by Michael Corcoran AAS
As much as I try to come off as a party animal, fueled by that saying about that which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger, I’m really more a creature of habit. When I go out to see bands, I follow a certain circuit — Hole in the Wall, Continental, Emo’s, Stubb’s, Steamboat, Liberty Lunch, the Cactus, Electric Lounge, Antone’s, La Zona Rosa — and rarely trek outside these original music clubs, except during South by Southwest, when I’m hanging out in Sixth Street meat markets like Bob Popular’s and Katie Blooms because they’ve booked someome like Spring Heel Jack or Amy Rigby.
I tend to stick with the proven favorites. “I wonder who’s playing at the B-Side tonight?” You’ll never hear that at my house.
But on this night of club-hopping, I tried to follow a simple rule: I would only go to those clubs I had never been to before. Rather than fall back on the old standbys — the Wannabes were surely playing somewhere — I opted for the adventure of walking into a place where everybody doesn’t know your name, fully aware that the risk was to feel as out of place as Norm from “Cheers” at a big warehouse rave.
Manor Road Coffeehouse 1809 Manor Road
First up was the Seventh Flame, better known as the live music side of the Manor Road Coffeehouse, because things start relatively early at this Boho student haven. From what I’ve heard about this well-kept java joint, which was reinforced by my maiden visit, the music can be summed up in three words: Medeski, Martin & Wood. This is a jazz club for kids who were buying Paula Abdul records six years ago. On this night, the audience sat on the floor, listening intently to the Blue Noise Band, who were quite good. Meanwhile, the requisite old hippie danced and grooved in his own private Idaho.
It was a great scene, but there were a few problems with the setup.The room is tiny, with about 50 people packing it like a sit-in at the dean’s office circa ’67. Plus, you have to walk right past the band on the way in, which means you can’t just pop your head in for a few minutes and then leave. But I did; after all, my adventure in bar bouncing anxiously awaited.
Donn’s Depot 1600 W. Fifth St.
On the other side of town, as well as the nightlife gene pool, sits Donn’s Depot, one of Austin’s noted “crockpot clubs.” It’s termed so because of all the housewives through the years who’ve thrown dinner in a crockpot and then headed down to Donn’s for an afternoon of revelry, before heading home just before their husbands. Beware of wives who’ve been “slaving over a hot stove all day.” Don’t be surprised if they’ve been drinking “Loose Cabooses” and snuggling in one of the Depot’s nooks and crannies with the guy who installed your cable TV.
At least that was the sort of scenario I invented to keep myself entertained at this club, which has an impressive layout and a talented performer at the ivories, yet sprawled out like a big yawn on Thursday night.
Sister’s Edge 113 San Jacinto Blvd.
It was off to Austin’s only lesbian bar, which has just started booking live music on Thursday nights. As a rule, female gay bars are not as fun as male gay bars, unless you’re a lesbian. But since I’m mere inches away from such a designation, I fit right in. Sister’s Edge is one of the friendliest lesbian bars I’ve ever been in, and I feel that I would’ve been served as efficiently and cheerfully even if I weren’t wearing my Statesman ID card around my neck.
The club is set up like a disco, with frenetic lighting and tons of mirrors, which proved to be a mild distraction during Handful’s set. But the band was so good that the setting didn’t detract from the songs. I would’ve stayed longer, but the band took a break about five songs after I arrived, so I headed on over to Sixth Street with the intention of hitting more bars than Cesilee Hyde.
Bates Motel, 317 E. SIXTH ST.
Fortunately, the Bates Motel eased the re-entry to the land of jungle bars and Jell-O shots. Once inside I realized that — wait a second — I’d been there before, first when it was a topless comedy club that didn’t fly because the opposite of sex is Ronnie Velveeta’s routine. I’d also popped into the Bates when it was a stop on Sixth Street’s generic blues circuit. But lately it’s gone punk, and as the Peenbeets romped with a song about the guy from high school that nobody knew who died, this looked to be the best use of this room yet. Its “rock in a box” layout and no-frills approach is reminiscent of the old Continental Club, when Mark and J’Net used to run it. The men’s room of the Bates is plastered with old Playboy pinups, but — and here’s a nice touch –also up there is the Playboy interview with John Wayne.
Atomic Cafe, 705 RED RIVER ST.
I’ve been to the Atomic Cafe before, also, but that was during South by Southwest, when the rules change. It seems like every time I’m in the area and think about dropping in, the club is hosting some sort of Fetish Night to appeal to those who get turned on by whippings, boot-lickings and painful piercings. These are the sickos who taped the UCLA-Texas game so they can watch it over and over.
But last Thursday night, the former home of the Cave Club and Split Rail had Flotsam and Jetsam, who are best known for being the group that bassist Jason Newsted was in before he joined Metallica. Considering that was about 15 years ago, you’d think the band might’ve evolved into something different, but they were still bashing out the hard rock without apology. Railing on modern rock radio for deserting heavy metal, the singer led the band with a series of shrieks. But in the end, Flotsam and Jetsam’s well-worn presentation provided solid testimony to why the genre has hit on hard times.
Back to the Bates
“Drink up!” The bartender said, pointing to his watch and snapping me right out of a dream. I had been imagining that the Bates stage was full of at least nine horn players in some sort of aggressive revenge against the high school band. But when the bartender interrupted the fantasy I found out … it was all real. When they’re not doing warped covers like the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” Brown Whornet sounds like the soundtrack to “In Cold Blood.” With the “Bates Motel” neon sign in thebackground, their late-night experimentation provided a surreal moment befitting my experiment.
Believe it or not, I had a great time venturing out into the unknown. Hearing so much good music, from freeform jazz to piano ballads to punk rock to samba to heavy metal to avant-garde, reinforced the adage, uttered by so many people through the ages, that there is indeed something great going on every night in “the live music capital of the world unless you’re 80, in which case that would be Branson.”
My enthusiasm for club-hopping renewed, I want to do it all again. I wonder who’s playing at the Saxon Pub tonight? Who’s at Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar, the Voodoo Lounge, Charlie’s Attic, the Iron Cactus …?