Before local punk troupe Blood transformed into a sevenpiece, a smaller assemblage required vocalist Tim O'Brien to play guitar. Unleashed contemporaneously by the support of trumpeter Zach Malett, keyboardist Caleb Parker, bassist Nino Soberon, drummer Tyler Wolff, and guitar bros Ben and Julian McCamman-McGinnis, the band's final form now flourishes as one of Austin's buzziest new acts. Their rapturous live show hits Saturday, Jan. 4, at Cheer Up Charlies alongside Big Bill, Son of Stan, Borzoi, and Exercise for Free Week 2020.
"Allowing Tim to flail his body around has been really fruitful," says Soberon, who also switches to cello in Blood and other acts like Balmorhea.
"It was bottled up for a while," agrees O'Brien, who moved to Austin from Virginia six years ago. "I definitely didn't have enough of an outlet for it when I was younger."
The septet assembled in October 2018. At one of their first hangouts hosting a poetry reading, the McCamman-McGinnis brothers read a scene written by O'Brien. One played O'Brien, one played Ted Cruz, and another friend acted as their marriage counselor.
Since then, the band's created an entirely new Blood set list with theatrical, jagged pieces of post-punk showmanship. They could sit with current caustic Brits such as Idles and Shame, but reach moments of elegant pop exuberance pretty enough for the Killers. Through the band's democratic writing process, O'Brien's bookish description of the project as a "jazz punk orchestra indebted to Ralph Ellison as much as David Byrne" on SoundCloud demos still holds true.
"I was all into queer theory shit in college, so the lyrics are really a continuation of that interest," explains the lyricist. "All of the songs touch upon ideas of sexuality, perversity, and masculinity."
On slow-building drudge "Intro," O'Brien layers cultural references in brutal delivery:
"... And then he pissed his own Calvins/ And changed into Champions/ Watched vids of Jordan Peterson/ To feel like a man again."
The song teams up with "Primitive Priest" as the group's only output so far, captured by Erik Wofford at Cacophony Recorders and released in June.
"Listening to those tracks now, it's a reminder to leave space for things to shine," says Julian.
On upcoming 2020 recordings, Soberon adds, "The biggest challenge is making sure seven people's voices are all heard, even if they're not playing."
Free Week hasn't filled seven days in years. What used to stretch amorphously for almost a fortnight lands as a long weekend in 2020, just Jan. 2-5. Barracuda, Cheer Up Charlies, Dozen Street, Elysium, the Far Out, Empire Control Room, Hotel Vegas, Mohawk, Sahara Lounge, Scratchouse, Stubb's, Valhalla, Venue ATX, and more all participate.
Since its 2016 formation, the Red River Cultural District oversees the January tradition, gathering sponsors to pay out all artists playing the Downtown sector of its title. RRCD president Tyson Swindell, GM of Mohawk, says the migration of Levitation to November delayed fundraising and thus shortened the event. He adds that December taps out the promotional budgets of most beverage businesses.
"We had to be realistic, even though we didn't want to," he says. "It was either that or no Free Week."
Support from longtime concert listings site Showlist Austin helped. Following months without updates, their Facebook page announced: "We will be back in full force in 2020 under new management."
And Beerland, despite being closed since last May, is also listed on the Free Week poster. In an update to the Chronicle, new owner Ryan Garrett says he hopes to reopen as soon as permitting is worked out.
After decades of trying to garner city tax support for Austin's tourism-garnering practitioners, the local music scene now gathers feedback for its recent windfall. The first-ever community forum on the "Live Music Fund" commenced Monday, Dec. 16. The meeting provided a crash course on the estimated annual $3.4 million from current hotel tax revenues that the city began collecting on Sept. 30.
Catlin Whitington from the Long Center will serve on a task force for divvying the supply and joked about the money already piling up.
"Did everyone bring their calculators?" he quipped. "There will be a test."
The syllabus so far looks like:
• The new SpeakUp Austin landing page (www.speakupaustin.org/live-music-fund), which links to video of the lengthy meeting.
• The Austin Texas Musicians Facebook page, where the nonprofit posts timely updates and recaps of music gatherings.
• Task force members emphasized availability for community chats, so their contacts are on the SpeakUp page.
During a Q&A portion, Zeke Jarmon of local alt-folk band Batty Jr. posed a central question.
"I'm a musician, but I sure feel like a nonprofit sometimes," he opened. "With regards to musicians – what kind of criteria have to be met to get money directly into our pockets? Because I'm worried that it's going to be a trickle-down thing."
Music & Entertainment Division Manager Erica Shamaly emphasized that no criteria have been established, and questions like these will be taken into consideration as the task force forms guidelines. A survey is available on the SpeakUp page with the sole inquiry: "What is your most important priority for spending the Live Music Fund?" The Music Office hopes players in particular will respond.
Music nonprofits, another stakeholder group on the survey menu, also made a prominent presence at the meeting. Attorney and task force member Rebecca Reynolds reminded that this fund is aimed at the for-profit music industry and that creative nonprofits are already eligible for HOT funding under the city's cultural arts programs.
Aaron "Fresh" Knight, co-host of KUTX hip-hop show The Breaks, spoke alongside other task force members on his intentions for the journey ahead.
"The words inclusion and diversity are rather trigger words for me, because I've heard them my entire 30 years of living in Austin and haven't really seen the fruition," said the Austin native. "So, I'm here to see through that the money is put to good use in a true inclusive and diverse fashion."
Gary Clark Jr. appeared on the Dec. 17 finale of NBC's The Voice, performing "Pearl Cadillac" alongside local finalist Ricky Duran. Originally from Massachusetts, 29-year-old Duran moved to Austin just over a year ago after studying at the Berklee College of Music. The former Sixth Street player placed second.
Float Fest is back. Following a 2019 cancellation, the tubing/music festival announced plans last week for July 25-26 in Gonzales. The event scrambled to relocate from its previous home in San Marcos to a 765-acre private ranch in Gonzales last year. Organizers eventually called it off due to construction delays on the new site, losing a big-name lineup including the Flaming Lips and Ice Cube.
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