Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Radio Room sends out a weak transmission

niteowlThis time last year I was sneaking into a Black Angels show at Bourbon Rocks on Sixth Street. It was a capacity South By Southwest show and I, like most Austinites, didn't have the cash to buy a badge or wristband. The set lasted about 30 minutes before the band walked off stage, frustrated by technical difficulties (unexpected feedback attacks and uncooperative amps). I couldn't blame 'em. That kind of stuff is expected during SXSW, the one week of the year when shot bars play the role of music venue.

A year later (yesterday, Friday the 13th, to be exact), I found myself back at that same spot, watching that same band. Except now, Bourbon Rocks is called Radio Room and it's owned by Transmission Entertainment, the people who bring you Fun Fun Fun Fest and all those great shows at the Mohawk and Red 7, among other venues.

Two things struck me last night:
1. The Black Angels are amazing.
2. Radio Room, eh, not so much.

radio roomI had high hopes for the Radio Room. It's a 1,000-person venue, making it bigger than Transmission's crown jewel the Mohawk. Plus, it's on Sixth Street, a real stab at taking back frat-boy-central for the live music fans.

Unfortunately, Radio Room falls short on several levels. First, the inside: It's a confused space. It's huge, which is potentially a good thing. I mean, there's tons of space for standing around looking blasé cool in your tightest, blackest vintage wear. But that's what Beauty Bar is for. Radio Room needs an indoor stage. But the room, as it's set up now, has no practical space for a stage. Maybe Transmission is trying to branch out into the dance club scene, in which case Radio Room's interior is awesome. But I don't know if that's their intent. I don't think anyone does, since I've seen zero press for this place, other than a Ultra8201 blog post about it last September regarding a canceled Of Montreal show that was supposed to launch Radio Room last November.

As for the outside, it seemed some of those same technical difficulties that plagued the Angels last year at Bourbon Rocks were giving them problems again this year, hence the 40 minutes it took for them to start their set after setting up.

But my biggest gripe with the outdoor stage is the gravel. Get rid of those damned rocks already! If I'm at a show, I don't want to feel like I'm at the beach (only, replace the sand with large pebbles). Not exactly a dance-friendly floor.

Granted, this was the inaugural event at Radio Room and the space is very much a work in progress (see: a bar that had room for about 80 liquor bottles, but only held eight). But I just don't see it.

Transmission's Mohawk is my favorite venue in town. I like to think of it, like a Black Angels song, as a "finished work in progress," meaning that if you never changed it again it would still kick ass, or you could add and subtract from it over the months and years and it would still kick ass. Because at it's core, there's a good idea there. The rest is just playing around, or jamming. The Mohawk has a habit of tinkering with new bells and whistles every few months. Sometimes they're improvements, sometimes they're not. But regardless of the constantly morphing nature of the place, the Mohawk is always one of the best venues in town because at it's core there's a good idea.

I don't see that same good core idea in the space that's now Radio Room. Architecturally, it's a clusterfuck of competing ideas. I don't know if it's a dance club or an art gallery or a bar/restaurant. The subs and potato salad were delicious. But really? Sub sandwiches on a drunken Friday night?

Don't get me wrong, I'll be back for sure. I'm all about second chances (especially when Trail of Dead's playing a free show on Friday!). And I want nothing more than success for Radio Room. I'll support anyone who wants to bring back independent, underground rock music to Sixth. The three-day Psych Fest as Radio Room's inauguration is definitely a positive step in that direction. But right now, Radio Room makes me want to turn the dial to look for something better. Sad, but true.

radio room again

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Tasteless said...

agreed. I'll check back in post SXSW to see where we're at.