Playback: Taco Queen Upgrades

Maria Taco Xpress keeps up with South Lamar, Moistboyz debut Dean Ween in Austin, and SXSW footnotes

Maria and Maria at Maria's
Maria and Maria at Maria's (Photo by John Anderson)

Determined to grow her business with the rapidly developing South Lamar strip, Austin taco queen Maria Corbalan is now expanding the focus of her eccentric eatery, Maria's Taco Xpress, to include a greater live music element.

Maria's After Hours, beginning April 8, finds the two-tier Mexican eatery staying open later and doubling as a dimly lit live music lounge. An interior stage has been erected and outfitted with five figures worth of sound gear. Corbalan's also cooked up a late-night menu so the sounds of the taqueria's open kitchen won't interrupt the music.

"I want us to be the neighborhood place that has quality musicians and reminds people about what Austin used to be before it became trendy," declares Corbalan. "And I'm happy with being the old kid on the block."

Of course Maria's already hosts live music weekly on the patio stage, notably hippie mama Leeann Atherton on Fridays and William Harries Graham's Music4Music fundraisers most Saturdays – and even occasional performances inside (Birdlegg!) – but this signals a concerted effort to upgrade their status as a music venue. Corbalan hired Continental Club veteran Eric Carter to book bands and run sound, with wish lists revealings names like Jon Dee Graham, Jitterbug Vipers, and Maria's friend and former employee Alejandro Escovedo.

Corbalan, who opened Taco Xpress as a funky food truck 18 years ago, has been witness to South Lamar's evolution from a slacker strip to constant hard-hat zone of booming development and knows growth for her own business is necessary.

"If I'm already paying a high price for this piece of property, I might as well use it for as many hours as it's available," she says. "I'm getting so much competition just on Lamar alone. I don't want to be left behind."

The Moistboyz

"Rock & roll is the best thing that ever happened to America other than jazz and trains," raves Guy Heller over the phone from New Hope, Pa. "This country is softened. All people care about is paychecks and house music now."

That passionate frustration absolutely defines the Moistboyz, Heller's speed metal southern punk band with Mickey Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween. Their musical partnership was forged one night in the early Nineties when Melchiondo picked up Heller hitchhiking and they recorded "Flies on My Dick," which appeared on Ween's sanctified Pure Guava LP. The band debuted in 1995 on the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label and has sporadically released albums, most recently V, which arrived last fall.

Heller, a wiry, attitudinal, nail bomb of a frontman, with a mythic reputation for recklessness and a classic rock-worthy voice, lived in Austin from 2005 until last July, working as a stagehand at Stubb's and sometimes performing. Mid 2012, when both boyz were going through breakups – Heller with his common-law wife and Melchiondo with Ween – the buds convened in Pennsylvania and recorded V, eventually returning to the Austin area to complete tracking and mixing with local guitarist/engineer Stephen Haas. The resulting LP, their first in eight years, finds Melchiondo tossing off rubbery metal riffs and right-brained solos while Heller embodies lyrical menace.

The Moistboyz hit town Friday, headlining Mohawk with the Meat Puppets and showcasing their super lineup, which includes Haas, former Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri, and drummer Hoss Wright. It'll be the first time in the band's 23-year history Melchiondo plays Austin as a Moistboy. For Heller it's a bittersweet homecoming.

"I'll never move back to Austin," he promises, "but I'll give them the best rock show they've ever seen."

Street Band Promised Land

The Biohazard Brass Band
The Biohazard Brass Band (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

Horns blaring and bass drums beating, ambulatory street bands dressed in colorful ragtag regalia overtook Austin last weekend for the fourth annual Honk!TX Festival, occupying South Congress on Friday, Spider House Saturday, and residential Eastside streets on Sunday in celebration of the eccentric underground marching band culture.

Honk!TX co-founder Mike Antares reports that attendance peaked this year, crediting local outfits like Boss Street Brass Band, Yes Ma'am! Brass Band, Urban Achievers Brass Band, and Dead Music Capital Band with bolstering interest in the genre. When Antares co-founded Honk!TX in 2011, he'd never played an instrument. Now he blows horn in Minor Mishap Marching Band.

"People come to Honk then join a band afterwards because they didn't know such a thing existed," Antares says. "It's beginner, intermediate, and pro musicians supporting each other."

At Sunday's parade, amidst the clown wigs, bunny ears, and zombie paint marched a group of 11 guys in combat boots, the Biohazard Brass Band, an offshoot of the 323rd Army Band at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

"We're the keepers of tradition for the Army," explained bandleader SFC John Line. "Every day we go out there and do the bugle ceremonies." At Honk!, they trade Sousa marches for Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller," complete with dance moves.

"I love that we can come participate in a cultural event like this and represent the armed forces," laughed Line. "It puts a whole different face on the Army."

South by Say What?

South by Southwest has a long tail. Two weeks after the Festival we're still sorting through the aftermath.

"Ruby, get up here. This is your time to shine!"

That's what Lady Gaga told Ruby Jane at rehearsal for her Stubb's performance. The local fiddle phenom had been called just days earlier and asked to back up the dance diva on a country-fried version of "Bad Romance."

"It was a little different from other sideman gigs," observes Ruby, who's played second fiddle to other huge artists like Willie Nelson. "Usually they want you in the background, but Lady Gaga had me stand in front doing fiddle licks throughout the whole song."

Strangely that wasn't the most unexpected collaboration at SXSW. That honor goes to Melissa Etheridge playing with Austin slop punks the Midgetmen.

"Yeah Twitter, isn't that fun?" cracked the femme rocker onstage with the locals and Nashville's four-guitar Diarrhea Planet. The Midgetmen's Marc Perlman had engaged the two-time Grammy winner online, poking fun at the pointlessness of her playing a music conference and joking that she hadn't yet confirmed playing his party. Surprisingly, she did just that, joining them for a speedy version of Tom Petty's "Refugee."

"Melissa deserves a shit ton of credit just for being willing to stand in an alley behind Side Bar, listening to the Midgetmen for 20-plus minutes to play a single song with us," acknowledged the bassist. "Most of our friends and fans won't even stand in an air-conditioned club listening to us."

Equally astounding was that the Bulemics, accurately rated as Best Punk Band in the Austin Music Poll, showcased at "Sixth Street's upscale nightclub" the Lit Lounge. Singer Gerry Bulemic described it as an ordinary performance, with very minor destruction. Nevertheless, five minutes in, a staff member asked him, "Are you going to settle down?" to which he replied, "Fuck no!" and was put in a chokehold by a bouncer and dragged outside mid-song.

Somewhat related is would-be SXSW headliner Beck, who was booked to play the iTunes Fest (and Lou Reed tribute) before bowing out in February. Turns out he'll play the Moody Theater after all when he tapes an Austin City Limits episode on April 27.

Flipnotics Closes

Erik Hokkanen
Erik Hokkanen (Photo by John Anderson)

The closing party for South Austin fixture Flipnotics drew several hundred patrons Monday night, more than could ever fit in the coffee shop's 45-capacity listening room. Thus, guitarist and fiddler Erik Hokkanen, who's played a weekly residency at Flips since it opened in 1992, brought his band onto the patio for a quick tune then completed his set inside where he was joined by Mark Rubin and Kevin Russell for a version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," twisted with the line, "'Til I saw my dear Flipnotics down six feet in the grave."

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Maria's Taco Xpress, SXSW Music 2014, Lady Gaga, Ruby Jane, Melissa Etheridge, Bulemics, Moistboyz, Ween, Honk!TX, Flipnotics, Erik Hokkanen

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