“One Night in February” is the 11th installment of our monthly series in which we stop in at a half-dozen local music hot spots on a single evening. Entirely by chance, most of Wednesday’s visits involved duos. We gladly went with the flow, sampling a pretty broad variety of sounds and venues in the process.
5 p.m.: Japandroids at Waterloo Records. “We haven’t done an in-store in a very, very long time,” Japandroids guitarist Brian King said to the few hundred fans who packed into the aisles of Austin’s landmark record shop to hear the Canadian rock ‘n’ rollers kick-start their upcoming North American tour. The night before, they’d played a way-sold-out show indoors at the Mohawk, part of a weeklong rehearsal tune-up in Austin that happened because the Vancouver duo works with local music-gear specialist Erick Sanger.
“We’re sorry for being early,” drummer David Prowse added, citing their impulsive Canadian politeness. That drew giggles from attendees, most of whom also arrived well before 5 p.m. to get a good spot. They were rewarded by a high-energy half-hour set that featured a few songs from the band’s new album “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” plus a couple of older favorites.
It’s kind of like a Japandroids practice with a lot of people,” King enthused, noting that after the band signed copies of the new record for fans, they’d be checking out Waterloo’s notoriously well-stocked bins.
6 p.m.: T. Jarrod Bonta & Jim Stringer at the Broken Spoke. Most of the music at the 52-year-old South Austin dance hall happens in the spacious back room, where two-steppers scoot boots across the wooden floor under a low ceiling. But the Spoke also is a restaurant, and they feature musicians during the dinner hour in the front room most days.
Two veteran Austin roots musicians teamed up on this night. Pianist Bonta has played with many groups around town, including our August 2016 Austin360 Artist of the Month Monte Warden & the Dangerous Few. Guitarist Jim Stringer has fronted the likes of the AM Band and Git Gone. The two musicians have gotten to know each other well over the years, and their easygoing rootsy styles meshed well on a handful or original songs.
They also took the opportunity to plug this Friday’s Dead Sweethearts Ball, an annual anti-Valentine’s kind of show for which they’re part of the house band. It’s happening this Friday at ABGB.
7 p.m.: Dale Watson & Ray Benson at Guero’s Oak Garden. Sun Radio’s “Texas Radio Live” show, which features two acts performing live on the radio from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Wednesday, is usually a popular draw. But this one, featuring Austin country greats Dale Watson and Ray Benson playing songs from their new “Dale & Ray” duo album, was an even bigger event. By the time the main attraction hit the stage just after 7 p.m. (after an opening set by Chuck Hawthorne), the spacious outdoor Oak Garden was at capacity, with a line forming on the sidewalk outside.
The place was so jammed, with the crowd in jovial spirits on a balmy springlike night, that it was a bit hard to hear the music if you weren’t right up front. Even so, everyone seemed to be having a good time, dining on bargain-price tamales plus complimentary chips & salsa while the bar stayed busy serving up beers, margaritas and more. Onstage, Watson and Benson, backed by a fiddle-bass-drums trio, ran through tunes from their album plus a few staples from their respective bands’ typical sets.
The only real downside was the recent addition of a big-screen TV just to the left of the stage that flashes ad panels from sponsors. It’s understandable that a community-funded radio station such as Sun needs to make ends meet to keep providing such quality programming as “Texas Radio Live,” but that screen directly distracts from the music and is a disservice to the performers.
8:30 p.m.: Her Duo at Continental Gallery. Helping to keep our duo theme rolling, singer-songwriter Bonnie Whitmore has dubbed this new Wednesday residency at the upstairs annex of the Continental Club “Her Duo” thanks to the addition of drummer Craig Bagby. The two musicians — Whitmore alternating between guitar and bass — work seamlessly together, whether they’re playing her exquisite original material or engaging in wiseacre between-song banter.
“Should we do Unrequited Love, or Murder Ballad?” Whitmore asked early on, to which Bagby replied sensibly, “Unrequited Murder Ballad.” Later, when Whitmore lamented that Bagby would not be with her for the March shows of her residency, he reminded that he would be here for the show during South by Southwest — or as he put it, “that week when all the people come.”
9:15 p.m.: Albert & Gage at Donn’s Depot. There’s nothing quite like sidling up to the piano at Donn’s and taking in whatever music the beloved local institution has to offer on any given night. On Mondays, Chris Gage is at the piano, but on this night, he and his wife Christine Albert both entertained with acoustic guitars, singing choice covers and a few of their own tunes to an audience of around 100 folks spanning generations.
“It’s First Wednesday on the second Wednesday, but it’s our last Wednesday,” Albert announced at the outset, apologizing for the confusion. Usually the duo plays the first Wednesday of every month, but this time they ended up on Feb. 8 instead of Feb. 1. More importantly, though, it’s a tradition that’s coming to an end, mostly for a good reason: Gage is moving his every-Wednesday residency gig from the recently shuttered Strange Brew to El Mercado Backstage, where Albert has hosted her “Mystery Monday” show for many years.
The downside is that it means no more Albert & Gage First Wednesdays at Donn’s. But they’ll no doubt still pop up there together on other nights once in awhile, and Gage’s decades-long Monday residency rolls on.
10:15 p.m.: Mike Schoenfeld at Stay Gold. Our last stop of the night finally broke the duo pattern, though singer-songwriter Schoenfeld’s set turned out not to be a solo affair. Holding forth with a solid three-piece rock band, the former member of So Long, Problems cranked out quite a few well-written originals that put him on par with rising local roots-based rockers Jonathan Terrell and Ben Ballinger.
Between songs, Schoenfeld’s offbeat humor kept the mood lively. Riffing off the “Make America Great Again” slogan, he noted that “what they didn’t tell you is you have to mail all your old stuff in. And they’ll send it back better!”
Join us again next month for “One Night in March” — date to be determined.
One Night, By the Numbers: 12.7 miles driven (from Point 1 to Point 6, not including to and from home). $1.50 spent on street parking (a meter near Waterloo, before 6 p.m.). Admission charges: Free at Waterloo, Broken Spoke, Donn’s and Stay Gold; $5 at Continental Gallery; $5 suggested donation at Guero’s.