Of all the surviving musical landmarks in Austin that were missed by the wrecking ball in the 70s and 80s, Threadgills' venues are unquestionably the most famous, being best known as the starting point for Janis Joplin's career in the 60s. Threadgills is still giving that same support to local and up and coming bands(and still serving up a mean chicken fried steak which is great 'cause I can use a break from all the Bar-B-Q).
Down on West Riverside Drive, within the shadow of the office building that is the the grave of Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters where I conned my way backstage as an impetuous high schooler to see the REAL XTC in 1981 and got to interview Andy Partridge, Threadgill's outdoor venue with its tables and chairs and park-like environment was a great place to see the XTC tribute band Dukes of Simpleton, especially after the early rain showers had knocked 10 degrees off the temperature.
I don't normally subject myself to "tribute" bands, as I would much rather see the actual band, or in most cases have seen the actual band, but as it's unlikely we will see the members of XTC tour anytime soon, it was great to hear their music live again. I was fortunate as a young pup to have the chance to see and hear XTC live in 1981 on their first U.S. tour supporting the Drums and Wires album (an album is a black shiny plastic thing that is the analog equivalent of today's CD, sometimes referred to as "vinyl"), and at least one other time later in their career. For those not familiar with XTC, they were for their time one of the most artistic, interesting and inventive bands to rise from England's punk scene in the late 70s/early 80s, and their intricately crafted songs have long made them favorites among musicians. Despite seeing much early success, and building a substantial core audience, issues with their record label left band members literally parking cars for a living at one point.
It says much for XTC's musicianship that to duplicate their sound so well, the Dukes of Simpleton needed twice as many people to cover their work. Still, it was a wonderfully light and frothy show that lasted a little over an hour, if you extract out their set break. Although the lead vocalist, Kirk Kellam, doesn't have quite the same sound as Colin Moulding or Andy Partridge, he was in tune and sounded clean and it worked well. The rest of the band's sound was indistinguishable from the original, and songs such as "Dear God" and "Peter Pumpkinhead" sounded wonderful live, and they brought in brass for "My Bird." Only their third show, and a still a little rough around the edges, Dukes of Simpleton are well on their way to having a fine tight band, and they will only improve with more experience playing together live.
This tribute band is packed chock full of local Austin music veterans, musicians who for years have focused on their own work. That they would take the time to cover one of their own favorite bands and do it so well says alot both for the work of XTC and for the Dukes. The audience sure seemed to be peppered with a lot of faces from the "old school Austin punk" days as well, many I hadn't seen in years. To see photographs from this show please click here
Props go out to Dennis Bruhn and Shelly Vlcek and Threadgills for hooking me up with a press pass on very short notice for this event. I don't know if Eddie Wilson is still the owner of Threadgills but if so, long time no hear. I am glad you're still picking good bands for your venues. You still owe me that chicken fried steak. ;)