New Wave Good-bye

Houston's The Shivers ready for Austin

Santa Fe, Texas, is not the most picturesque or bustling town in the Lone Star State. Petrochemical refineries and front yards decorated with rusted metal machinery line the hot asphalt of Highway 6 in an area where one local notes that "bingo, Lotto and canned beer are king." There was a recent vicious rumor that the local bar might have Murphy's Stout on draft (in what was surely seen as a cosmopolitan move), but it happily turned out to be false.

There is a Jack in the Box, though, and down the way a little bit in a patch of grass made brittle by the intense summer heat is a smallish building made of sturdy cedar and divided into sections where a sad-looking Dr Pepper machine sits. It's here that several local bands have rented a space to rehearse and store equipment. One of the bands is The Shivers, whose members actually hail from Galveston, South Houston and right on down the road here in Texas City ("The All American City," according to civic boosters). Sante Fe is a convenient meeting point, though the visitors are still careful to observe established local customs.

"Want a Lone Star?" asks guitarist Shirley (a.k.a. Chrystal Health), offering a cold 16-ounce tall boy just like the one she drinks. "We try and go all out here." Just then a sharp whistle indicates the passage of a train on the tracks right behind the building. "We used to wonder if Rafael Resendez-Ramirez was going to jump off and come in here," she says of the recently caught alleged railcar killer. "Now, we just have to worry about making too much noise for the old people in their trailers out back."

Like lots of other local bands, The Shivers will hone its skills in Houston then ship off to a music town.
Like lots of other local bands, The Shivers will hone its skills in Houston then ship off to a music town.

The band is getting ready to rehearse. The members start tuning up, plugging in and speaking to each other in their invented band names $egrave; la the Ramones: In addition to Chrystal Health, there's vocalist Foxy (Misty Cleveland), guitarist Sally (Margaret LeJeune), drummer Alicat (Allison Berry) and the sole specimen of testosterone in the lineup, bassist Mike Nuwave (Michael Cooper). All are in their early-to-mid-twenties.

The band begins by ripping through a hard-charging set list of all oddly titled original tunes whose sounds reflect the quintet's punk/new wave/hard rock leanings. There's "Cowbell," "Werepig Sweety," "Sphery Eyne," "Rock 'n' Roll Kitty Cat" and the two tracks on the band's recent Rocket Needle Records CD single, "Feather Craft" and the Yoda-speak inspired "Through with You Yet (I'm Not)."

The material is effortlessly catchy, yet substantive and played with enthusiasm. On the last two songs in particular, the band seems to channel the bouncy spirit of '80s femme fatales like the Go-Go's and The Waitresses. Otherwise, the punk rock songs come in short, full-on blasts anchored by Sally and Shirley's dual guitars and Alicat's evenhanded backbeat.

The question "Can girls rock?" is both tired and ludicrous in 1999, but the women of The Shivers are well aware that the gender makeup is both bait and millstone for the group, something they're prepared to discuss — even if it means on top of one another.

Foxy: "People hear, 'Oh, it's chicks! Let's check it out!' "

Alicat: "It attracts people at first, but we're able to back it up with how we play."

Mike: "It's not like it's the Spice Girls or anything."

Shirley: "We can't help our gender. We just wanna rawk!" (She puts a fist in the air for emphasis, and the band dissolves into laughter.)

Foxy: "But we like having a guy in the group. We love Mike Nuwave."

Mike (unenthusiastically): "Yeah. I fix all the broken equipment. And load all the heavy shit."

The group gives and takes easily since the members have known each other so long and well. Foxy, Alicat and Mike attended high school in Texas City together and met Shirley shortly thereafter. Later, when Mike was playing with Foxy's significant other in a group called The Dragsters on the state circuit, all would crash at the Austin-located house shared by Alicat, Shirley and original Shiver bassist Skully (Nikki Emerson, currently with Zero Heros).

The girls acted as a kind of de facto Dragster support group, enthusiastically clapping at gigs, posting flyers and even dancing on stage or doing theatrics when called for (not surprising given that all of the Shivers are former high school cheerleaders). They called themselves "The Pink Rock Girls." Soon, other Gulf Coast-area bands like Fuck Emo's and Limp Johnson also made the house their unofficial base while in the capital city.

And it's the forgetfulness (or plain laziness) of the guys in Limp Johnson that unexpectedly gave birth to The Shivers. Having Limp Johnson's instruments in the house for six months in 1996, the trio of girls, none of whom had any prior musical training, soon began plunking, strumming and beating the objects at their disposal. They eventually taught themselves how to play. For a party on Labor Day weekend the next year, they asked Foxy to join them on the mike for a just-for-laughs performance featuring covers of Pat Benatar, The Damned, Go-Go's and Pixies numbers.

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