Riverboat Gamblers + Pelican at Emo's, Austin

Post Author: Julie Neumann

“I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.” — Molly Ivins

I am not a Texan. This is a very important distinction. Yes, I reside in the state capitol, I got my master's degree at the University of Texas, I even have a Lone Star driver's license. But that is only because I have a lurid love affair with Austin, and Austin just happens to be in the middle of Texas, an unchangeable geographic fact I am just now learning to accept.

Despite my Chicago accent and extensive winter coat collection, I've been sucked in. The secret really is in the music. There is a distinct flavor to the Austin culture, a dry heat mixed with independence and invention, which cannot be replicated. South by Southwest makes for an exciting spring break from Williamsburg and Silver Lake, but soaking in the scene full-time is true decadence.

Saturday night, I indulged in the recklessly potent Riverboat Gamblers. The Austin rockers kicked off their fall tour, which is sad for us locals but fantastic news for the rest of you. Every night with the Gamblers is a forcefully limb-jamming event. At first glance the band is just another punk group fit for a skateboard ad in a teen magazine. Then vocalist Mike Wiebe is unleashed. The illustrious frontman is known for pulling his spidery frame along club rafters, inspiring utter insanity and sacrificing his body in the process.

“Seeing all of you eases the pain of a man desperately in need of a root canal,” the injury-prone Wiebe declares during the show at Emo's. “If someone injects me with Novocain and reaches in my mouth and rips out my tooth, that would be awesome.”

The audience screams and Wiebe launches into the next song, the band and the fans thrashing together in a barely controlled seizure. Everyone wants be close to Wiebe, desperate for a drop of the electric sweat streaming down his face, a hundred hands reach up to touch him as he falls into the crowd.

The hometown heroes kept it hot and heavy outside while Pelican took over the barely lit indoor stage. In striking opposition to Gamblers, who built their empire on a mighty vocalist, the Chicago buzz band is a purely instrumental outfit. Hard rock minus screeching, unintelligible lyrics is surprisingly pure. At the end of the show, it was startling to hear the bass player say thank you. By that point, words were unnecessary.