Walking into Hole in the Wall on Monday at midnight, I expected to encounter a sprinkling of regulars hanging out. Instead, what I found was a surprisingly packed bar, tables and booths filled with an eclectic crowd gathered for the return of Leo Rondeau and Dynamite Tales.
After three long legs of a summer tour, Rondeau and his band returned to their standard Monday gig this week. Rondeau took the stage in patched Levi’s, a suede vest and cowboy hat that didn’t hide his long brown locks. As the band started to play his original tunes, space in front of the stage became a makeshift dance floor for two-stepping.
Rondeau’s unique brand of country music is energetic but subtle, much like his presence. In Rondeau’s live performance, the lyrics take center stage, supplemented by the full sound of five-piece band (upright bass and steel guitar included). Rondeau’s tunes tell simple stories with a hint of humor that isn't lost among melodies that make people want to dance, even at midnight on a Monday.
Outside of Hole in the Wall, Leo Rondeau’s songwriting talents haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2010, he was nominated for Singer Songwriter of the Year by the Academy of Texas Music for his album Down at the End of the Bar. That’s quite a feat for a guy from North Dakota who made his way to Austin eight years ago and has only been playing music full-time since 2009.
I think if the Eagles came out today, like the band in 1971... If you saw that band, you’d be like ‘Holy shit! That band is awesome.'
“I’d heard about Austin from other folks,” Rondeau says of his decision to head south and pursue a music career. He moved to Austin, worked normal jobs and played gigs on the side, eventually approaching Hole in the Wall about a regular gig.
"It was a challenge that I put on myself," Rondeau says. He wanted a specific place where people would know to find him each week, and Mondays at midnight became his foot in the door. Rondeau and his band have built a steady following over the years in a time slot that could otherwise be considered obscure and unfortunate. “It’s kind of this deal where it's always like that,” says Rondeau of the steady crowd he draws each week.
Leo Rondeau and Dynamite Tales spent the summer away from Hole in the Wall, touring the country. They covered land from as far as the edges of Texas all the way north to his home state of North Dakota. Now that he’s back in Austin, Rondeau’s focus for the fall is recording a new album.
As an original songwriter, Rondeau says his style of country is influenced mostly by songwriters (Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Tom Waits to name a few) and the nuances of classic country music. But there are other influences, too.
“I’m going through this huge Eagles phase right now,” Rondeau laughs, highlighting the importance of the vocals, harmonies and musical arrangements they achieved in their early years. “I think if the Eagles came out today, like the band in 1971... If you saw that band, you’d be like ‘Holy shit! That band is awesome.'”
In addition to his upcoming recording project (on which he plans to involve a producer with experience from multiple genres), Rondeau and a few friends, including some of his band members, are starting an Eagles cover band. On Wednesday nights in October at Hole in the Wall, you can hear The Real Eagles cover the band's early years. “Only 1971 to 1975… before Joe Walsh,” he clarifies.
Though they will tour again, most likely in early Spring 2012, Leo Rondeau and Dynamite Tales are staying put for 2011. “I’m committed to recording,” Rondeau says, assuring his loyal Monday night crowd at least a few more months of midnight tunes at the Hole.
Leo Rondeau and Dynamite Tales will perform at CultureMap's ACL Foodie Contest party at Stubb's on September 7.