There are lots of raucous, obnoxious, noisy bands out there. Some have cut CDs. Some have regular gigs around town. And some even manage to attract crowds at their shows. This is noteworthy for two reasons: a) most of the "noisicians," folk who make this racket, don't understand that an audience is anathema, and b) most of the audience doesn't understand why it's there, let alone what noise in the "artistic" sense is supposed to be.
Around Houston, there are a handful of bands that are almost noise bands. There are some punk, metal, thrash and industrial groups that come close. But no one band that really expressly traffics in turning people off.
Even the historic noise merchants of Rusted Shut attract somewhat of an audience. The band released a CD, Rusted Shut, in 1995, and has been playing regularly around town since its beginning in 1985. The quartet even won the music award this year for Best Industrial/Noise. That there is such an award category shows that the Press thinks highly of its readers, most of whom I bet couldn't tell Rusted Shut from any other band that plays untuned instruments. All the noise sounds pretty much the same.
What's memorable about these racket-eers is that there's nothing really memorable about them. The "music" is an amalgam of distorted guitars, occasional drums, makeshift bass riffs, non sequitur samples and inane lyrics. There is no structure, per se. No time signature. No melody. No logic. No music. It's all noise. Which is fine. But it's impossible for such sounds to make sense out of context. They're not "experimental," experiential or enlightening in the Cagean sense. And I'd say most audiences know that what these Houston un-bands are doing is intentionally crappy, so it's no wonder some onlookers wonder: "What gives this talentless punk the right to take my money, stand up there on stage and do something anyone who's not a paraplegic can do?"
"I guess it's my right to rock," says Don Walsh, Rusted Shut front man/lead screamer. "It's just what I wanted to hear coming out of my amps. I could care less if anyone's in the room. We're chasing people out of clubs constantly."
Which, again, is the point. Noise makers are sonic masturbators. Noise audiences are Peeping Toms. Neither seems to care much for the other. However, there is lots of dialogue between artists and artists, and artists and onlookers. The players have to be able to hear each other, for Christ's sake. "Loudness doesn't equal noise," says Walsh. And anticipation gets heavy during these shows. Everyone including the performers, who are often improvising waits and waits and waits for something to happen. For something that resembles music to come out of the cacophony. Sometimes it never occurs. Sometimes it does. And when it does, sometimes you wish it would stop.
Walsh's story is angst-ridden. He graduated from Southwest Texas State University in 1980 and worked at Patterson's Hardware on West Gray for a few years ("I got fired 'cause I wore dirty boots") and later at Wilson Oil Equipment. After the oil bust of the early '80s, Walsh, an accounting and finance major, found himself unloading back shipments in the warehouses alongside high school dropouts. "Every day I just got pissed off more," says Walsh, who is actually quite good-natured.
At this time, he was also getting "fucked up" at night and was playing in a rock band. His first was Grindin' Teeth, a cowpunk outfit. "I never knew how to play the guitar," says Walsh, 40. "I never knew what I was doing then. And ya know, I do make up my own chords and structures, but I still don't know what I'm doing."
John Coltrane knew what he was doing, what rules he was breaking, every time he breathed through his sax. An old anecdote perfectly explains Coltrane during his avant-garde days. A taxicab driver was waiting for The Trane to finish a performance at a club one evening. By the time the cabbie arrived, Coltrane was really grooving. All the cabbie saw was a modestly dressed black man known as "John," screaming (literally) into a golden horn. "Anybody can do that," the cab driver thought. On the way to Coltrane's apartment, the cabbie overheard Coltrane talk about practicing. Intrigued, the cabbie dropped the artist off, circled the block a few times, then walked up to the front of the artist's apartment. He turned his ear to the sax player's window. The cabbie was amazed at what he heard: clean, quick scales. The only thing the players from Rusted Shut act like they know how to do is hold their instruments the way guitar players and drummers should.
Yes, it takes balls to stand up in front of strangers, un-play a guitar and shout into a microphone, "I'm a cop-killing nigger" over and over as Walsh did at Numbers a while back but it takes even more cajones, in this writer's estimation, to sing "Backstreet's back, all right!" to rowdy teenagers. Playing "noise" is an excuse to live the rock star's life, but never to work the rock star's schedule.
It's hard to want to be appreciated for playing music when what you're doing by playing noise is asking to be forgotten. Maybe my problems with noise bands are semantic. If they called their stuff "sonic art" and performed it in galleries, I'd probably be more amenable to it. As it stands, I'm not. Rusted Shut will release a new CD in December and will be performing Saturday, August 14, at Rudyard's for a Sonic Youth tribute, and Thursday, August 19, at Mary Jane's.
Music Awards: They Ain't Over Till the Fat Guy Gets Naked
It's not worth mentioning every time a tall, fun-loving, middle-aged white guy and his dad take their clothes off in public. But when it happens at the Houston Press music awards ceremony, it's damn near headline news.
Everything was going swimmingly at the music awards function at Elvia's last week until the Poor Dumb Bastards took the stage. Lead singer Byron Dean got naked to accept his and his band's award for Song of the Year, and his father, about whom the award-winning song was written, mooned the crowd. Thankfully, Dean held his hand over his special part and Dad's was just MIA.
Now, I'm no prude, but I take explicit offense to the pushing of one's birthday-suited body on mine eyes. Where it makes sense (e.g., the theater, strip clubs, bedrooms, clearly identified beaches, etc.), it's okay. I can dig it. But when it happens in a place where people have to be able to digest food and beer, it's repulsive. And this has nothing to do with the fact that Dean's body is pale, portly, rumpled and almost completely hairless, and his dad's is 60-plus years old. (Gag!)
In another too-cool gasp at publicity, members of the Free Radicals had their moms accept on behalf of the band, which was on tour and unable to attend. Sweet-naturedly and excitedly, the moms made us glad to be American. Only in a place like this can even a mother's love be used to advance a band's "coolness" quotient. (God knows the number of chicks in attendance who, on seeing the sprightly ole gals take the stage, sighed: "Oh, how sweet!" Puh-leeze Mark May, Musician of the Year, was also unable to attend but unlike said pseudo-jazz band didn't employ the services of Mom or another other old lady to try to endear himself to the masses. His manager accepted.)
Most of the bands, including the PDB, really seemed glad to be there. As she received the award for Best Blues, Carolyn Wonderland nodded to Texas Johnny Brown. And rightfully so. And all the guys from the nine-piece ska outfit The Suspects seemed to have made it, including the one lad who made a note of saying we here at the Press misspelled "reggae" in our awards issue two weeks ago. And when one of the fellows from I-45 took the stage to receive his band's award for Best Rap/Hip-hop, he hugged my girlfriend (!), who was handing out the objects. Luckily for him, I was in the bathroom at the time. Good to hear he was excited, though.
Our presenters and the staff at Elvia's were great. Thanks to all. And apologies to Chris King, who won the award for Best Bassist but who wasn't mentioned in the awards issue write-ups. King plays for Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys. Congrats, Chris.
David Wilford heard the ads: "Santana!" He saw the ads: "Santana!" He bought the tickets. "Even on the tickets it says real big 'Santana.' "
But when he got to the show last Friday at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, he saw only "San" "We thought he was the headliner," says Wilford. "So we got there at, like, 7:30, and he was just finishing up."
The venerable, legendary guitar icon was the opening act. This pissed off Wilford, his friends and most of the people he says were sitting around him, who also missed most of the main man's show. No one, says Wilford, had ever even heard of the headliner, Maná. "We were there to see Santana," says Wilford. "We thought he'd go on last."
Michelle Stansel, director of marketing for Pace Entertainment, explains it this way: "It was a double-bill. A co-headliner. We never said it wasn't. And on the ticket it clearly says [the show starts at] '6:30.' "
Stansel says opening acts usually are announced as special guests. But wouldn't it have behooved Pace to make clear that Santana, a household name, might be opening up for Maná, relative unknowns outside of the English-speaking community? Wilford et al. would have saved time and possibly money ($60 per tik).
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"I guess we could have put something in there," says Stansel, "but we just get the ads from the tour and do as they say."
Homecomings and Goings
Yokel Jesse Dayton and his new band, Surfdog, will perform at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington, on Saturday, August 14. And the Southern Backtones will perform on a moving limo in Longview, College Station, Huntsville, Beaumont and all stops in between from Friday, August 13, till Thursday, August 19. Anthony Mariani
E-mail Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org.