It’s another Friday night in “the live music capital of the world” as a lengthy line runs down the block along Red River Avenue, with fans anxiously waiting to enter Stubbs’ indoor venue (aka Stubbs Jr.). The 10 p.m. showtime is here but the line is moving oh so slowly. Some arrive hoping to buy tickets at the door, but the allegedly 350-capacity room is sold out. It takes half an hour just to get inside, but the Georgia-based Perpetual Groove saves the day by holding out on hitting the stage until 10:30.
Stubbs’ outdoor venue (aka the Waller Creek Amphitheater) is widely hailed as one of Austin’s finest venues. Praise for the indoor venue is much more difficult to come by as the room is jammed like a sardine can, seemingly oversold by a fair bit. There’s no doubt that P-Groove (as they’re known amongst fans) are ready to move up to a larger venue on their next visit to Austin. The low ceiling also muddies the acoustics, making it quite a challenge to find a spot where one can find any elbow room or get some clear sound.
The improv-oriented quartet starts off with an ambient psychedelic jam that soon gives way to a familiar riff and a high-energy groove. Another melodic tune from the band’s most recent release, 2009’s independently released Heal, keeps the energy growing, although the constant yakking of the casual fans (aka “custies”) in the back makes it hard to fully appreciate. Must… find… way… to move… closer! The crowd seems to loosen just a bit during “Two Shores”, as guitarist/vocalist Brock Butler’s sweet tone takes over the room. The evening’s first big jam takes place as Butler locks in tightly with bassist Adam Perry, drummer Albert Suttle and keyboardist John Hruby. The crowd starts to move a little more and it becomes possible to follow a new friend up along the right wall a bit, improving the sound and lessening the claustrophobia. A cover of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” keeps the crowd dancing and is a surprise highlight of the first set.
But it’s in the second set where the show really takes off. The “custies” have cleared out a bit, reducing the crowd to a more manageable size for this room and at a higher level of discernment and appreciation. The band seems to sense this as a chance to take the evening to a higher level. Perry lays down a heavy low end on the opening “Crapshoot”, and the band conjures a dreamy, underwater sort of “Atlantis” vibe on top. The song builds into a tight jam where Butler’s sharp guitar lines mix superbly with Hruby’s spacey keys.
“All In” follows with an infectious groove that keeps the good times rolling as Hruby takes the lead with his deliciously psychedelic synth sounds. It doesn’t quite catch fire though, so the band cuts it short and goes right into fan favorite “TSMM”, which is met with instant cheers and an accompanying sing-along. The hooky tune’s highly danceable groove and dynamic changes are manna for the soul, as a piano-led ambient breakdown soon builds back up into an exploratory jam where Butler seems to channel the music of the spheres. The song takes listeners on a journey through a variety of soundscapes, which is a P-Groove specialty.
Everyone’s fired up now, making it the perfect time to throw down the band’s signature cover of “Get Down Tonight”. KC and the Sunshine Band’s disco classic is transformed into a turbo-charged funk rocker, hitting home with the college crowd for another sing-along. The song evolves into an extended dance party jam that makes it clear to see why the line to get in was so long.
“Cairo” continues the jammy melodic goodness before the nearly three-hour show is wrapped up with “Speed Queen”, saving one of the best jams for last. A harder-edged prog-rock vibe surfaces, recalling bands such as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and then Iron Maiden when Butler teases the opening riff to Maiden’s “Wasted Years”. The mesmerizing groove keeps flowing from one peak to another, until the entire band takes a left turn into Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, seemingly about to play the entire song before dropping back into “Speed Queen” for one last climb to the mountaintop to end the show. An evening that started off on shaky ground has finished quite strong, and with an epic conclusion.
But this is Austin, so even though it’s after one a.m., downtown is still quite alive and happening. There are some strange vibes on world famous Sixth Street. One fellow busking on a street corner has a couple of folks into his take on The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”. At first glance it seems like a weak cliché for a Friday night, but on deeper introspection it comes to feel like a message from above – “The future’s uncertain and The End is always near / Let it roll baby, let it roll…” Maybe it’s time to take a chance on the flyer I received in line earlier for the electronic music show happening at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room.
It’s a great room, far superior to the downstairs room at the club, with a classy vibe featuring gorgeous paintings of legendary guitarists that favored the Gibson Les Paul. The sound system is crisp and booming, some would say a bit too much for a relatively small room, but the kids are getting down to the electronic jams of Savoy, a drum and PA group, while earlier, The Malah had delivered a set of their atmospheric, electro grooves. There’s also some live painting taking place onstage, and it seems that local promoters Dreamtime Productions definitely know how to throw a party. Many debate the decline of the music industry, but a trip to Austin’s Sixth Street/Red River district on any weekend will prove that live music is alive and well in the 21st century.
Walking back down Sixth Street after closing time, one enterprising gentleman (and the term is used loosely) seems ready to pimp out his passed out girlfriend, who lies in a doorway beside him. His eyes seem to motion with a propositioning expression, conjuring a fleeting feeling of classic fear and loathing. I decline to inquire further, and send a quick prayer out for the young woman. It’s all part of the circus atmosphere on a weekend night on Sixth Street.