Local Music News

Behind Curtain No. 1"

What's cool about The Brewery is its homeyness. Soft lighting adds intimacy to the interior's dark oaken furniture and bar. Table conversation rarely rises above casual tones. And just like the stereophonic boom coming from your big brother's bedroom, the sounds of the live band in the adjacent room fill the building.

The only thing that separates The Brewery's performance stage from its general bar area is a curtain. And it's an expensive curtain at that. For a $6 cover charge you can enter through it and see whatever band's playing. For nothing you can stay in front of it and simply hear the band. The question is: Why should patrons pay $6 simply to see a band, when they can pay nothing and hear the music just as clearly?

"That's a good question, and I left there last week because I had problems with that place," says Chadd Thomas, who had booked acts at The Brewery since it started showcasing live music about four months ago and who brought marquee rockabilly stars such as Ronnie Dawson, Dale Watson and Wayne Hancock to town. "And [the curtain] was one of the things I had problems with."

Thomas says a typical performance night would bring in 30 or 40 people for a show, but only half would leave The Brewery's common area and its spacious bar to pay to go behind the curtain and actually see the band. "And it's easier to get a beer when you're at the bar, too."

An Austin musician who frequently plays The Brewery and wants his name withheld concurs: "We asked them to lower the cover, they said no. 'Cause that's the money they use to pay us our guarantee. We're guaranteed, like, $350, and say we bring in, like, $500, we'd still never even know if we were getting the rest of the door."

But wouldn't it make sense for The Brewery to charge less at the door? That way more fans would be likely to contribute, in turn generating more money?

The Brewery disagrees. Says bartender John Haws: "We don't have any real plans to change it now. It's just too hard. For big bands, we thought maybe we'd charge at the door. We tried to turn the volume down. Though it's not that loud at the bar, it is in the [performance] room. But we figured if you came to see a band, it's not good to sit at the bar. Most people I see who come in really want to see the band. We don't really have lots of people just sitting at the bar listening."

The whole setup is still confusing. But The Brewery isn't the only place in town screwing up its customers. The Ale House and Rudyard's also mix non-music-listening patrons with paying music-lovers. But at least these venues do it with some discretion. To really hear and enjoy the bands at The Ale House or Rudz, you have to travel upstairs to the second floor. Whereas at The Brewery, all the action is on the first. In any case, this trend of cordoning off sections of clubs for music is creating problems.

"I think a lot of bookers and clubs don't see the craftsmanship behind what we do," says the Austin-based musician. "They just see us as a means to an end, as a way to get more money in their pockets. That's all they really care about. They don't care about a fan base or developing bands. But I guess it's hard to blame them."

Live Webcasts from Austin

Kiss those Sixth Street blues good-bye. If you can't make it to Miguel's La Bodega in Austin this weekend for a show, then Miguel's will come to you. Over the Internet. WorldNet Box Office of Austin will be Webcasting live performances from 15 clubs around the Texas state capital. Starting this weekend, one can tune into ClubCastLive at www.clubcastlive.com or wnbo.com to hear both Austin-local, touring and, of course, Houston acts. And all the music is downloadable in MP3 format. HowŠ futuristic.

"If a band comes through Austin," says Steven Phenix, WNBO marketing director, "chances are they'll be on the site."

Who's most psyched about this is hard to say. On one hand, there are the club owners, who will be salivating at the free advertising. Says namesake owner Miguel Alvarez of La Bodega, a salsa club: "We're trying to figure out now how to use this to our best advantage. We're pretty excited. We don't know how it is in Houston, but we got live music galore here." On the other hand, there are the performers, especially the unsigned, who now have another way of getting their music "out there." Says former Houston resident Michael Rodriguez of the band Brew, which plays La Bodega every Thursday: "We came here from Houston, which used to be a boomtown, man, in about '81, and we've been here ever since. So this is just great. Publicity like that? Any kind is better than none -- except the bad stuff, you know. And as long as it sounds right, I love it."

Bands will have the option of whether or not to allow their performances to be Webcast. But knowing how the Web can reach so many different corners of the globe (and so many various record label exec's offices), an unsigned band would be silly not to sign the release form.

Other Web sites, such as audiogalaxy.com, based out of Austin, broadcast.com out of Dallas and buzzcam.com, also out of Austin, bring music and some video to on-line folk. But none have such a local, audio-only appeal as WNBO. "These artists are ahead of the competition," says Casey Monahan of the Texas Music Office. "They're doing a lot toward controlling their image and customer access to their work."

As for security, Phenix of WNBO says it would take more time than it's worth for somebody to copy what they download from clubcastlive.com and distribute it to others for a fee.

MTV: Making Teens Vapid

This week local bookstores are packed with more of MTV's newest creations (don't laugh): books. Like a lot of independent record companies nowadays, which would publish your little sister's e-mails if packaged correctly, the younger-generation TV station is pushing its paperbacks on oppressed retailers in another shameless attempt to take over the world. (There are MTV films, too, need you be reminded.) And I say "oppressed retailers" because over-the-counter booksellers are facing lotsa competition from on-line retailers, and anything to up revenue by a percentage point is a plus. And anything with "MTV" on it is something that's bound to sell -- especially to brainless youth sipping Starbucks coffee and pretending to understand Faulkner; that demographic to which MTV so unabashedly prostrates.

Though local retailers refuse to comment on how well certain titles are selling (for local competition reasons) and won't comment on the MTV thingies, the folks who brought us these minibooks can. Of course. They say their music "books" are doing quite well. Thank you very much.

As a partnership between MTV and Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books, both Viacom companies, MTV Books has been publishing "books" since The Real World began dominating the popular consciousness a half-dozen years ago. The publishing shack now releases about a dozen titles per year, including the music-oriented books, which are the young-adult equivalents of pop-up books. Heavy on photos, light on content.

MTV Books' first waste of pulp was something about the British rock band Bush. Its second, which has just hit local bookshelves, is about hip-hop. It's called Move the Crowd: Voices and Faces of the Hip-Hop Nation, which was compiled -- and I use that word deliberately since there is no text other than the ten-page introduction -- by Gregor and Dimitri Ehrlich. Brothas to the nth degree. G is a copy director at BMG direct. D is a "journalist" who suspiciously resembles an academic by virtue of what he has had published. But about the introduction: The authors cite -- as does every other lazy journalist on the face of the planet -- "Rapper's Delight," by the Sugar Hill Gang, as the first rap song to affect the collective American consciousness. This is partly true. Yes, "Rapper's Delight" made it from a New York City radio station, which played the song as a joke, to California in record time, but the tune caught the attention of only urbanites. Suburbanites (black, white, brown or yellow), most white people and residents of secondary-market cities weren't exposed to rap until about five years later when Run-D.M.C. hit the air- and videowaves. Pointing to one song as a watershed moment is just the M.O. for critics, though. We'll excuse the Brothers Ehrlich this one.

But what's inexcusable is how the authors mess with the hip-hop argot. Like when the duo talk about how a friend of theirs used to "drop straight to the floor and undulate like an eel," they refer to this dance move as "the worm." Now, I was never a very good break-dancer, but at least I knew when someone was doing "the centipede." I'd never heard of "the worm." "The snake," maybe, but "the worm"!

The rest of the book is reflective of our "sound bite" culture, which MTV (and its insipid prostitute-in-arms, Rolling Stone) has created for us. There are full-page, black-and-white photos on about every other page of hip-hop/rap superstars of yesterday and today and quotes from everyone from Chuck D. to Lord Jamar, Brand Nubian.

Of the quotes, check out Jamar's. On page 121, he says: "The darker your skin is, the stronger you areŠ.And whether they tell you or not, melanin has to do with mentalityŠ.The darker you are, the better you areŠ." First, this makes Jamar look like an idiot. Second, it's not even an opinion and really has nothing to do with hip-hop culture (except that the source himself has something to do with it). All it is is passing off egomaniacal mumbo-jumbo as truth. Did this book's authors ever consider the impact this would have on the book's target audience, which an MTV rep tells me is 13- to 30-year-olds? Did these two authors ever think about how many brain-dead Starbucks-drinking teens will read what Jamar says and think it's fact?

But maybe that's MTV's ploy. Turn everyone into cynical blowhards so the cooler-than-thou Times-Square-based cable channel can market its particular brand of "whatever"-cynicism to its MTV Books readers and their children. As a child of MTV culture, I can say the company has done a good job of that. Most of what it does makes me miserable as hell.


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