For Tim Murrah, Metropol's eccentric owner/DJ/Britpop guru, it's not about style. Most downtown clubs try to create buzz with their exclusivity, high covers, dazzling lights, and flavor-of-the-minute dance trax piped in direct from New York and LA. Not Murrah's Metropol.
Murrah's idea is revolutionary in its simplicity. On a downtown scene driven by martini menus, velvet ropes, and struggles to be known as "the place where the beautiful people go," Murrah wants people to know that his Deep Fannin club is first and foremost, nay, exclusively, about music.
"From day one, I've stuck by my guns. It's about the music, not the decor," the tall, lanky Murrah declares. "When we opened -- it'll be two years ago in September -- our budget was a joke. It was peanut shells; we didn't even have peanuts, you know what I mean? There's no way you can compete with places like Spy or Tonic or whatever who have these big budgets And anyway, what's the point of opening just another bar that's gonna play progressive house or techno or Latin, or whatever. It's stupid."
What moves Murrah's soul is Britpop; he is quite likely Houston's most ardent supporter of the music. Murrah has a broader definition of the genre than the one that has become generally accepted over the last five years. "When most people think of Britpop, they think of 1995 -- Blur and Oasis -- which is cool. To me, though, Britpop encompasses everything from Petula Clark, The Kinks, The Beatles, and The Small Faces to Supergrass and Gay Dad. I think a lot of people are afraid to use the word pop, but they aren't so afraid if they hear the word Britpop."
Lately, Murrah has also been playing vintage and current sounds from the European continent. "Who besides me is playing old German new wave? No one." In response, he has attracted a loyal Korps of German regulars, perhaps solely to hear the music, perhaps because the club reminds them of its original namesake in Berlin.
Murrah's budget was as low as the priority he has placed on being yet another NoDo swankienda. "We didn't have anything to work with except a couple of gallons of paint and some creative ideas, and basically everything we did in there is made out of scraps. We said our selling point is our attitude and the music."
The attitude and the music are intertwined to the point where it might be more accurate to say the attitude is the music. "Young Heart Attack just played here at the Music Fest, and they just felt this warmth, this vibe here. Everybody is there for one reason, and that's to get off on some great music that other people are too scared to play or don't know about. It's not like we're trying to be all artsy-fartsy like students on KTRU. We're playing everything from old Lou Reed to the new Strokes to New Order; it doesn't matter. We don't stick to a format other than just good music, and I think that confuses people who come in from Spy or Tonic and look at our CDs and go 'Oooh, what's your format?' That's just the thing, you don't stick to a format. You don't play the same thing that every other DJ in town plays. They all go to Chemistry Records and buy the hot record, and then you can walk into any club in town and hear the same stupid record."
Warming to the subject, Murrah continues. "You go to the other clubs downtown. They go for the big muscles, the big tits, the big money. Houston -- and I speak very harsh about this because I'm a native and feel every right -- has such a lame scene, and I can't believe that after all this time people still think a place like Numbers is alternative. It's not; they're stuck in a rut they dug in 1984, and they haven't moved on. I just want to expose people to new music, to good music, and I'm still bamboozled that in a city this size I'm the only one doing it. I say that very pompously, but it's true. I don't know if anybody has the brains or the ability to do a club the same way."
Some may question Murrah's location, though, even if hardier souls find it a selling point. Housed as it is in the basement of an authentically seedy hotel/bar/grill ripped from the pages of Charles Bukowski, there is a feel of The Bowery back in CBGB's heyday. Derelicts dot the sidewalk outside the club's front door, and since it's on a bus stop, Murrah is often powerless to shoo them away. "Yeah, we got the crack addicts, the guys with piss stains on their pants, the guys in sleeping bags right outside our door," Murrah laughs. "I understand it's daunting. After the buses quit running, I try to run them off."
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Other factors have hurt business as well. There's the strip of rubble formerly known as Fannin Street to contend with, not to mention the fact that Murrah's passion for Britpop sometimes outpaces his business sense. His recent Metropol Music Fest featuring London bands Gay Dad, Warm Jets, and Arnold (as well as the aforementioned Young Heart Attack, which returns Friday, August 24) was not as well-attended as he hoped. Nevertheless, Murrah remains resolute. "Without a doubt," he wrote on Metropol's Web site, "it was one of the most important weekends Houston has ever had and a momentous occasion a gem in the rough of the pathetic musical history of this city."
Now that's what they call chutzpah.
Paesanos Lounge is under new management, and a new philosophy is at work. Partners Malcolm Stocker and brothers James Cole and Jason Lowery aim to, in Cole's words, "bring downtown to the middle-class who have been left out of the whole downtown scene." Cole is banking on the belief that would-be clubgoers are put off by black-clad Armani armies elsewhere, and he's aiming for a touch of down-home charm to go with Paesanos' upscale surroundings. The music on offer has thus grown more mainstream and eclectic of late, with less jazz and more bands like Snit's Dog & Pony Show, Mark May, The Fondue Monks, Simpleton and Gnappy. In short, it's downtown ambiance with Washington Avenue music Garden in the Heights, certainly among the coolest venues ever to grace Bayou City, kicked off its Texas Homegrown Jam series last week. Future highlights include Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark, and Charlie Robison. Robison is perhaps the greatest Texas songwriter under 40, and Clark is among the best overall. This is the kind of Texas music Racket likes and, best of all, admission is free . Labor Day weekend will see the last of M. Martin's Earthwire.net Sunday barbecue/poetry reading/jam sessions as remodeling work begins in earnest on his cybercafe which is slated to open on Halloween night Billy Byrd, the man whose Djangoesque guitar arpeggios brought a whiff of sophistication to many of Ernest Tubb's '40s- and '50s-era honky-tonk hits, passed away August 7 in his native Nashville at the age of 81. Byrd spent several decades toward the end of his life as a Nashville cab driver. As Ernest used to say, "Aw, take it away Billy."