Playback: Teatro Negro
Reunions, fundraisers, performance videos – trying to rein in local music as 2012 draws to a close
"Before the organized crime and drug cartels turned Monterrey into a war zone, lots of musicians and artists started migrating to Mexico City and Austin," recalls Anhelo Escalante, the screaming, bass-playing half of experimental psych-punk duo XYX.
She split for Austin in 2010, while drummer Mou Ortiz stayed back, effectively ending a collaboration that won favor with the underground on 2008 EP Sistema de Terminación Sexual. Recorded in a Mexican pesticide warehouse, follow-up LP Teatro Negro was shelved alongside label disinterest and Escalante's move. It might never have seen release if Cory Plump, a local musician who works with homegrown imprint Monofonus Press, hadn't heard talk about an orphaned XYX disc and contacted Escalante, who, to his surprise, was living in Austin. Now, the twosome's full-length finds new life as local vinyl.
"Teatro Negro was one of the hardest works I've done in the studio," relates a relieved Escalante. "The thought of it never seeing the light was a true bummer."
"It's generally not the best decision to put out an album by a band that isn't together anymore and not touring, but we really couldn't help ourselves," explains Monofonus owner Morgan Coy.
You can't hardly blame him. Teatro Negro is a frenzy of self-expression – musically fierce, stylistically renegade, and ringing with purpose.
"You may not get what the lyrics are saying, but you get it," Coy reasons. "That's what makes great music, feeling something that you don't understand. That's why we put this record out."
Escalante and Ortiz reconvene Saturday at Spider House 29th St. Ballroom with local labelmates Thousand Foot Whale Claw, Plump's band Spray Paint, and Kurrakä for XYX's first show in two and a half years.
"What's to lose?" shrugs Escalante. "The stage has always been one of my favorite places to be, and I miss the fun of playing with Mou."
Girl in a Coma singer Nina Diaz, jazz vocalist Pamela Hart, and Cowboy & Indian standout Jazz Mills are joining forces as the Femmes, stars of Saturday's fundraiser Femmes for SIMS: Night of the Chanteuse. The trio will front a band that includes Grupo Fantasma's Adrian Quesada, composer extraordinaire Graham Reynolds, and ever-animated singer, guitarist, and collaborator David Garza among others.
"The overall vibe is somewhere between a Duke Ellington supper club show, David Lynch movies, and French psychedelia of the Sixties and early Seventies," describes Quesada, the event's musical director. "It's good to be transported out of the typical concert scene and into something unique for Austin."
Lending atmosphere is the Austin Scottish Rite Theater, an uptown opera house untouched by time, and proceeds fund SIMS (www.simsfoundation.org), the local foundation that supports musicians and their families by providing counseling, psychiatric care, and addiction recovery. Saturday's concert reflects the foundation stepping up its support of women's issues.
"Looking at the demographics, we were primarily serving white male rock & rollers," says Lila Tenenbown, SIMS outreach director. "We needed to reach out to women, Latino, and African-American musicians and tell them our services are here for them."
Part of extending their reach meant rolling out new services, like weekly support groups for partners of musicians and an annual women's mental wellness conference. For Tenenbown, having prominent musicians like Diaz, Hart, and Mills performing for SIMS is significant.
"Any time someone comes forward to support us, it reduces the stigma around mental health issues and shows folks that it's not a scary topic."
SIMS gets a considerable chunk of its annual funding from this event, so pick up a couple tickets and help them help us.
Fascinating, Mostly Instrumental Rock Music
The Calm Blue Sea resents my labeling the locals "post-rock."
"I prefer to call it, 'Fascinating, mostly instrumental rock music,'" posits drummer Steve Bidwell. "That's not an actual genre, but I'm trying to get the rest of the world to sign on to it."
Multi-instrumentalist Chris Patin contends that the quartet plays modern classical music with a rock perspective. Whatever the case, certain adjectives – epic, cinematic, thematic – are unavoidable in describing the band, so it's fitting TCBS commissioned eight videos featuring them performing tracks from Arrivals and Departures (see "Texas Platters," Nov. 23).
Early chapters found the band jamming amongst the knickknacks in a vintage resale shop, in the aisles of a dimly lit hookah warehouse, and in a boozy Indian restaurant. These aren't music videos per se, but rather a series of single-take live performances captured by various local directors over a two-week period.
"Putting visuals to our songs reflects the way people consume music these days," considers Patin. "Attention spans are shorter, so giving people something to watch keeps them engaged, especially with music like ours that's longer."
Chapter 5 follows Patin to a rocky shore at McKinney Falls State Park, where he pokes out the "Diaspora" interlude on a toy piano as his image reflects in the water. Chapter 6 was conceived as a performance in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, but the band audibled when they came across a nearby playground where they shot "Mary Ann Nichols," with the song's whispering guitar intricacy building into blunt-force heaviness amid Tonka trucks and a slide.
› Veteran space rockers My Education toast the departed on sixth full-length, A Drink for All My Friends. Each track pays tribute to someone or something that's escaped them: friends, bandmates, ways of life. Standout "Roboter-Höhlenbewohner" drives a relentless, Krautrock rhythm for drummer Jerry Fuchs of Maserati, a close friend of the band who died in 2009. "We used to joke that Jerry was a robot, some kind of fiendish, inhuman machine when he was behind the drums," recalls bassist Scott Telles. "The first time I saw him play, I asked to look under his shirt to make sure he was human!" The CD release: ND at 501 Studios, Friday.
› When Patty Griffin & Her Driver was announced for Dec. 15 at the Continental Club, the $43 tickets sold out that day. Griffin's "driver" is obviously her main squeeze, Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. Proceeds for the concert benefit local singer-songwriter Michael Fracasso, who was recently involved in a bad car wreck. Venue honcho Steve Wertheimer hinted at a second show for Dec. 16, which went on sale Tuesday and sold out in seven minutes.
› Austin-based, Colombia-raised death metal accelerators HeadCrusher are joining the likes of At the Gates, Behemoth, Enslaved, Hypocrisy, Mayhem, Napalm Death, and Rotting Christ on the Barge to Hell, a metal festival on a cruise ship. "As metalheads, we're excited to just watch all the bands perform in such a unique scenario. And as musicians, it's beyond a dream come true," beams screamer David Coloma. The brutal boat sails from Miami on Dec. 3.
› Maurice Eagle remains my favorite photojournalist. His sharpened, light-enhanced, full-band bar photography continues as an unmistakable documentation of Austin's live music scene. Eagle, who publishes his work for free online, looks to upgrade his gear with a Kickstarter campaign. For a $50 pledge, he'll photograph your band and, trust me, you want to see yourself through his camera eye.
› The last two episodes of Austin City Limits Season 39 are taping this week, both featuring locally based artists. Gary Clark Jr. takes to the Moody Theater stage on Friday, and Esperanza Spalding on Sunday. While free ticket opportunities are closed for the former, those interested in seeing the latter tear down the walls of jazz, pop, and soul can enter to win passes at www.acltv.com by Friday morning.