Hotel Vegas: 08/19/2015

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I walked in the front door just as my buddy Graham Low (bassist/cellist extraordinaire) was getting finished setting up.  As we shook hands, he said “Thanks for coming, man.  I wish you had told me ahead of time; I would’ve gotten you on the list.”This is something I hadn’t thought of beforehand, but I shrugged it off.
“Hey man, the band’s gotta get paid.”

My initial opinion of the crowd that night was, “Fuck. Where is everybody?”

For anybody who bothers  to keep their thumb on the pulse of the local music scene, it’s become a well known fact that Hotel Vegas is one of the current reigning champions for Austin original music on the east side.  And for there to actually be walking room across the dance floor, even on a Wednesday night, is not a common occurrence, particularly for the bands in the lineup tonight.

The temptation to go straight to the bar and order booze seemed to be a little more of a struggle for my girlfriend that night, as I had been getting more practice  going out during our most recent bout with sobriety.  I was indifferent to the idea of getting sauced, for a change.  It helped that I was also pitifully broke.  We settled on two Topo Chicos and got comfortable on the benches in the back of the room. Tear Dungeon (the latest and heaviest project from members of  A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit.) were soundchecking.

Just as I began to doubt the engineer’s ability,  ogling the tones of the amps on stage, people started filing in from the backyard of the club.  We left our seats to secure a better view.

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Charming and erudite young sophisticates…

This was my third or fourth time seeing Tear Dungeon. They never fail to put a smile on my face.  Being a long-time fan of heavy metal and dark humor, what I choose to see while witnessing one of their  sets is an act of catharsis; a more vitriolic release than what you would see from the members’ other arguably more palatable projects.

Tear Dungeon wear bondage masks.  Tear Dungeon spit fake blood on themselves and each other (as well as any instigators standing in the front two rows).  They finger-tap; they have breakdowns; they play loud and use their feedback well.  They have a minor-scale, Sabbath-esque quality to their songwriting which had many heads in the club banging that night.

The second track in their set, “Father Yod”, is sure to be a fan favorite whenever they manage to release an album (make it soon, boys.), but two songs after that, (I’m not sure of the title) they played something  I remembered from the last time I saw them. The lyrics – “If I was a cop… I’d shoot everybody!  …  FUCK!!  YOU!!!” – make it hard to forget.
Suffice to say, Tear Dungeon doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings.

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Pictured: not Hotel Vegas

Next on the lineup were long-time Austin workhorses Amplified Heat.  The last time I had seen them was a few years ago. They were opening for Clutch on the Earth Rocker tour at Emo’s East when one of their amplifiers blew up and I believe actually caught fire, and they still sounded great.

The three Ortiz brothers who make up the power trio that is Amplified Heat have the kind of well-rehearsed musical dynamic that you can’t pin down to just band practice. There’s definitely a more organic feel to the way each player compliments one another.  Having been a member in a band comprised of three brothers, I have a good idea where that dynamic comes from:  it’s the kind of musical communication indicative of people who have been playing together their entire lives.

There was also another trait I recognized in the members as they were playing:  the dreaded personal dynamic that so often spells doom for bands made up of siblings.  Not everybody would notice the kind of dagger stare that occurs when there’s a slight hiccup in a song, but I noticed it.  I’ve seen it many, many times in my day.

But I digress.  Seeing these nostalgic reminders of my personal musical past was starting to steal my attention away from the music at hand.

Before you write Amplified Heat off as just an old blues rock outfit (with all-original vintage music gear), you have to recognize that they’re not sticking to the general milieu of traditional  verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-out songwriting formula. They have actual arrangements. Their songs actually go in interesting, unorthodox directions and tend to incorporate more influences than just blues and rock. They definitely have something going for  them that makes sense as to why they’ve remained an Austin favorite.

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I had been hearing a lot about the last band of the night,  Sweat Lodge, since their inception.  Being chronically unable to avoid members of their contemporaries in bands like Rust, Ditch Witch (RIP), Flesh Lights, and other Red River/East Side heroes, I really had no good reason for not having seen them sooner. Call it lethargy.
Despite a few bouts of technical difficulty during the beginning of their set, I’m happy to tell everyone who told me I would like them that they’re absolutely right.

I know their lead singer as a friendly acquaintance, but up until this point I didn’t know what role he played in the band. I didn’t even know he could sing! But the man has an impressive and signature set of pipes and is a very natural front man: engaging, but not over-the-top.  I was duly impressed by his performance.
The other members are equally tight musicians. Their steady, straight-outta-Texas brand of rock n’ roll conjures images of the desert, the night sky, and the open road. And with the  heavy reverb-enhanced vocals floating and swooping over and through the songs, the music is reminiscent of what a young Native American on a vision quest might have seen on a night in the wilderness.

After putting the few technical difficulties behind them and getting the sound engineer on board, it didn’t take them long to get into their groove. They were doing what they do and doing it well.

And that’s when a fight broke out outside of the girls’ bathroom.
I’ve seen many a good show completely ruined by violence. It kills the mood and leaves a queasy feeling hovering around after it’s been resolved.  Unless of course, the band onstage is good enough and professional enough to quickly wrangle everybody’s attention back to why they came out in the first place: to have a good time at a rock show.
Which is exactly what they did.
This being their tour kickoff show, I had no doubt that as long as they accessed the right audiences, they were going to kill it wherever they performed. And I wish them the best of luck.
I was impressed from all angles, boys. Very well played.

The show this night was a refreshing reminder of a local show done right: enough variety in the sounds and aesthetics of the bands to make it interesting, while also not being a slapshod mash-up of whatever bands were available to play that night. (And at the same time, not just a collection of nondescript echo chambers which leave you unable to recall the names of the bands you’ve just seen.)

It was the kind of night that made it feel good to get out again.
In a belated response to what Graham told me at the beginning of the night, I was happy to be there.

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