummer Bart Butler. "Fucking homeless dudes will jam out right there in the street."

And jam they do – the local behemoths that is – Smalls finally butting the door closed as Eagle Claw roars to life. It opens on its own minutes later.

The Afro'd bass player faces the drummer next to guitarist Michael Gonzalez, who's riffing on a black Gibson Explorer ("pretty much the most metal guitar you can have"), while Matt Rade stands in the doorway to the dining room, picking at his black Gibson SG. Before counting into the first number, all four agree on Eagle Claw's binding influence.

"Old-school Metallica," nods Smalls, "and Melvins, for sure."

With that, "Tempest" ionizes time and space, the new tune following up the group's self-released full-length debut, Poacher (see "Texas Platters," Nov. 26, 2010). Both of Eagle Claw's other new jams follow, the top string of Smalls' bass plucked loose enough to swing out over a watering hole. Guitarist shred plays chicken with Butler's beefy beat, multiple speeds alternating needling, galloping, and lumbering.

"That was close," opines Smalls.

"That felt good," agrees Rade.

"I got my sweat on," announces Gonzales.

We all did. Time for beers.

Outside, over tall boys, the band breaks down individual histories and responsibilities. The drummer, from Dallas, books the gigs; the bass player, an Army legacy born in Germany and raised at Ft. Hood, records the band; Rade, a sixth-generation Austinite, handles money, merchandise, transportation – you name it; and Gonzales, from El Paso ....

"Miscellaneous needs!" offers Butler. Everyone laughs.

No one laughs at the Eagle Claw van, a sweetass 1992 Vandura with 50,000 miles on it that Rade inherited from his grandfather. Blinds, Nintendo, lighted everything, and plush crimson interior: Most abodes aren't this cherry. Nine days out is the three-year-old crew's longest tour supporting the likes of the Sword and ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, but later this month, three weeks of tour dates, including New York, beckon the band. No singer? No problem.

"Girls comes up to us and say, 'We like you guys because you don't have a singer,'" chuckles Butler. Prehistoric pummels like "Elephant" need a screamer like Eagle Claw needs a warehouse for band practice.

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