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It doesn't matter if you're into punk, metal, blues, rock, hip-hop, country or Scandinavian death polka, if you like music and you live in Houston, at some point or another, you're going to go to Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak, 713-862-3838). It's a genuine rite of passage for any Houston band to grace (or, in some cases, disgrace) the stage there. And it's a badge of honor for fans to say (sometimes falsely), "I saw (insert famous musician/band/singer's name here) at Fitzgerald's."
2706 White Oak
Houston, TX 77007
Fitz's (as we hip insiders like to call it) is a part of Houston music history. Stevie Ray Vaughan, both Winter brothers and even Jerry Lightfoot (in his next-to-last appearance) have played there during the past 30 years. Sara Fitzgerald and her husband started the club back when its bit of Studewood was the Bermuda Triangle of Houston's nightlife. Built in 1912, the building had spent most its time as a Polish meeting hall, and it wasn't in great shape when the Fitzgeralds took it over. Now the intersection Fitz's anchors is a hot spot with clubs, cafes, shops and brand-new townhomes, all within walking distance.
The closest thing Houston has to its own CBGB's in atmosphere and attitude, Fitz's has the delicious, darkened feel of sleaze without the nasty toilets. That may be because there's a big "Puke Here!" sign painted on the men's room with an arrow conveniently pointing to the trash can below.
There's a stage and a bar on each of Fitz's two stories. Tonight, the smaller downstairs space is hosting a trio of indie rockers (Stateside Stereo, Playing with Stars, Moxie), while upstairs it's the Houston Headbanger's Ball (Chrome 44, Dawn Over Zero, Exit 380, Sun Machine).
The multigenerational crowd is pretty typical. There are underage teens sipping Cokes mingled with hard-core Gen X rockers and the occasional gray-haired hippie with a ponytail. I'm in the downstairs bar. A few feet away is a painfully thin boy with a pink shirt and a headband pogo-ing to the beat. Standing next to me is Jill Benge, a svelte, almost 50-year-old grandmother.
"I haven't been here in 28 years!" she tells me. "Back then I drank way too much."
"Anything going to be different tonight?"
Benge doesn't miss a beat. "I won't be going home with my husband," she laughs.
Don't worry, Family Values folks -- the husband is no longer in the picture. Her date today is another biker, whose nickname is "Snake" -- though he looks every inch the IT tech guy that he really is off the hog. An officer with the Houston Harley Owners Group (hence the leather pants), Benge came to see the debut performance of Stateside Stereo.
I spot Stateside's guitarist, J.R. Rodriguez. "What's it like to play here?" I ask him.
"I grew up here and saw a lot of bands in the '80s like Beat Temple and Global Village, and then to get to play here on a Saturday...man, I woke up at 2 a.m. I was so excited." Given that his previous bands were Cherry Flavored Prophylactics and Uncle Spank Me, maybe it was their names that held them back.
Upstairs on the big stage, amidst the pounding beats and screamed vocals of agony (why isn't there any happy hardcore?), Lloyd Wood discreetly sits a table away from a group of teens that includes his 13-year-old twins, Lexie and Ian. "I've been bringing them here to see shows for about a year and a half. I've had no problems at all, and the kids have a blast." Clearly enthralled by being somewhere much cooler than the mall movie theater, they are here for headliners Chrome 44. "This is great!" Lexie says, looking shyly away. "I've got a cool dad." For the record, Mom is cool too.
Several of the teens have pulled on their just-purchased Chrome 44 shirts and are at the front of the stage, rocking out with unabashed abandon. "They're having such a blast," superdad Wood smiles.
I spot a muscled, black-clad, heavily inked dude with a tattoo on his shaved head. My editor would love it if I picked a fight with this guy (imagine the headline: "Nightfly Beats Up Biker Bad-ass"), but he looks kinda strong, so I pass on that and instead opt to look for some other, less tattooed people.
I try to engage Jesi Cox, a desperate Chrome 44 and "really, really LOUD" rock music fan, in some bar chatter. Cox has been to Fitz's "too many times" to count, so I figure she's an expert. "I like it here because I can get up close and take pictures, or I can stand back a little and just get lost in the crowd and enjoy the music," she says. I can't get much more out of her, though, because she's so into the moment, alternately thrashing her head and raising her cell phone camera, that she doesn't have time to talk to some nosy Nightfly. "Right after this song," she keeps telling me. "This is one of my favorites."
I decide to head back downstairs. Stateside is on stage, and guitarist J.R. Rodriguez is having some trouble with his hair (such a pre-fame rock star!). Sweat's pouring down his face, so his long hair is clinging to his cheeks and forehead, sticking to his eyes. He asks the crowd for a little help. "Anyone got a scrunchie...or a hat that says, 'Show Me Your Boobs'?"
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