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Breakin' Up the Bands

Though door receipts might indicate otherwise, I am I and Coterie are two of the brightest talents in town. While I am I's sound, full of harmonious vocal lines and heavy, melodic riffage, is radio-friendly and Buzzworthy, Coterie's is sparse, ominously beautiful and introverted, the kind that sublimates the average pop fan's ears after one or two listens. Each band has its corps of steadfast followers.

Each has also learned how hard it is to succeed in Houston.

Last week saw some changes for these two acts. I am I (Patrick Higgins, Andrew Flanagan and David Garcia) disbanded after about three years together, and Coterie (Brain Taylor, Taylor's wife Christy Gabriel, Trey Barnette and Ron Rushing) is -- in Taylor and Barnette's estimations -- closer toward dissolution than ever. Taylor says the three-year-old band's June 10 performance at Instant Karma may be its last.

Both bands are extensions of a single band member's vision. For I am I, it is Higgins, bassist and vocalist. For Coterie, it's Taylor, guitarist and vocalist. These two write all the songs, crack all the whips and probably spend the most time worrying about whether a song has been rendered truthfully.

They're each probably the first to realize when expectations, their expectations, are not being met.

Then the big question arises: Who to blame? The "scene"? The clubs? Themselves? Both Higgins and Taylor say little bits of all three.

"The next level can't be achieved in Houston at this time," says Higgins, who plans to follow in the footsteps of former Houston hip-hop stalwarts I-45 by leaving Houston for greener grass. Higgins is relocating to New York in September. "I'd been talking to people in New York and they ask you what's going on [in Texas]. The answer's nothing." Higgins, with some help from friends, will perform as I am I around town until the U-Hauls come marchin' in. The change of scenery, says Higgins, will be a boon. "When you play in a bar up there, there's a chance of a guy in the crowd who can do something for your career," says Higgins, who has played the New York circuit before. "The town as a whole, people go out and look for new music and watch it and take it in. Nobody goes to different parts of the bar. They all pay attention."

Unlike at Houston clubs, where patrons mostly seem more interested in pool or the Comets game on TV than the racket on stage. "I wouldn't like to admit it," says Higgins. "But, myself included, we all complain about how people don't see bands. But we [local musicians] should go see everybody. We can attract more people. And I'm guilty of it. No one takes a high priority."

Higgins thinks predictable booking tendencies are to blame. The same local bands play the same handful of venues week after week. No clubs invest in bands.

To the question of a club's sticking to a regular diet of five or six bands, Dickie Malone from Houston's premiere club venue, the ten-year-old Fabulous Satellite Lounge, responds: "I am proud our marquee looks the same all the time. That means I have good bands the people want, and the bands and I make money."

Malone, whose experience in the biz as a performer, musician or club owner dates back to the early 1960s, says no band has ever been made by a club, including his, which regularly hosts gigs by Houston acts The Suspects, Clay Farmer, Global Village and Jug O' Lightnin'. "Austin bands aren't having 300 people show up to see 'em 'cause I say, 'Come see 'em,' " he says. "There's always been scapegoating by local bands who maybe need to have a little more objective opinionŠ.It's like the guy with the hamburger stand who has the worst hamburgers. He's gonna go broke." Belaboring the analogy of Houston bands and all-beef patties, Malone says, "There are a lot of crummy burgers out there."

Quoting Shakespeare, Coterie's Taylor essentially agrees: "'Our failure lies not in the stars but in ourselves.' In a city with no live interest, you're gonna be disheartened. If we don't get somewhere and we're upset, it's our fault."

While Taylor says New York is not out of the question, he plans on hanging around at least until response from the band's summer release comes in. Not knowing the direction of the music industry, what the Next Big Thing will be, also keeps Taylor in town. Until then, gigging will not be a priority. And rather than pursue the "traditional routes" (e.g., New York, L.A., Nashville), Taylor says he may concentrate on exploring e-avenues, such as MP3s and Internet radio. If things don't get better within the next six months or when sales from the band's next CD are tallied, whichever comes first, Taylor says there will be line up changes if not a complete overhaul to reflect Taylor's desire to move away from guitar-based sounds and into samples and loops.

The next question: If a great Houston band vanishes, does anybody mourn its passing?

'Round Town

Contrary to popular rumor, Houston's other major label bad boys (who don't collectively go by the name Fenix TX) Chlorine is still together. Though the band has not played a live show since February and, according to the band's manager, is looking to replace guitarist Chris Henrich, it is currently rehearsing for a new album.

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