One of Montrose's most distinctive and colorful live-music venues is not long for this world, signaled by the "for lease" sign that appeared on the side of Mango's earlier this week. For close to a decade, the building has welcomed local bands from across the musical spectrum, who learned to begrudgingly tolerate the club's difficult parking situation and sometimes unusable bathrooms. But after talk began circulating on the Internet, Tuesday afternoon the owner confirmed that he has decided to step away.
"I've been doing this for four or five years, and I've been trying to find a way to find something else to do," says Eduardo Lopez, adding that he owns several other businesses and wants to spend more time with his two young children. "I've got quite a bit on my plate, and I don't want to kill myself and wind up paying bills in the hospital from working too many hours in the music business until 3 o'clock in the morning."
Opened as primarily a vegetarian restaurant/cafe, Mango's has been in the live-music game since the days following Hurricane Ike, also around the time when the Proletariat shut down and local acts who were either too green and untested to make any real money -- or too aesthetically challenging for Houston's more genteel venues -- found a home at the slightly distressed converted house at Westheimer and Taft.
Mango's was never going to win any awards from Architectural Digest, and HPD was prone to stopping by the parking lot, but the drinks were cheap and the PA system was better than it had to be. More importantly, it wasn't hard to get a show there.
The list of leading Houston artists who have held record-release or other significant shows at the club, which could hold maybe 200 people but often squeezed in quite a few more, is impossibly long. Just for starters, there's Indian Jewelry, Buxton, Something Fierce, B.E. Godfrey (with and without listenlisten), Wild Moccasins, Cop Warmth, B L A C K I E, The Eastern Sea, Grandfather Child, Fat Tony, Tontons, Balaclavas, Second Lovers, LIMB, Homopolice, Rusted Shut, Dead Roses, Future Blondes and so many more. Robert Ellis & the Boys pulled two-steppers from parts far beyond Montrose during their legendary 2009-2010 "Whiskey Wednesday" residency, and even Jandek stopped by one devastatingly hot evening in the summer of 2012.
As the successor to The Oven, which hosted names like Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory in the early and mid-'00s, Mango's also welcomed its fair share of national and even international acts long before most people had ever heard the names Delta Spirit, Warpaint, Future Islands or Iceage, as well as periodic visits by punk/ska veterans like the Carpettes, Sham 69 or the Skatalites. More than a few of those were brought in by Houston promoters Pegstar, including one show in particular that has had an especially profound effect on the local scene.
After some 200 people were turned away at a show by L.A. indie-rockers Local Natives in April 2010, Pegstar's Jagi Katial and Free Press Houston publisher Omar Afra (also a partner in Mango's at the time), coming off their inaugural Free Press Summer Fest the previous August, began negotiating to take over the lease of one of Houston's longest-running music venues, the Heights ballroom Fitzgerald's. Their plan that came to fruition that July.
"We had always wanted our own venue," Afra said at the time. "It really kind of clicked in our head when we did Local Natives a couple of months ago."
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Recently Mango's has been on an upswing, according to Brandon Bowers, who had been managing the place and booking the bands since this past April, and attended many shows as a fan of Houston's punk scene before that. Bowers says he left Mango's after falling out with Lopez earlier this month, but did a number of improvements to the venue during his stewardship, including fixing bathrooms, repairs to the sound system, and last month commissioning Mango's new mural, which he says 16 different local artists collaborated on and donated $1,000 worth of paint in the process.
Bowers, who started working at Mango's after losing his job as a biologist and says he will soon head off to do several months of field work, says he and Mango's sound engineer Dunnock Woolford have recorded more than 100 shows at the venue (including video) and are planning to release some of the material; some is already available on the new record by local grindcore band Turbokrieg.
Bowers maintains he still believes that Houston can support entry-level live music, "as long as the public lends the right support." He notes his friend Zack Palmer has "big plans" for Walters Downtown and endorses Navigation Blvd. gallery/venue the Summit, which along with Black Barbie and Wonky Power Live forms a cluster of local-music-friendly spaces that have recently opened in Houston's East End. However, he cautions anyone who might be taking over the Mango's lease -- or opening any other music venue, for that matter -- to be mindful of the many pitfalls that come with that trade.
"Gentrification, property tax increases, the noise ordinance, building codes, fire codes, taxes, inflated liquor license fees, and a number of other permitting agencies create this giant wall of fixed costs that wage an ever-present war on live music venues," he says. "I'd like to open a place when I come back, but for now everyone needs to support the DIY venues that are already here."
And Mango's isn't vanishing overnight, either. Bowers says he has transferred his booking responsibilities to Juan Carlos Newton, and according to Lopez, Mango's calendar is booked as much as 60 days out. Tuesday a Facebook invite appeared touting a farewell concert for the venue, scheduled for March 28 and with talent TBD.
"This is gonna be an all day event celebrating not only this great scummy venue on the corner of westheimer and Taft, but all the people who have made mangos last as long as it did," said the notice, which has already drawn offers to play by several local bands. "This is for all of you."
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