As I started thinking about the question of the best gig I ever went to, a few times my mind went to Austin, and to South By Southwest. There was Dávila 666 in the Shangri-La basement in East Austin with beers flying, and Mitski covering Calvin Harris’s “How Deep Is Your Love” on the tiny front stage of Hole in the Wall by UT Austin, and Snoop Dogg in the maligned and despised three-story Doritos vending machine by the convention center.
I have been to at least a thousand shows in my life, and it’s pretty hard to pick one favorite. But remembering through the haze of 20-show days in Austin, I got back to one of the middle-of-the-night “bridge shows” over Lady Bird Lake in 2014.
There’s a big lake on one side of downtown Austin, and there are wide, very long pedestrian bridges that cross it into the surrounding neighborhoods. I got a text one afternoon with an invite to a 2 am, gas generator-powered show in the middle of one of these bridges with Coachwhips (that’s John Dwyer from Thee Oh Sees’ old band), Tony Molina and Radioactivity.
My girlfriend, a bandmate and I walked out across the pedestrian bridge to its halfway point a bit past 1 in the morning, and while a few people were milling around, there were no instruments and it seemed clear that a show was not just about to happen. So we hiked over to the beloved-but-terrible Taco Cabana fast food joint at the other end of the bridge. Taco Cabana is a local chain – it’s like a Del Taco of Tex-Mex, but far worse than Del Taco and probably the worst Tex-Mex I’ve had in Austin. (I missed it so much this year! But not like I missed Torchy’s or Magnolia.) We got below-replacement-level nachos while locals were falling asleep in other booths.
Enough time passed and we hiked back out to the middle of the bridge. It was probably 2:30, people were starting to congregate, but instruments were not set up. People, some we knew from all around the country, started to walk up, maybe 150 people altogether. The air was thick with humid fog like it sometimes gets in Austin, and hazily lit by one of the streetlamps on the bridge. It started to feel like a dream, with the fog and the mix of acquaintances and fatigue.
By 3:30 a.m. or so, the show started. I can’t remember anything about Radioactivity, but when Coachwhips started, people moshed vigorously. Coachwhips sets are short and unapologetic. The bridge swayed back and forth and jumped up and down, suspended high over the lake. It didn’t feel super dangerous, but it felt like it might be just a little dangerous anyway. Combined with the humid haze and reality melting away in exhaustion, it was hard to tell.
Probably around 4 am or so, Tony Molina went on. He had just put out the untouchable, flawless, superclassic album Dissed and Dismissed, an album I knew because one of the Origami Vinyl clerks had recommended it to me. It’s a 12-song power pop album with a total running time of about 12 minutes. If you’ve never heard it, you should put it on now.
Anyway, as Tony’s band started cranking through 40-second power pop gems and a small gas generator clattered in the background, Dwyer, who was standing right behind Tony’s drummer now, opened up a little crate and started pulling out … fireworks. He started shooting them low over the heads of the 150 or so people gathered. Tony couldn’t see the fireworks being launched from behind him, but he saw them going out over him. He seemed unperturbed by the explosives as people ducked their heads a little to make sure they didn’t get too close. Dwyer seemed to have the angle right not to blast anybody, but some dude with less pyrotechnic expertise though reached into the box, pulled out a firework and literally set his pants on fire. Fortunately he and a few other people swatted at his jeans and he was quickly put out without any apparent injury. Really, his pants catastrophe only added to the magic and the dreamy feeling.
The Tony Molina band played for maybe 10 or 12 minutes, and just like that, the show was over. We started walking across the bridge back downtown towards where we were staying, the air still thick with humidity at 4:30 in the morning. Austin has a CitiBike-type program, BCycle, and we figured we’d speed up the trip a little by taking out bikes and riding through the deserted streets of downtown Austin. As soon as we got on the bikes, the humidity broke into pouring rain.
Cheekface’s album Emphatically, No. Here is out now.