Betsy's Bar Cancels SXSW 2012 Motorbreath Show, Bands Move to Country Location without Havok and Speedwolf
Band Photo: Havok (?)
On March 16th, 2012, Motorbreath Entertainment intended to create one of the best lineups featuring bands from the “New Wave of Thrash Metal.” Exmortus, Bonded By Blood, Havok, Speedwolf and Witchaven were on the bill to play Betsy’s Bar at Austin’s annual South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival. Oregon’s Spellcaster offered a style more in line with the New Wave of Classic Metal scene that has, in a sense, run parallel with the new thrash movement.
Besides Corrosion of Conformity who came to town with their crossover thrash, “Animosity” lineup, thrash metal is an endangered species in Austin during this time of the year. When I saw Motorbreath had organized a lineup of such great, young thrash bands, I had to help with promotion. Unfortunately, a number of mishaps led to Betsy’s Bar canceling the show. However, thanks to Alex Campos of local metal marauders, Beyond The Blood, the show went on!
I experienced an ominous feeling upon arriving at the venue around 4 PM. Motorbreath owner Tristan Spears explained that the venue had been triple-booked. A Red Bull party featuring upcoming rap artists from New Orleans played in the hall connected to the tiny room Betsy’s afforded to this show. This led to problems such as patrons attending the rap show entered erroneously through the Motorbreath entrance. A Motorbreath crew member later stated that the rap promoter made the decision to shut down the metal show. Additionally, the venue had failed to take out their furniture, so the bar’s limited space became even more claustrophobic.
Local hardcore act, Confused was bumped up on the bill, playing two hours earlier than the original plan. Because of this time-schedule conflict, the show was behind schedule. The group played a blistering fifteen-minute set on a tiny stage situated in the corner of the venue, which proved too confining for their singer, so he worked the crowd, Mike Muir-style, by running the floor. Houston’s Owl Witch took the stage next, the last artist to grace Betsy’s Bar with “hard, kind of Slayer rock-n-roll.” I experienced their set strictly by ear as I was outside, on the front sidewalk talking to my old friends, Bonded By Blood.
The sidewalk we stood upon led to a short staircase into the venue. From the top of the steps, Spears told Bonded By Blood that they needed to go inside and drink alcohol or the owner would shut down the show. Members of the band went inside to talk to the owner. None of the other bands were setting up and there was a hush over the venue as we awaited the outcome. Then the news came of the show’s demise. The decision to move the show led to mass confusion and ambivalence. Although most of the bands decided to make the trip to Campos’ compound, bands such as Havok were still on the fence. After much deliberation, putting their chips into the pot, taking them out, Havok decided to forgo the house party solution. Their hometown friends, Speedwolf came to the same conclusion.
After changing parking spots and walking over twenty blocks, we had to decide if we wanted to leave the city on a Friday night. The prospect of no traffic, free parking and a chance to see the bands we had so eagerly waited led to our journey out of the city lights and into the starlit skies of the country. Metal Underground.com reader silvermountains and owner deathbringer and I piled into my girlfriend’s car and headed to Garfield, Texas, located eighteen miles southeast of Austin. After passing it and losing our way, we located the dimly lit, inconspicuous side street that led to our destination.
Horse ranches lined the side of the roads in Campos’ neighborhood. The wide-open expansiveness of his verdant yard was in stark contrast to the close confines of Austin’s urban sprawl. Usually, bands of this caliber hang around their merch booths, talking to anyone willing to strike up a conversation. This was even more intimate than the typical club experience—noise wasn’t restricted four walls and thanks to the owner buying free beer, there was a party atmosphere that could never be duplicated in a club. While some of the patrons from the show made the trip, many went elsewhere. Needless to say, there was enough lawn furniture to take off a proverbial load.
Around 9 PM, Houston’s Legion placed their drummer on the porch while the rest of the group played in the yard. Campos’ lighting and stage effects were surprisingly good, better than Betsy’s sole light bulb. In addition to his porch light, he set up side lighting and even utilized a fog machine. Legion didn’t seem to mind playing in a make-shift venue. This was probably the first time any of these touring bands heard Legion, but banging heads communicated their approval. One of the highlights of the band’s set was a searing version of Slayer’s “Angel of Death.”
Hailing from San Antonio, Aggravator was another local band with similar circumstances as its predecessor. This quartet played more aggressive thrash metal with breakneck speed. Well known in the Austin/San Antonio area, Aggravator is seeking a wider audience outside of the Lonestar State. The band just returned from a European tour, which they capped off with a performance at Inferno Festival in Norway. Make sure to check out these guys on the Interwebs.
The show started outside, but like any band party held outside, there was a noise complaint, so the festivities moved into the garage. The schedule affixed to Campos’ porch pillar stated each band would get a 40-minute set, but was changed to five songs once the groups entered the garage. The fishing poles, work benches, saws, hand tools, freezers and other relics from the garage caused no change of heart for any of the bands. They played as if they were in an arena in front of 10,000 screaming fans instead of twenty-some people crammed into a garage. The driving force for each performance was the amount of enthusiasm expressed by these few hair-twirling, fist-pumping and beer-can-raising onlookers.
Like a modern day Paul Di'Anno, Spellcaster’s Thomas Adams wore his hair short with gauntlets on his arms. These purveyors of speedy heavy metal put on a tremendous show. The highlight of their set was a cover of Grim Reaper’s “See You In Hell.” Adams pushed his voice well beyond the low-hanging rafters and nailed the ending part. He offered the mic to fans to sing along this catchy chorus. The group played San Antonio the following night with some of the night’s cast (Witchaven, Speedwolf, Exmortus, etc.). Those I talked to about the show gave high praise to this remarkable cover.
Southern California thrash dominated the rest of the evening as San Bernardino’s Witchaven took the stage. Witchaven is the type of band that would order their burgers blackened. Although taking the stripped down look, promo pictures show these guys in aviator sunglasses, jean jackets, bullet belts and other accoutrements expected from a black-thrash band. Their ferocity and tempo elicited a sea of rolling hair. Witchaven was much better live than on disc. In their future, I expect a better-produced album than “Terrorstorm.”
Much like Witchaven, Heavy Artillery recording artist, Exmortus wasn’t your typical thrash band. They also filtered their sound with more extreme movements, mostly on the side of death metal. The patented guitar patterns of Gothenburg, Sweden are an essential piece of Exmortus’ sound, which in this case, keeps them from being unfairly labeled as a retro band. These Swedish-inspired parts kept the crowd’s attention, but the solos are what stood out the most. Each guitarist dueled traded off slick leads. Exmortus was definitely the night’s most technical act.
Although Owl Witch played earlier at Betsy’s, they were set to play last, after Bonded By Blood. Due to the dip in temperature and it being way past the witching hour, we decided to watch Bonded By Blood and then head north. This was my third time seeing Bonded By Blood. Each performance offered a different lineup. This was the first time witnessing new bassist, Jessie Sanchez. He fit the role well and performed with much vigor. I have seen a few negative comments about their newest singer, too, Mauro Gonzales, but I can’t fault his stage (garage floor) presence. Besides launching material from their first two records such as “Feed the Beast” and closer “Parasitic Infection,” the group treated its diminished audience to a couple of new tracks. BBB leader and original, Juan Juarez picked out killer licks, which lead me to believe their forthcoming album will be their best.
From an urban venue to a rural garage, the night took a strange twist. It was disappointing to see this show disintegrate, especially for the bands that didn’t get paid. However, the bands who braved driving a ways off the path were able to get back some of this money in merch sales and donations. We were able to see most of the bands on the bill, although the exclusion of Speedwolf and Havok was surely disappointing. An ideal show would have been at a furniture-free Betsy’s, but then it would not have created such a lasting memory. Watching a duck waddle past your feet under the lights of the night sky is not your typical ending to a Friday night at SXSW!
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