Chili Dogs and Old Friends
Amyl & The Sniffers @ South By San Jose, Hotel San Jose, ATX 3-15-19
This year’s SXSW was my 16th one. Sixteen times I was in Austin and saw at least one show during SXSW. This includes my first five-year streak from ‘89-‘93. Then ‘96-‘00, the years I lived in ATX. I made repeat visits in ‘02 and ‘03, the latter being the last time I was there Wednesday through Sunday. It was also the time I proclaimed I was “retiring” from SXSW. I was 36 then. At 52, I’m heading out West from my third Burger Boogaloo this summer. It would be thirteen years before I would return to SXSW, in 2016 & 2017 for one night each with The Mullens for the Get Hip showcase. Then last year I came down for only one event, the fabulous Chili Dog Fest. The tribute at the Side Bar, “A Howl For Mike Carroll”, quickly ascended into my list of top ten live shows ever. This year I was drawn in to spending three days because of the opportunity to see two of my favorite current bands multiple times, Surfbort and Australia’s Amyl & The Sniffers. I only got to see Amyl once and only caught the last half of a Surfbort set from the alley behind Hotel Vegas, where I could see the side of the stage from the band entrance. I got to see them play their newest, wonderful single “Billy”, as well as many songs from Friendship Music, my favorite album of last year. The Sniffers were to follow them and I could have hung around and got my second viewing, but I was spent. The second reason I made the trip down on Friday was to lend support for my favorite new Dallas band, The Pleasers. They were scheduled to play a Saturday day show at The Parlor along with The Mullens, and a couple of bands featuring old friends who I had yet to see. Of course anytime I visit Austin it is about seeing old friends. The Parlor show was a slice of the old Austin, the one I enjoyed back in the ‘90s when I lived at The Action House and would put on my own version of “anti-“ SXSW shows, something that has flourished into a very common occurrence in the Live Music Capital of the World these days. The Parlor show was a reminder of those days, and so is the unbelievable happening known as the Chili Dog Fest.
The fun for me actually began Thursday night in Dallas where I attended the final night of South By Oak Cliff at Tradewinds Social Club (another common trend is the alternative to SXSW in other cities). The Pleasers performed along with Dead Mockingbirds, a band I thought I had seen before but clearly hadn’t because I would had remembered what a damn good rock ‘n’ roll band they are. Also playing were Adam and The Figurines and Memphis band Aquarian Blood (featuring members of Ex-Cults, NOTS, and The Shieks. After listening to the Goner Records album Last Nite In Paradise, I was eager to see them destroy with their crazy brand of punk, new wave and psych. However on this tour they were doing a sort-of folky acoustic set. I was disappointed on one hand, but pleasantly entertained on the other. And they were really nice and friendly. I ran into J.B. at the Chili Dog Fest where they were one of the final bands playing Sunday night, but I didn’t get to see them again. Although I had planned to leave early on Friday for ATX, I decided to caravan with The Pleasers. I’m working on a video of them, so I wanted to hang with them in hopes of snapping photos of their adventure on their first out-of-town gig. Well, we all had very little sleep and didn’t hit the road until 10 am. After a couple of stops and some slow traffic, we didn’t get into ATX until 3, which was the same time that Surfbort were playing the first set I was hoping to see. It was the first of several things that I missed. I did make it to Hotel San Jose in time to see some of Swervedriver from outside the event, which was held in the parking lot. I went over to Botticelli’s across the street and saw The Soulphonics, an excellent Byrds-flavored garage combo which included my pals Lee Lazarine of The Mullens and Joe Emery of The Ugly Beats.
The Mullens were on next, but I chose to skip them and try to get into the show across the street. The number one lesson of SXSW is you gotta take your chances when they appear, although you can end up regretting some decision. There was a line down the block that was at least a hundred bodies deep, trying to get into the nearly full event. After about 15 minutes the line had moved from the corner to directly in front of the gate, so if the show started, I would still be able to see from a distance. It was only about four or more songs into the set when I finally got in, made a mad dash around the right side of the crowd (which I would guess was at least 1200), and there I was – right up front for Amyl & The Sniffers. They were fantastic. It was funny the entire weekend correcting people who called them “Amyl &…”. I would call them “Amy &…” Her name is Amy. Amy Louise Taylor. “Amyl” is obviously a reference to amyl nitrate. “Amyl & The Sniffers”…get it? The truth is I was wrong and “Amyl” is the proper way to say the band’s name, but I would still laugh when someone was talking about her and not the band and would call Amy “Amyl”. Not that any of it matters. After my failed attempt at getting into Hotel Vegas later that night, I returned to The Pleasers headquarters for the weekend. I have signed an agreement to not discuss the out of control events that took place in Tarrytown Friday and Saturday night, so I’m unable to explain why I slept in my car on a 45 degree night, but I survived and it’s all good. 😂
Saturday morning had me heading out for a 11:30 am show at the Austin Convention Center. I had to park five blocks away as everything downtown was $20 to park and one lot was even $40 (SXSW, fuck yeah!). I parked for free and got a little exercise. There were several events happening there on Saturday as I passed a couple of very long lines filled with kids and nerds. A comic book convention or some fantasy/video game thing was going on. IDK, but I did see a funny sign that said something about cosplayers needing to be careful with their costume “swords”. I finally came upon Exhibit Hall 4 and there was no line at all. Yep, this was where I was gonna find some rock ‘n’ roll. It was the poster art exhibit Flatstock. There was some interesting stuff in there, but nothing that really made me reach for my wallet, and so much of it just looks the same. I guess poster art has become like tattoos for me: a lot less cool if everyone is doing it. Anyway, I was looking for some rock ‘n’ roll from Denmark, a band that calls themselves PowerSolo.
PowerSolo @ Flatstock Stage Exhibit Hall 4, Austin Convention Center, ATX 3-16-19
They had played in Fort Worth on Tuesday night but I was unable to make it, and once I saw the line wrapped around Hotel Vegas Friday night I should’ve made it to their gig at BD Riley’s just a few blocks away. I found them inside a tent/lounge that had a bar set up right outside. When in Rome, start yer drinkin’ before noon, and so I did. Inside they had a couple of standing bar tables, and then some nice waiting room style chairs and a sofa/coffee table. They wanted people to be comfortable, but this band needed people to stand up front and shake some ass. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a real rock show setting, but more like a freak show at a creepy carnival. I felt bad for the band for having to play. There was about 20 people or so that stood (or sat) during their performance, but me and and couple of photographers were the only ones that came close to the stage. I’m new to this act but apparently they’ve been around since 1996. They play a mixture of garage, rockabilly, r&b, and punk (my kind of shit!). Someone told me they sounded like Jon Spencer, which makes sense since they were the backup band for Heavy Trash at one point. Some people know them for their music appearing on “American Horror Story”. I don’t know the full story but it appears that the band has largely consisted of two members, guitarist The Atomic Child and singer/guitarist Kim Kix. Also known as the Railthin Brothers, they sometime perform with simply a drummer, using the two guitar/drum/no bass dynamic of bands like the Oblivians, Gories and Spencer’s Blues Explosion, and other times they would use a full band. I’m not sure if the duo still works together because on this current US tour, Kix was accompanied by drummer Zack and another guitarist that goes by the name Peasoup. To confuse things even more, Peasoup was a no-show at this Saturday morning performance. Kim and Zack played a highly entertaining 20 minutes that I know I enjoyed. Kim seemed less than thrilled by the scene while Zack was smiling and making the best of it. I really regret that I didn’t go see them the night before.
I then headed for the Parlor, were as I got out of my car I heard my name called by one Toby Marsh, former bassist of The Motards, the legendary 90s Austin punk band that I never missed when I lived here. “Alfie just started” he said. I suddenly realized that the first name on the bill today, Blue Miner, was Manikin guitarist Alfonso Rabago’s new solo thing. Walking into the parlor was sort of like being on “Cheers” as I was greeted by several old friends. I immediately got a hug from Sean McGowan, former singer of the Chumps, another heavyweight favorite of late 90s Austin, who also happen to organize this show and the Saturday Matinees at the Parlor since this past Fall. The Hyde Park area pizza joint has been a bright light for the old-time punk bands and fans who go to bed early and prefer to avoid downtown. When Sean first put the word out about these shows, I immediately shared the info with The Mullens and The Pleasers. It was awesome to see Sean and Toby’s current band Yard Work, which also includes former Chumps drummer Aaron Fox. Guitarist David Lujan made a huge impression on me with his frantic style, slashing at his vintage three-pickup Harmony H75, which is customized with a Bigbsy. As soon as they were done I had to show him a pic of my baby, a single-pickup Harmony Rocket H53.
It was also great to see another old friend, and former Motard, Paul Johnson’s new band Uh Oh Romeo, who were shooting guitar shaped arrows all over the place. I had put all my chips in the middle of the table, certain that The Pleasers would please The Parlor crowd, and I think I was right. Then the Mullens just ran up the score. I was thrilled to see long time friend Kelly Keys come out for the show. Kelly released The Mullens very first single on her Direct Hit label. Long time Austin punk vets Jesus Christ Superfly closed the party out in fine form.
Yard Work, Uh Oh Romeo, The Pleasers, The Mullens (top to bottom) @ SXSW Saturday at The Parlor, ATX 3-16-19
My brother from another, Cody Boone, showed up just as The Mullens started. My plan was to crash at his place after going out to see some more bands but we were both pretty exhausted at that point. The show I anticipated seeing the most was Surfbort‘s 1 am slot at Beerland. They had two afternoon sets that I missed for The Parlor show and I thought playing a third show sounded unlikely since they had not announced it themselves. So I messaged guitarist David Head (yet another former Motard) and he confirmed that they had indeed canceled that show. Amyl & The Sniffers had also played an afternoon gig I couldn’t attend and so I felt slightly disappointed that my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy had fallen apart. But wait…The Mullens and The Pleasers might be playing a house party later tonight…? Hell yeah! Well, the party turned out to be a bust, and although I can’t give details let’s just say The Pleasers had a wild night. For weeks, Tracey Pleaser had talked about getting together with some old friends for breakfast during this trip, and a 9 am Sunday morning meet up had been agreed on. Unfortunately, Tracey and The Pleasers didn’t make it. Me and Cody did and it was a lot of fun getting together with people I hadn’t seen in years. As delicious as my Mexican omelette was, I had one thing on my mind…chili dogs!
PoiZon @ Chili Dog Fest X, Empire
Garage Stage ATX 3-17-19
This was the 10th annual Chili Dog Fest. The event is organized by Doug Niemczura and his wife Karla Kapow, two fine people from the old scene that I actually don’t know, but they are heroes of mine. Along with the help of several volunteers, they pull off what I could never have dreamed of back when I did my Action House parties, but it is exactly what I would have dreamed about trying to do someday (I know, it makes perfect sense). It is an all encompassing festival, with bands of all genres, spread out over five stages at neighboring 7th Street clubs The Side Bar and the Empire Garage. 53 bands played this year and about 1250 chili dogs were served. It only cost a $10 cover and proceeds went to the Austin Food Bank. No one could possibly catch all 53 bands (although I saw Doug and Karla pop up to every set I saw), but you can see quite a bit when you only have to travel across a couple of acres, and for $10 and a free C-Dog…SXSW just doesn’t matter really.
Ok, this is plenty long so I’m not get into a lot details here, but here’s who I saw, at least a few songs by each: Saddle Sores, Bum Out, Mourning [A] BLKstar, The Ripe, Eerie Family, The Crack Pipes, Shark Toys, and The Ugly Beats. I saw most of Love Collector‘s amazing set before running to catch the last three songs (“The best ones” – Dean) of Boom Gang. I caught the entire sets by Die Group, Teenage Cavegirl, PoiZon, The Jewws, and The Deadites. Love Collector blew me away. I was not surprised to hear Shawn Carpetbagger playing Dolls/Thunders/Ramones (oh and the band they got their name from…) style punk with a ferocious intensity, and the energy that Rob Yazzie puts out…nothing compares.
The Ugly Beats @ Chili Dog Fest X, The Side Bar Outdoor Stage ATX 3-17-19
Having The Jewws and The Deadites play reunion sets back to back was a total Action House flashback. The Jewws’ second ever Austin show was at our house and was one of the most memorable performances there. And of course, The Deadites were born at the Action House, with March 19 being the 20th Anniversary of the night they first played under that name. Houston’s PoiZon just killed (why do I always use the words “kill” or “slayed” when talking about bands Kyle Gionis plays with?), Teenage Cavegirl just continue to fill my heart full of fuzz and joy, and Los Angeles’ Die Group were a huge surprise. Word got around pretty quickly that the 6:55 surprise guest on the Empire Garage stage would be Cherubs, however it would conflict with the Deadites set, and I would be returning to ATX the following weekend to see Cherubs open for Mudhoney. I spoke to Hank Deadite a couple of days later and he was still trying to grasp just how awesome the CDF was. I wonder who suggested The Deadites should celebrate their anniversary by playing CDF…??? Hank added “I’m definitely going next year, no matter who’s playing.” That’s what I’m talking about. Prediction for next year’s surprise guest: ZZ Top
Rocket 808 @ Burgermania 8, Hotel Vegas, ATX 3-17-19
I decided to split before the event was over. I wanted to try and see a couple of other bands around town that I had been wanting to see for some time. I was waiting to hear when Dress Up was playing at the Broken Neck, but had already made it over to see John Schooley’s Rocket 808 at Hotel Vegas. It was a weird ending to my musical adventure. I had to wait for and hour and half while I was surrounded by kids listening to some boring, hippie, flute-soloing crap, followed by some other funky hippie shit. This was at Burger Records’ Burgermania (?). I never felt so much like the old guy in the wrong place. To make it worse, they pulled the plug on Schooley before he finished his set. Total bullshit. I was feeling ill by that point so I just walked out without saying hi to John. Not sure if it would have helped the situation, but he was great. However, I honestly wished I had just stayed at the CDF and then gone with my sister Sherry and watched some hardcore bands while people skated.
Epilogue: The ending of my SXSW was weird, and just as sad as it began. It was on the way down that I heard about the White Supremacist Terrorist Attack in New Zealand (I ❤️🇳🇿). It’s not easy having fun when the world is going crazy around you. Fortunately I avoided most of the news all weekend, including Tweety Bird’s continued mental decline. Jeezus. Back at Cody’s place in Elgin on Sunday night, I learned the sad news that Dick Dale had passed away. We put on PowerSolo’s first album and I was tickled to hear Andre Williams voice on a song called “Hillbilly Child”, which I recalled the band playing Saturday morning. Minutes later I found out that Andre had passed too. It was just two years ago while I was at SXSW that Chuck Berry had left us. I know it’s just a coincidence, but it is kind of weird. As I left Elgin on Monday, I put on Andre’s classic 1998 rocker “Car With The Star”, a perfect driving song as there’s ever been. Just as I hit the outskirts, heading north on Highway 95, I came to a passing lane and sped up to 80 to put some distance between me and the car I was passing, as well as the other cars that would be passing it too. That was when a state trooper came around a curve heading south. I immediately let off my gas but was doing 70 when he passed me (it was a 65 mph zone). He just went on by. I just had to say “Thanks Andre.”