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Emo's memories: Some favorite shows from the folks who were there a lot

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

On Thursday in Austin360, we'll feature thoughts and reminiscences from various folks who have worked at the original Emo's on Red River Street over the years. It closes for good on Friday. Today, three people share their favorite shows from the storied venue.

Former Emo's booker/current Transmission Entertainment co-owner Graham Williams

Neurosis (1994): When I was in high school, Neurosis played on the "Enemy of the Sun" tour. The show was, dare I say, cathartic. This was when they did a lot of tribal stuff and had drums that various members would beat on at certain parts. It seemed like everyone in the crowd was just nodding their heads back and forth to every sludgy beat. Halfway through, the power went out. The band said "this happens to us a lot, the venue needs to turn off all the extra lights and all the big fans. I know it's hot, but they suck too much power." ... They did and the show continued ... hotter, but just as great.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2003): Changed the way I looked at music after booking so much of the same type of stuff at Emo's and then seeing them live finally. The audience was a mix of punks, garage kids, indie rockers, etc., which always says good things about a band when so many different folks dig em. Karen O had this crazy big wedding dress and was kicking in the air every other drumbeat. So great.

Fugazi (2002): Booked two nights of Fugazi. One of the first punk shows I saw was Fugazi on the "Repeater" tour when I was in sixth grade at Liberty Lunch so it was an honor to get to work with them and even weirder when Ian called me one morning to book the show: "Is this Graham from Emo's? This is Ian MacKaye. Tim Kerr gave me your number."

Former Emo's bartender Joe Sebastian

Jon Wayne's Texas Funeral (with Brown Whornet, Zero Skills): Only about 300 people showed up to see this legendarily bizarre country "act," but we literally ran out of beer, and came close to running out of liquor.

Murder City Devils, At the Drive-In (with 400 Blows): After watching the Devils and AtDI come up in the world from playing the Blue Flamingo to the height of the popularity, we put both of them together for one of the first shows with the new outdoor expansion. Waaaay too many people packed in there, but it was loads of fun. Both bands, naturally, broke up about a month later.

Steel Pole Bathtub (w/Supernova): A crazy New Year's Eve back when Emo's used to fly in fine folks for nights like this, and back when we could pack the joint with people going crazy for psychedelic noise-rock from Montana. Those were the days \u2026

Not the Melvins, (Expletive)emo's, Swine King (Halloween '94): Fantastically fun Halloween night with a "secret" set by the Melvins before their "real" gig at Liberty Lunch. They just played the awesomely heavy b-side of "Lysol" for the full 40 minutes.

Unsane (any one of the dozens of times they played): Even after they weren't exactly packing 'em in to the rafters like they were circa '95, working with these guys was always a blast because they were just good dudes. Bonus fact: These are the only guys I have ever seen lose their entire pay — two grand at the time — on a single roll of the illegal, we-totally-never-did-this after-hours dice games, and take it on the chin like nothing had happened. Kipling would be proud.

Former Emo's general manager David Thomson III

1. Johnny Cash-March '94 outside stage: It wasn't so much his performance that blew me away (it was only after I secretly videotaped it that I was able to actually watch in awe.) ... it was meeting the man himself. Giving him a tour of Emo's early in the day was unbelievable. Such a gracious and kind man there never was. Humbled to be playing at our stinky little punk rock club. He honored us by singing "A Boy Named Sue" and changing the words to "Emo." And, yes, the barstool he sat on is the one hanging above the bar. Emo's stage manager Justin McCoy grabbed it off the stage, bear-hugged it all the way back to my office and lovingly painted the words "Johnny Cash" and the date in Liquid Paper.

2. The Butthole Surfers (anytime they graced our stage): The Buttholes were friends of ours. Amazing, talented ... twisted friends. I remember standing inside Emo's with them after we signed the lease ... in a room full of animal heads/antlers and various "cowboy crap" left there by the previous owners (Poodies Red River Saloon).

3. The Cows — Every show. Early '90s: These guys were the Emo's employees favorite band. Their performances were legendary with frontman Shannon Selberg so mesmerizing to watch.

4. L7 — Every show. Early '90s: If I could marry a band. ... They were the best of the bands who played at Emo's. They commanded the stage like the goddesses they were. One of the best shows I ever saw them do was the impromptu show at 2 a.m. on the outside stage after they played a show at Liberty Lunch. They "borrowed" the instruments from the band who just finished ... and played until 3:30 a.m. Beautiful madness.

5. Tie: Don Walser/The (Expletive)Emo's. Every show. Early '90s: I don't think Emo's could truly be Emo's without either of these bands gracing our stage. Both defined Emo's in that ALL genres of music were celebrated.

Hosting Don Walser was an honor and one of the unique pleasures of my life. He was brought to us by Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus when Don's residency ended when Henry's closed. Don played every Wednesday at Emo's. The first residency EVER at Emo's. No other talent was as warmly welcomed as him. His smile and laugh, and voice, was angelic. I think he was truly surprised at all the "bluehaired punk rock kids" dancing to his music.

What can I say about The (Expletive)Emo's? If it wasn't for Emo's they would still be known as: "Warthog 2000." And if it wasn't for them ... we wouldn't have known about all the great Austin bands neglected by the mainstream Austin music scene.

jgross@statesman.com