Monday, March 27, 2006

Mow Better Blues

Last weekend, my lawnmower saw the light of day for the first time since October 2005.

I rolled my mower out of the shed and brought it into the patio for seasonal maintenance: drained old oil; poured in new oil; cleaned out air filter housing; replaced air filter; replaced spark plug; gave the whole mower a half-assed, once-over wipe down with an already dirty rag. I felt that was sufficient progress for a Saturday afternoon, so I rolled that sumbitch back in the shed, grabbed a beer.

I mowed my lawn--at least the parts of it that were not still crunchy from last Fall's drought. We've had just enough interspersed rain [thunder storms] and sunlight recently to revive my little St. Augustine & Miscellaneous Weed-covered plat.

And so it begins--yard work.
I don't like yard work, but I'm too cheap to pay somebody else to do it. By the time I finish mowing, I'm usually too lazy or too exhausted to edge. And you can forget about hedge trimming and clipping. So our yard doesn't look as nice as the neighbors' yards. Well, I'm neither retired nor do I have a teenager or two to do that shit for me. But I do have a wife. And now is the time to get the Mrs. on board for some much needed landscape maintenance.

I can already count Kim out for mowing. She's mowed twice in the two years we've been in our current house. The first time, she managed to spill gasoline on the grass, killing a two square-foot patch of primo St. Augustine [we don't have too much of that to go around]. The second time, she mowed in July when it was hot and humid outside. I was at work on a Saturday [extremely busy], and she telephoned to complain how exhausted she was from mowing the lawn. I'm pretty sure that was the end her mowing career. So yours truly is the designated mower.

When Kim gets motivated to weed the garden or trim the hedges, though, she usually tears into it. The problem is that there's a ton of work to be done [our hedges are out of control], and we are seldom motivated to take on the task at the same time. And as Spring becomes Summer, and Summer becomes Hell on Earth, neither one of us wants to be out in the yard longer than the time it takes to check the mailbox. So we have to strike while the weather is cool. That means dedicating the next few weekends to our lawn. It won't be fun: there will be blood, sweat, and tears. And mosquito bites. But if we can get the bulk of the work done now, maintaining it for the rest of the season will be so much easier.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Van Halen I


About once a year, I'll throw Van Halen I on the turntable and just be amazed. This record came out in 1978!? Think about that time. There was nobody like Eddie Van Halen. There was nobody like David Lee Roth. Led Zeppelin hadn't put out a record in 2 years. The Rolling Stones put out a disco song. Most popular hard rock was just primitive [KISS, AC/DC, Foreigner]. I can imagine when Gene Simmons first saw Van Halen at that fabled L.A. club show in 1976, he thought to himself, "Holy fucking shit! Should I get these guys in a recording studio, or should I have them killed?"

I'm glad he spared their lives. Van Halen I is one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New Austin Record Store - Backspin Records

Backspin Records!

I’ll say it again. BACKSPIN RECORDS!

Backspin Records at 5247 Burnet Road [at North Loop]—nestled between the longstanding Asian variety store, Say Hi, and the Mi Victoria Bakery—is Austin’s newest independent record store offering up great new and used vinyl. Here is Backspin Records in their own words:

“We carry an amazing selection of affordably priced used and new vinyl in these genres: Hip-Hop (Old School, Golden Era, Current, Indie, Underground, and Commerial Rap) Dance (Old School Tecno, Electro, Freestyle, Disco, Italo Disco, House), Jazz, Funk, Jazz-Funk, Soul, R&B, Blues, Rock (Classic, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, Alt, Punk, New Wave, Industrial, and New Indie Releases), Soundtracks, Lounge, Exotica, Comedy, Spoken Word, and Country/Western. In general, if it is a type of music that has a beat to it, we carry it.”

I’ve been there, and, yes, they do have an amazing selection of quality vinyl at fair prices. They also have a small but excellent selection of used CDs.

Backspin records is co-owned and operated by my friend of many years, Zach, and his business partner, Eric—two work-a-day Joe’s who happened to both be vinyl junkies and, through a series of fortunate and/or unfortunate events, found themselves looking for another way to make a living. And they chose to open a record store in Austin? Are they crazy? Yes, they must be nuts! That’s what I thought, initially. That is, until I got a glimpse of the fruits of their labor. Backspin has arguably the best selection of used records in town when you factor in selection, condition, and price. Without question, they have the best listening stations in town with quality turntables and headphones: they’re not messing around with the craptastic plastic ‘tables and dollar store headphones you see at most shops. These guys care about the quality of the product and the pleasure of the vinyl-buying experience. What you’ll get at most other used vinyl places is dirty fingertips, a runny nose, and not much else.

Backspin opened last Thursday during SXSW. Among their first customers were DJ Madlib, J-Rocc [of the World Famous Beat Junkies], and the bass player from L.A.’s The Mojo Filters. And me. Last Sunday, Backspin hosted an energetic in-store performance and CD-release for the fledgling NGOK hip-hop crew, Public Offenders and Da 2-3 Mic Breakaz.

Hopefully, this is just the first of many great in-store events that will go down at Backspin Records.

So if you happen to stumble upon this ‘blog and you also happen to be in the Austin area, I recommend you check out Backspin Records. Be prepared to spend money. They’ve got the goods.

BTW - You can also visit Backspin Records on the web at

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Insound Party @ Club DeVille - Friday, March 17

Due to some technical difficulties going down with Blogger [and also due, in part, to my grandpa interweb skillz], I’m a little late posting about the [kick ass] Insound party at Club DeVille on Friday afternoon [which kicked ass].

Folks, this is what SXSW for Freeloaders is all about. Okay, there was a $2 cover at the gate. And we did have to wait in line for about 40 minutes to get in. But once you got in, you got free brisket sandwiches, all the free Lone Star and Shiner Bock you could stomach, and five really good bands.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so check out the Insound Party posts below. And if a thousand words don’t immediately come to mind, then just multiply “hell yes” 500 times.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Insound Party @ Club DeVille

 Posted by Picasa

Serena-Maneesh - Insound Party @ Club deVille

 Posted by Picasa

Pink Mountaintops - Insound Party @ Club DeVille

 Posted by Picasa

Love Is All - Insound Party @ Club DeVille

 Posted by Picasa

Boy Least Likely To - Insound Party @ Club DeVille

 Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 18, 2006

SXSW Day 2 Boogaloo

Thursday morning was rough, I gotta tell ya. Mind you, we made it home before 8 PM on Wednesday evening. It’s funny how one too many Lone Stars can make you feel like you just got off a long bus ride from LA to Austin [got mugged in Albuquerque]. We were lucky to make it out the door and down to Emo’s around noon on Thursday. It was immediately apparent that our fellow SXSW partiers had been overzealous on Wednesday as well. Red River and Emo’s were fairly quiet compared to the same time on Day #1. Beautiful Newborn Children were halfway into their set when we arrived, and there were maybe 20 people there watching. Live, the BNBC sounded more like the Pixies than their recordings reveal but perhaps a little more garage-y. They even have a chunky, bald frontman/guitarist.

Beautiful[?] Newborn Child #1

BNBC finished their set with 15 minutes to spare in their already short time slot [I’m not even sure they have 30 minutes of material]. Field Music was scheduled to play next, but not for another 40 minutes. So we headed to Emo’s outside stage to get some daylight and check out another band.

Emo’s outside was just as dead as the inside stage. The SXSW peeps were still nursing their hangovers, maybe just starting to order their migas or whatever. That was understandable: we were still dragging our feet, too. The first band scheduled, The Research, took the stage before an audience of 10. By the first note, we knew they weren’t going to provide the boost we needed [they suck!]. With little deliberation, we decided some Death Metal Pizza [Hoek’s] was in order. 6th Street was just beginning to bustle as the normal downtown lunch crowd and the late rising SXSW crowd collided and started to fill restaurants. The Iron Cactus was packed. The guy at Hoek’s told us a pepperoni pie would be out in about 5 minutes, so we hung out on the sidewalk and did a little people watching. Still with the ridiculously large sunglasses, people? Come on. Lots of unfortunate haircuts. You are going to regret that wool coat, later--this is Austin, Texas, kid. Ding! Our pepperoni slices emerged from the fires of Mordor. That shit is hot! But soooo good.

We returned to Emo’s inside stage in time to catch Field Music. Neither of us had heard them before, but we enjoyed their set. The three piece band from the UK plays quirky-but-not-jerky art pop. Some of their high-pitched vocal harmonies reminded us of early Who.

Field Music indoors at Emo's

Next, we went back to the outside stage to see Jason Collett [who’s lucky to be part of Broken Social Scene]. Jason Collett’s band is decent. Jason Collett is an ass. It sounds like he’s retreading the same American roots rock earth that Wilco has already slashed, burned, and salted . . . only he doesn’t do it very well at all. Plus, he looked like a jackass dancing around in his too-tight jeans and pointy boots.

At this point the crowd was still pretty thin, but people were starting to trickle in to the club. The Hidden Cameras were slated to play next. I understand they’ve gotten good press from the indie publications, and I remembered our friend Brad recommending them to us. Pitchfork described them as “flamboyant.” They are, indeed, flamboyantly gay. Their music is kind of poppy and spazzy: the frontman is equal parts David Byrne and Freddie Mercury. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, the Cameras put on a fun set and provided just enough of a jolt to resuscitate what could have become a dreary Thursday afternoon. They drew a small, adoring [equally flamboyant] crowd and they even invited a few fans to join them on stage to play tambourine.

The Hidden Cameras - flame on!

By the time The Hidden Cameras were done, the normal Emo’s day show crowd started to pour into the club. UK singer-songwriter, Richard Hawley was up next. We had never heard him before, so we didn’t know what to expect. This guy has style and charisma. With his crooning style and his witty Brit stage banter, I think he really charmed the 90 percent full house crowd.

Richard Hawley is fookin' boss, mate!

Up next: nothing says “Spring Break!” like Black Heart Procession, who hail from sunny San Diego, California. BHP played a good set, as expected. I’m really surprised the party crowd stuck around through their death waltzes and dirges. They opened and closed with songs from their last album, Amore del Tropico. I assume everything in between was material for their forthcoming album. It was par-for-the-course BHP. I’ll probably buy the new record. [Sorry, no good pics of BHP]

Of Montreal was next on the bill, but we decided to quit while we were ahead. We were still hurting a bit from Wednesday and were getting hungry. With our stomachs growling and our dogs barking, we hoofed it down to Mehkong River on 6th for some Vietnamese and Thai fare. The normally clean restaurant was a bit of wreck with paper chopstick wrappers strewn about like day old confetti. I don’t believe they were prepared for the onslaught of SXSW diners. Luckily our food and service were not affected, but it looked like the rockers at the table next to us had been waiting for their food for a really long time.

Day #2 took a long time to build steam, and, early on, it didn’t seem like it would live up to the promises of the day prior. We still had a pretty good time, but we needed to get rested for Friday’s Insound party at Club DeVille.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


As planned, we headed out to Emo's at around noon on Wednesday. We couldn't have asked for a more pleasant day--slightly overcast with temps somewhere in the low 70's and the usual high chance for precipitation that goes along with SXSW. But the clouds held it in long enough for us to get in out of downtown high and dry.
Not much has changed at Emo's: you can always depend on some free SXSW goodness to happen there, and it did. The first band scheduled to play Emo's outside stage [The Strays?] didn't show, so we had a half-hour to sit around and peoplewatch from the bleachers facing the outside bar. As you can see from the pic, the cool people had not yet arrived [unless you count Kim and me].

The first band to take the outside stage was What Made Milwaukee Famous. They hail from Austin, but I'm sure Milwaukee would have been proud to be represented by these guys this afternoon. Kim and I had seen them once before and they were, ehh...okay. Today, they put on an energetic show providing a nice kickoff for our SXSW 2006 for Freeloaders.

What Made Milwaukee Famous

You can also count on the band for all of your elevator repair needs [check the work shirt].

Zykos took the stage, next, and put on an impressive show. I had only heard some recorded stuff from them prior to this performance, and I wasn't all that impressed. What I saw today was very promising. Austin still produces some good bands! I'd like to hear some of their new material with better studio quality.

By this point, the bar had been raised for the afternoon. And I'll be damned if Sound Team didn't clear it by a mile. It seems like a couple of years ago Kim and our friend Natalie saw them open for Dressy Bessy, and they said this band was really good. I finally heard their EP, this year, and it's okay. But Kim and Nat knew what they were talking about. Sound Team far exceeded my expectations and put on the best show of the day. Their sound reminds me a little bit of The Walkmen, but it's a bit more diverse--maybe a little less raw energy.

Sound Team

BTW - Check out the cool Gibson Firebird geetar on the left with the PAF-style humbuckers [click the pic]. I wonder if that's original: I've only seen these guitars with the mini 'buckers.

Following Sound Team was The Ponys [pictured above]. I missed these guys the last time I did SXSW, so I was looking forward to this show. They were much tighter live than I expected--maybe even tighter than their recorded material. They've got their act together. We were a tad disappointed, though, that they only played one song from Celebration Castle.

We couldn't tolerate the next band on the outside stage, so we headed indoors to see what I thought was going to be a set by Dengue Fever. I guess I had this written down incorrectly in my schedule, because it was actually The Deathray Davies just beginning their set. I've seen these guys listed in the Chronicle music listings, but had written them off as a just another average band with a punny band name. They were actually pretty rockin'. I'm glad I finally got to see them--for free! I'd like to check them out again.

Next, we walked up the street to Red Eyed Fly to see Calla. It's been years since I've been in this club, and a lot has changed. The back patio that used to be a tree-lined terrace overlooking a creek is now almost completely enclosed. I kind of miss the campfire ambiance they used to have there, but they did a good job on the renovation. And, as you can see below, the place is still well ventilated.

Calla took their sweet ass time setting up. When they finally took the stage, we noticed something was missing--the second guitar player. When we saw them a couple of years ago, they were a four-piece. Today's performance was good, not great. We missed the texture that the additional guitar added. I haven't really heard their new recorded material, though. Maybe they were trying to get away from that layered shoegazer sound and needed to drop that guitarist in order to do so. Bad move. It sounds like they're writing the same style of songs they did as four-piece while leaving out piece #4.

Calla - flying in the missing guitar formation.

We left Red Eyed Fly and crossed Red River to Club DeVille to see The Drams--only, they played at the same time as Calla. Damn. So we decided to call it a day and go get some grub.

We talked over our dinner options while riding the bus back to my parking garage, and this guy sitting across from us says, "Hut's . . . it's 2-for-1 night." How could I forget about Wednesday night at Hut's? It's crazy to think about how many burgers I've downed at Hut's 2-for-1 night. I think we went there almost every Wednesday for a year [or more] back in '99-'00. Now, I maybe eat there a couple of times a year. But when we walked in to Hut's this evening, the little manager guy noticed me and said, "Tommy, right? Table for two?" Wow.

SXSW Music Day #1: I have to say today was a good day--didn't even have to use my A-K. We ran into some old friends and even met a couple of nice folks from Minneapolis. The crowd wasn't too bad. It's early on, and everyone is still friendly and full of energy and enthusiasm. Maybe the hipster plane has not yet landed. I expect the crowd will increase as we approach the weekend.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

South by Spring Break

Kim and I are taking the rest of this week off from work to check out some of the free and maybe not free parties and shows going on during SXSW. It feels like forever since I've done this. Last year, I think Kim and I made it to one day show on a Saturday; but I haven't taken off time from work to really experience SXSW since 2004. I've gotten married and a lot older and grumpier since then, so it should be interesting to see how we respond to the throngs of hipsters and hypesters.

I will have my camera, so maybe I'll post pics and snarky comments about the whole thing if I'm not totally beat down from the experience.

So far, not much on Wednesday is pinging my radar. A few decent local bands [Zykos, Sound Team, What Made Milwaukee Famous] will be playing along with The Ponys at Emo's during the day. We may also check out the new ex-Slobberbone band, The Drams, at Club DeVille, although it may require an invite. If so, we may check out Calla at the Red Eyed Fly or stick around at Emo's for I Love You but I've Chosen a Pretentious Band Name.

After that, we're probably going to want to go home, take some aspirin, and soak our feet.

Here goes nothin'.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

All you see are 0's and 1's

I finally picked up the Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs vinyl release this weekend [before this purchase, I had been enjoying this album in ill-gotten mp3 format]. It's a quality pressing with good sound and nice gatefold packaging: I assume the artwork and illustrations are the same as included in the CD release.

As happy as I am with the analog copy, I am even more surprised at the sound quality of the mp3 version. I'm not certain of the source of the mp3's [eMusic/iTunes; file sharing, etc], since I got them from a friend; but it is a very high quality rip--as good as any CD. I'm just shocked that the vinyl copy isn't clearly better. It's just slightly different. My new CD/mp3 player [Rega Apollo] probably makes a big difference in mp3 playback; but my experience with the new CDP vs. turntable usually ends up proving vinyl is better [provided it's a good pressing with no warps, etc.]. But I'll admit that the CD - vinyl gap has closed a bit with the CDP upgrade.

Regardless, Mysterious Production of Eggs is a great album, and you should buy it on whatever format you please. But now it's available on vinyl with bigger artwork. Check it out.

Friday, March 10, 2006


There's nothing like coming home on Friday afternoon after a long week of work and popping the top off of a cold beer you made yourself. This particular beer is a "cream ale."
I put that in quotes because we forgot the one ingredient that makes this a cream ale. No matter--this is still a very good beer. This batch was our fourth attempt at homebrew, and I think we got a little lax on the procedures since our first three brews turned out wonderfully with little effort. But that's the beauty of the homebrew process. If you have the equipment and you can follow a recipe [and be clean!], then you can brew your own excellent beer. And, apparently, there is a reasonable margin for error. In the interest of full disclosure, it doesn't hurt that we are brewing with friends that have been doing this for several years.

Here is a list of the homebrews we've made so far.

Duvel style - this didn't turn out much like Duvel at all. The color was darker, mostly because the homebrew store ran out of clear Belgian candi sugar, so we had to use amber. But beyond that the flavor was actually "darker" and it had more body--kinda like Orval, which is pretty damn good. This was a strong beer that probably shouldn't even be opened while operating heavy machinery. I think this is our best homebrew, so far

Chocolate Espresso Stout - I consider this one a failure. It was our first attempt to improvise a recipe. We started with recipe for Young's Double Chocolate Stout, and added about 12 double shots of freshly-brewed Italian espresso before fermentation. The chocolate was the tricky part: after [not much] researching, we couldn't find any concensus on when and how you should add cocoa flavoring. So we added powdered cocoa to the fermented brew right before bottling. The results were disappointing. Long story, short--we messed up a damn fine espresso stout with some powdery cocoa that never quite integrated into the beer. I think if we make this again without the cocoa, it will be tasty. C'mon . . . it's coffee and stout beer!

Belgian Witbier - Basically, Hoegaarden White, made with wheat and barley malt. This is one of our favorite styles of beer. Actually, anything Belgian is my favorite style of beer. This brew was a little more exotic with the addition of ingredients like bitter orange peel and coriander. Our attempt produced a slightly darker golden brew than Hoegaarden, but a better tasting beer with a slightly fuller body. This brew was low-alcohol and very tasty; so it was very easy to put away six bottles in one evening without batting an eye. It didn't last long.

Cream Ale - It's the beer I'm enjoying now. I'm not sure exactly which brand this is styled after, but I think it has a classic beer taste. As I mentioned, we omitted one ingredient, malto dextrin, that helps give the beer a "creamy" body. I really don't think we missed out on anything. The result was an easy-drinking, moderately alcoholic brew that would please beer drinkers of all tastes.

Last weekend we brewed a Summer Saison Ale, another Belgian wheat beer with a much higher ABV [alcohol by volume] than the witbier and flavored with lemon zest and paradise seeds. I have no earthly idea what paradise seeds are. A Google search of "paradise seeds" yields 99,800 [bong] hits. Umm...I'm pretty sure the paradise seeds we bought at Austin Homebrew Supply were 100% legal. So it remains a mystery. We'll bottle this beer in a week or so, and it will condition for a few weeks after.

The waiting is the hardest part--especially now that I realize I've just finished our last bottle of homebrew. Buzz-kill, dude. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Gimme Indie Texas!

My family has been in and around Texas [Old Mexico] since the 1750's, around the time my ancestor Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza [yes, that's just one person] founded the town of Laredo on the Texas side of the Rio Grande River. I have lived in Texas all of my life, residing in South Texas, West Texas, the Panhandle, and now Central Texas. Along the way, I seem to have developed a hodge-podge accent that many people may not readily identify as or associate with "Texan." Not only do I not have a Texas drawl, I don't wear cowboy boots, either. But I do drive a pickup. And I do love football. I should emphasize: I am incapable of not loving football. But other than that, are there any tell tale signs that I'm a Texan?

Yes--it's the Texas independent spirit. But, what is that? It's our culture, our heritage: a love of food, drink, and music; a disciplined but profound love of liberty--the love of “earthly delights” balanced by the “fear of God.” These characteristics may not be unique to our state. But everything is bigger in Texas! Our culture, our love of liberty, and our independent spirit are amplified by the legacy of our Texan ancestors—the sons and daughters of the people who fought for independence from England and Spain, who later fought for independence from Mexico.

March 2nd is Texas Independence Day, an official state holiday--an optional holiday for all state agency employees. Some folks [e.g. my wife] think it's silly that state employees [e.g. me] may opt take a free day off from work for Texas Independence Day. I think it's silly that it's not a mandatory state holiday. We should all take time out of our busy lives to celebrate the independent spirit of Texas and to reflect upon how we got here and project where we are going.

I kinda like this example set forth by our Tejano forefathers who migrated far from the center of a Mexican dictatorship to settle in Texas:

"Tejanos fashioned an ethic of self-reliance, wresting their living from a ranching culture, improvising ways to survive in the wilderness expanse, and devising specific political responses to local needs despite directives from the royal government." -Handbook of Texas Online [emphasis mine]

It's all there: personal responsibility and local control. There's something to think about for folks on both sides of the left-right political spectrum.

While I did not opt to take the holiday off this year, "Mrs. Coda" and I paid a visit to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, this weekend. And, in the tradition of Texas' German and Czech ancestors, we will be making another batch of homebrew, today. Although it will be a...umm...Belgian style ale. But its the art of brewing-- and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness it represents--that really counts.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

CY 2006 New Music Inventory

Here are the calendar year 2006 new music releases I've picked up so far:

Cat Power - The Greatest [I like it so much more than I expected. Can a (former) non-Cat Power-fan get away with calling it her best album?]

Robert Pollard - From a Compound Eye [Hell yes!]

The Plastic Constellations - Crusades [Really pretty OK anthemic guitar core on the French Kiss label]

Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit [Ranges from good to very good but still, somehow, not wholly satisfying]

The Minus 5 - s/t aka The Gun Album [: Skip it. Hardly worth commenting, so I'll stop here. Traded it in for The Life Pursuit]

I've got a lot to say about the Pollard, Cat Power, and Belle and Sebastian; and if it stays stuck in my craw long enough, I may regurgitate it here.

And last but not least . . . CY 2005 releases to be re-released on vinyl in 2006:

Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs ["Without question, one of the best of 2005," I declare in the direction of with a wagging shame-on-you-finger on my right hand and extended middle-finger on my left]

The Deadly Snakes - Porcella -or- A Bird in the Hand is Worthless [Re-issue of 2005's Porcella, re-sequenced, +7 additional tracks in a vinyl-only release. Another overlooked album from last year.]

In honor of the Snakes' vinyl release, this week, here is the song "Gore Veil" for your listening pleasure. With it's 60's pop feel [flute-like melotron, trio of jangly acoustic guitars, and chorus of ba ba-da ba's] mixed with it's "gorey" lyrics, "Gore Veil" could have been the song Neil Diamond wrote after he killed a drifter to get an erection.