If you don't own any of their albums -- and if you don't listen to KTRU -- chances are good you've never heard NoMeansNo. It's nothing to be embarrassed of; they've never heard you, either. Both situations may be remedied this Saturday, when the band makes its first Texas stop in three years.
NoMeansNo has made a ten-year career out of pleasantly surprising those hardcore fans sick of bands that pass off brainless three-chord spasms as songs. Originally from Victoria, British Columbia and built around brothers Rob and John Wright, NoMeansNo constructs tunes that swing through bombast, minimalism, blistering thrash and self-consciously torturous stunt-rock -- sometimes all in the same song. Rob sings and plays bass, John plays drums and sings; if need be, just the two of them can put out more sound than most foursomes. This time through, the lineup also includes second drummer Ken Kempster and guitarist Tom Holliston.
Despite the precision and intensity of their live performances, and despite consistent critical acclaim, Rob insists that NoMeansNo isn't out to prove anything. Over the phone, he describes a hypothetical fan's ideal reaction to a NoMeansNo show: "Feeling like they wanted to run out and be in a band and play music."
"Music is a way of communicating feeling in a way that words alone could never do, and in a communi-
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y setting, among other people, jostling and touching and sweating and screaming," he continues. "It's that kind of release, that kind of connection that makes music valuable." Press him about the gloom and doom in his lyrics (the band's most recent album, Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?, features the songs "Madness and Death" and "Kill Everyone Now"), and Rob says that to make uplifting music, he starts with the premise that everything is not okay. "You can't have people who feel deeply, trust and love, without the opposite emotions. Positive nihilism is what we're trying to do."
Take your cue from Wright, and you'll approach the show as an opportunity to bump elbows with fellow humans, uncork whatever unpleasantness you've got in the back of your head, and come to terms with it -- sort of a gazillion-watt therapy session.
Houston has earned an unfortunate reputation for the less-than-neighborly demeanor of its hardcore fans, though, so friendly elbow-bumping here is a lot riskier than keeping your distance from the stage and just taking in the music. Which is a fine way to go, too. NoMeansNo plays tight little circles around most everybody else in the hardcore business, and even if you're not after catharsis, there's a hell of a lot of fun to be had just listening.
-- Philip Montoro
NoMeansNo headlines the KTRU Outdoor Show on Saturday, March 5, noon-6:30 p.m., at Rice, 527-4050. Also features Trenchmouth, D.R.U.M., the Suspects, Israel McCloud and Dyn@mutt. Free.
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