The streets are lonely and the air is clear. Dense morning fog cleared out late and a few specks of stars barely shine through the light pollution on Red River St. A constant beat from a nightclub echos north, bouncing off speeding city busses and marble barriers of state government office buildings.
A dark-skinned man flips through a book of dollars, guarding a driveway to a ten-dollar parking lot. He doesn’t need his camo-cargo shorts in the black outside of a nearby street lamp.
A couple catches up behind me, the boy describing crowded dance clubs in a bid to impress his date. Free parking is blocks away, but the night is young enough.
A neon-pink-and-blue sign shines as a beacon to the almost parking lot of Cheer Up Charlie’s. A light grey van holding speakers and bass drums from one of the night’s acts takes VIP near Arlo’s food trailer.
Once on the north end of Downtown Austin, the colorful nightclub hides beneath towering hotels and condo buildings erected in the tech boom of the past decade. Scattered patio furniture and faux grass surrounds the one story shotgun with hardwood floors and one-step stage.
Bartenders at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Photo by Andrew Blanton
A row of cat heads with various war paint stare out at the crowd below the monitors, one of dozens of art pieces lining the outdoor fences and walls. Sword dueling bipedal creatures and ghost-like humans in Janis Joplin glasses wait to be graced by scattered spotlights from the spinning disco ball.
Tallboy Tecates and wavering neat Knob Creek’s start to populate the dance floor. I toast some friendly faces from Airport Blvd. and wish the cool breeze was slightly more apparent as the house lights come down.
The electric trio is clear and melodic, taking elements of alt-punk rhythm and simple dance tempo. The lyrics are snapshots in time, like a collection of back-page mementos or short films.
Werewolf gets louder slightly with each song, but the growing crowd hardly seems to mind. Sometimes the solos echo jam bands, but they don’t last over ten seconds. The songs are short and seem simple enough, but don’t be fooled by the jukebox timing. It’s smart enough to keep you begging for another.
The band’s name comes from Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa, a film about guerrilla freedom fighters trapped in post-war, Allied-occupied Germany.
“I kind of extrapolated it into more of just like a general freedom-fighter kind of thing,” guitarist Jason Pearson said.
Pearson grew up in rural Oklahoma, where expression can be seen as a threat to the cultural norms of a small town.
“The werewolf is kind of a symbol of repressed feelings of sex and violence,” Pearson said. “I come from a very repressive place.”
It comes across as unassuming with vast substance under the surface, like an aging set of dusty encyclopedias in the back corner of a vintage shop.
“Most songs are about a particular desire,” Pearson said. “Something you want, but you don’t have.”
Jason Pearson performs with Werewolf. Photo by Andrew Blanton
A new patch of polka dot sweat appears on drummer Chef Pittman’s shirt after each number, his sticks slamming furiously against the canvas. The fastest song still comes across clear while it chugs along.
Dirk Michener often leans in to back up the chorus as he thumps his pic on the bass strings. He’s fast and melodic, and pays attention to what the others are playing.
“Think of all the ways I came through for you,” Pearson sings. “I don’t think you care about anyone.”
The expanding crowd does, as they cheer lowder after each song with their smartphones high in the air snapping Instagram photos. At this pace it won’t be long before Austin knows about Werewolf.