Free Week 2019 Is in the Rearview Mirror, but These Homegrown Standouts Aren't
10 local showcases that got us excited for what's to come this year
By Rachel Rascoe, Doug Freeman, Christina Garcia, Tim Stegall, Michael Toland, Libby Webster, Kevin Curtin, and Dan Gentile, Fri., Jan. 11, 2019
Abhi the Nomad, the Bishops, Magna CardaStubb’s, Jan. 3
Beginning with a line running down the block, Thursday night inside at Stubb's delivered a clear confirmation: Austin has caught on to Abhi the Nomad. Before rapper Abhi Sridharan Vaidehi, 25, kicked off a midnight set, Austin MC Megz Kelli and producer Dougie Do practiced soulful genre-bending as Magna Carda. Sibling synergists Cara and Troy Bishop followed by finding fresh, electronic footing without brother Chris in the mix.
To start, Abhi the Nomad requested sing-along backup to mask a sore throat. Settling into "Mama Bling," nonchalant opener to 2018 debut Marbled, the charismatic Spotify sensation needed zero assistance. Even so, a sizable chunk of the packed audience knew all the words.
Channeling the quirky magnetism of Childish Gambino, the MC freestyled effortlessly. Backed by drummer Poopie Sanchez and guitarist Travis Brown's hair-flipping energy, the natural performer held sway on the sold-out mass, which at his command bent down low before a sunny production buildup. Croons on "Somebody to Love" offered irresistible pop hooks, while hard lines in "Run" employed darker, hypnotic beats.
Abhi Vaidehi's 2019 is sure to be interstellar. – Rachel Rascoe
Grivo, Glassing, Deep Cross, EllBeerland, Jan. 2
Walking the genre lines of heavy sonic expression, four local acts endeavored surprising plays in beauty and brutality.
Striking duo Ell alloyed sensitivity and doom, their self-proclaimed "precious metal" serving as opener. Synchronized by matching fluffy beards, duet Deep Cross processed avant-garde industrialism, endorsed by dark Austin collective Somatic. Queasy breakdowns drudged along under a drum machine's contrasting high tint, all sound eventually folding into ambient tones.
Metal trio Glassing packed the Wednesday night house, providing the engagement, theatricality, and the black garments you'd expect for such glamorously abrasive tracks. Roaring, hyper savagery settled easily into pensive space, united under bassist Dustin Coffman's resounding vocal hiss. Escalating throughout, the frontman made it a thing that he was beefing with the venue's sound engineer.
Holodeck Records delivery Grivo ended the second night of Free Week comparatively subdued, their slowcore distillations framed elegantly by warm, fluttering floodlights. Even in singer/guitarist Timothy Heck's most expansive shoegaze moments, the precise trio remained locked in by reassuring, straightforward drum and bass. Lending a steady hand to post-punk fans amid metal adornments, the group left the largest impact using the evening's simplest elements. – Rachel Rascoe
Nine Mile Records ShowcaseCheer Up Charlies, Jan. 3
Nine Mile Records amassed an admirable block of local releases over the past two years, so Cheer Up's double stages kept fast clip with a buffet sampling of the homegrown label's ranging roster.
Michael Booher's namesake quintet Booher unloaded edgy, tightly wound indie rock fairly bursting behind its frontman, who slid over to guitar in support of A. Sinclair's swirling, city-bleached pop jams. Inside, Girling teased second EP Side One by blasting earnest but bitter odes reminiscent of Beulah and early Wilco facing off in divorce court. Löwin's building riff roar followed, lifted by Sarah Houser's vocals burning both breathy and powerful.
Tinnarose proved the night's most intriguing outfit. The septet capitivated behind two dancers syncing to Devon McDermott's high trill and the troupe's rhythm jams. As the Oysters closed outside, ripping early-Saddle Creek angst, the indoor stage roiled pop fury atop Go Fever's hooks and frontwoman Acey Monaro's Blondie edge on next month's extended play, Daydream Hawker.
The Reputations capped the showcase with a 25-minute blowout, Rockyanne Bullwinkel strutting the stage and into the crowd like Tina Turner as the sextet's psych-infused gutter glam screamed Austin's next breakout. – Doug Freeman
Zettajoule, Trouble in the Streets, Smiile, Carrie Fussell, Ali HolderSwan Dive, Jan. 4
Behind a humble stage show of one drummer and her electric guitar, song siren Ali Holder ruminated on regret, disappointment, and Geminis in a warm, Southern voice. Standout went to her cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou," here softly strummed with grimy distortion. Carrie Fussell then ignited a full venue with charmed songcraft ("Kitty of the Year") and dynamic, soulful singing, her husband on drums and fellow chanteuse Lolita Lynne on bass before her own haunting set.
Smiile's musicians and two dancing vocalists plowed through rock, blues, and jazz influences next. The steady buzz builders' only musical constant proved their exuberant notes. Trouble in the Streets followed with fest-friendly electro, live drums, and Nnedi Nebula Agbaroji rapping self-acceptance. Finally, Zettajoule recalled the on-sale Peach Fuzz nude calendar in the corner, repeating "We are all vibrators" before Matthew Sheffer and Meggan Carney played 20 minutes of noisy, ad-libbed dance music and polished pop from 2018's Always Looking Up. "Posh Boys" sounded like an update of 1982 Taco hit "Puttin' on the Ritz" sans harpsichord, "Done With U" funneled the underwater vocal feel of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and "No Thank You" vibrated Ladytron inspiration. – Christina Garcia
Vampyre, Pleasure Venom, Borzoi, ChromagnusHole in the Wall, Jan. 5
Vampyre's a sadomasochistic exercise in violent volume and noisy brutality.
Where heavy, math-rocking openers Chromagnus aired songs with discernible melodies, Vampyre uncorked an unrelenting assault. It's literally white noise over a pummeling beat that left ears screaming a high C into the next day and physical bruising akin to having been taken out back and beaten with a two-by-four. The young audience loved it.
Midslot, Borzoi soundchecked with guitarist Zachary Wood pulling a Buzzcocks riff out of his Strat, then covered David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" halfway through their kinetic set. Around these signposts, their turbo-boosted brace of a debut LP, last fall's aggro-funk A Prayer for War, revealed Taylor Browne's bass as the trio's lead instrument. On the literal and vocal percussion of singer/drummer Rhys Woodruff, Borzoi earned its mosh pit.
Pleasure Venom, now 4, essayed a vicious punk more Sonic Youth than the Ramones – coated in feminist bile. The latter shot came courtesy of Audrey Campbell, whose wailing vocals and riot grrrl Tina Turner presence makes her the most compelling local frontperson that underground Austin's experienced since Sincola's Rebecca Cannon. Please welcome cap city punk's new star. – Tim Stegall
Blackie, Ingebrigt HÅker Flaten, Blk OpsNorth Door, Jan. 5
Death metal, jazz, and industrial hip-hop slayed the North Door last Saturday, beginning with Austin's Blk Ops. Theremin abuser Champ Morgan hit himself in the face a few times before shouting in a low growl. That matched the emotional lead of Houston's Doula and Austin act Black Mercy's electro-industrial rock.
Experimental and avant-jazz, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten beat his electric bass guitar with a drumstick (wooden, not poultry) for half an hour between thrash bands. Founder of Austin's Sonic Transmissions Festival, the Norwegian then sawed his double bass like a violin, slapped the instrument open-hand, scratched up the strings with various small objects, and all but bit the neck. Håker Flaten let his last effect die out slowly to the soft clanging of metal spatulas from the kitchen of Pueblo Viejo.
Houston's Blackie, born Michael LaCour, stood with the audience in a circle of darkness for his industrial hip-hop set. He shouted to the void and traded places with his saxophone on the floor, blowing it quickly before Håker Flaten took the stage again to add his free improvisations to the noisy punk set that delivered a couple folks to the napkin holders for improvised earplugs. – Christina Garcia
Nolan Potter's Nightmare Band, Temple of Angels, Hidden Ritual, Borzoi, Ancient RiverHotel Vegas, Jan. 6
Though not presented by Levitation, last Sunday's deft mix of traditionalist psychedelia and psych-adjacent music operated at Hotel Vegas in full effect. Sporting long hair, beards, denim, and bandannas, opener Ancient River looked like transplants from another time. The local group's shifts from jazzy Sixties jamming to Seventies acid crunch sealed the deal.
Borzoi couldn't have presented a bigger contrast. Except for a preoccupation with reverb, the threesome's dissonant post-punk – more a series of controlled explosions than song performances – shared nothing in common with their neo-hippie predecessors. Levitation favorite Hidden Ritual split the difference with spacey acid-pop that evolved over the course of 30 minutes into the dreamy side of Brit post-punk.
Fighting both lead singer illness and an unfortunately muddy mix, fivepiece Temple of Angels did its best to reach the rafters, building a sonic wall equal parts Pornography-era Cure and early Cult. Afterward, Nolan Potter's Nightmare Band, fronted by its flute-slinging bandleader, cast the widest net, blending jazz, hard rock, and acid pop into a phantasmagoria that revived that late-Sixties point where psychedelia mutated into prog rock. If psychedelia remains, as Jim DeRogatis once wrote, music that takes you to another place, NPNB delivered a wild galactic trip. – Michael Toland
Keeled Scales ShowcaseBeerland, Jan. 6
Keeled Scales' stacked Sunday evening Free Week bill at Beerland stayed true to the local label's ethos, showcasing a spectrum of songwriting. The start of the crowded evening skewed country; guitarist/vocalist Lizzie Buckley played Fifties breeziness with a lovesick twang, while Alex Dupree's deep voice reverberated through forthright lyricism and acoustic guitar brilliance. Monterrey, Mexico, quintet Oak Sun meandered folk-pop punctured by quivering accordion.
Daphne Tunes' slick, polished sheen of guitar rock drew warmth from a genuine sweetness, affability heightened via Josh Halpern's expressive drumming. Sun June teased their too-short set as their last 'til SXSW, but made it count. Helmed by Laura Colwell's expressive voice, the quintet mainly culled from the nuanced wistfulness of 2018's Years, sprinkling in new tracks including earworm "Singing."
Neil Lord's experimental Future Museums took the stage as a fivepiece nearing 1am, churning out a single, driving, 30-minute instrumental of drones and whirs. Anchored by an unwavering drum beat, the amalgamation of synths, pedals, and guitars held the remaining attendees rapt, like being submerged in an electronics tide pool. The cinematic intensity slowly came undone, petering out, the magic permeating Beerland shattered in typical Free Week fashion by an unruly attendee hollering, "One more song!" – Libby Webster
Possessed, one fan removed his jacket and flapped it violently in the air as he thrashed in front of the stage in a momentary, one-man mosh pit. Seventy-five others remained relatively composed, perhaps in awe of Exhalants' relentless compositions.
Except for classical music and jazz, most songs contain two or three genre-warping musical sections. Exhalants are liable to hit you with nine distinct parts – quickly changing rhythms, tempos, riffs, and breakdowns – in a three-minute track. That barrage, largely conducted by complex battery from ferociously fluid drummer Tommy Rabon, intersects noise rock, punk, and post-hardcore at ear-ringing volume.
Panting, Steve Pike repeated a socially charged refrain: "I believe her!"
Extreme and counter-gravitational, the singer's stage posture matched his open-throated scream, which lifted him off the ground even as his aluminum neck six-string pulled him back down. Amid a volcanic guitar tone both bright and destructive, Pike never veered into dejected, nerved-out noise frontman tropes. Instead, passionate energy splattered everyone inside the club.
Closing a 30-minute set with the heavy heave-ho of "Punishers," off last summer's eponymous LP, the year-and-a-half-old Austin trio triumphed in presenting an overwhelming sound with unusual clarity. – Kevin Curtin
Night Glitter, TV's Daniel, Deep TimeCheer Up Charlies, Jan. 5
Looking for a reason to hate a band? TV's Daniel gives you plenty, but like a professional wrestler playing the foil, it's a loathing that'll make you want to cheer.
Made up of members of Bad Sports, Leather Girls, OBN IIIs, the Well, and more, they opened outdoor at Cheer Up's with a set of noisy power-pop marked by a monologuing frontman who brings back post-traumatic memories of Yuppie Pricks antagonism. It drew confused stares but an equal amount of chuckles. The triple-guitar assault featured at least one awkward jump over an amp (that had been malfunctioning) and gave the show energy beyond just the egomaniacal crowd banter.
Meanwhile, inside, Deep Time demonstrated why they're one of Austin's most consistent bands. Since their inception as Yellow Fever in the early Aughts, they've perfected a quirky style of outsider indie rock. Songs like "Cats and Rats," although now over a decade old, still sound as fresh as when they were played at the old Club de Ville.
Night Glitter closed. Atop textural shimmers of synth and songwriting that moved in slow motion, John Michael Schoepf and LouLou Ghelichkhani led a fourpiece, which proved a peaceful contrast to the bombastic opener and a dreamy conclusion to one of the week's most diverse rock bills. – Dan Gentile