Playback – Austin Record Convention: The Greatest Record Store on Earth
ARC of the covenant, good Reputations, and Blind Sight
When "Playback" breaks orbit from Austin to run wild in America's outer burgs, I get my cultural bearings in record shops. Last weekend, while kickstarting my summer of love with a visit to the Bay Area, I scooped LPs at Berkeley's Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media (Rasputin Music's vinyl outpost) and San Francisco's enormous Amoeba Music. Previous journeys have found me fingering through the bins of legendary joints: Seattle's Sonic Boom, NYC's Other Music, Chicago's Reckless Records, and Amoeba's L.A. mother lode.
None hold a candle to the Austin Record Convention, the greatest record store in the known universe for three days only.
This weekend at the Palmer Events Center, 300 vendors offer over 1 million LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes, and CDs in what remains the nation's largest recorded music sale. The combination record store/flea market/music nerd orgy represents commerce at every regional level, with foreign buyers filling suitcases with newly acquired stock, national dealers slinging wax from specific genres of expertise, and local record shop operators buying and selling the kind of scores that come but once a year. Even music writers get in on the action: Michael Corcoran plans to sell a mountain of promo CDs he's amassed over three decades as well as his new book.
Founded in 1981 by former Discount Records employee Doug Hanners, the ARC put a world's worth of music at our fingertips before the internet existed. Thirty-six years later, the crate digger's paradise still contends with the digital marketplace.
"The ARC has a real treasure-hunting vibe," explains Doug's son Nathan Hanners, now the convention's chief organizer. "You might be looking for a few specific things, but then stumble across records you didn't even know existed. Other times, you talk about a record to one of the dealers and they'll mention something else that you're interested in, so you're off to find that.
"Those experiences are why the event economy is a big deal," continues Hanners. "People recognize that some things are just better in person than on the internet. You could spend 24 hours browsing records on eBay and you won't make the discoveries you will at the convention."
ARC doors swing open at 10am Saturday and Sunday for general admission ($5), but "Playback" recommends forking over $40 – probably less than you spent on one Record Store Day double-LP last month – for the early bird shopping on Friday. That morning, the Palmer buzzes with the energy of the stock market trading floor with buyers selling and sellers buying. Whether you're seeking ultra-rare singles or hoping to nab a non-mint Tom Waits record for $5, Friday brings the best opportunities.
And scratch that "three days only." Try six. Due to continually increasing numbers over the past three years, the ARC is returning to a twice-annual event. The fall show is scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 1.
Reputations on the Line
With their impressive March debut, Begging for More, the Reputations successfully approximated what it would sound like if the Beatles had hired Phil Spector to produce "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" with the Mamas & Papas as guest vocalists. Not bad for a rebound band.
In 2015, four of the Reputations' six members – notably earnest pop mastermind Seth Gibbs – were enlisted in Bobby Jealousy version 2.1.2. That Austin favorite had dissolved a year prior following the divorce of Gibbs and co-leader Sabrina Ellis (Sweet Spirit, A Giant Dog), but after signature song "Rainbows" became the opening theme of Comedy Central's Big Time in Hollywood, FL, Gibbs assembled a new version of the group to capitalize on the national spotlight. The TV show ran for just one season and so did the band.
Scrapping older material while retaining the chemistry, Gibbs, the now betrothed duo of singer Rockaynne Bullwinkel and drummer Jimmy Wildcat, and bassist Justin Smith added Mad Maude & the Hatters' Jenny Carson and Crocodile Tears' Rudy Spencer to complete their six-vocalist lineup – four Ikes, two Tinas – and explore a sort of melodious R&B with garage rock oomph they've dubbed "power soul."
"We started working on music we'd wanted to play, but it didn't fit our other bands," says the percussionist of the doo-walloping harmonies and serious songwriting evident on the Reputations' 13-track LP. "The garage scene is becoming worn out, but I think we've taken what's cool about it and moved beyond it into something more musically developed."
After laying down their knockout live show this Friday at Hotel Vegas' Cinco de Mayo party, the Reps begin prepping their sophomore album being recorded next month at the legendary Ardent Studios, home to classic LPs from the Replacements, R.E.M., and ZZ Top. Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who became a Reputations fan after hearing Begging for More, will handle production.
Blind Leading the Blind
On Friday, two of Austin's best-known blind musicians perform live together for the first time in decades. Even if you're in attendance, you won't see it, however. The concert will be staged in pitch blackness.
"It's gonna be completely dark to show people how we work and what it's like to be blind," says sightless keyboardist/vocalist T.J. Wade, frontman of the shoe sniffin' funk crew Foot Patrol, who'll debut Blind Sight – soundtrack of a fictional video game for the visually impaired – at the Off Center after sets by industrial coldwave duo Toxic Water (ex-Crust) and experimental post-punk juggernauts Brown Whörnet. Joining Wade onstage will be vision-blessed bassist extraordinaire Greg Yancey and Stevie Wonder-approved blind multi-instrumentalist D-Madness on drums. The latter describes Blind Sight's sound as funk-hop with elements of prog, jazz, and heavy metal.
"This is my first time performing in a scenario like this. Well, for the audience. I play blind all the time," jokes D-Madness (né Lorenzo Jackson), who's known the younger Wade since they shared a music instructor at the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, and played Al Jarreau and Prince covers together at Central Market in the Nineties. "I like the concept. People have to stop looking and really pay attention."
Charlie Prichard passed away April 25 at age 71. A crucial figure on the original Vulcan Gas Company stage with his brilliantly bluesy lead guitar in eclectic rock favorites the Conqueroo, the San Antonio-raised guitarist and Doug Sahm crony moved to Austin in the mid-Sixties before relocating to the West Coast where he joined Jimi Hendrix tourmates Cat Mother & the All-Night Newsboys. Prichard later returned to Austin where he remained a musical presence for decades, and was inducted into the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2004.
No Control Radio, the beloved metal show recently dropped from 101X, was picked up by sister station KLBJ 93.7FM, where it's slotted for a two-hour block beginning Saturdays at midnight.
C3 Presents bestowed Mayor Adler with an oversize check for $6.3 million on Monday, representing the ACL Fest organizer's donation to Austin Parks Department last year. According to a new economic impact report, ACL Fest injected $277.4 million into Austin's economy in 2016. Three days later – today, Thursday – the music festival dropped its 2017 lineup.
Daybreaker, the sunrise rave that's been a growing national phenomenon since 2013, launches locally next Wednesday on the rooftop of Whole Foods, 6-9am. Performers include DJ Manny, Ruby Jane, Soul Food Horns, and Riders Against the Storm, whose powerful new Mobley collab "Mali" bridges the culturally accomplished African nation and the party drug.