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Cover Boys

For Houston's cover bands, the party never ends and the songs remain the same

We listen a bit longer. Rat Ranch plays "Should I Stay or Should I Go." We go.

Ten Base T: Fumduck's
Slightly older than the rest of the hellions populating Strip stages, Ten Base T's audience consists of enthusiastic die-hards genuinely thrilled to be there, the smallest but easily the most involved of the street's crowds. Three encores, no less!

A mix of bland mid-'80s AOR tunes is suddenly shattered by the insertion of an Alice in Chains number. "They're going for the contemporary feeling, I suppose," a companion notes gently. The unidentified lead singer has cloned Tom Petty (right down to the shoes), and he's backed by a band of three guys who look like they didn't have a chance to run home and change after a long day on the loading dock. Ten Base T plays rock nostalgia for the sort of poor soul who actually misses the formative glory days of MTV.

Toy Subs: The Outback Pub
Although not really a cover band, Toy Subs has of late been playing far more cover gigs than original ones. But even Toy Subs' slick, cool, polished covers assume the Toy Subs sound, partly because of singer Jamie Jahan's distinctive vocal style. Still, the band knows its audience. "For the longest time," says Jahan, "there were songs we avoided playing, until we realized that crowds here have certain expectations, certain songs they want to hear."

"I don't know, it all starts to sound the same after a while," insists one of our reviewers. "It's just Toy Subs no matter what song they're doing." The Toy Subs' imprint on each song may annoy cover purists, but will likely impress others. Don't look for accurate renditions here, just fine vocals, excellent musicianship and a fairly rowdy performance. The Toy Subs' version of "Dear Prudence" is a winner.

On occasion, kind-hearted club owners will allow the Subs to play some of their own (excellent) original stuff, but unless your flier tells you otherwise, don't count on it.

Axis: Sam's Place
Ever wonder where bands that really miss playing Backstage (but who don't want to drive up north to play at Headquarters or Hurricane Alley) go to let off steam? Taking the best (or is that the worst?) of the posing, hair-thrashing, "ain't we cool" choreography of the mid-to-late '80s and combining it with a playlist that defies even lenient definitions of "progressive," Axis appears to be lamenting days when leather was cool, beer was free and songs were three very loud chords. For some reason (could be because of the low sound level), everything sounded like ZZ Top. Axis was the only band to get visibly agitated by an unresponsive crowd, and the only band to leave the stage with a promo for the next set: "Coming up next set... Pearl Jam and AC/DC! So stick around!"

We didn't.

The Missiles: The Edge Bar
Though not strictly a cover band, the Missiles can indeed restore long-lost college memories. Lovably drunk, like the most prominent frat guy at a weekend beer bust, the Missiles are all-pro, with an extensive playlist ranging from Frank Zappa to Robyn Hitchcock and all points in between. They're irreverent, sarcastic, sometimes moody and always looking for the party. The Missiles may be Houston's best-traveled group of musical elder statesmen.

"These guys aren't a cover band!" a friend exclaims. "They're an original band pretending to be a cover band!"

Cover band? Original band? On the Richmond Strip it all bleeds together. But for the teeming multitudes, all that matters is that it's live, it's loud, it's familiar, and hey, you can drink beer to it.

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