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There are lots of raucous, obnoxious, noisy bands out there. Some have cut CDs. Some have regular gigs around town. And some even manage to attract crowds at their shows. This is noteworthy for two reasons: a) most of the "noisicians," folk who make this racket, don't understand that an audience is anathema, and b) most of the audience doesn't understand why it's there, let alone what noise in the "artistic" sense is supposed to be.
Around Houston, there are a handful of bands that are almost noise bands. There are some punk, metal, thrash and industrial groups that come close. But no one band that really expressly traffics in turning people off.
Even the historic noise merchants of Rusted Shut attract somewhat of an audience. The band released a CD, Rusted Shut, in 1995, and has been playing regularly around town since its beginning in 1985. The quartet even won the music award this year for Best Industrial/Noise. That there is such an award category shows that the Press thinks highly of its readers, most of whom I bet couldn't tell Rusted Shut from any other band that plays untuned instruments. All the noise sounds pretty much the same.
What's memorable about these racket-eers is that there's nothing really memorable about them. The "music" is an amalgam of distorted guitars, occasional drums, makeshift bass riffs, non sequitur samples and inane lyrics. There is no structure, per se. No time signature. No melody. No logic. No music. It's all noise. Which is fine. But it's impossible for such sounds to make sense out of context. They're not "experimental," experiential or enlightening in the Cagean sense. And I'd say most audiences know that what these Houston un-bands are doing is intentionally crappy, so it's no wonder some onlookers wonder: "What gives this talentless punk the right to take my money, stand up there on stage and do something anyone who's not a paraplegic can do?"
"I guess it's my right to rock," says Don Walsh, Rusted Shut front man/lead screamer. "It's just what I wanted to hear coming out of my amps. I could care less if anyone's in the room. We're chasing people out of clubs constantly."
Which, again, is the point. Noise makers are sonic masturbators. Noise audiences are Peeping Toms. Neither seems to care much for the other. However, there is lots of dialogue between artists and artists, and artists and onlookers. The players have to be able to hear each other, for Christ's sake. "Loudness doesn't equal noise," says Walsh. And anticipation gets heavy during these shows. Everyone including the performers, who are often improvising waits and waits and waits for something to happen. For something that resembles music to come out of the cacophony. Sometimes it never occurs. Sometimes it does. And when it does, sometimes you wish it would stop.
Walsh's story is angst-ridden. He graduated from Southwest Texas State University in 1980 and worked at Patterson's Hardware on West Gray for a few years ("I got fired 'cause I wore dirty boots") and later at Wilson Oil Equipment. After the oil bust of the early '80s, Walsh, an accounting and finance major, found himself unloading back shipments in the warehouses alongside high school dropouts. "Every day I just got pissed off more," says Walsh, who is actually quite good-natured.
At this time, he was also getting "fucked up" at night and was playing in a rock band. His first was Grindin' Teeth, a cowpunk outfit. "I never knew how to play the guitar," says Walsh, 40. "I never knew what I was doing then. And ya know, I do make up my own chords and structures, but I still don't know what I'm doing."
John Coltrane knew what he was doing, what rules he was breaking, every time he breathed through his sax. An old anecdote perfectly explains Coltrane during his avant-garde days. A taxicab driver was waiting for The Trane to finish a performance at a club one evening. By the time the cabbie arrived, Coltrane was really grooving. All the cabbie saw was a modestly dressed black man known as "John," screaming (literally) into a golden horn. "Anybody can do that," the cab driver thought. On the way to Coltrane's apartment, the cabbie overheard Coltrane talk about practicing. Intrigued, the cabbie dropped the artist off, circled the block a few times, then walked up to the front of the artist's apartment. He turned his ear to the sax player's window. The cabbie was amazed at what he heard: clean, quick scales. The only thing the players from Rusted Shut act like they know how to do is hold their instruments the way guitar players and drummers should.
Yes, it takes balls to stand up in front of strangers, un-play a guitar and shout into a microphone, "I'm a cop-killing nigger" over and over as Walsh did at Numbers a while back but it takes even more cajones, in this writer's estimation, to sing "Backstreet's back, all right!" to rowdy teenagers. Playing "noise" is an excuse to live the rock star's life, but never to work the rock star's schedule.
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