#9 Club Foot
Located at E. 4th and Brazos, Club Foot took over the Club 110 disco in late 1980. After the Armadillo closed on the last day of that year, the hippies moved on to Liberty Lunch on 2nd Street or Soap Creek #2 at the old Skyline Club on North Lamar, and the Foot got most of the alternative/punk acts, like U2, New Order, REM, X, Gang of Four and a young Metallica. Soul bands like Sam & Dave and James Brown packed the 950-capacity club, which also started Austin’s love affair with African music with an appearance by King Sunny Ade that folks are still talking about.
When I visited Austin in the summer of ’83, the club was called Nightlife, though it had most of the key people in place. The owner was John Bird (the brother of Austin author Sarah) and when he bought into the Golden Chick food franchise, that’s where his attention- and financial backing- went.
It was a Monday night and the place was empty when I went there, but you could see what made the club so great. The live room was a perfect size, with balcony viewing. And there were all these other rooms to kinda pop your head into. I could picture the first night a band was booked- the Stranglers- and see the Raul’s/Armadillo crowd discover a club like they’d never seen before. They knew it couldn’t last, that’s how perfect it was, and so they ate it up and now have memories you can’t touch.
A year before the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their first album, punk rock and funk rhythm gloriously collided in Austin when the Big Boys, thrashers who had added a horn section, opened for Washington D.C. “go-go” powerhouse Trouble Funk at the Club Foot location at 4th and Brazos which had just changed names to Nightlife.
Although the genres sounded nothing alike, go-go and punk came from the same mindset of jumping off the pedestal and onto the dancefloor/moshpit. Both are people’s music. In an era when top R&B acts like the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire dressed like pimp spacemen, the members of Trouble Funk wore cut-offs and tank tops, “dropping the bomb” on pompousness in order to connect deeper. Using “call and response” from the church, TF roamed the soundscape in search of the original groove and once they found it, they didn’t let go. Repetition became hypnotic, with no breaks between songs. The most self-conscious people during the Trouble Funk set at Nightlife were the handful not dancing.
This monumental night came about because a critic for the Village Voice called the Big Boys a cross between ZZ Top and Trouble Funk. Roland Swenson, now director of SXSW, then the co-owner of Moment Productions, had a booth at New Music Seminar in NYC and met the members of Trouble Funk. Swenson showed them the Voice review and said that they should play a show with the Big Boys (a Moment client) in Austin. A couple months later, the “Don’t Touch That Stereo” tour was routed right through Texas. A call to Club Foot/ Nightlife brought the opinion that such a double bill was insane. “Club Foot said ‘You don’t understand. That band is a hardcore band and their crowd is NOT your crowd,” recalls Tim Kerr of the Big Boys. But Trouble Funk stood their ground. The club called the Big Boys, who said they were fans and could see the bill working, so the show was booked. The Big Boys had been turned onto D.C. go-go, which never really caught on nationally, by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, who stayed at Kerr’s house whenever he came through on tour.
Opening for Trouble Funk, the Big Boys brought the horns out more than usual and debuted their raucous version of marching band fave “The Horse,” which brilliantly set up Trouble Funk’s seamless feet-jack. “There were definitely people there to see Trouble Funk, not us, but the crowd was more than half Big Boys fans and Club Foot regulars,” Kerr says. After the show, members of the two divergent bands toasted the triumph.
“We told them there was a great scene in their hometown that loved go-go and when Trouble Funk got back to DC, they should get a hold of Ian at Dischord and do a show together.” The next month, Trouble Funk played a sold-out concert with Minor Threat, and the Big Boys, who instigated the whole thing, were brought in to open.
“It was a pretty big deal because it was the first time they had ever mixed the mostly white DC hardcore scene with the mostly black DC go-go scene,” Kerr says. “We were pretty honored to be asked, and it also turned out to be Minor Threat’s last show.” Folks in D.C. still talk about that historic night. But the pioneer performance happened in Austin a month earlier.
On the night of November 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan was declared the winner of the Presidential election and the politically-radical Gang of Four took the stage at the jam-packed club on 4th and Congress. The juxtaposition of these two events made for two hours that no one there would ever forget. After opening act F-Systems reminded the crowd of the “World in Trouble” they were in with Reagan in charge, Gang of Four came out and just firehosed the room with danceable punk rock that left everyone dripping. “It was one of those great rock shows that crosses the line into pandemonium,” said photographer David C. Fox. “You know that saying about how ‘rock and roll saved my life’? That’s how that night felt.” This list is not a ranking of the greatest concerts the town’s ever seen. We’re not counting encores, this was one of those truly musical intense shows that came out of a big moment. Context. The lines were becoming clearer that night and the Gang of Four made their side the one to be on.