What A Strange Trip: PPI Does Free Week, Again

Daniel_Francis_Doyle_and_Warm_as_Toast_011014-1Saturday night, Pop Press International hosted our second Free Week show at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Their cozy interior was the ideal venue on a cold and rainy weekend evening. Familiar faces spotted the crowd while new faces looked on with equal wonder at the stellar lineup of both locals and non-local performers. The Free Week idea is an obvious winner. Allowing its patrons to come and check out their digs for a free event is a beneficial option for venues to gain new regulars. Obviously, for the live music enthusiast, Free Week is a great opportunity to see a whole host of local bills potentially in one night, if not all week. The downtown Red River music district (where Cheer Up Charlie’s is located, for those unfamiliar) features a wide swath of venues that all offer a unique social environment, adding to the heralded local music scene here in Austin. Cheer Up Charlie’s’ devotion to diversity and progressiveness was a welcoming host for us and a setting with which we could feel comfortable serving our constituent population. Throw in a great sound system and it’s a no-brainer.

Cross_Record_011014-1Local dark folk duo Cross Record open the show shortly after eight. The band gets its name from lead singer Emily Cross, who wields a vintage Fender Mustang in Dakota Red, plugged into an ancient, decaying Harmony amp that’s probably the oldest thing in the joint, that is, besides the ancient music the two play. I get the feeling the spirits they channel, resurrect, summon, and extinguish are cosmic entities that existed long before us. Deeply moving, Cross and partner Dan Duszyinski make music that resonates through the body. Smiling while she sings, Cross receives backup harmonies from Duszyinski who also pummels a fuzzed-out hollowbody guitar from behind a kick drum big enough to sail down Lady Bird Lake in–nearly big enough to sleep in. They explore a dark world of overdriven analog circuitry, and the corresponding voodoo that powers tubes and cathode rays amplify into a pleasurable audio signal of peaks we can climb and troughs so deep we can feast forever. Arpeggios guided by funereal rhythms soothe me into a forever dream.

Matthew_Squires_011014-2Following the Cross Record hypnosis, Matthew Squires takes the inclusive Cheer Up Charlie’s stage with an electric cellist to his left who provides a wash of ambient texture during and in-between songs so as to transition from one song to the next while maintaining the mood and emotions from the previous song. Squires sings with intense sincerity. Emotional honesty like his can be alienating to some, and it was disappointing to hear so much chatter that must have partially come from intimidation by the feelings Squires brings to the table. At a few occasions, the audience doesn’t know whether to clap and whether a song is over. A decrease in volume or a drastic change in rhythm can usually signal the appropriate opportunity, but with extended textural elements added, those opportunities become harder to pinpoint. I imagine this is what the gapless album is like translated into the live setting. Or at least an improvised version of such a performance. As indicated on Squires’ Facebook, this particular performances embraces an experimental, let’s-see-how-this-goes-we’ve-never-tried-this-before type of set-up.

Lomelda_011014-3After I spent a half hour navigating my emotional well-being, the Waco outfit Lomelda gets on stage with a new bass player to play what they call Sentimental Space Rock. An apt descriptor. At times I feel as though I am watching a strange Mazzy Star iteration in a separate dimension. At other times, I can’t believe the seemingly otherworldly boundaries on lead singer Hannah Read’s vocals. Pure and clean, she backs her head away from the microphone as she increases her volume to reach new, higher notes but manages to still cut through the severe swell the rest of the band is blazing. Like the embers of a fire being stoked, the group rises into fiery rhythm and tonal washes. Everything in space moves so fast, but any visions of it I see move so slowly. That’s kind of what Lomelda achieves–an incredible force that floats weightless until we land and we catch our breath–check our pulse–take another sip from our drinks.

Daniel_Francis_Doyle_and_Warm_as_Toast_011014-2I ready myself to explore an even more cosmic trip courtesy of Ralph White, recruited by Daniel Francis Doyle whose bandmate was sick, forcing a highly improvised set of cosmic Sun-Ra-esque “atonal blues.” Led by White, with Doyle’s father on bass in a group currently known as Warm As Toast, the band makes its way through three or thirty different songs. Maybe it was just one, with long rests between choruses and verses. The point is that the five-piece neglects any semblance of normal pop or blues structure. Conventional wisdom has no place here. Turn what you know and flip it inside out. Doyle Jr. detunes his strings during a song, but not to a particular note, nor even a standard tone. Microtones join in synchronicity, delighting me with their chaotic rightness. Driving rhythm keeps White’s kalimba from veering too far off course from the fretless acoustic guitar he strokes from side to side. Warm As Toast’s third guitarist Adam Jones bounces bells of the neck of guitar while standing in front of a silverface Fender Super Reverb. It’s a beautifully perverted blues jam.

Daniel_Francis_Doyle_and_Warm_as_Toast_011014-7Additional reporting from here on out from PPI correspondent Bryan C. Parker. First things first, I have to add to Lukas’s thoughts above and claim that Daniel Francis Doyle and Warm as Toast’s performance last Saturday night constituted the most important performance anywhere in Austin on the final night of this year’s Free Week. Nowhere else in the city was a group so diverse, so distinct, and so rare. All of these musicians carry weighty reputations and a repeat of this show is unlikely to occur anytime soon. I hope you were there. –BCP

The_Point_011014-5Touring band The Point’s songs are floating, amorphous synth pop structures that unfurl gently. Onstage, the duo navigates the waters of these undulating songs as a projections screen ambles through a variety of visual stimuli, serving a significant function in the live show. The band begins playing a cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” one of my personal favorite songs of all time, and I can’t help but grab my dancing partner, soon to be my wife, and ask her for a slow dance. The Point create an ethereal world of gently drifting song-clouds, and I’m on number nine. –BCP

Salesman_011014-1Salesman stomp onto the stage like a band of badass cowboys ready to close out the evening. They look capable of running us all out of town and into the sunset, but they’ll leave that job to the bar staff, and instead choose to keep us around with their dynamic and thundering anthems. Using pummeling percussion to drive the songs forward, the band stays afloat via the virtues of frontman Devin James Fry’s ambitious hollers and yawps. These songs are like gathering storms, and when the big fat raindrops finally fall, we couldn’t be happier to have them. –BCP

Thanks to all of the bands who played our showcase and to all the music fans who came out for the night. Thanks to Cheer Up Charlie’s for hosting us. We’re damned proud of Austin and of each of the bands. They’re all doing something different and fresh, and we’re honored to have been able to bring them to the listening, show-going public. See you soon, friends! –BCP

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