Playback: New No Wave, Old Dicks, and Woody Allen
US Weekly emerges, the Dicks reunite, and Woody Allen casts Kat Edmonson
Hardcore vocals, No Wave dissonance, post-punk nerves, and midtempo beats; kludged together by four musicians with pedigrees in dream-pop and chillwave, there's a million reasons this could go wrong. And yet, US Weekly may be the most interesting young band in the Austin underground.
"We don't know the 'right way' to play heavy music, so it's just whatever we're able to do with what we've got," bassist Ryan Curtis assesses of the locals' anxiety-inducing sound, loaded with weird notes and violent explosions.
Curtis, Christopher Nordahl, Ryan Fitzgibbon, and Kent Hale – then-members of Hola Beach, Comforter, Secret Daughter, and Growl – came together two years ago wanting something different. Fitzgibbon, who'd manned bass previously, called shotgun on guitar, while Curtis, a guitarist, took up bass. Hale's pop background informed his backbeat, but Nordahl had never sung in a band.
Now, fronting the avant-garde quartet, the latter marauds around the stage striking twitchy poses for crowds who hang on his every word as he barks poetry about male privilege, mental health, sexual respect, and suffocating societal norms in a staccato prosody that vaguely resembles rap.
"It's physical catharsis," explains Nordahl, who, in the past, suffered panic attacks in the workaday world, but revels in the release provided by US Weekly. "I feel comfortable onstage. It's a judgment-free zone."
Live, he's an intense presence – destined for a wider audience – but in the daylight, Superman becomes Clark Kent, a mild-mannered Midwestern kid with a professional starter job who barely seems capable of playing a basement gig in his underwear. Hotel Vegas co-owner Brian Tweedy remembers being apprehensive about having a local act follow hard-buzzing Philly band Sheer Mag at a packed South by Southwest concert on his venue's patio. US Weekly stole the show.
"I feel like that was their coming out party," acknowledges the club proprietor.
On Monday, US Weekly, which has released a full-length demo and two EPs – including May's stellar Imploading – sieges Mohawk's outside stage as direct support for indie rock sensation Parquet Courts.
"We have a weird track record where the higher the stage is, the shittier we play," admits Curtis. "When we're on the floor, we play well and have good crowd interaction."
"When we play up high, I feel like the audience is looking up our nostrils," adds Fitzgibbon.
The quartet will have to get used to it. For starters, they've been booked to play Sound on Sound Fest in November. If that's not a sign of upward momentum, consider that at least one hip record label has taken notice of US Weekly.
"Yeah, we were recently strung along by a well-known label with prominent bands on it," laughs Curtis. "There was this weird communication with two parties where one was super stoked and the other was very unresponsive, so we got night-and-day impressions, and they ended up not working with us."
"We were left learning nothing about ourselves," shrugs Nordahl.
Dicks' Final Show
"One last hard-on baby, you gotta make the best of it," jokes Gary Floyd by phone from his home in San Francisco. The well-hung occasion he's referring to: a final Dicks reunion Oct. 30 at Grizzly Hall.
It's an unexpected last hurrah for the Texas punk royalty, who terrorized Austin with gay commie hardcore 1980-83 before relocating to the Bay Area and disbanding three years later. The authors of oft-covered punk classic "Hate the Police" last played in 2010, with Davy Jones and Mark Kenyon filling in for deceased guitarist Glen Taylor. In 2013, the Dicks enlisted Jesus Lizard/Scratch Acid screamer David Yow, who calls Floyd "one of the best voices in punk rock history," for a local benefit after the frontman's multiple knee surgeries.
"I loathe using words like 'closure,' but I'll use it here," reasons Floyd. "I didn't plan to ever do another Dicks show because I'd had some health things and a reluctance of not being able to do as good as I've done in the past. But if we're not ever going to do this again, I feel like I personally owe people in Austin one last show. That's where we started and they were always very supportive – even the people that hated us. At least they hated us with all their hearts."
Eternally intimidating bassist Buxf Parrot organized the grand finale, which will feature original Dicks members Floyd, Parrot, and drummer Pat Deason, plus Kenyon and Fuckemos guitarist Brian McGee replacing Jones, who died of lung cancer last year. Opening the show, which runs 5-9pm, is Black Irish Texas and my own band of Dicks disciples, Cunto! What can fans expect?
"Instead of angry young men, it'll be bitchy old men," laughs Floyd.
"I was never out to please the audience," says the burly belter, who had the balls to perform in bizarre drag in early-Eighties Texas. "My attitude was, 'I'm having a good time, so if they are too, that's great. If not, I don't give a shit.' Especially after this last show.
"What are they gonna do – never see us again?"
Woody Allen Casts Kat Edmonson
Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg star in Woody Allen's latest film, the typically quirky and romantic Café Society, but jazz plays an im- portant supporting role. Onetime Austinite Kat Edmonson brings the genre to life as a vocalist at a Thirties nightclub called Les Tropiques.
"It was pretty surreal because Woody Allen is my favorite director," says the 33-year-old vocalist, who cut her teeth locally 2002-10 before moving to the Big Apple. "I've seen all of his movies and I'm such a fan of his writing, his performances, and his comedy, so you can imagine. It was the ultimate thrill."
Edmonson gets several minutes of screen time in Café Society, singing "Mountain Greenery" and "Jeepers Creepers" backed by a miniature version of Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks. While the role called for lip-synching to tracks she cut beforehand, Allen also threw her a curveball.
"Woody got a wild hair one day on set, wanting to do something we hadn't recorded and asked me what I knew. He wanted something uptempo, so we discussed the possibilities and settled on 'Jeepers Creepers,'" recalls Edmonson, who says the real-life Woody Allen acts exactly like his film persona. "It was really fun, because I'm not showing my strengths by lip-synching, but to perform live in that moment – especially in the way he works where he only does a couple takes – I was able to present what I'm good at.
"I've been rehearsing for this very role, the nightclub singer doing standards in a long dress with a big feather on my head, since I was a little kid watching Thirties musicals."
The experience reignited one of Edmonson's oldest interests, and she's since enrolled in acting school, hoping to pursue additional film work. Meanwhile, she's nearing completion on a new album of original material, inspired, coincidently, by Thirties musicals and the great American songbooks. She characterizes it as "dreamy, lush, whimsical." Café Society is now playing at the Violet Crown Cinema.