Mondays in Austin: On a slow touring night, local musicians in residence fill area bars
It's time to make a controversial, sure-to-be-hotly-debated statement: Mondays are frequently terrible.
OK, so that's not news — the commencement of a new work or school week is often a slog, a dreaded end to the glorious freedom of the preceding weekend. For Austin music fans, the day is routinely depressing for another reason — a paucity of high-profile shows or touring acts in the clubs.
But don't despair — on the contrary, permit yourself to get excited. The vacuum of big shows has had the delightful effect of turning Monday night into the week's best for residencies, those beloved weekly gigs by hard-working local acts. To help you overcome your case of the Mondays, we've assembled six of the finest local residencies. Each act will play every Monday in December (with one exception; see below) and offers a cost-effective chance to see some of Austin's artists be the best there is at what they do.
Dale Watson and his Lone Stars
(10 p.m., the Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave. $5. continentalclub.com )
If the crowd at the Continental Club has their way, Dale Watson will finish every Monday night between now and the end of time three sheets to the wind.
Half an hour into one of Watson's Monday night sets, a tradition more than 10 years old, patrons at the South Congress Avenue mainstay have already bought Watson three beers.
"You're a gentleman and a scholar," Watson says to the patron setting the latest Lone Star on the edge of the stage. "I'd kiss you but I'm heterosexual."
Watson and the Continental Club are the peanut butter and chocolate of Austin music, the ideal pairing of a punchy country master and a dyed-in-the-wool classic club. Backed by the Lone Stars, a rotating band of the city's finest country traditionalists, Watson coaxes a mix of his own originals and Western standards out of his guitar — and its distinctive Texas-shaped sound hole.
"He's both a comedian and a musician, so he knows how to make people feel like they're part of the show, and he can do all the stuff anybody could ever want to hear," says Steve Wertheimer, owner of the Continental Club. "That's why people come out and see him each and every week. Every Monday's different. The guy's like a human jukebox. He's just a real ambassador for the Austin sound and what goes on here, and it's paid in dividends for us."
Perfect for: 78704 old-timers who know that there aren't a lot of problems in life that can't be solved by a cold Lone Star and some spirited Texas two-step.
Republic of Texas Big Band
(8 p.m., the Highball, 1142 S. Lamar Blvd. Free. thehighball.com )
The Highball, with its vintage bowling lanes, "Birth of the Cool"-era decor and assortment of tried-and-true cocktails, is already something of a lounge out of time. That's never truer than on Monday nights, when the Republic of Texas Big Band sets up shop underneath the ballroom's softly twinkling disco ball to delight a packed house with the hits of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and dozens of other old-fashioned favorites.
While velvety-smooth vocalist David Cummings, the picture of debonair in a white dinner jacket, and his note-perfect duet partner Lisa Clark croon through "Unforgettable," the dance floor is packed. The occasional hipster is on display, but most of the crowd consists of seniors, couples in decades-old love affairs gazing amorously into each other's eyes, their romantic fervor undiminished by years. The band, more than 15 players strong, is flawless and the vibe casual, but it's the crowd that makes this night special.
"It's really nice to see the dancers go by, and you nod at them and they smile at you and you see each other every week," says Kent Dugan, who serves as bandleader and plays lead alto saxophone — and whose big band résumé extends back 50 years. "If you're in a jazz group playing in a club, you don't really know if you make anybody happy. You sit up there and do your thing and, unless somebody comes up to talk to you, you have no idea. Here, they come up and thank us every time we play."
Perfect for: Grabbing an old-fashioned, busting out your formal best and living out all your "Mad Men" fantasies. Note: The Republic of Texas Big Band will not perform on Dec. 13 or 20, but the residency continues into the new year.
Bob Schneider and Lonelyland
(8:30 p.m., The Saxon Pub, 1320 S. Lamar Blvd. $10. thesaxonpub.com )
Fiercely prolific local singer-songwriter extraordinaire Bob Schneider is a favorite punching bag for Austin's hip kids and, mea culpa time, music writers. But you can't accuse the guy of being monotonous.
Every week Schneider takes his seat under the blue lights of the Saxon Pub stage and seamlessly switches hats from pop crafter to funk fiend to sensitive troubadour to bar rocker. He croons the key-driven pop of "The Sun Hurts My Eyes," the thoughtful ruminations of "The Things My Head Heard," the goofy bop of "Ice Cream Smile." He tinkers with new material, dives into the archive, bakes whole albums like "Lonelyland" to perfection.
The chatty, appreciative, standing-room-only-week-in-and-week-out crowd at the Saxon — get there early if you want to get in, and catch the brilliant Matt the Electrician opening at 7 p.m. while you're at it — doesn't give two figs about whether Schneider is cool. They care about the songs, man, and Schneider has a bottomless bag of them.
Perfect for: Do you listen to KGSR? Are you one of the thousands of people who made "Lonelyland" Waterloo Records' best-selling album of all time? Want to hear a tongue-in-cheek song about prison rape? This is the residency for you.
Mike and the Moonpies and Jonathan Terrell
(10 p.m. The Hole in the Wall, 2538 Guadalupe St. holeinthewallaustin.com )
Hard-gigging country quintet Mike and the Moonpies titled this year's full-length debut "The Real Country" — a title they seem to consider a charge to keep. They look the part — front man Mike Harmeier sports a cowboy hat as he growls and drawls his way through a set of cutting country anthems, lead guitarist Catlin Rutherford puffs on a cigarette (smoking ban be damned) and pedal steel player Zachary Moulton is a tattooed vision of toughness. Shots of whiskey dot the edge of the stage, and even the crowd is playing the part, two-stepping with an unleashed dog running around underfoot.
But Mike and the Moonpies don't just play at appearances. Their common-man country gems — songs about being deserted by the fairer sex and getting drunk on whiskey in the early afternoon — are tuneful jumpers. Harmeier's alternately smooth and gnarled voice takes center stage, propelled by Kyle Ponder's expert drums and Moulton's perfectly roots-y pedal steel. That makes the band — Hole in the Wall regulars who also hold down a Tuesday residency at the Mohawk — perfect substitutes for regular Monday player Leo Rondeau, who's on tour through December. Making a sweet deal sweeter, they'll be joined weekly by heartache merchant Jonathan Terrell.
"Thanks to Leo Rondeau for leaving town so we could finally play this bar," cracked Harmeier last week, during the band's Monday night residency debut. Rondeau has big shoes to fill, sure enough, but Mike and the Moonpies have the right stuff.
Perfect for: Any college student — current or at heart — with a taste for whiskey, a hankering to dance and an outlaw streak.
Little Elmore Reed Blues Band
(10 p.m. T.C.'s Lounge, 1413 Webberville Road. $5)
T.C.'s Lounge, an authentic juke joint on Austin's East Side, is like the ocean currents. You don't control your T.C.'s Lounge experience. You show up and let the madness carry you away.
There are no windows, no heat or air conditioning. The bar is beer and mixers only, so patrons drink from bottles of liquor and boxes of Franzia they've brought themselves. Hot dogs cook in a crock pot on the counter. Outside, hipsters take drags on cigarettes in a dirt parking lot.
It's also home away from home for Mark Hays, bandleader and drummer for the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band, which has taken only one Monday off in six years of playing blistering old-school blues to a packed-to-the-gills crowd at T.C.'s.
They burn through blues classics with regular special guests ranging from James Cotton to Marcia Ball to Guy Forsyth. Lead guitarist Mike Keller — also a current player in the Fabulous Thunderbirds — is a distillation of cool, hair slicked back, Buddy Holly in a Casino El Camino T-shirt. Most of the band gigs in other groups the other six days of the week; the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band essentially exists only to play Monday nights.
Part of the joy that makes that worthwhile, says Hays, is the unique pleasure of T.C.'s.
"It's a folksy and down-home place, and it's about to fall down pretty much all the time," says Hays with a laugh. "There have been times where I've leaned against a wall and literally felt the building move."
The rest of it is all in the crowd — from blues neophytes to longtime fans, all dancing and drinking in delight.
"We're not trying to do a recital here," says Hays. "We're trying to throw down for people who want to get loose and have a good time."
Perfect for: Any hip cat with a bit of the blues in their blood, from those just discovering Stevie Ray Vaughan to the folks who troll Antone's Records looking for old Muddy Waters 45s.
(9 p.m. Donn's Depot, 1600 W. Fifth St. Free. donnar.home.texas.net )
Nobody puts Chris Gage in a box.
Acoustic, electric, baritone, slide and lap steel guitar, mandolin, organ, piano and vocals — the studio ace has mastered them all. He's been a sideman to Jerry Jeff Walker, Roy Clark and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He's gigged in the Soviet Union and the Royal Albert Hall. He's played on the television programs of three "Tonight Show" hosts — Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.
And once a week, for roughly the past 15 years, he's sat down at a piano in the neighborhood joint Donn's Depot to play a mix of covers and originals, with special guests ranging from Troupe Gammage of local pop outfit Speak to Carrie Rodriguez to wife and musical partner Christine Albert.
Though Gage shines all on his own, his voice crackling with just the right emotional intensity on a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," he also — ever the gentleman — heaps praise on everyone who comes by, from guest musicians to an older couple in the audience dancing the night away.
And before he packs it in for the night, he takes a shot at "Linus and Lucy," Vince Guaraldi's famed piano theme to "Peanuts."
"This is kind of my sobriety test at the end of the night," chuckles Gage.
Perfect for: Music fans who pack the Cactus Café on a regular basis, who still buy CDs (or, better yet, records) and who like to keep mum when an artist is playing. In other words, people who go to listen to music to actually listen to music.
Other cures for the Mondays
Six residencies barely scratch the surface of the great musical offerings available on Monday nights. A sampling of other weekly joys:
Music Mondays at the Alamo Drafthouse.Think of it as ‘Music Nerd 101,' a weekly music-related film programmed by the fine folks at the Alamo Drafthouse, ranging from illuminating documentaries to archival concert performances to absurd oddities. 10 p.m. $2. 320 E. Sixth St. originalalamo.com .
Love and a 45 at Rio Rita. Bring any three 7-inch vinyl singles to this beloved East Sixth Street lounge and spin the songs of your choice while enjoying a cocktail. 8 p.m. 1308 E. Sixth St. riorita.net .
Rock and Roll Karaoke at Beerland.Take your pick from more than 6,000 rock gems — and also Cher's ‘Believe' — and belt out your tone-deaf rendition on the very same stage where bands with actual talent perform. 9 p.m. Free. 711 Red River St. beerlandtexas.com .
Monday Night Dance Party at Nasty's. Four hours of sweaty, funky, dance-driven fun courtesy of the skills of Austin's own DJ Mel. 10 p.m. Free. 606 Maiden Lane.
Miranda Dawn and the Lucky Breaks Horns at Momo's.Yet another bright-eyed addition to Austin's burgeoning soul revival, this eight-piece features members of the Belleville Outfit and T-Bird and the Breaks. 9:15 p.m. $5. 618 W. Sixth St. momosclub.com .
Burger City Rock and Roll at the Grand. Ben Blackout and guest DJs spin glam, power-pop and everything else rock. 10:30 p.m. Free. 4631 Airport Blvd. www.myspace.com/thegrand_austin
Blue Monday Blues Jam at the Victory Grill. Matthew Robinson and Harold McMillan join with friends and special guests. 9 p.m. $3. 1104 E. 11th St. historicvictorygrill.org .
The Juke Joints at Club 1808.This blues-only offshoot of rockers the Red Line Riot tackles blues classics in a classic space. 9:30 p.m. 1808 E. 12th St. www.myspace.com/club1808atx
Jazz Jam at the Elephant Room.Trombonist Michael Mordecai leads the jam through Dec. 13, with Texas State University jazz faculty member Freddie Mendoza taking charge from Dec. 20 on. 9:30 p.m. Free. 315 Congress Ave. elephantroom.com .