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Hole lotta litigation... It's become mighty tempting to assume that Houston's Manhole doesn't exist anyplace but in court documents. After all, the female-led metal/sludge outfit has seen more action in front of a judge than before paying audiences over the last year.

First and foremost has been the band's ongoing legal tiff with the Los Angeles-based group formerly (or so they say) known as Manhole. Last March, a judge here ordered the California heavy rock outfit to cease using the Manhole name, the trademark of which has been the property of Houstonians Eev Rodriguez and Allison Gibson since 1993. Although officially, the L.A. group has done just that -- changing its name to Tura Santana -- its members and label, Noise Records, continue to diss Rodriguez et al. in public and on the Web. Noise's attorney has appealed the case, which means both parties can look forward to continued hassles in the future.

But the latest affront to Manhole's good name comes from X-rated Internet entrepreneur Seth Warshavsky, who adopted the moniker for his gay porn web site in 1996. Since then, Rodriguez says, she and the others have endured countless jibes from fans who have keyed in www.manhole.com and were met with a sleazy surprise. At the very least, Warshavsky's site prevents the band from having its own web site at that address. At worst, it constitutes yet another case of trademark infringement.

Warshavsky's attorneys contend that trademark infringement shouldn't be an issue because the two Manholes are in entirely different industries. But that argument hasn't held water in the past.

Warshavsky and his Internet Entertainment Group have a history of copyright abuse. Dubbed the virtual Hugh Hefner, the cagey multimillionaire ran afoul of the Hasbro toy and game empire, which protested his unauthorized use of the name Candyland for another such site. (Chutes and ladders, indeed.) Two years ago, he lost that court battle to the tune of unspecified damages. And while hardly an enterprise of Hasbro proportions, Manhole is demanding the same level of justice.

"We are asking that they be forced to change the name," says the band's lawyer, Suzanne Tomkies. "We're asking for damages. And since this is the second time they've infringed on a trademark, we're asking the court to award us their profits."

An injunction hearing was held in Houston circuit court on March 13, its purpose, obviously, to force IEG to rename its web site. At press time, a decision was still pending. In the meantime, Manhole is barely hanging in there as a band, with no shows slated for the future and a lineup that is basically unsound. Needless to say, a court-awarded cool million in restitution from the king of Internet sex could prove to be some pick-me-up.

Raves and wave-offs... Bread-and-butter guitar rock is what The Fringe do best, and on their self-titled debut CD, the seasoned quartet of local music vets spreads it on thick -- with plenty of loose fun to spare. Wisely, they keep the production (the disc was recorded at Sugar Hill Studios) clean and basic, which allows for more than a little spontaneity to seep through. Young at heart and mature in chops, The Fringe is the curious sound of middle age on hold.

Party music of the pharaohs? Hardly, but Sons of Egypt is ambitious nonetheless. The brainchild of local rapper/producers Sherif Zaki and Ahmed Zaki, this CD hammers away at a relentless pace well suited to the back-seat boom box and the dance floor. Its grooves fuse hip-hop, techno, synth-trash and lightweight gangsta rap for a diverting mix that has little, if anything, to do with the merging of East and West. Regardless, the Zakis do get busy.

Release activity... The way I see it, any band brave or stupid enough to label its music "kung-fu fighting, back-stabbing, devil-worshipping, bar-hopping, spine-snapping aggro-rock" deserves admiration, even if it's from a distance. And though I confess that I've never seen Waster Pro, I'd still be inclined to take their word for all of it -- seeing as the quartet is made up of former members of Dixie Waste, as bloodcurdling a heavy-thrash entity as has ever called Houston home. Lately, Waster Pro have been playing around town in support of their just-released 5-Song Demon EP. If you choose to cross paths with them, don't say I didn't warn you.

Etc.... Yet another Houston latecomer to the South by Southwest "in" list: honky-tonker Davin James has been added to the bill at Justice Records' Wednesday night showcase at Stubb's. That makes 16 Austin-bound local acts in all -- just in case anyone's still counting.

Clubland
Well, it looks like Milton Hopkins is out another regular gig -- for the time being, anyhow. Just when it seemed the Blues Club was finally coming into its own, the classy, intimate joint now finds itself homeless -- and through no fault of its own. The club was subleasing its room (located in the Target shopping center just off the Southwest Freeway) from Eastern Chinese Restaurant. So when Eastern tanked last month, it, in essence, took the Blues Club with it. "[The owner] had a five-year lease and he failed. He went and negotiated a termination with the landlord, and we were left out in the snow," says owner Andy Curley. "A new guy came in and wanted a karaoke bar." No sweat, though. Curley is already scouting locations inside the Loop for a new, larger Blues Club. (H.R.)

-- Hobart Rowland

Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at Hobart_Rowland@houstonpress.com.

 
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