My second night of club-hopping in Austin started strong with a set by Chicago underground rock legends Red Red Meat.
Led by guitarist-vocalist Tim Rutili, the band released a series of indelible albums that always seemed both timeless and way ahead of their time through the early and mid ’90s. Sub Pop Records recently reissued the fan favorite “Bunny Gets Paid” (1995), and the band–never officially broken up, though mostly inactive since 1998–has come together for a handful of shows, including two at the Empty Bottle back home Tuesday and Wednesday, and a showcase gig at SXSW at a club called Radio Room Patio tonight.
Though my favorite version of the band will always be the one that recorded “Jimmywine Majestic” (1994) with the twin guitars of Rutili and Glenn Girard, the second best lineup certainly was the one that performed here, with dual drummers Brian Deck and Ben Massarella and still unnaturally tall bassist and backing vocalist Tim Hurley. Like riding a bicycle–albeit a rusty one with dented rims and noisemakers in between the spokes–the group fell right back into its trademark shambling groove, with Rutili alternating sliding wails and feedback drones on guitar and ethereal, dark, slippery but nonetheless beautiful vocal melodies emerging from the bluesy, psychedelic murk.
Best of all: In addition to a gorgeous cover from the first album by Low, the band played a new tune, hinting that in addition to Rutili’s many other projects, Red Red Meat may once again become an ongoing force.
Red Red Meat back in the day: Tim Hurley, Ben Massarella, Tim Rutili and Brian Deck.
From that delightful and not at all nostalgic start, the night devolved into one of those evenings at SXSW where I was either shut out of everything I tried to see or I kept finding myself at the very eastern end of Sixth Street when the band I wanted to catch started in five minutes at the other end of the strip two miles away.
I caught part of a show by the Los Angeles duo N.A.S.A., with propulsive electronic rhythms from Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon that held promise until Mr. Clean began working in snippets of “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and I just had to move on.
Wandering aimlessly from one unappealing din to another, I finally ducked in to an ugly club called Esther’s Follies, and there I caught the second half of a set by Sgt. Dunbar & the Hobo Banned, an eight-piece group from Albany, N.Y. with songs such as “A March Through Charles Mingus’ Garbage Pile,” a high school orchestra’s worth of instruments including tuba, French horn, trumpet and accordion and a gleeful, group-vocal approach that brought to mind a Salvation Army band playing in a junkyard while tripping on acid.
The group might have been annoying if its songs weren’t so strong and its hippie/Boho attitude wasn’t so sincere: The show ended with all of the musicians leaving the stage, sitting cross-legged on the floor and performing one final song with just vocals, acoustic guitar and singing saw from the midst of the audience.
The real reason I was glad I stumbled into the venue came next, however. The She Creatures are an all-female quartet from Bristol, England, though they claim to be from Venus, and the three front women were joined by what presumably was a stand-in replacement drummer (a male earthling) for this showcase.
Like thrift-store versions of Jane Fonda’s already low-budget Barbarella, guitarist-vocalist Nancy Raygun, Vox Continental organ player and backing vocalist Princess Slayer and bassist, theremin player and backing vocalist Haley Comet dressed in close-cut silver spandex spacesuits with clear Perspex mini-skirts, and they sported outlandish glow-in-the-dark blue bouffant hairdos. The ’60s sci-fi B-movie look perfectly matched the band’s mix of raucous garage rock, rollicking surf music and gleeful girl-group vocals, and again, it all might have been merely shtick without songs as catchy and memorable as “Space Madness” and “Sexy Robot.”
Complete unknowns for me 45 minutes earlier, by the end of the She Creatures’ set, they were my new favorite band in this world or any other–at least in Texas, at least for tonight.