"Thank you, people with broken, miserable lives who have nowhere else to go. Thank you, people who are lonely. Otherwise we wouldn't be here."
So the burly, curly-headed Greg Wood warms the tiny Mary Jane's Monday-night audience with his typical Bill Hicksian stage banter. With Wood, you get not just great songs well sung but also patter that exceeds all but the best stand-up. His between-songs riffs this night are on sex, drugs, rock and roll -- and anthrax.
"Three weeks ago, nobody ever heard of anthrax. Now it's everywhere. What is this stuff? Bathtub anthrax?" Then he brings the subject closer to home. "You can't get a light beer in this joint, but you can get anthrax in the mail," he says. Mary Jane's is not the sort of place where one goes to tipple on Coors Light or other such sissified libations. Most of the crowd is washing down shots of well tequila and bourbon with pints of bock, which is the only beer on tap. Somehow, in spite of its grungy wall hangings, Mary Jane's seems more of a western saloon than many of Houston's honky-tonks.
Monday nights have long been the vintage country cover Good Luck Band's gig. These days the Good Luck Band is on hiatus, but the same crew -- killer twin guitar attack Aaron Loesch and Eric Dane, Ben Collis on bass, Chris King on his minimalist drum kit, and newcomer violinist Hillary Sloan -- is backing Wood's originals. Wood's literate tales of smugglers, drunks and nights under the full moon at Last Concert Cafe, all set to various honky-tonk and rockabilly beats, are too smart for mainstream country and yet too sincere and unique to be lumped in with the No Depression legions.
Wood is quick to point out before the show that these gigs are more rehearsals than anything formal. Such was also the case with many a gig played by Wood's former band, Horseshoe. "We could be doing these in somebody's house, but this gives us an excuse to drink beer on Monday night," Wood says. The first half of the set is very much like a rehearsal, chock-full of false starts and train wrecks. Everybody in the band has a pint of bock at his or her side.
But by the end of the set, as the band moves into more familiar territory, Wood and company round into form. "Better Days," the set closer, swells in an orgy of choral frenzy, dueling guitar riffs and cymbal bashes. That the band cares enough to reach such heights says a lot about its ethos. After all, fewer than ten souls have braved the Monday-night blahs to come to the gig, the most animated of which is Daisy Mae the dalmatian, whose black spots and bright white fur stand out in bold relief against the dingy green and white tiles she trots over most of the night. But clearly this band would play their hearts out in a vacuum, because giving their all is the only way they know how to go.
Horseshoe, which put out four albums in the mid- to late '90s, melted away when Wood was laid up for the better part of the year after undergoing heart surgery. Right now his is a band without a name, not that Wood doesn't have ideas for a new one. Most involve some play on words revolving around his, ahem, matrimonial peacemaker. "We're thinking of calling ourselves 40 Feet of Cock, or Woody for short," he says. Later, another name comes to Wood on stage: "I've got it! We're the Dixie Chicks with Dicks!"
But it's unlikely that his producer, Jesse Dayton, will go for any of the above. Dayton's Stag label (formerly known as Bullet) will be releasing Wood's album (tentatively titled Ash Wednesday) before year's end. Wood is leery about hogging the limelight. "The people who are doing my record want it to be called the Greg Wood Band, and I hate that," he says. "They want it to be a singer-songwriter kind of thing, which is fine, but as you can see, we are not a singer-songwriter kind of thing. We're a fun band."
He's right. But he's also wrong. This outfit, whatever it's called, is both a fun band and a singer-songwriter thing. It also happens to be fronted by a pretty fair comedian.
Speaking of anthrax, the September 11 attacks and their unsettling aftermath continue to affect the music industry. First to go was the Coup's incendiary cover of the rappers detonating the twin towers. Then, the Athens, Georgia-based electronica duo I Am the World Trade Center clipped their name to I Am The And now metalheads Anthrax are up against the wall. In a darkly hilarious press release posted on the band's Web site (www.anthrax.com), the band jokes that it will be soon changing its name to "something more friendly, like Basket Full of Puppies." Lead singer Scott Ian, who drafted the statement, adds that he chose the name in high school biology class, because it "sounded metal" and was more original to him than all the "-er" bands like "Ripper" and "Deceiver," and that until recently virtually nobody knew what it referred to. But for now, there are no real plans to change the name. Ian is hoping the anthrax outbreak will simply blow over, and as he put it, "we [can] all grow old and fat together." But meanwhile, Ian is not taking any chances. As he told The Washington Post, "People keep coming up to me and saying, 'Hey, wouldn't it be funny if you got anthrax.' I'm like, oh, that'd be hilarious." Ian has laid in a supply of Cipro just in case, and defiantly tells the world, "I will not die an ironic death." Meanwhile, Cipro manufacturer Bayer has contacted the band about buying a banner ad on the Anthrax Web site, but as of this writing the band had not sold the company the space The inaugural Hawg Stop Blues Festival will fill the dubious Channelview air with the sweet sounds of the blues October 26 through 28. The Friday and Sunday lineups consist of one act apiece: the Tony Vega Band and the Benny Brasket Band, respectively. But Saturday's card is packed. Plan B will kick-start the jams at 2 p.m., followed by Monica Marie and the Blues Cruisers, Rick Lee and the Night Owls, Jaded Lovers, Kenny & the Bluesmen and Jay Hooks. Where there is blues, there is usually barbecue and beer in abundance, and this festival will be no exception. The Hawg Stop Bar is on Sheldon Road north of I-10 Doug Supernaw, the troubled Houston honky-tonker, is back on the docket. Supernaw was arrested and acquitted twice in 1998 on alcohol-related charges, most infamously after a melee at the KILT booth outside the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. This time it's another old bugaboo, namely child support, that has drawn heat to Supernaw's door. The lantern-jawed singer, who was arrested in 1997 on child support delinquency charges and includes among his hits the chart- topping "I Don't Call Him Daddy," owes some $135,000 in back payments. His case took a decided turn for the worse after he lashed out at a Harris County judge. He was cited for contempt and sent to the pokey for ten days. Supernaw faces six months in jail for the child support charges.
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