Posted by: TomA | 31 May 2007

Days 27 – 30: Austin

Austin, Texas. One of the least Texan places in, well, Texas. In outlook, it feels far more West Coast than you’d expect, though as it’s the political capital of Texas, I’m sure some of the suited folks we came across in the Congress Building had far less savoury things going through their minds than the rest of the city.

East 6th Street is where we spent most of our time in the end, being a drag full of bars and music clubs (though lacking the litter, vomit and fighting you’d find in a similar location in any UK city). Best of all, virtually ever bar has live music every night.

Our first day in Austin was spent mainly in Waterloo Records. Bill Callahan, previously of Smog [indie] fame was playing an instore gig later in the afternoon, so a leisurely browse left me significantly poorer than when I entered. Still, CDs are so ridiculously cheap over here – new releases rarely come in over $12 and impressive second hand selections are often half that. Bill was wonderful, performing 6 or so songs with his band, all of which made me sigh with joy. Ah, Bill. While watching Bill, Becky spotted tiny Elijah Wood rummaging around with a large armful of CDs – he [thankfully] disappeared before we could follow him around making hobbit jokes. [We wouldn’t have really, obviously, we’re not that cruel.] The rest of the day we spent in Whole Foods, which is possibly the best supermarket ever. I’d become so fed up with Safeway in Vancouver, which lacked anything you might really want to eat, finding a huge supermarket stuff full of goodness was a bit of a surprise. Throughout the store there are small deli sections, with salads, sushi, cooked foods, a fish bar, a soup bar and so much more – all of which you can then sit and order food to be prepared and warmed for you, and then eat it in the store with a bottle of wine or a beer from their huge, walk-in refrigerated beer alley. More surprising, nothing was hideously expensive, coming out around the same or cheaper than the hugely overpriced Safeway stores in Kitsilano and Point Grey in Vancouver. I’ve heard they’re opening a store in London fairly soon…

The evening brought a gig at Emo’s, to see Austin locals Voxtrot and Au Revoir Simone. The outdoor stage was somewhat reminiscent of festivals, as was the bad beer. Door times in Austin are misleading. Doors at 8 doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen before 11pm, so by the time Voxtrot came on to headline we were a touch tired. Not that it mattered, they were absolutely awful. Au Revoir Simone before were gorgeous though, three way female harmonies over tender electronic beats.

The following day we battled through the humidity and occasional downpour to wander along South Congress, the hub of the independent stores and bars in Austin. Lots of fun shops, though I fear no shop ever again will be able to match Paxton Gate in San Francisco. We saw Laura Viers perform a thoroughly enjoyable set at The Mohawk that evening. Venues here tend to have two or three things going on each night, with different bills, and unlike the same situation in the UK you’re allowed to walk from one to the other. So you can head from boring Voxtrot into another room for a local metal festival, or from Laura Viers inside for Jad Fair. It’s nice, times are often staggered so there’s always live music on in the building, guaranteeing everyone an attentive audience and providing exposure to the new.

Sunday brought more humid rain; we spent most of the day sheltering from it in a coffee shop playing and teaching Becky chess. Another night, another gig (well, it is Austin); this time El-P at Emo’s. Two dreadful support bands later, El-P start unpromisingly, with 3 songs of clichéd call and response hip-hop. Not to worry, they soon pick it up and turn in a great show. Another late night back to the hostel (stumbling into dorms at 4am has become the norm, to the delight I’m sure of the other folks in ours).

On our final day in Austin we’d intended on heading to Barton Springs, a warm springs and park for a swim and to laze in the sun. Plan A was rained off, so another day of sheltering in coffee shops, record stores and bars was had. One thing we’d not gotten round to so far though was to consume large amounts of Texan beef. Not to worry, an awesome BBQ place up near the University soon sorted that out. Piles of really tender barbequed beef, bread, salad, corn and beer is I assume the staple food of students at UT; it was fantastic. Beef beef beef.

There were a few things we missed out on, namely the bats under Congress Bridge (Austin has a huge bat colony) and bingo. Not just any bingo though, this place has live country music and the bingo is decided by the live chicken that wanders through the bar. If it shits on your number on the large bingo card on the floor, you win. Chicken shit bingo. Sums up Austin nicely (in the best possible way!).

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