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Just in from the Metroplex... To most Houstonians, the rock scene in Dallas is pretty faceless, if only because most of its artists so rarely show their faces around here. Austin acts appear in town like clockwork, but Dallas ... well it's still considered a minor event when a Dallas act stifles its anti-Houston rhetoric long enough to make a trip to our part of the state.

So consider this minor event week, courtesy of Cresta, a Metroplex regular who is willing to break ranks and head south. With Cresta, you get the feeling that a well-lubed good time isn't enough; they're after something a hair more cerebral. This Dallas quartet's latest three-song EP -- self-titled and impeccably recorded -- is packed with bouncy, bombastic hard rock filtered through a thin psychedelic haze.

Rife with enticing glam touches and a solid new wave grounding, Cresta alludes to everything from Blondie to U2 to Throwing Muses. All three tracks are excellent, but the lead-off, "My Reminder," is the real stunner, its beautiful chorus blown and spun into ethereal disfigurements by singer/ songwriter Jenny Esping's aching, sex-charged delivery.

Cresta is the brainchild of Esping, who cut her teeth as a solo acoustic act before debuting the band last summer. Since then, Cresta has made a point of showing up in Houston as often as possible, performing at the Satellite Lounge and the Urban Art Bar. The band also landed a cut on the recent Aware 4 CD, an unsigned band compilation assembled by Chicago's Aware Records. Keep an eye out for this likable quartet. Unlike most Dallas acts, they should be back again soon.

Keeping an eye out for Mess, though, would be a waste of time. This is one Dallas act that, as far as I can tell, has neither the inclination nor the money to travel to Houston. Not that anyone's likely to mistake Mess for Dallas's next big thing. You might think you've heard much of their full-length debut, Pretty Ugly, before, and that's probably because you have, in one form or another. It's only rock and roll, after all, and Mess assures us repeatedly that it's okay to borrow ideas that work, so long as your heart's in the right place.

A tattooed, stiff-coifed outfit of twentynothing street urchins, Mess has suffered many of rock's indignities -- membership hassles, bogus gigs in near-empty venues, lost wages, eviction notices and worse. Even so, they'd rather drink and play than waste energy on displays of self-pity. Throughout Pretty Ugly, these hooky hard-core jesters shrug off adversity -- and any pretense of self-importance -- with street-bred humor, resounding, snarl-along choruses and blunt, power-chord simplicity. Mess's in-your-face power trio format is loud and fast, and their lyrical scope is just as limited as their music. Mostly, they sing about getting liquored up ("Jim Beam," "Goldschlager"), contemplating getting laid ("Holly," "Shiloh") and getting over getting stiffed ("Emotional Wreck").

On the occasions when the band's lyrics shift focus from their party-hearty window on the world, they veer off in disturbing directions. "I was a human guinea pig, subject to NASA experiments / Locked up in the hospital / They paid me 1,800 bucks, but it's still taxable," yelps singer/guitarist Chris Mess in the strange but (supposedly) true tale, "NASA." On "Telesurgery," a television watcher's love affair with his cathode ray tube verges on the slasher-flick macabre. It's good, twisted fun, but only to a point; I'll take odes to booze over songs about killer couch potatoes any day.

With its firm handle on the rudiments of punk and power-pop, Mess is, in barest essence, Green Day with a slight Texas twang -- two years late to punk's revival party, perhaps, but still a hell of a lot of fun.

That empty feeling... Subtlety has never been the strong suit of Houston's ToneZone Records. So when I peeled away the shrink-wrap on 51 Pegasi, ToneZone's latest industrial dance release from Bamboo Crisis, opened the case and found no CD, I figured it was some odd promotional gimmick. Maybe ToneZone honcho Bobby Joe Rose was dropping another one of his not-so-subtle hints. Did an empty jewel box mean the new Bamboo Crisis effort would be an airy, less impenetrable affair? Had Bamboo Crisis suddenly developed a taste for practical jokes? Should I be glad the thing wasn't rigged to explode?

In truth, it was none of the above. The missing disc was a manufacturing error, not to mention a big shock to Rose, who quickly messengered over a new copy of the CD. For its part, 51 Pegasi is Bamboo Crisis being as deadly serious as ever, part Art of Noise dance-floor chic, part Ministry-style cheap-scare tactics, part uncompromised rage a la Nitzer Ebb, part Bowie-esque Orwellian panic attack. Friday, Bamboo Crisis will join fellow ToneZone acts Violent Blue (also supporting a new release) and Bozo Porno Circus for a label showcase at Emo's. Be very afraid.

-- Hobart Rowland

 
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