Houston 20 Years Ago? You Can Keep It

The author and a friend at pre-'Warehouse District' coffeehouse Downtown Grounds, c. 1990
The author and a friend at pre-'Warehouse District' coffeehouse Downtown Grounds, c. 1990

I’m tired of hearing a bunch of moaning and bitching about how great Houston music used to be. The time has come to stop the communal griping about the past. You sound like my Pops when he breaks into “Back in my day…”


No more moaning about Houston’s musical “Glory Days” from 20 years ago. More like “Glory Hole Days,” when the streets were crawling with prostitutes and gutter punks. The trap of nostalgia is sentimentality; it’s soft and whiny. This appeal to tradition has got to stop. 

Understand this: Houston back then was great, but it wasn’t better.

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I get it — you’re reminiscing for when the scene was gritty. We were coming of age and bands sang songs about how cool smoking pot was. Punk shows were the norm. Kids had garage bands instead of Snapchat accounts. The mall was a place for rich kids and if Hot Topic existed, you would have hated it for being so “corporate." You shopped at Dream Merchant and Goodwill and still managed to look like an individual, albeit an "alternative" one.

If you were lucky enough to be in a band, you made your own shirts, passed around your demo on a cassette tape, read Public News religiously, and knew that Westheimer was a scary place when the sun went down, not an antique bonanza for retirees in high-rises. We all want the Vatican and the Axiom back. But do you know what makes that time so cool?

1) It's over. 2) It didn’t become the squeaky-clean Heights.

Mattress stores wouldn't really look right down the block from the the old Vatican (shown c. 2008), right?
Mattress stores wouldn't really look right down the block from the the old Vatican (shown c. 2008), right?

That’s a good thing. Do you really want a dozen mattress stores and hipster taco stands around the Vatican? Do you want to see another new high-rise apartment complex in the backyard of the Axiom? Or Starbucks to buy out Downtown Grounds? Want to be shushed by the yuppie neighbors at Emo’s? Or Pik N Pak to, well, not be so intimidatingly cool and weird? Of course not.

You’d lose your mind to see a bunch of emo kids at Goat’s Head Soup, Shimmy Shack or Epstein’s. You’d probably get so bothered, you’d weep and tear your Dead Kennedys shirt, jump right back into your Prius, go home and complain to your wife. You and your coworkers would probably commiserate about it between Monday’s sales meeting and your son’s orthodontist appointment. You might even post a passive-aggressive message on Facebook about “Kids these days” and then realize you’ve become the guy in the Descendents' “Suburban Home.” It’s a slippery slope, really.

Say what you will about the scene 20 years ago, but it doesn’t matter. Those days are over. The local scene still needs your support — and right now. Local bands are performing and producing outstanding music. In many cases, they're far more impressive than the bands from 20 years ago. 

Even the performances are better now. Technology and music have evolved in the local scene’s favor. The music is better, the sound quality is superior, the venues are safer, and the streets are cleaner. Is that so bad?

Sure, lots of venues are gone and yes, that’s sad. But many are still here. Houston has more venues now than we’ve ever had. Some of the new ones are pretty edgy, too. Maybe the best part is that Fitzgerald’s is still open (until September 15), but you can park your car on the street and it probably won't get broken into. How’s that for a fun night out?

And you can’t cry about a dead scene if you’re not involved in making a new one happen. That armchair criticism falls flat; it’s bullshit and you know it. Let’s face it, 20 years ago Houston venues were mostly playing bands who had a large draw. If you didn’t meet a head-count quota, you rarely got booked.

A 30FootFALL reunion show in July 2013
A 30FootFALL reunion show in July 2013
Photo by Francisco Montes

That meant we all heard the same 20 bands every weekend. I loved those bands, too. But now, on any given night Houston venues play host to a variety of genres. Doubtful? Check out the app BandsInTown and tell me I’m wrong.

The reason why we’re so nostalgic is because our scene was new. We felt united in created something unique and the '90s were pretty badass, no one will disagree with you. Sure, these kids today have yet to create anything that closely resembles what we had in punk, alternative or metal. But times have changed, and music has changed.

I’m not telling you to throw out your Bad Brains cassette tape, just that maybe you need to find some new acts, go to some shows, and get out of the house instead of just bitching. If you’re in that 35-45-year-old demographic, I’m looking at you.

If this scares you, start with bands you know. Believe it or not, some of those really great bands from 20 years ago still play gigs and are still awesome. Here's where a couple of them will be playing next:

Dead Horse:  Saturday, BFE Rock Club
30footFALL: Saturday, Walters

The one thing I might agree with you about is the old summer concert series at Astroworld. A long day of rides, pizza, and more rides ending with New Order or Erasure was pretty cool.

But that’s it. Got it?

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