Good shoes are invaluable, more so than most any accouterment. One must not be satisfied with comfort, finding the right feel is the real moral of the story. The sound of the heel against the pavement, the best shoes allow you to feel the earth beneath the floor. Footwear does not dignify itself until it has proven itself to be vital across a path of unwavering distance. Perhaps the creases along the forefoot recall a drunken night walking home in the rain. That vitality aids us past obstacles while ennobling us towards future endeavors.
I returned to Austin, after an on-again-off-again relationship with my hometown, to a music scene that had exploded along with the presence of those yellow bracelets. Leaving Los Angeles for The Violet Crown proved less distance than anticipated with celebrities becoming the norm amidst the crane-stacked urban wiles. Late that summer I stood in a field between Sheryl Crow and Los Lonely Boys as both flogged away at SRV tributes and felt grossed out by the business of the whole thing. This was when the word “weird” would start to lose its meaning as the streets were overrun by the phrase Keep Austin Weird.
Working in a record store requires blinders as much as it does focus and there can be times when releases blur together, or at least, that’s how it worked for me. But what stands out most from that weird era was the music of The Crack Pipes. When friends from elsewhere would ask after the scene, The Crack Pipes were permanently inserted into my responses. Once Emperor Jones released Beauty School, few mixes left my hands without a tune from the gentlemen I was calling Revival Rock. While the nomenclature left something to be desired, what I was reaching for was this sense, both on record and especially live and in person, that I was being revived from a listless sleep.
When I was a kid I had to learn how to use smelling salts because my mother had fainting spells, I would turn the little metal cap while she was busy and take the burn until I couldn’t take it any longer. That’s the feeling that best describes the band, who melt down rock and roll, and recast it with a fine balance between soul’s articulate heart and the delightfully rowdy noise of punk. With the voice of Ray Pride burning at its heart, the quintet runs on a high-octane soul. At a time when I was getting burned out, The Crack Pipes, stacked with talent, reinvigorated the heart of rock and roll. When asked about their 17-year evolution, Ray made it simple, “basically, our sound is a result of us pouring everything we love into a blender and hoping we get people’s ears drunk.”
Bridging the Chicago blues upbringing of guitarist BillySteve (check also Churchwood) with the love of noise drummer Mike Corwin and Ray derived from bands like The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Bass player Nick Moulos (check out Party Lines) grew up ripping skate punk in Austin, even playing with Tim Kerr from The Big Boys. In addition to the Pipes various backgrounds, Ray cites additional reasons for their longevity, “We all got along real well from the very beginning and no one is the crazy perfectionist super boss.”
But beyond influences, my sense of “revival” stems further from the religious connotation of raising the spirit. Whether catching them at my favorite Austin record shop, Trailer Space or down at Mohawk, the fervor with which The Crack Pipes hit the stage whips every room into a crazed throbbing mass. Like a bomb ticking its way to an explosion, every show in my memory is colored by that high-energy revelry. After one such show at Emo’s, fueled by the feedback and glory of the closing collapse, I declined rides and walked a rainy mile to my car. The smile never left my face and the night’s music play in my head over the downpour as I recalled OBN III’s Orville Neeley bounding into the crowd during their set only to joyously flip my ballcap into the crowd behind me.
The shoes I wore that night have been with me for almost seven years now, only had them resoled once. They continue to fit, no matter what the situation. If you were to walk around in them, they wouldn’t fit you like they fit me. Shoe metaphors aside, I have convinced The Crack Pipes to come tear the roof off of The Grotto, sharing the stage Friday (1/18) are Oddlot and Fungi Girls, two bands who come to shred and make gut-check rock music.