By Chad Swiatecki, special to the American-Statesman
The cinder block held, somehow.
The grey piece of masonry in question had to somehow hold the bass drum of Cherubs drummer Brent Prager in place on Beerland’s stage, bracing against the 21 years’ worth of energy pent up since the beloved noise band last performed together.
Prager’s bass drum was in a constant state of forceful shudder for the 50 minutes or so that he, bassist Owen McMahon and singer/guitarist Kevin Whitley pummeled the packed audience that had come to see an unannounced “special guest” top a bill that also saw a performance by beloved alt-country band Knife In The Water. The show, part of the Austin Jukebox series at Beerland, kicked off that band’s first return to regular action in nine years.
That “getting the band back together!” feeling was thick on the corner of East Seventh and Red River streets on Saturday night. Around the corner at Empire Control Room the punk band Riverboat Gamblers took the stage for the first time in five months since lead singer Mike Wiebe punctured his lung during a stage dive mishap at South By Southwest.
That band’s five-month layoff was a blink of an eye compared to what was happening at Beerland, with no bits of rust to speak of and Wiebe even looking danger in the face and diving into the crowd several times. On this night, there were always plenty of hands there to hold him up.
Back at Beerland, Knife In The Water leader Aaron Blount and his guest vocalist Annecy Liddell were having an easy time of winning the crowd over with their somber, lush character sketches. Set closer “I Sent You Up” especially was a burner of a ballad, and one that fans will get to hear anew with the first-ever vinyl pressing of the band’s debut album “Plays One Sound And Others” on local label Sonic Surgery Records. And early next year the first new Knife In The Water album in 13 years is due for release on Keeled Scales Records, also of Austin.
Whether Cherubs’ return to the stage is a sign of more activity to come is anyone’s guess at this point, but if Saturday was nothing more than a “We’re back! OK, we’re gone!” treat for longtime fans, it was more than enough to satiate the wishes of a generation of fans who never thought they’d get to see the noise rock heavies live again.
From the first rumble of McMahon’s bass the trio felt locked in and comfortable on the Beerland stage, which was a new one for them since the band had been inactive for seven years before the underground rock bunker first opened its doors.
Punk and underground heavies like Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey and Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty were among the easy to spot faces in the crowd, most of which were smiling in a state of “I can’t believe I’m seeing this” disbelief as one pummeling exploration gave way to another. Song titles and nuance don’t matter a whole lot with this stuff, especially live, where the premium is on brute force and volume.
On those counts and many others, Cherubs were back. Whether it’ll ever happen again in Austin or anywhere else, only the three fellows themselves know for certain.
Update, Aug. 22: This blog has been updated to correct the names of Cherubs drummer and guitarist and the name of Knife in the Water’s guest vocalist.