Not until a foggy night last month at Rudyard’s upstairs did I cross paths with one of Houston’s best underground stoner-metal bands. It took until then to discover exactly why so many people had gushed upon hearing even the band's name mentioned in local music circles.
In fact, not until Mr. Plow left the stage and a national touring band, Ape Machine, took their place — and immediately cleared the room — did I understand exactly how powerful Mr. Plow’s performance really was.
It’s not often that a local opener outperforms a national touring act, but when it happens, there's a good reason for it. Mr. Plow’s set of tunes that evening were the kind of heavy, stoner, dirty, sludgy riffs not heard often enough in the Bayou City. No wonder fans showed up for Plow and left right after they shut their guitar cases for the evening.
Lead vocalist and attorney Justin Waggoner’s haunting wails and dark guitar work added an interesting auditory black magic to an otherwise melodic metal band. Slow-churning bass and buzzing amplifier feedback set to precise and intricate drum work of percussionist Cory Cousins was the kind of doom-laden musical magnetism orchestrated by this group that evening.
With songs fashioned after author Kurt Vonnegut, like “Deadeye Dick,” and a cover of Cannibal Corpse’s “Hammer Smashed Face,” and influences from comic books, J.R.R. Tolkien and The Simpsons ("Mr. Plow" is the title of Season 4, Episode 9), the Houston band has had to find their inspiration in clever modern tales and cultural references not typically found in stoner-rock lyrics. They even boast a song titled “Samizdat,” which means the clandestine copying and distribution of literature banned by the state, especially in the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Don’t’ be surprised that Mr. Plow is deeply intellectual and well-read. Their collective membership consists of highly educated professionals: two attorneys, one chiropractor and a registered nurse who is a graduate of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and Carnegie Mellon University.
Arriving at Mr. Plow's shared rehearsal space, I was struck by what is probably the nicest, most comfortable room I could recall watching a band practice in. Certainly a step up from Francisco Studios or a subpar shared garage in the stifling Houston humidity, Mr. Plow’s setup was none other than a spare room in a comfortably affluent neighborhood full of crisp, modern townhomes near Midtown, with the gorgeous backdrop of a nighttime Houston skyline.
Attorney and guitarist Jeremy Stone pointed to a neatly framed photo on the wall of a younger Mr. Plow, wide-eyed and pressed up against a stage, as he quietly unraveled a tale about the entire band attending a Fu Manchu concert together years ago. The deep bonds the members share are easily apparent in their laid-back rapport and casual closeness.
Chiropractor and bassist Greg Green shared one of their most notable memories of how they’ve known each other since their formative years in Alvin, a tiny farm town nestled along Highway 6 in Brazoria County due south of Houston. The quartet shares many memories, considering they’ve been playing together since the late '90s.
These men are no hacks looking to one day create a success story where none existed; on the contrary, success seems to be the main ingredient of a familiar Houston recipe. Mr. Plow will begin work this September on their fourth studio album and want nothing more than to support that effort with a tour.
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What a tour looks like for busy, middle-aged professional-by-day, rock-stars-by-night remains to be seen, but when asked, Mr. Plow members immediately joked about having to ask their wives’ permission. While the good-hearted joking may have been innocent, the feeling remained that a tour was imminent. With such rousing material and a solid set of Houston followers, it seems like the next natural step in Mr. Plow’s evolution.
Indeed, not only did the conversation between band members reach a fevered pitch when they were discussing the upcoming album, possible tour and more gigs, it was clear that the music has reached a level of execution where they collectively realize they can measure up against any regularly gigging local talent or even more.
That’s not to say there aren’t other doom-ish stoner bands in Houston who play decent material. On the contrary, there are; they just aren’t doing what Mr. Plow has organically grown from their years together — a tight-knit, cerebral outfit fortified with heavy riffs, which plays the kind of satisfyingly grinding heaviness of the best acts out there. And for that, Mr. Plow deserves to move toward center stage.
Catch Mr. Plow deliver the heaviest of the heavy with Vehement Burn, The Dirty Seeds, Backdrop Violet this Friday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Tickets are $10.