On the road to Lafayette with Planet Shock!
It's one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, there's a big, black Ford truck pulling a U-Haul parked at the curb, and the doors are open as people walk in and out of a rented house in the Montrose. Planet Shock! is packing up to drive to a show in Lafayette, Louisiana. It'll be the band's third gig there, at a 202-occupancy hole-in-the-wall called the Metropolis, Lafayette's month-old country-cousin dead ringer for an Alternative Music Club. Last time the band came through, I'm told, the Metropolis packed 500-plus kids into the tiny split-level room and the owner's mom prepared a feast and donated a keg. The Shock boys have been led to expect chicken enchiladas on arrival tonight. Lafayette has turned into a solid market, which is a good thing, since outside Houston, Planet Shock! has yet to establish a presence even in so close and obvious a market as Austin.
Ray "Bone," Shock's early-twenties guitarist, is sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the tube, playing some video game on the Sega so complicated that only savants, stoners and people in their early twenties can comprehend it. Lee Leal, Shock's bassist and newest member, shows me a coffeetable he painted with the rasta-colored image of Bob Marley. Bob Marley is a recurring Planet Shock! theme.
Edward Maldonado, Shock's 23-year-old manager, who also manages Manhole and others, shows up, and Lee asks him if he's seen the new Guitar World. Alice in Chains is on the cover, and apparently one of the band members is wearing a Dashboard Mary shirt -- Dashboard Mary being the local hard rock band Lee played with before he quit to join Planet Shock!. He talks like Alice in Chains are old buddies, but says he dumped 20 Dashboard Mary shirts in Alice's tour bus at Lollapalooza. Alice in Chains, also, are a recurring Planet Shock! theme.
Lead rapper Joe B. and DJ-rapper Lyonel Gonzales drove to Lafayette the night before to check out the scene and gamble on the river boat. Drummer Ricky Partiva and keyboardist Alex Masuca ride up Saturday in another car, and Lee, Bone, vocalist and sampler Carlos Lama, roadie Adam and I take Lee's F-150 and the U-Haul filled with equipment, T-shirts and a bag of beaded necklaces with hand-painted PS logo medallions. Lee's girlfriend makes the jewelry, and Lee prints the shirts on a press he says he won in a poker game.
Inside the cab, there's a Planet Shock! sticker on the windshield, a hanging denim jacket covered with sewn-on band patches and silver studs and Shock graffiti, a boom box, two CD cases, a couple of bottles of Evian and a bag of carrots. The CD selection looks like something you might find if the record store had a special section for "Essential Mainstream Alternative." Alice in Chains. Pearl Jam. Temple of the Dog. Bob Marley. Cypress Hill. Red Hot Chili Peppers. One thing the disks have in common -- besides the stereotype -- is a deep, fat, heavy, polished sound that sounds great on hi-fi.
Lee is driving, wearing another logo-encrusted jacket, his long black dreads stuffed up into a rasta cap. He's short, bulldoggish enough to look big, and quick to laugh. Carlos is thinner, and since he lost the use of both legs in a high school car wreck, depends on a wheelchair and walking sticks to get around. He's got a friendly disposition, a computerized pocket datebook, frizzy prophet-length locks, a whole bunch of tattoos and a brand-new piercing through his tongue. He says he doesn't think he ought to smoke any dope while the hole is healing, but nobody's buying that.
At seven o'clock, outside the Metropolis on Jefferson Street, Lafayette looks a pretty little ghost town. Most of the stores downtown close at four, and Saturday night you can walk 15 blocks without crossing an open establishment. Club manager Sydney is waiting at the Metropolis, looking a little pale and talking in a Cajun slur that slows to a glacial momentum as he gets drunker.
Planet Shock! loads in for soundcheck. There aren't any enchiladas. The club's owner is in California, and the bar is having trouble stocking sufficient beer for the night. The PA's not all there, and there aren't enough monitors to go around. The soundman has been hired on the cheap and doesn't have a clue how to mix a seven-piece band. Soundcheck lasts two hours, and the hungry band speeds to Pancho's Mexican Buffet, which locks its doors as we approach, so we settle on Mel's Diner, a '50s-style boothed eatery that serves half-dollar-sized burger patties and doesn't seem at all retro in this town. Everybody eats junk and Lee scares the waitress, who is not familiar with this Alice in Chains fellow.
Back at the Metropolis at 11:30, the bar is packed with University of Southwestern Louisiana students who look like the crowd you might get if you bused a Saturday night's worth of Emo's and Pig Live patrons to the same club and forgot to tell them they don't hang out with each other. There are seven people on stage. Carlos seated over his keyboard. Alex behind him on another board. Lee has the bass. Ricky, a huge bear of a kid with a bushy goatee, is planted behind the drum kit. Behind a mop of hair and Lennon glasses, Bone stares at the strings on his fire-orange guitar,
and Lyonel is doing things with the turn-tables that no one but a DJ really understands. Joe is strutting hunched over with the mike in his hand in that eyes-to-the-ground rap prowl.
To delve into ancient history, in 1992 Planet Shock! emerged from the remains of Maggot Flesh. Finding a name was a bitch with seven people voting, and nobody really grooves to this one, but nobody really hates it either, which was enough to get the job. It's got a somewhat misleading world beat connotation and an annoying exclamation point, but it'll have to do.
Joe, Lyonel and Ricky came up through Milford High School, DJ-ing house parties. Alex and Bone were doing music across town. When Joe wanted to play with Bone, Bone insisted on a package deal with Alex, whose only prior knowledge of Joe was that, he says, "I had a lot of friends who used to beat him up." Everyone insists they're like family now. Carlos -- at 29 a good half-decade older that the rest of the band -- came into the fold after deciding to record Shock as his project in a production class at HCC. Joe played bass until
Lee joined four months ago. Everyone onstage is Hispanic except Carlos, who's half Peruvian.
There's not much identifiable Latin flavor, however, in the crunching, disorienting set they play this night. When Caucasian kids grow up smoking doobies and listening to Sabbath, Hendrix and Zep and get their first taste of wanting to be in a band from punk rock, you get, apparently, grunge. When Hispanic kids grow up smoking doobies and listening to Sabbath, Hendrix and Zep and get their first taste of wanting to be in a band from hip-hop, you get Planet Shock!.
Shock's metal/hip-hop hybrid has been explored in one-shot projects from the Public Enemy/Anthrax duet of "Bring the Noize" to last year's Judgment Night soundtrack, but nobody I've heard has made a band out of it until now. It's a busy mix, layering bass, drum and guitar samples over the real live thing, pump-your-fist-in-the-air party and pro-pot-school rapping, white soul vocals, stolen Hendrix riffs, power chords and nasty fast scratching.
Planet Shock! walks an uneasy line between rap and funk and rock. It's easy to see how rap purists could dismiss Shock's hybrid as dissolute, but rap is just part of Shock's act, and Shock has a major advantage over most rap: it rocks live. As for merging comfortably with rock culture, though, all you need to do is call up one of commercial rock radio's local shows to see how far they'll go to avoid even the slightest association with rap.
It works on the kids at the Metropolis, though. Touches of rap, reggae, industrial and thrash blend together under a mammoth wall of sound that has all the earmarks of the band's CD collection -- deep, fat, heavy and polished. Sort of a bored-out sampler of all the juiciest riffs from each genre. Classic rock right now. Not a soul leaves the floor while the band is making noise, and even when they're done at close to two, the pumped-up crowd dances to Public Enemy in front of the stage. Ricky says some girl reached around his stool and felt him up in the middle of a song, which seems like a good sign. Lee sells only one shirt and four Shock necklaces, but he isn't really trying. Shock eventually retires to the local Travel Host Inn for a decompression party that lasts past five in the morning.
Next day, Planet Shock! hits the Shoney's breakfast buffet, alongside three tour buses full of senior citizens taking advantage of special Saturday morning rates, and in light of the befuddled faces ringing our corner of the restaurant, the name Planet Shock! takes on new resonance. We meet a worn-out Sydney for equipment load-up at the club, and start the drive home.
It's a long ugly road, and most of the trip is spent in radio-listening silence, but Joe explains a little bit of what he thinks Planet Shock! is all about. It's about a good time. Joe's been rapping since early high school, but gangster-style rhymes never appealed to him. The project has been to bring people together in the band and then find out what they can do. When Carlos was brought on board for his technical expertise, no one in the band even knew he could sing. When Lee entered the fold, no one expected the merchandising cottage industry he'd bring with him. Joe doesn't remember getting beat up by Alex's posse, but he does know that Alex brought his aggressive industrial edge with him.
Planet Shock! is also about cross-pollinating audiences, both starved in Lafayette and saturated in Houston, under the banner of heavy music and doing your own thing.
The thing works. Planet Shock! is steadily drawing larger crowds for its increasingly tight music at venues like Laveau's. It's working because while most rap doesn't seem to be trying too hard to sell itself as live music, and while too damn many rock bands are trying to sound like Shock's CD collection, Shock is not at all quietly making a noise like no one else is making.
Planet Shock! celebrates the CD release of Planet Shock! on Friday, March 25 at Laveau's, 321 Westheimer, 526-9400.
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