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Dismounting dead horse

Michael Haaga splits from Pasadena's premier practitioners of metal

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I generally don't suffer many confidence problems, but if the present trend continues, I'm afraid I might develop a complex. See, for the past two years, the Minneapolis-based national music magazine Request has asked me to contribute to its late-summer city-by-city guide to promising independent bands. The first year, I faxed in a write-up on locals Sprawl, who promptly called it quits less than a year after the article was published. More recently (the issue is still on the stands, as a matter of fact), I lauded Pasadena metalheads and perpetual Press Music Award winners dead horse as the cream of the Houston crop, and now comes news that, without even waiting for the issue to age into its proper use as parakeet litter, dead horse guitarist/vocalist/artist-in-residence Michael Haaga has left the band. I hope it wasn't something I said.

Haaga, as befits a man coming off seven years of identification with the band he helped build into one of Houston's most consistent top draws, still seems uncomfortable discussing the break. "I don't really know what to say. It's important to me that it comes off right. I did leave the band. 'Musical differences' is a pretty typical way of saying [what happened]. They [fellow horsemen Allen Price, Greg Martin and Ronny Guyote] are my friends and we've been through a lot. It's not a bitter thing."

The disappointment of having once been signed (to indie Big Chief) and having that deal fall through the floorboards, and the continuing frustrations involved with unsuccessful negotiations to land a much-desired deal with Interscope Records surely contributed to the general dissatisfaction, and, as Haaga notes, "I wasn't the only person ever to say 'maybe this has run its course and maybe it's time for a change.'" But Haaga finally made the move, and hopes that "if my leaving the band makes it possible for either side to continue to get signed or write great music or whatever, then I think I made the right decision."

According to band manager Tom Bunch, the only previously scheduled dead horse gig, at the upcoming Best of Texas Music Showcase in Austin, has been canceled in the wake of the shakeup, and the band's remaining members haven't yet made a decision about future plans. But as for Haaga, he says, "I put my heart into it for seven years, and I didn't feel I could continue to give it my all. I don't really know what to say about it. Just 'fuck....' Can you just write that?"

Speaking of that Best of Texas Music Showcase... dead horse won't be playing, but locals Starfish, Constant Buzz, Banana Blender Surprise (who are listed as an Austin band), Joint Chiefs, Def Squad, Tony XPress, Philip Rodriguez, J. Jaye Smith, de Schmog, Under the Sun, Canvas and Sugar Shack are -- at press time, anyhow -- confirmed showcasers. Austin-based Choice Productions is sponsoring this first three-day installment of the proposed annual event as a Texas-only alternative to the increasingly nationwide glut that South by Southwest has become in recent years. Something on the order of 175 acts are expected to perform in a dozen or so venues, and the long weekend comes complete with a Best of Texas Music trade show with industry and media representatives occupying booths at the new Austin Music Hall. It all happens October 21, 22 and 23, and you can buy a three-day pass to everything for $50 (or partial passes for smaller increments). For info, call (512) 707-3772 or 1 (800) 607-0770.

More Peace, Please... Closer to home, the ever-confusing Westheimer Street Festival has joined forces with Houston's Ninth Annual Peace Festival, PeaceFest '94 and the Third Annual Marcus Garvey World Beat Festival for a conglomerate weekend celebration that promises "a major change in theme from previous festivals." Saturday's theme, for instance, is identified as "Rock and Roll for Peace," a tribute to the memory of John Lennon. Sunday is formulated as a salute to Nigeria. Admission is free, car traffic is discouraged (if not downright impossible) in the area, and you will, as usual, be able to load up on corn dogs, flat beer, incense and beaded earrings to your heart's content. There's a ton of music to be had over the course of the weekend, including, on Saturday, Dive, Feo y Loco, Milkweed, The Hightailers, Peace Sanctuary, Aubrey Dunham and the Party Machine and Skillit. Sunday's got the Swamis, Eardrum, the Kenny Abair Trio and Roger Eckstine. There's even a Snapple-sponsored acoustic stage. Go hog wild....

Local Stuff... Shake Russell and Jack Saunders play the Mucky Duck on Friday, The Basics won't play Tejano music at the Satellite, and jazz saxophonist David Caceres is at Cezanne. Over at Fitzgerald's, Blueprint and 30footFALL (both of which have relatively new 7-inch singles in stores) open for the Arizona punk rawk of Horace Pinker, whose pummeling Power Tools was released earlier this year by Justice subsidiary Earwax Records.

Saturday, Luther and the Healers are at the new Velvet Elvis on Richmond, the Flaming Hellcats play Rudz and those dope-lovin' philosophers in Planet Shock! rouse the rabble at the Abyss. Keenlies and Austin's Hominy Bob share a fine bill at Galveston's Red Diaper Baby, Zwee and the Graveberries play Munchies, Skillit's at Laveau's and Dry Nod is scheduled for Mary Jane's. Meanwhile, Hadden Sayers is at The Pig "Live" and Russell and Saunders return to the Duck to record a live CD. Izzat enough live locals for ya'?

 
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