Wednesday April 18, 2018
Back in Austin for a week and it is like coming home and, just like my neighbourhood, it is being rapidly transformed as Austin. Maybe a little too rapidly for my liking. There are building works everywhere for apartments and offices. It is not quite the chaos you see in some parts of Melbourne but it is disruptive.
Just a couple of years ago I heard one of the announcers on KUT-FM, the great local station based at the University of Texas, say how he recalled the first time he drove into Austin and saw the sign stating the population was 200,000. Those days are long gone.
Yesterday on KUT a local expert was talking about how Texas is America’s fastest growing state – on the back of the oil industry, believe it or not. In the 2016 Presidential election it had 39 electoral college votes and next time it might have 43 (California has 55). If this was a country its economy would be on a par with Canada.
You get into habits when you are traveling and I have several. I like to stay at the Austin Motel on South Congress and always have my first meal at Guero’s up the hill. This year I can only afford two nights at the motel. That’s a change for the worse. It was taken over by the people who run the Hotel San Jose (and also El Cosmico in Marfa, amongst other properties). There have been some renovations making the rooms more modern. Worst part is the price has skyrocketed. Today, I moved to the much cheaper but less attractive Extended Stay at the bottom of the hill next to Threadgill’s where I will spend a week.
So Guero’s it was on Sunday night. Then the Gallery at The Continental to see Jon Dee Graham’s Lo Jinx Orchestra, featuring his son on guitar and vocals. To use the term ‘very interesting’ sounds like damning it with faint praise but it was. John Dee is like a country Tom Waits, although he doesn’t really play country.
On Monday night we headed for the Saxon Pub to see Bob Schneider’s Lonelyland, which has become my favourite gig here over the past few years. If you haven’t heard of Schneider it is hardly surprising because he seems to be intent on cutting a low profile (his major claim to fame in the past appeared to be that he once dated Sandra Bullock).
After you see Bob a few times you wonder why he is not a major star. I have recently figured that it is because he cannot easily be pigeon-holed. He has worked with different band line-ups and his music covers so many genres: rock, rap, pop, country, reggae and blues – and last night he covered all of them.
Bob can also be a little unpredictable when it comes to the stage banter and walks a fine line. So after a few songs we got the story of how they were to be included in a musical he is writing about Harvey Weinstein. Later, he talked about the lead singer from Muse in a kind of stream of consciousness riff.
This week, Bob’s usual keyboard player Ollie Steck (who wore a rabbit suit last time I saw him) was missing but stalwart bassist Bruce Hughes was still there and Danny Levin was sitting in on cello and Kevin McKinney was on guitar. You can stream it live every Tuesday morning (Australian time). I guarantee you will be hugely entertained and impressed.
James McMurtry did his acoustic solo show at The Gallery on Tuesday night and seemed in fine form, happier than I had seen him in a while. The audience responded warmly and even though the room was not packed there were obviously some McMurtry fanatics there. As Gerald pointed out to me afterwards, McMurtry – like many of his contemporaries here – writes a lot about local themes. He did throw in his latest song released as a single, ‘State of The Union’ a scathing indictment of Trump’s America. McMurtry plays with his full band tomorrow at midnight downstairs in The Continental. I think I will have to go!