My night started tired. I was woken up at 7:00 in the morning by my girlfriend’s son who needed a ride to school. Being the loving boyfriend that I am, I obliged and allowed Marina to get some more sleep. Afterward, I took my dogs for a long walk, dropped the other boy off at school, went to the bank, then to the grocery store, made it home in time to do a quick workout and make dog food (yes, I make my own dog food at home). Then a quick shower, and I was off to work at 4:00. $40 and a miserably slow 4 hours later, I got cut and hauled ass toward a quick stop at home and then to the east side of town.
When Marina and I first walked through the door at Hotel Vegas, I couldn’t help but recognize the impending sense of dread which instantly permeated the very fabric of my being. No one was there. Visions of being the only guy standing in front of the stage watching my friends play (something I’ve done many times in my life) infected me with a restless unease in my abdomen that I couldn’t shake and didn’t want to confront. The notion to bail did cross my mind, I’m ashamed to admit. But we also noticed that the band hadn’t even set up yet, so chances were that we had just arrived early.
Either way, we decided to walk down the street to Rio Rita, one of our favorite watering holes, to drink… coffee (we’re on the wagon after the cluster fuck commonly known as “the holidays”) and have a smoke in the backyard. After some chit chat and bumping into my friend Allyson Prince from Party Girl, we headed back to Vegas to see what had materialized sense we had last left.
I was relieved to find that in the 30-minute interim, there were now about 30 people milling about the barroom in Hotel Vegas. We secured two bar stools right next to the stage, ordered two Topo Chicos and before long, I was watching some live music that almost instantly plastered my face with a permanent shit-eating grin.
Invincible Czars are quickly becoming my favorite band in Austin. In the accepted milieu where “World Music” is generally defined by techno beats with sweeping synthesizers and Middle Eastern chanting over top, they tend to lean towards more varied stylized approaches to far East, Eastern European, Reggae, Bluegrassy-feeling influences, along with classical chops and a pervasive undercurrent of rock: you know, the types of music from around the world that don’t suck. And that was just in this setlist. Picture if the soundtrack from the original Super Nintendo Zelda video game had been written in a shack out in the country in East Texas. That’s scratching the surface… kinda.
I’m not trying to wrap up their sound in one pigeonholed description like “World music”, either. It’s just too eclectic for another adjective. The various “weird” cultural influences on the sounds would typically bespell a reputation for consistent drug use, but these guys are better than that. Besides, I don’t know of anybody who would be able to play as well as they did fucked up.
The members of the band are a good 5-10 years my senior, but their energy and playfulness on stage are enviable: including, but not limited to, a crowd participation segment where the violinist and guitarist come down from the stage to do burpees (one for however many days into the month it may be) and invite whoever has the endurance to join in. I hope to maintain that same stamina whilst performing in the next coming decade.
I also found myself with an awful case of what can only be described as “gear envy”. The violinist, guitarist and saxophonist/flautist/vocalist all run through a series of very particular expression pedals – all used, EQed and balanced very tastefully – which, for anybody with experience in such things, is a challenge itself and takes lots and lots of practice to master. Doing that on top of putting on a highly entertaining live show… well, it’s a big reason as to why I say they are high on my list of local bands (and bands period.)
Invincible Czars are serious players. But they don’t take themselves seriously during their live performance. Which I love. And not to blow my own horn, but I have been playing music a fairly long time, and I’m good at picking out when a member messes up on stage, even if I’ve never seen them play before. And through all the intertwining in their arrangements, which are impressive to say the least, I thought I heard one thing that might have been a mistake. But God’s honest truth, I couldn’t tell you if it was intentional or not.
I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to sell you people their next album, and I hope all this praise doesn’t make it weird the next time I see these guys. But I am quite literally in awe of their talent. They are, in a way, my musical neighbors on the other side of the learning fence. All of their music is written down in notation (which I can’t read). So while they reside on that side of the fence, we both inhabit the same community of appreciation for technically challenging music where it isn’t all about knowledge, information and chops. If it ain’t got soul; if it ain’t fun; it ain’t shit. And The Invincible Czars seem to nail down that balance between the two worlds. They are definitely deserving of the name they have chosen for themselves.
I am regretful to admit that I did not stay much longer after the second band of the night, Hard Proof took to the stage. I was just too goddamn tired. But what I did manage to catch of this 10-piece (fucking 10-piece!) Afro-beat ensemble was impressive and more exploratory than what you might be expecting when you see the words Afro-beat on the lineup description. Next time around, I won’t be leaving early. I’ll be sure to eat my Wheaties.