Street Scene

Sex, drugs, rock & roll, and the ballad of 2100 Lexington

More than a few people who live and have lived on the 2100 block of Lexington generally regard the period, roughly, from '88 to '93 as The Street's golden age, the culminating achievement of decades of evolution into a highly specialized ecosystem that S.H. Brashear wasn't likely to have imagined. The Street became then, it sometimes seemed, a vague and imperfect but tantalizing approximation of a utopian community, but this statement should be taken with the salty knowledge that there was a good amount of acid going around.

Nick Cooper moved in in September '88, more or less. Many Lexingtonians share an inability to recall dates precisely. He was at the time the drummer and whip-cracker of Sprawl, a band formed at Rice that quickly became Public News's Band of the Year. The Sprawl House, at 2129, became a hub of rehearsals and parties. Cooper, still at Rice, left town for the summers, and he'd come back to find that Sprawl saxman Clay Embry, now with Austin's Brown Whorenet, had moved two more people in while he was gone, or that Andy Nelson, now an actor with Infernal Bridegroom Productions, had let the utilities lapse. If you were to draw a map of all the people who lived in the Sprawl House at various times and chart their movements from room to room or from the Sprawl House to other houses on the block and then back, you would end up with something like a small-scale chart of Continental Airlines' daily flight patterns. If you tried to include all the people who once woke up on a couch there and later claimed to have lived at the Sprawl House, you would understand something of the underground cachet the band, and the house, carried at the time. Sprawl played the downtown Axiom club to crowds invariably harboring some girl or another with a fresh Sprawl tattoo. After last call, singer Matt Kelly would announce party on Lexington, and the club would move en masse to The Street.

An earlier portrait of the Lexington group became a Christmas card.
Photo courtesy of Julie Grob
An earlier portrait of the Lexington group became a Christmas card.

The Sprawl House itself was a pit, an overgrown rehearsal room filled with instruments, recording equipment, last month's garbage and the ubiquitous 40-ounce Big Gulp cups from the Stop N Go that pulled duty as 89-cent hangover cures. When a downstairs toilet backed up, neighbor Mike McCracken nailed the bathroom door shut and left it to fester. Founding Sprawl guitarist Dan Robinson and then-girlfriend Kelli McLaughlin lived in an upstairs room -- they're now married and expecting a baby in San Francisco -- and Kelli remembers trying to keep at least that one room livable. When she took a vacation she locked her door behind her. When she returned, squatters had broken in and taken up residence. "My mistake," she says, "is thinking I was going to have a nice place. My mistake."

After a summer that Sprawl spent in New York and the Sprawl House functioned as a sublet flop for friends, Dan and Kelli moved out to a Montrose rental. Shortly thereafter, Kilian Sweeney, a UH student just starting up his band De Schmog, moved into 2140 across the street, the old Foxy Lady, broadening the circle. Now there were a Rice band and a UH band on The Street, mimicking the division of frat/group houses from the '70s. Not long after Sweeney moved in, Delgado's Sugar Shack was named Band of the Year in Public News, and uncomfortable with the acclaim, Sugar Shack decided to play a free party on Lexington to boost its street cred. It was the first party newbie Sweeney went to on The Street, and it was a hell of an introduction to the scene. Axiom booker and KTRU DJ Julie Grob, who lived on Lexington from '89 to '94, places the party at the Flower House, maybe 400 people, maybe five kegs. Sugar Shack played in the living room, and the crowd surfed -- as was the style at the time -- inside the house. Talk to anyone who lived on Lexington during the golden age, and sooner or later they'll get around to telling you, unprompted, about that party. Some of the details are expectedly fuzzy, but there's one vision permanently lodged in every recollection, like a totem of the age: When they woke up the morning after, Lexingtonians found footprints all over the Flower House ceiling.

The Sprawl House was hardly the only house on the block, just the hub for a while. Brad Moore of the Keenlies and now Oilers had moved about the same time into 2121 with Sprawl bassist and current Oiler Jeff Nunnally, bringing along the Commune name of a previous rental. The Keenlies practiced there. Years later, Brad met Alexis Bove, who had lived in the Sprawl House, and they got to talking about Lexington, and Alexis told Brad that she finally moved out, the last straw, when she woke up one morning and found two strange guys crashed out on the couch outside her door. One of those guys, they finally figured out, had been Brad Moore.

Dry Nod House was established between the Commune and the Sprawl House, with a second-floor deck on the rear for backyard shows. The Flower House had members of at least five bands living under its roof. De Schmog practiced open-doored at home, and UH photographer/Lexingtonian Mark Lacy found a "Hong Kong Studios" sign in his attic and hung it in De Schmog's window. Some old guy walked through the front door one night and watched patiently until De Schmog finished rehearsing before asking singer Diane Koistenen if she was, you know, ready to go upstairs. She later rented her own house on The Street.

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