Playback: Still Weary
Weary Boys reunite, Red River vies for cultural district designation, and MusicMania to close
The Weary Boys, a bare-knuckle, boot-stompin' string band whose raw, fast country songs once packed Austin beer joints, makes a rare return to the stage this Saturday at Antone's.
Scott H. Biram remembers when the gang, who he knew from touring in California, first hit town in 2000.
"They were just kids then, and I wasn't much more," recounts the one-man graveyard blues hound. "But it wasn't long before they were getting all kinds of press and making a clamor around Austin, really stomping their feet and singing those high, lonesome harmonies.
"I remember jealously thinking, 'Shit! These kids are showin' me up, man!'"
Sold-out shows at the Continental Club certified them local luminaries, but it was their road warrior ways that ultimately led them to hang up their boots in 2007.
"It was all or nothing," remembers fiddler Brian Salvi. "We burned that candle at both ends for so long, vanning around the country and partying every night, that eventually we just got burnt out."
In the Weary afterglow, frontman Mario Matteoli released two solo albums and now leads the Preservation; Salvi, drummer Cary Ozanian, and bassist Darren Sluyter play in country-rock outfit Woodsboss; and guitarist Darren Hoff fronts his own band, the Hard Times. Since they've kept their chops up, revisiting Weary Boys material feels natural.
"Except my hands hurt from playing so fast," observed Matteoli after a recent rehearsal.
This reunion gig, their second since disbanding, offers a keepsake: a CD called The Early Years that includes traditionals, Hank Williams and Stanley Brothers covers, and recordings from their performance at Louisiana's Angola Penitentiary.
"All those guys doing hard time were so nice and appreciative, just like when you play at a rest home," remembered Salvi. "We'd just get up onstage and tear into it and the warden, Burl Cain, would get up and dance."
Top that, Antone's.
Red River Cultural District
Red River music venues could soon be recognized as part of an official cultural district. The effort's being spearheaded by local nonprofit Austin Music People, whose board members include club owners and advocates from strip anchors including Stubb's and Mohawk.
"There are only a few places in the world with so many music venues in walking distance," notes AMP Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan. "This is about the city putting stake in the ground and saying that we recognize the context, history, and legacy of this space and don't want to lose that spirit."
Houlihan acknowledges that development looms large on Red River, but hopes a cultural district designation will ensure that, whatever happens – be it river walk or shopping mall – live music remains its main theme. The proposal would also extend all parking meter limits in the area to five hours and expedite requests for musician loading zones. A petition favoring the district, which would extend from 10th Street to Sixth Street on Red River, has garnered 2,300 signatures.
Last Wednesday, the city's Downtown Commission unanimously endorsed the idea. Houlihan will continue to present the proposal to civic committees before the City Council considers it in coming months. James Taylor, co-owner of Seventh Street hideout Holy Mountain, hopes this proposal could open up a conversation about where clubs stand in the face of development.
"The live music coming from this area is a big part of the reason people began investing in Austin in the first place," he says. "Now the city's growing, and we need to fight to preserve what makes it unique."
The benefits of extended parking meters and musician loading zones are practical for patrons, workers, and bands at his business.
"I don't want my employees to have to leave the bar at 11pm to feed the meter," he disclosed. "And I definitely don't want bands to get a ticket while they unload their drum set in front of the club."
Another vestige of old Austin has lost out to the changing times. MusicMania, the city's third oldest record store, will close next month.
Bernard Vasek, who opened the music emporium in 1989, fought the good fight against the industry-wide decline in CD sales as long as he could, but says he can no longer compete with the increasingly digital consumption of music. In recent years, MusicMania specialized in hip-hop, soul, and Latin dance music, demographics slow to adopt the vinyl renaissance that has benefited other local record stores.
All CDs and vinyl, plus the racks they're displayed on and listening stations, are now priced to move as MusicMania prepares to vacate its longtime home at the Delwood shopping center by the end of October.
Austin's increasingly niche record scene remains otherwise vibrant. We're even beginning to see a trend of mini record shops within other business, like JuiceLand's recent vinyl annex Exploded Records in Hyde Park, which specializes in electronic LPs, or Cream Vintage, now boasting a corner of sweet used vinyl, and Whetstone Audio, selling fancy audio gadgetry as well as records.
Bill Callahan Floats a New Disc
Enigmatic local Bill Callahan treated 90 fans to a floating concert last Sunday, performing atop a two-story boat slowly cruising Lady Bird Lake. With a backing trio, he navigated his new album, appropriately titled Dream River, in its entirety. The mouse-quiet audience hung on to every strange, staggering line the formerly Chicago-based bard emitted in his unassuming baritone. When the boat encountered another floating concert, a Spanish singer encircled by canoes, Callahan sighed, "I thought this was going to be special." It was. He closed with Sade's "Please Send Me Someone To Love." Dream River, Callahan's 18th studio effort, came out last week on Drag City Records. See this week's "Texas Platters" for a review.
› Last Saturday, Austin experimental psych-pop duo Zorch became the first band to play the Womb, an Oklahoma City art space run by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. "When we walked in, I thought, 'Oh my God, we're home,'" says drummer/vocalist Shmu of the event that included lobbing paint balloons at a mural and a bar hidden behind a giant clitoris. "It's the closest thing in physical reality to what our music sounds like."
› While an epic jam between Austin's Brownout and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell was probably predestined, several other instances of performers collaborating at UtopiaFest last weekend came as a surprise. Bluegrass bandits Whiskey Shivers played an unannounced late-night gig with singer-songwriter Robert Ellis, who's producing their next album; members of Grupo Fantasma and Brownout added perfect musical dramatics to Gene Ween's rendition of "Buenas Tardes Amigo"; and Spoon drummer Jim Eno exhibited some exuberant bongo playing with disco rockers !!!. Revisit Monday's Earache! wrap-up at austinchronicle.com/blogs.
• OBN IIIs play their first local show since SXSW Wednesday at Beerland. The garage-punk quintet sets off soon on its third tour of the year, a national trek playing big rooms with speed-psych powerhouse Thee Oh Sees.
› Always innovating their approach to sharing music, Full Service webcasts a variety show tonight (Thursday) featuring live performances, interactive games, and telethon-style call-ins as they sell their new album Carousel, which comes with a regionally specific tree sapling and a chance to win free backyard concerts anywhere in America. Tune in at 7pm on www.fullservicemusic.com.
• Peelander-Z returns to Austin where they recorded their new album, Metalander-Z, which finds the Japanese quintet ditching its gleefully bizarre pop-punk sound for Eighties-metal-inspired ridiculousness. Catch them with Residual Kid and Chicken Ranch Records labelmates Mr. Lewis & the Funeral 5 at Mohawk on Saturday.