Saturday, October 30, 2004

You Cannot Be Serious

Baton Rouge

We all went down to Ryan's all-you-can-eat steakhouse last night for some proper American fayre. Despite protesting in advance that I wasn't hungry, I managed to put away a plate of steak, a plate of fried chicken and one of fried shrimp followed by some apricot pie with cream and a bowl of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. That certainly filled a hole. Even Abigail and Audrey gamely managed some corn and macaroni which they seemed to enjoy.

I haven't seen much TV on this trip so watching it last night was pretty interesting, if only because I saw what may be the worst show in history. It's John McEnroe's new talk show on the CNBC cable channel. It is appalling. Recently it recorded zero viewers and having watched it I don't find that at all surprising. As if the no-name guests aren't bad enough, his attempts at "satire" are truly toe-curling. At one point he interviewed someone pretending to be Satan, and also had a skit involving a man wearing a t-shirt with 'Patriot Act' written on it shooting a man wearing a similar 'Bill Of Rights' shirt. "The Patriot Act killed The Bill Of Rights!" It must have seemed funny in rehearsal.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Slow Progress

Baton Rouge

On Wednesday evening I'd planned to take the overnight bus to New Orleans but when I got to the station I found it had been cancelled and there wasn't another one until midnight. So I headed back into Austin and took in another evening's music at the Saxon Pub.

Main attraction was an acoustic set by local resident Tony Scalzo of Fastball, an American college-rock act I've always had time for. These days the same can't be said of many Austin residents as there were scarcely more than ten people there including the guy who runs the place and Tony's mate who got up and played guitar with him. It was a fine little show though, some quality new songs mixed in with older ones. In perhaps the least surprising move since Don McLean decided to close a show with "American Pie" he finished with "The Way" - a major U.S. airplay hit from 1998 that even made the British Top 20. As a calling card on the world music stage it still sounds pretty great although I sadly doubt he and the band are going to get a second fifteen minutes in the limelight.

A band called The Johns came next and played a decent hour of rootsy blues-rock. I was more interested in the baseball by this point and sure enough the Red Sox took yet another victory to finally claim the World Series. The sound guy at the venue had a different reason for constantly abandoning his post however, he was popping outside to check out the lunar eclipse. When I finally left the bar the full moon was still mostly hidden, so maybe the mysterious energy it was giving off had something to do with the local bus driver who gave me dodgy information ("yeah there's definitely still another bus that goes up to the Greyhound station") that made me miss my 12 o' clock coach.

So I spent another three hours at a bus station by now becoming rather more familiar than I'd wanted it to be. The tramp-proof benches at those places make sleeping impossible so I opted to get a bus to Dallas, even though it's in completely the wrong direction, just so I could get some shut-eye. From there I went to Houston and then on to here, arriving yesterday evening at the lovely new house of Gavin, Kathy, Abigail and Audrey and settling down to a welcome proper night's sleep in the wee one's room. New Orleans can wait, I'm sure it'll still be there when I finally make it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Almost Famous


After an afternoon visit to the handsome new Texas State History Museum I went out on 6th Street again. I found a bar playing quality music and settled in to watch the end of the baseball, another win for the Red Sox putting them 3-0 up and one game away from taking the World Series and finally burying their curse. I can tell you're all fascinated by the prospect.

Listening to South by Southwest on 6 Music earlier in the year I heard Stuart Maconie talking about a place he'd been called Stubb's BBQ so I decided to go there. It's probably better known as a restaurant and home of the barbecue sauce but it's a cracking music venue too. There's a little amphitheatre out the back where the major touring acts play but last night the gig was in a smallish downstairs room. First up were Dios Malos, some Hispanic guys playing indie rock. They were decent but veered towards self-indulgence a couple of times too often.

Far better were What Made Milwaukee Famous whose CD I'd spotted in a record shop the other day. They've got a new track out with a video, definitely one of those acts on the verge of breaking through if only they can find the right single. Three of the four members had a go at singing lead, much in the manner of The Band or Gomez, but there the similarity to those acts ended. They had some great songs and were very accomplished, although with the success of Fountains Of Wayne I'm not sure there's room for another group of American white guys playing bittersweet indie-pop. More's the pity.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004



I went to the Lyndon Johnson Presidential library yesterday. There are solid exhibits on every period of his life and lots about all the legislation he pushed through in the 60s. Nothing about his many flaws though, which are well remembered in these parts. The guy who runs the hostel told me Johnson was so worried about dying in a car crash after a puncture he used to compulsively change his tyres all the time. He also used to drink whisky then drive around Texas late at night, which seems a strange thing for a man who fears car accidents to do, but then I suppose he was a very strange man.

I could have gone to see Badly Drawn Boy again last night and I was sorely tempted, but I decided the competing attraction of American Music Club would be a more judicious use of my time. I recruited a Kiwi from the hostel for a few pre-show drinks on 6th Street and we got to the Parish Room venue in time for the support act, The Court & Spark. From San Francisco, they had a very nice line in tuneful, helped no end by the excellent acoustics in the venue ("nationally famous" according to the barman). AMC were great as well, Mark Eitzel's quietly angry singing a particular strong point and enough to send the surprisingly sparse crowd home happy. I'm sure John Peel would have approved.

Monday, October 25, 2004

City Limits


I got to the lakeshore hostel here without my jacket which I left on the bus and is now in Dallas, or possibly in the possession of a thieving Mexican. I'll find out which over the next day or so, at least it gives me something to do between gigs.

It's the self-styled live music capital of the world so last night I went to the Hole In The Wall, a well-known dive bar on the campus of the University of Texas. It may have been full of beer-loving students but the waitress was still somewhat taken aback when I ordered a pitcher of the local brew. "Is there someone joining you?" she asked. "No," I replied, "but I'm from Britain." That seemed to satisfy her.

First up were The Normans who started promisingly with some melodic rock but struggled as time went on against the rival interest of the closing stages of game 2 of the World Series (Boston lead St Louis 2-0). The three-piece Darling New Neighbors were a better bet although the singer, who played accordion, violin and bass with aplomb, had some serious 'Karen O' issues.

I got a taxi back and amazingly had a driver from Islington. I asked him about the reasonably high standard of the show I'd just seen and he told me the competition here among bands is so fierce it makes the basic level that much higher than elsewhere. None of them get paid either, apparently, they just play for tips. With the arguable exception of Alejandro Escovedo it's been more than a decade since a major act emerged from Austin which is surprising, although perhaps it's tougher for promising acts to stand out from the crowd here than in other American cities.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Remember The Alamo

San Antonio

The main attraction here is The Alamo where 200 Texan defenders, including Davy Crockett, were slaughtered by the Mexicans in 1836. No matter Texas won its independence shortly afterwards, it's the big defeat that still gets all the attention. The site is free and there's plenty to see including a shrine to those who died which features flags representing every state and country the soldiers came from. Turns out hardly any of them were actually from Texas, in fact there were almost as many from Britain as from these parts. If there's a military embarrassment you can guarantee we'll be involved somewhere.

San Antonio is the ninth biggest city in America and the council's made a big effort down the years with some innovative civic planning. There's a walk downtown stretching around a two mile crook in the river with lots of cafes and bars, it's very touristy but pleasant. More pointlessly there's the Tower of the Americas, at 750 feet the tallest building in Texas and third highest free standing structure in North America (behind the CN Tower in Toronto, which it predates and closely resembles). It doesn't cost much to get up, but then there's not a whole lot to see from the top unless the big hotels and wide freeways that make up the downtown area are your idea of picturesque.

The sap from the pecan trees had turned the hostel pool green by the time I got back but I went for a swim anyway. Sadly it didn't make me glow in the dark.