Live Shots

Atomic Opera
Goat's Head Soup
Saturday, April 16

First there was King's X, then Galactic Cowboys, now Atomic Opera. By all rights, the three bands should have patented a sound -- crunch/thrash rhythms, detailed melodies and Beatlesque harmonies -- as distinctly Houston as grunge is Seattle or hair spray was L.A.

That it hasn't happened has little to do with the quality of the bands. Atomic Opera vocalist/guitarist/leader Frank Hart easily has his three bases covered, providing a visual and musical anchor for the histrionics of guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Marshall and the stage-stomping of bassist Jonas Velasco. Drummer/vocalist Mark Poindexter, meanwhile, plays with a deceptively easy touch.

But all of that falls largely on deaf or already-converted ears. Saturday's "crowd" pulled up barstools and sat in a semi-circle facing the stage -- not the reception a band of this caliber should receive in its hometown.

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Three potential pitfalls could keep this good band down. One, they could become bigger in Europe than here and pretty much stay that way; two, their label could fail to keep them around long enough for their career to fully develop; and three, Frank Hart could get nabbed as songwriter/guitarist in a bigger band. If none of the above come to pass, Atomic Opera may be the band to rise above the Houston floodplain. The music's certainly there.

-- Chris Smith

Friday, April 15

There's a certain sort of heat, the repetitive crashing of a relentlessly muggy wave like a wool blanket dipped in boiling water wrapped around a naked torso, that I've found only at Fitzgerald's. It's a pain in the ass, until you're too soaked to care, but it's also a tribute to the bands that generate wall-to-wall crowds at that venerable room. Sprawl has been generating them for years, and generated one more Friday night for what the band was calling its Houston swan song.

Guitarist Joey Salinas has decided to pursue other opportunities, which makes for the second time Sprawl has lost a guitarist (Dan Robinson bailed out after The Deflorist in 1991), and rather than follow in the footsteps of the perpetually guitar-less Red Hot Chili Peppers, the seven-year-old funk institution packed it in in front of a sellout crowd that spent a frantic evening diving off the stage, and occasionally the balcony, in celebration.

If the band's splitting up, it's certainly not because they can't play anymore. Sprawl's spastic funk jams found their grooves without having to look, and were punctuated by a sax/trombone/trumpet horn section that has developed over the years into one of the punchiest ensembles in town.

So that Sprawl's final outing wouldn't be just another show, the band tossed in a few chestnuts like "Infantile Beggar," and highland bagpipe player Ramon Martin, who guested on last year's The Man with the Yellow Hat CD, took a solo turn. "This is Sprawl's last show," Martin said, "and I was going to play a dirge." Instead, and appropriately, he played a triumphant march.

-- Brad Tyer

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