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SXSW 2011: Epic Ruins unveil lasers, kegs and psych-rock to a late-night Austin crowd

March 18, 2011 | 11:02 am

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The mini-mall is nondescript and, at 1:30 a.m., totally dark, the taco shop closed, the vintage clothier abandoned for the night, its proprietor likely home, asleep; the dentist who shares the building also in slumber. But the back corner of this particular mini-mall is actually just starting to come alive for the second time this day -- the coffee shop Dominican Joe's, a neighborhoody pastry-and-caffeine mecca teeming with beardos and sundresses.

It's not hosting a singer-songwriter showcase, though, or a tech geek convention: There's one acoustic guitar onstage amid a sea of amplifiers and keyboards, laptops and drums, and a torrent of microphones; the Internet's not even working ("come back when we're open" is the error message). Instead, what Dominican Joe's is hosting could be described as a frat party-meets-'70s-arena rock show, thanks to the partially L.A.-based psych-rock ensemble Epic Ruins, a collective of nine or 10 members (hard to tell with no light and all this fog), who've solicited their managerial friend to help them transform the space into an unlikely showcase venue, complete with a massive laser light show and a slew of tapped kegs.

The music is so loud the sandwich case rattles. The band (made up of two members of Ben Harper's touring band, Relentless 7, and colleagues from their former life in the Texas music scene) zooms through mushroomy space-age jamminess that's more suited for the Bonnaroo stage than the coffee-shop floor, the crowd entranced by both the late hour, the high-level lights, and the, well, high (there is a certain, er, distinctive smell wafting through the no-smoking-allowed room).

There's a friendly camaraderie inside and out on the patio -- after all, this is not an official SXSW show, but one for which word was spread through friends on the Internet, with an unsigned band playing to anyone who'll listen. It's the origin of the festival at its core: not a group trying to be discovered, but one that already knows exactly what it's about: rocking -- hard -- anywhere that'll have them.

-- Jeff Miller in Austin, Texas

Photo: Epic Ruins at South by Southwest. Credit: Jeff Miller

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