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Ted Leo, Moss Icon, the Clean, Best Coast Kick Up Chaos in Tejas

Austin's diverse punk and metal fest delivers hardcore reunions, hot indie-pop, New Orleans bounce and more

Ted Leo performs during Chaos in Tejas in Austin, Texas.
J. Dennis Thomas
June 4, 2012 11:50 AM ET

Roughly halfway through his set on Thursday’s opening night of the Chaos In Tejas festival, indie punk rocker Ted Leo took a moment to pay a sort of tribute to the Mob, the cult British punks who were slated to play after him. A longtime fan of the band, Leo told the crowd at Austin’s Mohawk club that while touring England in 1997 he spent weeks traveling in a van looking forward to a show he and his band were sharing with The M.O.B.

Turns out punctuation is important. "My bandmates knew but didn’t tell me that M.O.B. was really some band called Month Of Birthdays. They were fine, but I’d spent weeks looking forward to playing with the Mob."

Fifteen years later Leo got his wish to see the powerful, droning trio, who were among the 100 acts that invaded Austin for four days of the punk and heavy metal-dominated festival. Celebrating its eighth year, Chaos In Tejas was loaded with reunions from underground vets like Moss Icon, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Cockney Rejects and the Clean while also featuring diverse headliner acts like Ted Leo, No Age, Iceage, New Orleans rappers Big Freedia and Katey Red, and indie-pop band Best Coast.

The brainchild of promoter and tour manager Timmy Hefner, Chaos In Tejas has become an established part of the music calendar for the city that also hosts the South By Southwest festival every March and Austin City Limits in the fall. Its focus on the farther reaches of the punk and heavy metal world bring legions of black-clad, tattooed and patch-covered diehards to Austin each year, with hardcore bands like Japan’s Reality Crisis and Virginia’s Municipal Waste planting a sort of flag for their fans to rally around for four days.

"Getting so many great bands in one place like this is attributable to one dude (Hefner) with a distinct taste," said Hans Zimmerman, guitarist and singer of Austin band the Young. The band's Friday night show at the recently opened two-story Beauty Ballroom saw club staff close off the second level out of fear someone would stage dive from the balcony while California punks Ceremony thrashed on stage for roughly half an hour.

"I got into so many bands like the Dicks from seeing them here for the first time, and then you’re getting your mind blown by some of these Japanese hardcore bands where it’s like they just landed here from another planet."

The ambient noise heard between neighboring venues hosting Chaos acts – a dozen clubs and record stores hosted shows over the four days – was a good indicator of how varied the festival has become, with rumbling punk from the Mob butting up against the hyperactive "bounce" rap music of Big Freedia, who had the outdoor stage at Club De Ville so crowded it was hard in most places to follow through on her repeated demands to "shake that ass!"

Saturday night’s lineup at Club De Ville was one of the most stylistically far-reaching and anticipated of the weekend, with New Zealand indie rockers the Clean topping a bill that included long-idle Columbus punks the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and the first American performance from Australian garage punks Royal Headache. Fresh off a 20 hour plane ride and frustrated from more than a week’s worth of visa delays, Royal Headache showed they deserve the buzz that’s growing with their just-released debut record, packed with soulful Jam- and Saints-inspired fist pumpers.

After an unhinged but winning showing by bar punks the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments – whose lead singer Ron House channels fellow Ohioan and Pere Ubu front man David Thomas to a startling degree – the Clean ended the night with their precise, measured indie-pop that had the crowd laser focused on guitarist David Kilgour as the band's instrumental opening tumbled into the easy sing-along of "Anything Could Happen."

Playing in support of their recently reissued complete discography, the long-disbanded Moss Icon spent Sunday night at the Mohawk playing the urgent, roiling brand of post-hardcore punk that set the template for many of the mid-to-late Nineties crop of emo punk bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and the Promise Ring. Singer Jonathan Vance has a focused intensity that makes his lyrics hit just as hard whether they’re spoken slowly or delivered with vein-popping force.

Later, across town at Emo’s East, Los Angeles pop band Best Coast were wrapping up both the festival and their current tour to a crowd of about 700 fans who soaked up songs from the band’s acclaimed new album, The Only Place. Even though singer/guitarist Bethany Cosentino was taxed from being on the road – her vocals were in and out of tune all night, and the band had to start "Mean Girls" three times – the approving crowd helped them pull through. On the surface, such a melodic, tuneful act was an odd way to end a weekend chock full of feedback and fury. But for a festival where "anything goes" is a sort of mission statement – it featured its first all rap showcase this year as well – it made just as much sense to close things out not with a scream, but with a coo.

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