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A Clean, Bic-Lighted Place

It was like eavesdropping on every headbanger's dream: In the middle of Sid 17's set at SideCar Pub early this month, the band -- performer number two in a heavy metal trifecta that included Linus and Mystic Cross -- ripped out a kick-ass cover of Krokus's "Screaming in the Night," a kick-ass tune that probably hasn't been heard live since Krokus croaked ten years ago.

Fists punched the air and Bic lighters (no shit) illuminated SideCar's warm, wooden interior. The place was packed, nearly 250 strong. Of course, aside from the random metal babe, the crowd comprised mostly dudes. The only thing missing was the smell of dank cleats and tube socks.

After the "Band" part of the Sonnier Brothers Band split, the Church of the Cartoon Heroes was born.
After the "Band" part of the Sonnier Brothers Band split, the Church of the Cartoon Heroes was born.

But this type of menfolk loves its music, behaves well and -- by nature -- consumes vast amounts of alcohol.

Clubs would do well to take notice. Some have.

SideCar has. Others such as Bahama Mama's, Bobby's Extreme and the Outback Pub (!) have also opened their doors to metal and its musky fans.

Rick Ward of Midnight Circus says he believes the demise in showcase clubs, such as Cardi's (which switched formats) and Live Wire, over the past three or four years is one reason why smaller neighborhood clubs, like SideCar and Outback, have begun booking more music, especially metal. "It's getting to where [fans] are hitting neighborhood bars," says Ward, "because of the drink specials and little or no covers. Contrary to what the economy tells us, people aren't wanting to spend lots of money out."

And neighborhood bars may have become more open to metal thanks to national successes like Limp Bizkit, Korn and Creed. "It's like it was when Ratt and Poison got big," says Ward, a metal pro since the '80s.

But this doesn't mean club owners and bookers will be donning leather chaps and spike collars anytime soon. Basically, metal is satisfying a need.

Asked if he is trying to tap a lucrative niche, SideCar's Peron Einkauf says: "Absolutely not. We're trying to have an eclectic mix. People won't come out for two nights of metal. Or two nights of country. Or two nights of anything else."

SideCar's schedules resemble those of some other venues, which also feature a mishmash of various types of acts. And with more venues and more acts than ever, Houston's scene is becoming a feeding frenzy. In the estimation of Steve Jones, who runs the metal information source metalmad.com, just the number of metal-friendly clubs alone has doubled over the past year, up to about 15 from six or seven. And the number of metal bands, Ward guesses, has probably doubled, too.

Metal fans? Their numbers have probably tripled.

"I like it," says Ward of packed houses and stiff competition. "I feel like getting out there and playingŠ.It makes it seem all worthwhile as a player and as a musician and artist. I just like making people happy."

Easy Like Sunday Morning

The "Band" part of the Sonnier Brothers Band left to start a new group this past spring. The result: Church of the Cartoon Heroes, a sextet that just wrapped up its first gig on January 1.

The long time between formation and performance numero uno has been worth it. COTCH exhibits mature musicianship and will attract jam-band fans and blues-rock fans alike.

The three guys who left brothers Dane and Len Sonnier in the lurch -- Chad Lyons, Chris Ferguson and Eric Jarvis -- are original members of the seminal Houston blues-rock band, which was created in 1995. The three left, according to Jarvis, simply to try their hand at new music, something different from the everyday Sonnier shtick. "And I wanted to play bass," says Jarvis, longtime Sonnier guitarist.

The trio added three new members: Jarvis's wife, Stephanie, to sing vocals, and two out-of-towners, Fred Williams, who spends the majority of his time in Washington, D.C., and Dave McNair, who resides in Austin.

The band rehearsed every Sunday morning (hence the church reference in its name), beginning in April, with or without its full lineup. Together at the same spot (for once) in October, the band cut an eponymous five-song EP, which is available at www.mp3.com/cotch. Its New Year's Day performance came on another one of those rare occasions when all the players were again in town at the same time. The Church opened for Carolyn Wonderland at Fitzgerald's.

The band's sound is a mild variation on Sonnier stuff, airtight blues-rock: a playful attitude, loose arrangements and ever-morphing time signatures. And in fitting with its name, the band also plays up the cartoon-hero part on stage. Each performer has an alias (e.g., Stephanie is either Dot Comma or Orange Criminal, McNair is Ming, Jarvis is Big E), and each lives up to the band's not-too-serious image. "We have three guitarists, but only one is really like the guitar player," says Jarvis. "The other guys just kinda create a sonic landscape."

The band, says Jarvis, will woodshed from now until May. It may do some gigs along the way, but not very many (out of respect for its two out-of-towners). However, the band plans to rework its EP into a full-length by summer.

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