Guadalcanal Diary / Zeitgeist – Liberty Lunch (Austin, TX)
[Editor’s note: The following review was originally submitted to the Austin Chronicle in August 1999 but was not published; it arrived after the paper had already run a roundup of reminiscences about Liberty Lunch by various writers. Given this issue’s report about the demise of longtime Chicago club Lounge Ax, it seemed apropos to resurrect this as a way of acknowledging the recent loss of the Lunch, which had been a mainstay in Austin since the early ’80s. Granted, we’re a bit tardy, given that the Lunch closed over the summer and was torn down in the fall; but, better late than never…especially since it fills up a little leftover space right well.]
I was safely ensconced in my ratty apartment at 32nd & Speedway, earnestly studying for the next day’s finals at the University of Texas, when along came a pounding on the door around 9 pm. I opened it to find my friends Rob Thomas, Steve Wacker and a handful of other folks who had just driven down from Fort Worth, yammering at me about how I had to drop whatever I was doing and go to Liberty Lunch with them to see this group from Athens, Georgia, plus some local opening band that was supposed to be the best thing on the Austin scene.
You’re crazy, I told them. I’ve got finals in history and geography tomorrow. There is absolutely no way I’m going out with y’all to see a couple of bands I’ve never heard of. As for Liberty Lunch, it was just that strange place on Second Street I’d driven by countless nights heading home from the night-shift at the newspaper during my high school days. There was always this weird reggae music blasting through the doors and spilling onto the street as I coasted by; it didn’t seem like the kind of place for a rather straight-laced young lad like me.
But Rob and Steve, well, they weren’t exactly the easiest fellas to say no to. Somehow, against all my better judgment, a few minutes later I was cramming into a car and heading south toward the river…and a date with destiny.
I learned something simple about rock ‘n’ roll that night. The only touring shows I’d ever previously seen were at the big arena or the midsized theater, so when I saw a couple of geeky-looking folks come out and start setting up Guadalcanal Diary’s gear, I figured they were the band’s roadies. I was taken aback when those same geeks returned to the stage a few minutes later, picked up their instruments and started playing.
We all gradually jockeyed our way up front, possessed by the power of this energetic young band and its crashing, chiming songs — Murray Attaway singing the bejesus out of “Ghost On The Road” and “Pillow Talk”, bassist Rhett Crowe bouncing all over the place on “Watusi Rodeo”, guitarist Jeff Walls careening through the instrumental “Gilbert Takes The Wheel”, John Poe pounding the drums relentlessly throughout. In the wake of the onslaught, Steve Wacker’s unbridled enthusiasm seemed to have no off-switch; me, I mostly just watched wide-eyed, won over by the wonder of it all.
I don’t remember much about Zeitgeist that night; they must’ve played pretty much everything from Translate Slowly, which was being released right around that time. I do still distinctly recall the haunting echoes of “I Knew”; seems it’s always the sadder, slower songs that sucker me in. All I know for sure is that by the time the fall semester began, I’d seen Zeitgeist at least a half-dozen more times, highlighted by a crazy night at the Lunch in mid-July with the MTV “Cutting Edge” cameras rolling (a perfect antidote to the “Live Aid” concert that had aired on MTV all day). And Translate Slowly had served as my soundtrack for a summer of discovery unlike any I’ll ever experience again. It all began that night at Liberty Lunch.