The Bailey Report
The Abby Travis Foundation
Copper Tank, Austin • 3.20.98
Abby Travis had for years been something of an enigma to me. A few years ago I received a demo for a band she was fronting called Mommy. I listened and really liked what I heard. I got in contact with her publicist, who informed me that she had been in the Lovedolls and was working on a full-length album. He wanted me to do an interview with her and before I could find time to do it, she was hired to be Elastica’s replacement bass player.
Fast forward to 1998, and there is the Abby Travis Foundation with a SXSW showcase, so when it got near midnight on Friday, I packed up my cameras and made my way to the Copper Tank. The first thing I was taken by when seeing Abby Travis in person is how tiny she is, even sporting a pair of really high heels. Her bass is almost as big as she is, but she handles it like an old friend. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to playing, and her time spent on the road with Elastica, and tons of session work, showed as she played. Although she doesn’t really play a funk bass, it is obvious that she has taken a lot from funk bass lines in her playing style. In short, she is one damn fine bass player. The worst thing about her showcase was the number of people who stuck around, “cuz there’s a chick in the band.” There was more wooing and “yeah baby” than at a Spring Break Wet T-shirt contest. One guy in particular was unfortunately jammed behind my left shoulder. I would have slugged him, but that would have meant missing some of the Abby Travis Foundation’s set, and that was something I had no intention of doing.
Copper Tank, Austin • 3.21.98, 1:00 a.m.
What could be sweeter? A small venue, and two Go-Go’s? I mainly went to this showcase to shoot photos of former Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock. But when they started to play, I knew I was there for the duration. I discovered what I had long suspected, that these two were the ones that made the Go-Go’s move. Kathy Valentine had moved over to guitar and some vocals, and they had a beautiful, tall bass player and lead vocalist a good decade younger than Valentine and Schock who really rocked. Then in the back, shielded by her drum kit, where I suspect she’s the most comfortable, was Gina Schock. David Cumbie of the Shut-In’s, or Peg from The Gories may hit a drum kit harder, but those are the only ones I can think that I’ve seen personally attempt to destroy a set of drums with their sticks. As the evening wore on, I realized part of the reason the club was so packed and the crowd so into the show was that this was a homecoming for Kathy Valentine. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I knew she was from Texas, but I didn’t put it together that she was from Austin. So she had old friends and family in attendance, giving the Delphines an uncharacteristically warm SXSW reception. But they could have been playing Joplin, Missouri and wowed the crowd.
Demi Semi Quaver
Ritz Lounge, Austin • 3.21.98
It was an odd venue for an odd band on an odd night. First, the club was a theater balcony, converted into a club (of sorts). Second, you had a band from Tokyo, opening the French Music Showcase. Third, you had the band, Demi Semi Quaver, and their singer/keyboardist/leader, who looks like Elton John and Cyndi Lauper’s love child. She was decked in a peppermint-striped vinyl corset, peppermint-striped tights, she had impossibly long, colored, false eyelashes, wigs, boas, rhinestones glued to her face, huge platforms. It was worth admission just to see her. The music was a noise pop concoction free of pretensions that was a great deal of fun to listen to, and the band never made listening a chore. Much of the music was, at least in part, improvised, but they never crammed their own cleverness down the audiences throat. Songs about audience members were improvised. Unlike too many American bands of this type (arty noise bands, there is no one with the kind of style Demi Semi Quaver possesses), they don’t take thing overboard with blatant disregard for their audience. No fifteen-minute songs, twelve minutes of which are the same three notes kind of crap. They kept their mayhem within pop song parameters, which allowed for a good show, not aural torture.
The Back Room, Austin • 3.18.98
I guess it was their unbridled passion for their band that got me into that cab. Members of Metro Stylee had been at the SXSW trade show talking up their band, passing out flyers for their showcase, and twisting arms to try to get people to their show at a rather remote venue. Metro Stylee was not alone; there were dozens of bands trying to get people out to their shows, but few were as charming or earnest. If nothing else, I figured the show might produce good photos. I could not have underestimated the situation more.
When their set started, over forty-five minutes late, I was sucked in by the opening bars. The band was very tight, showing the proficiency of experienced musicians in a highly competitive music scene. A ska band in New York City is not going to be a novelty. Much of the band has done time in other ska bands, including the Skunks and King Chango. They have fun on stage and that transfers to the audience. I mean, people were dancing, and I’ve never seen people dance at a SXSW showcase. Trisha, the band’s singer, was one of the people who convinced me to come to the show, and as good as the rest of the band was, she’s the focus and who people will remember. She looks like Drew Barrymore, and sings like her life depends on it. Not blessed with a big diva voice, she instead understands what she can and can’t do, and then sells it for all she’s worth. When she sings, it’s impossible not to listen.
Metro Stylee plays a very soulful style of ska. Not like too many bands who play pop punk with a few ska chords, they keep it pure. They sport three horns: alto sax, tenor sax and trumpet, along with the standard bass, guitar and drums, all fronted by their amazing singer. Lyrically, their songs are shockingly literate and deep. Working in a style of music that is hardly thought of for it’s lyrics, Metro Stylee puts forth some of the most literate and passionate lyrics I’ve heard, ska or otherwise. With songs about obsession, death, and Mara’s assaults on Buddha, it could seem a little overdone, but they are sung with such conviction you really get drawn in. “13 Blackbirds,” a song about the death of the singer’s mother is absolutely devastating.
Metro Stylee is a gem. One of the great things about music conferences is discovering new bands, and Metro Stylee is easily the best find of SXSW. Like a really great movie, while I was watching them play, I already wanted to see them play again.