Playback: James Petralli's Constant Bop
Has White Denim become Bop English? Which festival might relocate to the new superstage at Circuit of the Americas? Is LBJ turning over in eternity over the Beatles exhibit at his library? That and other Q&As in this week's music news.
For James Petralli, whose fleet-fingered fretwork, eclectic songwriting, and soulful singing stitches a popular local fabric known as White Denim, creative juices overflow. His garage-prog gang has stacked a commendable six LPs and four EPs since 2007. Despite that tireless rate of production, the frontman found time for a side project, Bop English, which debuted in April with the astonishingly good LP Constant Bop.
"It started in 2009 with a few tracks that White Denim didn't have time to address," explains Petralli, who cut together the album piece by piece, recording the lion's share of guitar, keyboards, and vocals with help from former Shearwater bassist Kevin Schneider, guitar extraordinaire Adrian Quesada, and White Denim timekeeper Josh Block. "The process was pretty similar to White Denim: I write tunes, shape them, then bring the guys in. Except when we make a White Denim record, I only use those guys."
No surprise, then, that Constant Bop resembles a White Denim album, albeit with the roller-coaster musicality downshifted in favor of sonic textures and pop-worthy melodies.
"There's a lot more room in White Denim for the chops," says Petralli. "In that way, this is more of a songwriter record. There aren't a lot of solo sections or breaks."
While Petralli bopped, two of his White Denim bandmates struck gold as talent scouts. Block and lead guitarist Austin Jenkins discovered R&B's next big thing in Leon Bridges, and assumed the roles of producers and bandmates for the 25-year-old Ft. Worth soulman. Netting a major-label contract with Columbia Records, Bridges became an overnight sensation, so Block and Jenkins' new engagement has prompted rumors that they won't be involved in White Denim's next cycle. It's a topic Petralli addresses with reticence.
"I don't really know. We haven't really talked about it much, to be honest," he says. "Half of the band has committed to Leon Bridges. I do like working on music with live human beings, and those guys are not in the picture right now, so to speak. Take whatever you can from that."
Petralli reveals that he's currently writing the next White Denim album and it's "coming along nicely." As to who'll play on it, he won't say, but it stands to reason it'll include members of the Bop English live band that's been stage-testing several new White Denim tunes on its recent European tour. Personnel includes local free jazz savant Jonathan Horne on guitar, Jeff Olson on drums, White Denim bassist Steve Terebecki on keyboards, and Schneider on bass.
Catch the Bops in action on Friday at Lamberts, $8.
Girls Gone Wild
Austin's new Music Census recorded a gender gap among local musicians: 80% male. What are the odds, then, that last Friday there were not one, but two female-fronted acts with vaginal monikers performing? It's a real sausage party out there, so forgive me if I get excited for the possibility of taco night.
At Eastside rocker lair the Lost Well, Ryoko Minowa proved stages are superfluous, eschewing the platform to scream eye-level at the tattooed masses. As her band Clit Eastwood fired off bursts of grindcore and crusty thrash, the pint-sized vocalist alternated between staccato screams and flame-thrower larynx scorches, with the mic cable wrapping her arm like a tourniquet. Playful songs like "Abortion Smoothie" make the quartet Austin's most affable ambassadors of power violence.
Later at Hotel Vegas, skanky six-pack Sailor Poon let it all hang out.
"We've got daddy issues!" announced mega-talented drummer/singer/saxophonist Selena Poon over jangly garage scuzz.
After a segment where they laid down and sang a folk song about masturbation, Sophia Poon snatched the microphone and sang about being "Young, femme, and full of phlegm." Soon, Samantha Poon brandished hairy pits and raged, "Eat me out, buy me shoes, make me come, then please leave."
Always crude, never prude, the endlessly entertaining girl group demonstrated that righteousness isn't always a matter of words, but rather attitude.
Beatlemania Afflicts Austin
Lyndon B. Johnson never showed much interest in the Beatles, famously vetoing his daughter's pleas to invite them to the White House. Nevertheless, the Fab Four's likenesses are now plastered all over the LBJ Presidential Library for a new exhibit celebrating the Mop Tops' domination of American pop culture during the Sixties.
Among the items showcased in "Ladies and Gentlemen... The Beatles!": the bass drum used on the Ed Sullivan Show, Beatle suits worn at Shea Stadium and in the Abbey Road LP photo, John Lennon's circular specs, plus merchandising mindblowers like Ringo rings, edible Beatles records, and some very creepy dolls.
The traveling collection is curated by the Grammy Museum and Fab Four Exhibits, one of whose contingent, UT grad Mark Naboshek, began his Beatles hoarding at bygone ATX record store Inner Sanctum. The local installation features a unique marvel: the first public appearance of Lennon's favored jumbo Gibson acoustic. The guitar disappeared in 1963 and remained M.I.A. until last year when an American Vietnam vet, John McCaw, discovered that the J-160E he'd bought in the late Sixties was Lennon's lost axe.
The Beatles' display launches Saturday with a free party, 9am-5pm, that'll feature performances by local equivalent the Eggmen, and will remain on view into 2016 – although Lennon's guitar gets hauled away June 29.
COTA's Mega Stage
Circuit of the Americas debuted a new concert layout over the weekend as it hosted X Games headliners Nicki Minaj and Metallica, who twerked and head-banged, respectively, on the massive stage facing a viewing area equipped to hold up to 50,000 attendees.
The "superstage" was conceived a year ago after 2014 X Games performer Kanye West maxed out COTA's 14,000 capacity amphitheatre. Utilizing a plot of green space near the racetrack's 11th turn, event planners constructed a gradient to maximize sight lines on the expansive lawn. There are major implications for the new live music digs: it'll allow COTA to host bands that draw over 14,000 people and offer a new space for Austin's booming music festival market.
"It's made to have a music festival," says COTA co-founder Bobby Epstein, while inspecting an aerial photo of the grounds and showing how it's designed to fit three stages. "And we can camp more people than Woodstock out here."
Indeed, the owner of at least one large Austin music festival was on hand this weekend to scope out the grounds as a possible relocation. It's Epstein's hope that COTA will be thought of as an entertainment complex and people will stop referring to it as "the racetrack."
New Media Art & Sound Summit runs Thursday through Saturday at the Salvage Vanguard Theater. If you think music with guitars and a 4/4 beat is for squares and you'd rather hear circuit bending, avant jazz, or someone playing a piano with a rake, welcome to paradise. Among the unconventional composers featured at NMASS is Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Alessandro Cortini, playing experimental synth variations to an art film by Sean Curtis Patrick.
It's not unusual for Bob Hoffnar's Mood Illusion to play Wednesday nights at Stay Gold, but on June 17, Austin's jazzy pedal steel wizard pays tribute to Tom Jones with profound songman Ben Ballinger filling the role of the hairy-chested Welsh crooner.
Radio Coffee & Beer, a popular South Austin drinkery owned by homegrown singer-songwriter Jack Wilson, celebrates its first anniversary Saturday with performances by Sweet Spirit, Danny Malone, Phoebe Hunt, Big Thief, and Minor Mishap Marching Band.
The Hex Dispensers have readied another platter of haunted garage punk with III. On the local trio's first album since 2009, Joey Ramone/Glenn Danzig amalgamate Alex Cuervo uses the horror genre to issue attitude adjustments with songs like "Personality X-Ray" and "HateFace." Snag the vinyl Saturday at End of an Ear, where they perform at 6pm.
X Games books locals, but clearly their audience doesn't care. All weekend, we witnessed the discouraging sight of good Austin bands performing to minuscule audiences (sometimes less than five people) in a venue built for thousands.