Freak Scene #57: Chaos in Tejas

June 07, 2010

In this week's Freak Scene, Jamie Johns reports from Austin, Texas, where she attended the Chaos in Tejas. For reviews of Bastard, Bastard Noise and other non-Bastard named groups, check after the jump.

PLEASE NOTE: I have a new address, which is listed at the end of this column. My previous address at Lerner Hall will expire at the end of June and then all mail will be bounced back. Please send all packages to the 2nd Avenue Brooklyn address!

This year was my first trip to Chaos in Tejas. I learned a few things: Texas is hot, beer is not water, no man should ever wear cargo shorts and more. While the venues were primarily outdoors in some capacity, not like there was ever any breeze anyway, and there was abundant free water of a questionable quality, standing around for the shows most nights made me feel like a Victorian woman laced too tightly. My main regret is that I did not see as many shows as I originally intended. Most nights I stuck to one venue and I missed a few great day shows, notably Iron Lung during breakfast, Brilliant Colors and Ratas del Vaticano at Art Authority, Bone Awl at a house party. I wish I had seen Mind Eraser, too. That being said, I saw a lot of great music, laughed at a lot of crust punks and ate very poorly. I was also pretty amped to see that most nights, the crowds were split 50/50 male/female. See you all next year!

Night One: X, The Spits, Grass Widow and Wild Thing
I regret not buying a ticket for Talk is Poison as well because X, from Australia not Los Angeles, was a complete bummer. It felt a bit forced, the bass player posturing and sauntering around in a cowboy hat and the whole reunion thing. Aspirations is so good and I am sure the reunion tour is funding them and their families, but the performance was dry and dialed in. That could be due to a member’s injury or the absence of their real drummer but after hearing a rather unenthused version of “Police,” I decided to head home.

And yet, the lineup prior to X at Red 7 was solid. Chaos in Tejas 2010 could very easily be narrated in the form of onstage banter. Wild Thing set the pace for this fairly early on in their set when the bassist told the crowd after a song, “Applause means nothing from people who paid to see Crow.” He then continued to bait the crowd at the front of the stage who were throwing plastic cups at the band, telling them that they made him feel like he was good looking. I was standing at the back of the room so I could not really tell who the real winner was in the appearance contest but the band sounded good at least. Wild Thing played slightly spastic two to three minute punk songs. Not hardcore—the lyrics were not about hating life and personal alienation—but punk. From what I could hear most songs were about drinking beer and partying and being a fucking obnoxious punk. I imagine it would all go over really well at a beer soaked house party. Is it a new formula? No, but it was a solid way to start the night.

Grass Widow’s intricate pop provided a nice balance to everything else I would see over the next three days. The all-female group - much of the music during the festival was a bit macho – offered some of what would be missing for the rest of the nights: the lyrics were thoughtful, the vocals were interlocking and textured, and the drummer, who kept time with the same intensity as any hardcore drummer, was a joy to watch. With the exception of the absence of an electric violin, Grass Widow live reminded me of The Raincoats. The simplicity of the elements put into the music and the ample results meant that there was no room for the audience to posture or act tough. The people I talked to who were unfamiliar with the group found themselves won over pretty quickly. The whole time I kept psyching myself up for the group’s new record on Kill Rock Stars and hoping that some 14-year-old girls somewhere will want to start a band because of them.

I was a bit surprised to find that the rowdiest and drunkest crowd of the whole festival was for The Spits. Maybe I should not have been so surprised because all this band makes me want to do is drink beer and/or thrash and they warrant such loving adoration. No one had felt the detrimental effects of the Texas heat yet, so it meant that arms and legs were flailing everywhere. Decked out in denim neanderthal gear—denim vests and ratty black mullet wigs—the band came with plenty of stage décor in the form of fog, flaming cymbals, and a flashing skull on stage.  It was all a perfect fit for their set of punchy, raucous punk. While my memory is hazy, I am fairly certain I heard Spits classics like “Witch Hunt” in there. You do not listen to The Spits to hear a wide ranging variety of styles and tones; you get one kind of song, brash goofy garage punk, but you get it well fifteen to twenty times over. The Spits also win for most creative merch: light up skull necklaces!

Night Two: Bastard, Subhumans, Walls, Rival Mob, Kim Phuc and Vaaska
As my time wore on in Texas, each night began to meld together and I stopped marking down little particulars about each act. Upon arrival to the outside area of Emo’s, I saw the winding and never ending Bastard merch line. Vaaska were given the unenviable task of playing to that merch line but they had the gumption necessary to raw Spanish hardcore to a line of nerds. Halfway during the set I noticed that they were playing to a small crowd, no longer just a merch line.

Kim Phuc has many members or it at least seemed that way. Half of them are relatively older gentlemen and half are relatively younger gentlemen. Prior to this concert, I had heard two of the group’s 7-inches and the last thing I expected was for the singer to kind of look like Mark Solotroff. It was weird.

The Rival Mob won me over despite a few fairly insurmountable obstacles, namely, the singer’s rather thick Boston accent. When he began spouting excellent lines like “This song is about fashion issues…not like we have any fashion issues,” which is not true because there were cargo shorts on that stage, it became pretty easy to see that it was all part of a comedy routine and the Boston accent just added to that. After throwing condoms at the crowd, asking if anyone had gotten laid, only to be met with 90% silence (miraculously caught on Youtube, 0:09 in). The music? Solid, self-destructive hardcore. If I was close enough to the stage, I am sure I would have seen some dude punching the floor.

In the scramble to stay awake and ready for Bastard, I skipped out on most of Walls’ set which I deeply regret. Curious to see another band on the Iron Lung label, home to Slices, I did manage to a catch few minutes but could not get a strong handle on the band.

Bastard. This almost did not happen. I guess the bass player had a bit of a personal disaster but he got it together in time for the show. I knew I wanted to see this show but after seeing more than one disappointing reunion show, I was very worried that this would be the worst. Much to my surprise this was, bluntly, the best show of the whole weekend for me not only in terms of how good the band sounded but for how sweet it was to be there for it. For a band who were playing a onetime reunion show and whose last new material was released in the early 1990s, Bastard sounded as urgent and forceful (and good) as their now legendary records. Better, actually, because it was in front of my face and I heard the music in an appropriate setting: sweaty with hundreds of other sweaty people and next to a mosh pit with people stage diving every three seconds. Bastard ran through every song they had but it never felt like they were just going through the motions to get a paycheck. Every person around me was chanting along and had their fists in the air. There is a decent quality video of "Misery" here.

Night Three: Inquisition, Bone Awl
In terms of the three black metal acts on this bill, I enjoyed, although I am not quite sure anyone would like that term, the Satanic spectacle of Inquisition the most. Black metal should have an element of theater to it—fog, horns, corpse paint - and I enjoy it all the more when the band makes serious about satanism. Any time the drummer held up his drumsticks in an upside down cross, I felt an inexplicable spasm of joy. Yes, that is not the appropriate reaction, but this ritual was exactly what I needed. On record, singer and guitarist Dagon emits low end growls which came off shockingly well live. And you know what else ruled? Seeing tons of metal heads in their own personal happy place, aggressively head banging and flipping their hair but not getting in anyone’s face about it. I have heard that the group has some questionable sketchy beliefs about race but none of that was present in this live performance.

Bone Awl offered a completely different take on the genre and played with an additional member. I have always been a hearty fan of the groups assorted EPs and LP and their primitive performance at Emo’s cleared up, in my mind at least, two very common misconceptions about the group. First, some people claim that Bone Awl is a punk group. While hearing their drummer, He Who Crushes Teeth, live made me understand this point of view since he plays just like a hardcore drummer, in general I think this is a misguided sentiment. The lyrical content, at least what I can make out of it, and the howling vocals place them firmly in the black metal camp. Second, there are some haters out there who think that the band relies too much on a lo-fi schtick. Minimal recording can be a crutch for many groups but watching Bone Awl storm through a relentless set of raw black metal firmly proved to me that there is nothing but delicious, savory musical meat here, with or without the lo-fi aesthetic. RULED IT.

Night Four: Bastard Noise
By this point, I was dehydrated, malnourished, and ill enough that I skipped over everyone else on this bill, which was less painful to do since Yellow Tears canceled, and went straight to see the masters, Bastard Noise. Last year at No Fun the group performed a straight electronics and vocals set with Eric Wood and W.T. Nelson. This time, Eric Wood was on bass, Joel Connell was on drums, and W.T. Nelson was on electronics. Wood’s Japanese hardcore-tinged vocals were less present in favor of his overwhelming bass and Nelson sat on the other side of the stage fondling the group’s handmade equipment. Between songs, Wood would interject about the skull and serving the skull and skull people. I can not imagine Bastard Noise, in any form and at any show, being anything less than monumental. I could just watch Eric Wood play bass for hours and hours on end and their heavy set did not disappoint. However, the Tejas heat got to me and twenty minutes in, I had to go back to my room to puke and pass out. Perhaps I am not strong enough to serve the skull.


Jamie Johns

5407 2nd Ave Apt. 3B

Brooklyn, NY 11220


From The Collection:

Freak Scene
Freak Scene #57: Chaos in Tejas