Texas®

A few weeks ago, our resident funny man, Dave Little, mentioned that when he hits Austin, he really digs making trips to both Waterloo Records and to Book People. Both independently owned store-fronts are more or less treasured Austin landmarks. With that said, however, you don’t really hear them mentioned in the same breath as the South Congress Bats, Barton Springs, The State Capital Building, or even the glorious den of iniquity that is Sixth Street when it comes to the standard, and perhaps tired, must-see Austin attractions.

The sad fact of the matter is that it had been way too long since I, myself, had darkened the doors of either establishment. My recent trips to Austin typically centered around festivals or quick day trips, and there was rarely time for the leisurely browsing time that visiting these two places would surely require of me. That all changed a couple of weeks ago, though. As my wife, son and I made our way into town from Dallas for the FFF Fest, I decided that we wouldn’t be hitting I-35 North on Sunday until I had traversed every shelf and display of both Book People and Waterloo Records, both located on Lamar Street near the flagship Whole Foods.

After strong and spicy Bloody Mary’s at the original Kerbey Lane restaurant (I know, I know, it’s touristy, but it’s really great, regardless), the family and I pointed the car towards Book People. Open since 1970, it’s tough to imagine more than a handful of similar book havens of this caliber in the entire country. Celebrity book signings and a mammoth inventory are only two of the many great qualities of this three-level shop. I pursued the gigantic music section (“Ooh, Jay-Z’s Decodedis in paperback, now??”) while the Mrs. and our four year old son got all up in the crowded and kid-eriffic storytime, set in what can only be described as an indoor amphitheatre for little ones. As I resisted the urge to pick up an autographed Jonathan Franzen novel on the way out, I knew that I wouldn’t be so prudent when we left and then hit Waterloo Records

Whether its the dozen or so iPod-powered listening stations that seem to be more curated by knowledgeable, discerning lovers of music than simply cobbled together by label publicists and trend-watchers, or the large room of all things vinyl, this store will never go unvisited by me again when I visit Austin.

After choosingSlint’s Spiderland vinyl, as well as the 33 1/3 series book that discusses the same album, I gave the first few tracks of themuch-maligned Metallica/Lou Reed release, Lulu a listen. After thinking the first track, “Brandenburg Gate” wasn’t so bad after all, I asked one of the store’s employees what he thought of the bashing the album’s been taking. He was quick to say that he really liked the first track, but wasn’t too keen on the rest. So, great minds and all, right?

So, if reading Little’s column didn’t compel you to visit these jewels of independent commerce as it did me, I can only hope that you feel as such now. If not, well, that’s one less person standing in my way at the vinyl bins next time.

I officially give up. There is now too much information. Even when I try to learn, my brain informs me that, due to circumstances beyond my control, I am closed. Recently, I was in Austin. I know, look at me! World traveler. And when I’m in Austin, I always visit two of my favorite places. Waterloo Records and Book People. They are across the street from one another. Very convenient. I get very excited thinking about it. Music and books are weaved throughout my life. On my table next to my drinking chair sits at least 20 CDs and 30 books. Whenever I am sad I look at my table. I look at my table all of the time.

I walked into Waterloo Records. It’s organized chaos. Music is alphabetized and categorized for both enjoyment and protection. There is nothing I have to have, which means I am not looking for anything in particular, which causes me to be rudderless, which makes me nervous. I have several hours before I have to be anywhere, so you think that would be a perfect scenario for leisurely browsing. Nope. I wander over to the listening station and gaze at the selections. Okay, I like Lindsey Buckingham. Great guitarist. Plays with his thumb. Had sex with Stevie Nicks back when she was prettier and I had bangs. I fumble with the headphones and try to put them on over my hat, which I’m wearing because I am bald and don’t have sunscreen. My hat falls off. I pick up my hat and drop my sunglasses. I put the headphones back on the hook and knock several Wilco CDs off their perch and onto the head of a baby sitting quietly in a stroller. Until then. I decide I’m more in the mood for books, so I leave. Quickly.

As I enter Book People, I am greeted politely by a staff member who apparently hasn’t heard that I am a one man flash mob. I decide to get some coffee from a woman who would have to do some major disassembling of her face to pass through a metal detector. I figure a double espresso with steamed milk is the perfect companion to help me in my quest to find the perfect book that hooks me in the first few pages like a deep sea fisherman and keep me engaged for the next 400 pages so that when I finish I feel both a sense of accomplishment and worn out from my word journey.

But it doesn’t happen. I pick up several books that the staff recommends on a note card, begin to get the jitters from the caffeine jolt, leave the books on a display where they don’t belong and make a beeline for the bathroom.

Sometimes, there are more important things than the arts.

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Dave Little is a Dallas-based stand-up comedian, writer, musician and actor. He’s funny for Best of Texas twice a month, but he’s funny all the time on his website www.lovedavelittle.com.

It’s been a while since we mentioned the psychedelic honky-tonkers from Austin, The Lonesome Heroes. They wow’d us with their inventive take on standard old-school country and they have been touring like crazy for the last couple of years as they’ve been developing material for a new album. Daydream Western is the name for the new record, and it’s yet another wonderful spin on Cosmic Americana.

Thanks to the key duo, Landry McMeans and Rich Russell, we have a couple of songs to share with you. These tunes have been road-tested as much as songs can be, thanks to the group’s relentless touring of the country. Trust us, you do not want to skip the chance to give these tunes a listen and to catch them live when they come through your part of the state, which is always a distinct possibility, given their penchant for life on the road.

Visions Of Yesterday by The Lonesome Heroes

Aspens by The Lonesome Heroes

Sorry. I have to. It’s really beyond me. MTV-U has been playing it on their cable channel a bunch and now it’s online for all of us to enjoy. I’m not going to promise that this will be the last you see or read about them here. Again, sorry. that’s just how it is!

Edible Austin’s Eat Drink Local Week is full of cool events that give everyone even more examples of why Austin is such a great and unique place to be. Perhaps the coolest event is the one that kicks it all off on the morning of December 3rd.

For starters, The Urban Farm Bicycle Tour just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Second of all, it is a cool event. Austin has always been a great biking town, and now, add pit-stops that include food from the best local farms and chefs in town and you have the best bike ride scenario this side of the French Alps.

For this, the fourth edition of the Bike tour, there will be 20 participating farms providing goodies at the various optional stops for this self-guided bike tour. Depending on where you start your tour, the ride can be up to 20 miles. So, yeah, that averages out to at least one local farm per mile. A pretty sweet ration, I’d say.

Yes, you will benefit greatly from a fun ride and great food, but even better, a couple of worthy organizations will also see some of the benefits from the Tour. the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots, two groups that look to get the word out about the advantages of living a more sustainable lifestyle, make for completely appropriate beneficiaries.

So, check those bike chains and get ready to raid Austin’s Urban Farms.

 

OK, OK. I didn’t make it this year. Last minute changes kept me from going, and while we’re at it, I failed miserably in my goal of discussing every one of the artists on the line-up, too. What can I say? I’ll do better next time. For now, we all have some great highlights to look at, thanks to Youtube, whose showcasing official clips from the festival. Here’s some of what would’ve been my favorite performances of the weekend.

The post-punk group Ume, out of Austin, has certianly made a name for themselves recently as an act that can crank up the amps, yet still impress with substance beyond the simple exploding of eardrums.

The trio, led by hubby / wife duo Lauren and Eric Larson aren’t new to the scene, by any stretch. Sure, they’re ready to make their mark known nationally, but that’s thanks in large part due to their hard-working past. Before the recent release of their insanely incendiary new album Phantoms, Ume (pronounced Ooh-may) toured heavily behind their previously released EP, Sunflower, and the Urgent Sea LP from 2005.

Perhaps the unifying thread for each of the albums is that it’s hard to pin-down an easy sonic comparison. It’s natural to look for comparisons when trying to describe a band, especially one that rocks out in as many different ways as Ume does. The guitars are loud, the arrangements precise and the lead vocals of Lauren Larson are piercing and authoratitative.

Tracks like the full-throttle “Rubicon,” which seems to be the album’s standout track, and the scaled-back “Hurricane II” are examples of Ume’s deftness at speeding things up into a frenzy, and also to shift gears down when the occasion calls. This album isn’t about blowing away your stereo speakers, even if their well-received live-show seems to often be (which is fine by us, by the way).

Since Phantoms will be seen by folks around the country (hopefully) as their breakthrough record, Ume will certainly (alnd already has) draw comparisons to another arty post-punk band with an attractive blonde female lead, The Joy Formidable from Wales. Look, there’s more than enough room for both buzzed about bands. And the fact is, there will likely be room for both on a great deal of critic’s best-of-2011 lists when the end of the year rolls around.

 

Aside from the incredible line-up that typically occupies the grounds of The Austin City Limits Festival, I’ve got a short list of things that certainly qualify as non-musical highlights each year when I visit the weekend long musical love fest.

The Austin Eats pavilion is almost reason to hit the festival all by itself. The sloppy nachos from the Salt Lick BBQ booth makes this dude bust out a massive BBQ-sauce covered smile. To wash it down? Sure, there’s beer and that’s always a nice way to enjoy a sunny afternoon, but in Austin, there’s something else that seems to call out to me more so than even an icy brew does. Sweet Leaf Iced Tea.

I know, I know. the Austin-based bottled tea is readily available on a relatively wide-scale outside of Austin, but when in Rome, you know?

Whether your heading to the Festival this year or not, head over to Sweet Leaf’s new Granny’s Almanac site, where you can get involved and possibly win all sorts of sweet items from the Austin institution. Feel really passionate towards Sweet Leaf? Put your passion into words and see if that can make you a big winner, also.

Prizes range from tickets to festivals such as ACL, Lollapoalooza and Langerado to a year’s supply of Sweet Leaf Tea! Hey, there are also great offers and deals to be had, even if you’re not some grand-prize winner, so get to it!

In fact, WANT SOME SWEET LEAF TEA MERCH FOR YOURSELF? Leave a comment telling us what your faovrite flavor of Sweet Leaf Tea is (or perhaps tell us what your favorite cocktail recipe involving Sweet Leaf Tea is?), and we’ll pick a random winner from a drawing for some great stuff!

OK, I’m so behind on my goal of discussing every artist on this year’s ACL Fest bill with all of you fine folks. I’m not gonna lie, I’m nervous about completing the task before the grand festival in Austin’s Zilker Park takes place in less than a month from now (9/16 -18). So, in future weeks, we’ll get really serious about covering more ground, but today, I want to focus on one band. Perhaps this is the main band I’m personally looking forward to catching. They’ve gone from little-odd-alt country-band-that-could status to legit worldwide festival headliners who’s  albums are perhaps the most spiritedly adventurous of any mainstream rock band outside of Radiohead.

Who? My Morning Jacket, of course.

Barreling out of Kentucky, the Jim James-led outfit has made a living out of throwing others expectations of them out of the tour van window. James displayed his otherworldly falsetto long before Bon Iver came along and is as responsible as any for bringing the shuffling, mellow, pedal-steel vibe of laid back alt-country into the indie-rock realm as anyone.

Of course, as soon as folks started hearing word about MMJ, the band decided it was time to get funky. And in doing so, they grew into not only a massively popular group, but into one of the more polarizing popular groups around. Their 2005 album, Z, is basically considered their breakthrough album (it finished #10 in the prestigious Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll for 2005), and indeed ushered in a more abstractly rocking element into their catalog than had been there before. It’s almost impossible to not like that album, as far as this writer’s concerned.

So many bands would’ve looked to safely build upon that momentum. That’s not to say that said band would’ve carbon-copied the successful album and whimped out in hopes of gaining even more fame, but few would’ve purposely chosen the route MMJ chose. The road less traveled? How about the road that shouldn’t be traveled? Unless your My Morning Jacket, that is.

The 2008 release of Evil Urges took the band further away from their celestial, folky roots and closer to “what are they thinking’ terrain. Blending simple, classic rock, Prince-flavoredbaby-making R&B and some pretty silly prog-rock (see: “Highly Suspicious”), the guys made a few heads scratch with the album, but thanks to the expanded catalog’s attention and their live mastery of the new material, the chance that the band took really didn’t seem to hurt the momentum that had been building in the previous years.

The past few years have seen James perform as a part of the super-group Monsters of Folk and even as a solo-artist under the name of Yim Yames. The time off from MMJ served them all well it seems, as Circuital, the bands latest album is an absolute gem and is likely the album that many had hoped for when Evil Urges was released. Unpredictable without being non-sensical, and adventurouswithout being unnecessarily experimental, there’s little question that this album is one of the year’s very best, regardless of region or genre.

While we left May’s North Texas Beer Festival slightly underwhelmed (just slightly), we left with some grand impressions on a couple of brews that we knew we wanted to get to know much better than through the 2-3 oz samples we met them with at the very crowded, long-line-filled festival in Plano.

In fact, the beer that left me longing more than any other that day was one that I had been told once before to give a shot, actually. A few months ago, we stopped for a quick quality beer at Dallas’ Meddlesome Moth before a meeting, and as we were ready to leave, the bartender, realizing I had just downed one of their stout offerings said, “Bro, you gotta give the Jester King Black Metal a shot, now.” Unfortunately, we had to leave, but those words were at top of mind as the all-too small sample made its deep impression on out taste buds and frontal lobes at the festival.

This week, we found ourselves with reason to celebrate, and what better way to do that than with a premium beer that has haunted you for months, yet remained unexperienced fully to this point? After a stop into the wonderland that is Plano’s Mister G’s (for real, whether you’re looking for beer, wine or a great deli sandwich, this place is a practical toy store for adults), we had our eager hands on a 750 ml bottle of the Jester King Black Metal.

Easily one of the better Russian Imperial Stouts we’ve ever tasted, Jester King, located just outside of Austin, has simply done it and done it right. Weighing in at a seemingly weighty 10.4% ABV, the chocolatey, smokey, nutty and robust nectar has smooth and full mouth-feel yet never tastes like the pure alcohol that one might expect from a brew boasting a ABV that’s over twice what the typical Miller Lite limps in with.

As great as the beer itself is, Jester King just seems to know how to have fun and how to market their brews to their fellow Texans. The black bottle contains sweet, glam-metal-riffic artwork that would satisfy any KISS fan and the description of the beer that’s located on the back label boasts that it’s a “cruel and punishing brew fermented by the sheer force of its awesome will.” Can’t we all agree that a brewery that puts as much effort into the packaging and marketing of their product as they do in the quality of it is one that we should all get behind?

I thought so…