By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"I visited this place twice last night," Ferny says, "and both times, there were maybe 20 people. I don't know if it was the bands or the room, but it was kinda empty. I can't tell you if there's more riding on this gig, but I do know we wrote a set list. It wasn't computer-generated or anything, but wow. We know what's next."
Outside, Rimsky insists he's not moping. "There's a difference between mopey and cynical," he says. Franco gives him a coaster-sized sticker of a bug-eyed, cartoon cobra. This elicits a reluctant smile. While Dave runs off to grab a CD for the Irishman who's head of Island Records Australia, Rimsky hangs back, detached.
"He was just asking about a club down the street. I'm not gonna jump around like a monkey for some Irish guy from Australia," he says. "Like I'm sure they're looking to sign Weezer from Florida."
Dave seems irked at Rimsky's lassitude. "Dude, the reason for this trip is to get Humbert signed."
"The reason for this trip is to get Humbert noticed," Franco corrects.
"It's like Triple-A for musicians," Rimsky says. "You're just trying to get to the majors. After a while, you kind of figure out how it works or you don't. So many bands just don't get it. I think I'm over it I forgot we were even playing today."
It's a quarter till 9, and upstairs, the room empties after the early band's set. Humbert takes its place and begins plugging in and tuning up. The crowd is sparse, but the South Florida contingent is strong: Leo and Dave, New Times contributors Dominic Sirianni and Jamie Laughlin, Mike Toms from Churchill's, Jay Flanzbaum from Boca-based website OnLineGigs.com.
At five past 9, Tony steps to the microphone: "We're Humbert, and we're from Florida."
"But we're not Republicans," Ferny adds.
The opening chords of "Hugo" explode from Ferny's Farfisa organ. After all the waiting, all the stress and anxiety, there's nothing but shamelessly unbridled joy in the song. Rimsky rears back on his teal Hagstrom guitar, face orgasmic toward the lights. Caesar hammers like a viking on his drum kit. The band injects all its mixed emotions into the music. By the song's end, there are close to a hundred people stacked along the tiers and crammed in front of the stage. The applause is raucous.
"This is a lot more people than we thought would be here," Ferny confesses to the microphone. Bounding into its second song, the band looks relieved, even inspired. The guys play with passion and confidence, just like at every one of their hundreds of gigs at the Poor House and Churchill's. They launch into "Get Well Card," crescendoing with a massive psyche-rock chorus: "Please don't forget the universe."
"The soundman's not doing them any fuckin' favors," Toms says. True, the sound sucks. The room is awkward. But a couple of photographers hover in front of the stage, a few journos take notes in the back of the room, and there are label guys drinking Lone Stars at the bar.
By 9:30, half the room has left. There are other showcases happening at this very moment with bigger bands than Humbert. If the band members notice, they don't show it. They've already scored their victory. "Do we have time for one more?" Ferny asks into the darkness. A half hour into the set, and it seems they're wishing it was over. But like Ferny said, there's a set list. They know what's gonna happen. They tear into "Ladybug and the Beetle" and wrap it up with an ecstatic flourish.
"We played this next song at South by Southwest in 1994, me and this guy," Tony thumbs toward Ferny. They spring into the offbeat, Middle Eastern dervish blowout "Vuscalli," stretch it out to savor the moment, and then it's all over. The band can't walk offstage because there isn't one. Instead, they just mingle into the remaining crowd for exasperated, elated hugs and high-fives. Grinning but distracted, they load out quickly for the next band, nobody really saying much of anything to anyone.
Sixth Street, Saturday, 11 p.m. Ferny and Tony are at Antone's watching Rob Pollard of indie giant Guided by Voices. Caesar, Rimsky, Dave, Franco, and Leo head to Emo's for the Hellacopters, a well-loved Swedish boogaloo metal band. It's not Turbonegro, but it is Scandinavian. And that's not too far from actual ass cobra.
The fellas are happy enough to just hang no more fliering, no more hustle and have a genuinely good time. Around 2 a.m., the whole crew rendezvous outside of Emo's, everyone sufficiently drunk to gently heckle hipsters with bad haircuts and ironic Iron Maiden T-shirts. There is an unspoken air of success, but modesty and pragmatism curtail any gloating. In a few hours, everyone will be passed out back at the Ramada. By 5 p.m. tomorrow, they'll be on the road, headed east out of Austin on Highway 10. By 5 p.m. Monday, they'll be back home in Hialeah.
The Sunday after SXSW, Humbert plays to a happy crowd at Dada in Delray Beach. The band is added to a bill at Churchill's the following Tuesday. Local fans are glad to have them back. Humbert is glad to be back, mostly. But Austin set the wheels in motion and the ambition one notch higher.