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"Now there's just nowhere to go in the Montrose," says former Emo's bartender/band booker Ben Perez, better known as Catfish. "I love Rudyard's -- it's a great place to be -- but it's like the only one left."
Now, Catfish is hosting a weekly Emo's tribute night at Fitzgerald's. Like so many other displaced Montrosians, Catfish is making a stand in the Heights. He himself was priced out of his Montrose rental in the late '90s, and this year so was the club that he loved.
The tribute nights have been going well, according to Catfish. "We've had a lot of the groups that used to play there: Transmaniacon MCs, the Drunks, Project Grimm, Slim," he says. "It's funny -- a lot of these bands that we're booking are not doing it for the money. They're doing it because they know they're gonna see some familiar faces. They know that they're gonna have people there cheering for them." (January 16 will find Transmaniacon MCs and Project Grimm playing the tribute; the Drunks get their turn January 23.)
It hasn't hurt that Fitz's owner Sara Fitzgerald has been so cooperative. Emo's was known for its cheap booze and low or nonexistent covers. On the 18-and-up tribute nights, adults pay only a buck and the under-21s have to fork over just five. Sara has cut the impoverished Montrose masses a little slack on the price of a brew, too.
"Everybody's so happy to have a new and cool place to hang out," says Catfish. "In the three months I've been doing it, I've only seen about three fights. When you walk in, you see a lot of local band people hanging out and drinking and networking."
It's hard to steer Catfish into talking about the future. Ask if Emo's will reopen, and he'll tell you nobody knows. He'd much rather remember Emo's past, and especially the club's last gig, the night before Labor Day.
That night, the Flamin' Hellcats played, and the crowd took the house apart. Literally.
"It was amazing," says Catfish. "People were coming in with power tools and ripping out chunks of the wall. They just wanted a piece of Emo's of their own."
Needless to say, the club was packed -- in fact, the line to get in ran out the door and down the street. Catfish recalls they were a thirsty bunch. "By the end of the night, all I had left to serve them was melon liqueur and Sprite," he says. "But they were still buying 'em. They wanted to have one last drink in the place, and they didn't much care what it was."
Emo-tion was running high, to torture a pun. "Oh, man, people were crying, people were hugging," reminisces Catfish. "People who hadn't been there for years just showing up outta nowhere. It was neat."
Catfish looks back at the club with satisfaction. The Smashing Pumpkins used to play there. So did Hole and the Butthole Surfers. Even in its last year, the club introduced Houston to red-hot rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Godhead, among others. Catfish most fondly remembers another show not so much for its aural delights as for its visual feast.
"Milla Jovovich had a solo acoustic thing," Catfish recalls with relish. "She wasn't really rockin', but everybody just wanted to see her fine ass in Emo's, so we booked her. It was packed. There was all these punkers and dreadlocks and metalheads and nobody gave a shit what she was playing. They just wanted to see her so bad on that little stage."
But Emo's stood in the way of "progress," and it had to go. There are always more yuppies who want town homes "starting in the low $300,000s" -- at least according to the landlord's way of thinking.
"I'm not against people with money," Catfish says. "I'm just against people changing things just because they want to. There's a lot of history being swept away. I saw a lot of beautiful houses being torn down so they could build crappy-ass town homes that nobody wants to live in. I was getting nails in my tires all the time because I was driving around those stupid construction sites."
Still, it's with a heavy heart that Catfish speaks Emo's epitaph: "It was the kind of place you could walk in and always see at least one person that you know. Or if there was nobody there you could always shoot the shit with the bartender about music -- new bands, old bands. There was so much music that went through there."
While Emo's may be gone, it's certainly not forgotten -- especially on Wednesday nights.