Playback: Headhunters Decapitated

Headhunters and Hotel Vegas get face-lifts, and maybe Whiskey Shivers gives one

San Antonio's the Heroine christens Metal & Lace.
San Antonio's the Heroine christens Metal & Lace. (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

Like an old hooker in a new dress, local music dive Headhunters was transformed into a steampunk-themed hangout called Metal & Lace on Friday. The conversion came courtesy of Bar Rescue, a reality program on Spike TV in which nightclub consultant Jon Taffer picks apart a struggling business and, over 36 hours, remodels and rebrands it into something commercially viable. Before doors opened, more than 100 people waited in line for a chance to see the new digs and maybe be seen on television. At the front, a group in antique clothing with retro-modern accessories explained to me that steampunk is a sci-fi art movement that takes a futuristic look at 19th century fashions and gadgetry.

In my own Sherlock/Skyfall moment, I'd found my way into the bar Wednesday during the renovation. Fifteen workers in hazmat suits and dust masks dismantled the interior while exterminators fumigated. A few roaches rained from the ceiling, one landing in a Bar Rescue staffer's hair. By Friday, the interior was painted, polished, and decorated with clocks, exposed gears, and multiple flatscreen TVs flashing a screensaver of the bar's new logo. There was no beer available, only decadent cocktails with names like "Green Fairy" and "Ada Lovelace."

"Improvements" made by Bar Rescue aren't cast in stone, so expect a name change soon, as both patrons and employees have acknowledged that Metal & Lace sounds like a gay biker hangout. By Saturday, the club's fundamental beverage, cheap beer, was again available and regulars could feel at home on the unaltered patio. Booker Matt Woolley assured Playback that while the new club's calendar might have more variety than Headhunters, it will be the same street-level music and not some guy in a top hat and monocle playing a steam-powered keyboard. The bar did make off with a new mixer and speakers, improving the front room's sound.

According to network representatives, owner Steve Ricci signed up for the rescue, which will obviously attract a second wind of attention when the episode airs early next year. If you're bummed on missing the chance to be a reality TV show extra, check out the Brixton on East Sixth, which becomes the next endeavor for Bar Rescue.

Spider Men Take Over Hotel Vegas

Spider House 29th St. Ballroom managers Jason McNeely and Brian Tweedy have split with the campus-area hangout to run the Hotel Vegas on East Sixth. McNeely and Tweedy have gone all in, partnering with Vegas owners Christian Moses and Charles Ferraro. Lead booker McNeely says they're importing several "all-stars" from the Ballroom contingency, including poster artist Jaime Zuverza and DJ Ben Tipton, as well as favorite bands. With the interior already improved some, Hotel Vegas next looks to revamp its bandstand, PA system, and lighting. "I want this to be an amazing rock & roll bar that's everything I want in a venue," McNeely explains. "There were too many limitations at the Ballroom, too many walls. Now that we're co-owners, it puts us in a better position because there's no compromise." Uptown, Spider House owner Conrad Bejarano isn't sweating staff changes. Over 20 years, he's seen his sleepy coffeehouse grow into a giant compound. "Every time you go through growth periods, you also go through a mass exodus," Bejarano shrugs. "Running a business is a constant challenge to adjust. Once again, we've had a growth spurt, and then a bunch of people left. It's a bummer because those are awesome guys and they did a great job, but our direction is always being a people venue, and we'll continue to be that."


Katzen the Tiger Lady lights up Whiskey Shivers.
Katzen the Tiger Lady lights up Whiskey Shivers. (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

Barefoot Austin thrashgrassers Whiskey Shivers are avoiding the potential repetitiveness of a residency by turning it into a variety show. One week, you might hear the skewed observations of a local comedian, and the next you might see a tiger-striped sideshow performer shove metal spikes through her arm and light them on fire. "The same crowd that would come out to a rock & roll show wouldn't come to a comedy show, wouldn't come out to a sideshow," posits bassist Andrew VanVoorhees. The variety show theme fits a band that blows fire, tells dirty jokes, and ends its performances by jumping into the audience and jamming on the dance floor. It's been a hell of a year for the local quintet that counts opening for Ralph Stanley a way bigger highlight then the viral fame they earned off endorsements by Perez Hilton and Ryan Seacrest. Their hell-raising brand of mountain music goes down every Tuesday at Antone's through December.

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson (Photo by Gary Miller)

Simply getting close to Willie Nelson has a profound effect on people. I watched the local hero quickly and dutifully sign copies of his new book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, for 300 fans at BookPeople last week. Each one walked away with eyes dilated and soul aglow. I've heard the same's true with the Dalai Lama. Kinky Friedman sat with me. He originally agreed to co-author the book, but the editor didn't want two voices. "Willie told me, 'If I write 27,000 words, you better write 27,000 words,'" Friedman recalled. "I said, 'What about the editor, Willie?' And he said, 'Fuck the editor.'" Friedman settled for writing the book's forward.

Half Notes

› "I really don't know how to do anything other than sell music," admitted Cheapo Records owner Jason Shields on Tuesday after announcing that the store would close on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, after 15 years in business. Shields, who also owned Under the Sun Vintage, says he'll take some time off afterward, and while he'd love another go at "opening a record store/vintage shop, I can't really see myself doing that."

› Playback and crew set off to investigate the private ranch where Austin Psych Fest 2013 is being held, making the 10-minute drive from Downtown into the quiet farmland of East Austin. Rolling along a small dusty path, we faced down a blockade of cows, each comparable in weight to the Dodge Neon we drove, and finally glimpsed enough of the property that rests on the Colorado River to see that it's like no other festival venue in the area. Organizer Rob Fitzpatrick says he hopes to plant a flag and make Carson Creek Ranch the permanent location for the festival that's bounced from venue to venue over the years. Performers on the stellar 2013 bill include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Deerhunter, Tinariwen, the Growlers, and flagship act the Black Angels.

Uncle Billy's Lake Travis, a restaurant and microbrewery located on the western edge of town in a massive shopping center called the Oasis, has shut its doors after two years, leaving a concert calendar needing to be fulfilled. Local troubadour Joe Ely nails the casket shut atop a stunning stage backdropped by Lake Travis on Friday at the Rooftop, which reopens for the show.

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Headhunters, Spider House, Hotel Vegas, Whiskey Shivers, Willie Nelson, Bar Rescue, Kinky Friedman, Austin Psych Fest, Uncle Billy's Lake Travis, Joe Ely

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