by Brian J. Audette
EDITOR’S NOTE 07/15/19: After this piece was published, Ovrld was made aware of allegations against Red Heroes’ member Alex McElroy. We are currently investigating these allegations but McElroy did make a statement on his personal Facebook in November of 2018, stating the allegations, which he notably does not specify, were “mostly true.” Ovrld has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to assault and harassment and until further notice, we will no longer cover or promote the Red Heroes, Alex McElroy’s solo or side projects or anyone involved in any capacity with Fortress of Updog. We are leaving this piece as it was originally published because we believe to delete it would be to erase our own history. We regret that we were unaware of the allegations against McElroy before publishing this piece and our support goes out to anyone harmed by McElroy and Fortress of Updog.
On Friday, June 28th, at the secluded Fortress of Updog, Austin pop punkers The Red Heroes officially called it quits by playing one final show to an intimate gathering of friends and supporters. While the history of rock music is littered with tales of acrimonious break ups and clashing egos, The Red Heroes end falls into a much less storied category of bandmates who grew up together and mutually decided to move on. Though less sensational, it turned out to be no less emotional an end and one that I was honored to attend.
About a month prior I had received nearly back to back messages through social media from The Red Heroes bassist and co-founder Sam Allmon and drummer Cassie Baker. After nearly a year’s hiatus from playing anything other than the occasional, small house show, The Red Heroes were finally going to bite the bullet and call it quits. As had happened with many young bands before, it seemed that life was catching up to the band as career aspirations, family obligations, and new opportunities began to take over. They could have tried and force themselves to keep going, but instead chose to avoid the inevitable implosion and wrap things up in a way that would leave both the band and their closest fans feeling satisfied, if not also a little sad.
My first exposure to the Red Heroes was during the winter of 2016 when I attended a Free Week show at Beerland with the primary motive being to catch a Capitalist Kids set. I had arrived early enough in the evening to hear The Red Heroes: a heretofore unknown to me local pop punk band. I was immediately impressed with the raw energy of the band’s performance and the catchiness of their songs. During the set they mentioned that they were planning an LP for release later in the year and I took that as an opportunity to introduce myself to the band the next day through email. I told them that I wrote for OVRLD and that I had really liked their set the previous night and to contact me if they’d like a review upon release of their LP. Several months after that brief correspondence, the band sent me the unmastered tracks from what would become Sing-Along Hate Songs to check out prior to the album’s final release. I had taken a bit of a chance when I said I was interested in reviewing them based only on having seen them live once, but my instincts proved valid and the album blew me away.
Since then I’ve written about The Red Heroes a few more times on OVRLD and in addition to showing up for more than a few live shows, have kept in touch with the band through social media. Before being asked to attend their final show I had actually assumed that the band had already silently broken up, based on a lack of shows and no mentions of new music having been made. It was bittersweet to hear that the band would finally, officially be closing up shop, but I was honored to have been invited to their exclusive final soiree.
I arrived at the Fortress of Updog just after 7pm, curious at first if I had the right address as I was told the show would begin around then and yet, I didn’t hear any music being played. Making my way inside, I saw that I was indeed in the right place as an informal stage had been set up in the living room of the house, behind which was a large video wall bearing The Red Heroes logo. A moment after introducing myself to the few people sitting around (of whom I knew none) both Sam and Cassie popped their heads in to say “hi” before a bunch of us moved outside to the backyard to chill in the humid early summer air, while preparations continued inside.
I’m an introvert by nature and as such am generally uneasy in the company of strangers and house shows fit that bill. Club shows are a different beast. I can be alone in a crowd at a music venue and still feel connected to everyone through the music. At a house show, everything is more… intimate. It’s like going to a party where you only know a couple people and even then not very well. Anxiety aside, I acquitted myself rather well as I hung outside and made small talk with the rest of The Red Heroes’ friends and family and made friends with a couple of the band members’ very personable pups. As it turned out, the schedule for the evening had maybe been a bit ambitious and rather than starting around 7, the show was going to start closer to 8:30/9pm. I continued to hang out and partake of the band’s beers until we all made our way back inside for the evening’s opening act: Red Heroes’ guitarist/vocalist/co-founder Alex McElroy’s solo project: Puppy Latte.
Puppy Latte played a short, but solid set of songs that sounded a bit like what you might think Mikey Erg would sound like backed by chiptunes: emo meets 8-bit electronics. I actually quite liked it and hope that Alex decides to record and release some of those songs at some point so that everyone else can hear them too. After another brief stint outside between acts (during which I was able to catch up with Red Heroes’ guitarist/vocalist Travis Bennet, one of the most humble musicians I’ve ever met) we all headed inside one more time for the main event.
There was something about the setting of the show that was all too perfect a reflection of both the band’s music and temperament. The DIY setup blended with the intimacy of the domestic environs emphasized the oft-unsung communal aspect of punk rock and the coziness of it all only served to reinforce the bittersweet reason for our having gathered there.
The show itself pretty much went off without a hitch. The sound was on point and the band was clearly feeling every song. Their set that night featured two short breaks for wardrobe changes, one audience-assisted kazoo “solo,” a life-sized cardboard cutout of Travis, and the band playing nearly every song in their repertoire, including several that have never or rarely been played live and at least one that remains unreleased. As far as last hurrahs go, one could hardly have asked for anything more. I got to hear all of my favorite songs from one of my favorite local bands one more time and some of them (like the heart-wrenching “Player 2”) for the first time as well. I got to sing along with “Hate Song” and contribute to the “whoa-oh”’s during “Antique Store”. I had a few beers and watched the “Sunset” and for the second (and final) time heard the sorrowful opus “Anne.”
At the end of their set the band traded impromptu, heartfelt words with each other in front of all those attending. There were tears and choking up, but in the end the band played on one last time and closed the book on The Red Heroes in the best possible fashion. As the band finished and a slideshow of their past exploits played on the video screen behind the stage (appropriately set to Green Day’s “Time of Our Lives”) I decided to slip out into the night. I’d had enough socializing for the evening and I had seen what I came there for: one last hurrah for one of my all-time favorite local punk bands.
The best thing about being a fan of local musicians is that you have the chance to see your favorite bands playing live all the time. One of the saddest things is that the lifespan for many small bands is brief. I’ve seen bands come and I’ve seen bands go. I’ve been to many final shows: some deliberate, some coincidental, but the music must go on and new bands always rise to fill the gaps. The Red Heroes may be gone, but Alex, Sam, Cassie, and Travis will play on in one way or another and I look forward to what they (and all the up and coming bands in Austin) produce in the future. Final shows may be sad, but they need not be the end… afterall, until you split, you can’t have a reunion!