"We can't forget why we're here today," said the lead singer of Katy emocore band Soul Harbour from the stage at the Sidecar Pub. "It's about protesting the Houston Press, and how they don't cover the scene. I know I don't have $10,000 to send the music editor for a CD review."
To say I couldn't believe my ears is an understatement. But there was a lot that was unbelievable about the Sidecar's "Don't Just Live With It" show.
Taking its name from a play on the Press's old tenth-anniversary "Live With It" slogan, the show's stated aim was, as an ad in the Houston Music News put it, to elicit "more 'positive' coverage of the scene, actual visits by the HP music editor, and more coverage of local bands." Bands were asked to bring in promo packets and press kits so that I could "become updated on what's happening on the scene." They planned a petition drive, and patrons were encouraged to write hate mail, all of which Sidecar head honcho Peron Einkauf could dump on my desk with smug satisfaction.
I thought I would rob him of that small pleasure by heading out to the show and picking up the stuff myself. So that everybody would know who I was, a custom T-shirt was printed. On the front, we commemorated the show date. On the back were emblazoned the words "I'm John Lomax and Live with Me."
My wife and I arrived with two companions around 5 p.m. I was disappointed by the low turnout -- if there's going to be a party in my dishonor, I would prefer to have more than a couple dozen people show up. Also, where were the press kits? Though we were there for close to two hours, I didn't receive a single one. For that matter, where was Einkauf? I thought he wouldn't have missed a minute of his Bash-the-Press-alooza, but -- at least while we were there -- he was nowhere to be found.
There were about ten people taking in the Soul Harbour set -- roughly evenly divided between the parents and the girlfriends of the teenage band; the older portion of the crowd remained outside on the front patio. The kindest thing that can be said about the band is that its members were much better informed musically than they were factually, even though what they played was pretty indistinguishable from the music of 1,000 other emo-infused garage bands.
They were nice enough young men. When I ambushed them in the parking lot, waving a tape recorder and demanding to know when and where they got their information about $10,000 reviews, they were quite polite. "Oh, we just read that on the Internet," the singer said. "You know how the rumors are." I noticed that a couple of them were swallowing hard, and began to feel like one of the cops who had hassled me in high school, so I let them off the hook with one final question: "If I really got $10,000 per review, do you think I would be driving that car you're leaning on?" (Some of the band members were standing near the Racketmobile, a reliable if dorky 1993 Ford Escort.)
"Uhhhh, no sir."
Back inside, a Conroe band was playing sloppy, lightly disguised Skynyrd tunes. Marybeth Moore, Einkauf's wife and a co-owner of the Sidecar, came over and thanked me, her voice dripping with sarcasm, for "finally coming out to the club." Actually, this wasn't the first time I had been there. One dreary Thursday night a couple of months ago I took in a metal band that had been together for all of three weeks. (For a metal band that had been together for three weeks, they weren't half bad, but that's not saying much.) Then, Moore noticed something on my shirt, the fact that we had spelled the name of her club "Cydekar Pubb."
"Yeah," I told her, "we did that on purpose. Peron misspells everything in the e-mails he sends us."
Moore and her cronies gave us dirty looks and went "Oooooh" in mock appreciation of the very lightly cutting comment. The mood was getting as ugly and stale as the music coming from the stage. And after this junior-high-level exchange of barbs, it was time to go.
The latest "Don't Just Live With It" bill I could find had more than a dozen bands on it. Clueless as I am, I had heard of only three of them: the metal bands Dereistic and Cronus, and the alternative rock-rap act Laden. I was in the dark about Rigg, Serene, Far From Down, Saving Your Own, Dreaded Dandylions, Turbulent, Graffiti Jones, Satellite Bishops, Handdriver 9 1/2 and Strait Jacket, so I searched the Internet for all of them. This process was hindered by the fact that Einkauf had misspelled several of the bands' names on the show's publicity materials.
Ultimately, the Satellite Bishops were revealed to be from Dallas; why they're down here protesting against me is as illogical as Texans owner Bob McNair going to Dallas and demanding that the local sports pages give more space to the Cowboys. As for the rest, who knows where they're from? Most aren't mentioned anywhere on the Web except in connection with this show (and maybe one or two others). Neither do they have any recordings on the open-to-all MP3.com. If these bands don't have a Web site, press materials, a CD, the occasional gig, or even a couple of tunes online, how can it be held against me that I don't know about them?
Now, I'm fully aware that there are more of you out there who think I am a complete moron. There are probably thousands of you who think you could do a better job than I do; when I was in your shoes I used to think the same about other music editors, of this paper and many others. Feel free to call me out whenever you want to. Go ahead and hold more showcases like this -- I'll do my best to make it to each and every one. But if you do, at least make me feel ashamed of what I haven't been covering.
A "Don't Just Live With It" supporter on the Google group Houston.music (check out post number 30 under "houston band meeting?" for the full story) summed it up best: "If you're gonna ping on the Press for not covering any clubs outside of downtown and for not covering any local groups," wrote Acrobat, "then you should at least book some local groups that don't suck in order to make your point instead of theirs."
And now for some real coverage of the local scene: Pam Robinson is on the move again. When she bought Mary Jane's from Toby Blunt last May, she said that a name/format change could be in the cards (see "Pamland Central," May 30), and she's doing both of those things this weekend. On January 11, Luxurious Panthers will inaugurate the newly remodeled Fat Cat's, Houston's first rockabilly/psychobilly club in a long time, if not ever.
Mary Jane's has for years been a de facto home for Hands Up Houston, the independent indie rock promoters and guerrilla bookers. Robinson will be easing them out of Fat Cat's over the next few months, so you can expect them to book more shows at the Proletariat and the Axiom.
But the displacement is only temporary. "Club number four is coming up," Robinson promises. "It'll be really good for Hands Up. It's gonna be geared for them and that kind of music." The as-yet-unnamed club will be located on or near Washington Avenue in the vicinity of Robinson's other venues: Silky's, Walter's and Fat Cat's.
But why make the switch at all? Mary Jane's seemed to be doing fine. "I want to gear it to more of an Adult Swim kind of crowd, and psychobilly's probably my favorite kind of music," replied Robinson. "I like Reverend Horton Heat, I like Southern Culture on the Skids "
Are there enough demented hillbillies out there to keep such a club boiling? "There's not a lot of them in Houston, but there's a lot from Austin," she says. "I'm bringing them in from all over the place."
And it turns out that psychobilly/ rockabilly is going to be only a part of the mix. Blues acts such as Kim Wilson and Maria Muldaur as well as the neotrad jazz of New Orleans's Rebirth Brass Band will also be fare for Fat Cat's.
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In short, the new Pamland Central will find the wilder and woollier acts hissing and spitting at Fat Cat's, local blues and soul staying at Silky's, the more laid-back roots acts grooving at Walter's, and indie rock popping up down the street. If we don't watch out, we may just have a real, live entertainment district on our hands, all of it belonging to one woman.
Still, it's a shame that Mary Jane's is no more. I know I'll miss the opportunity to hang with three different crowds -- blues, country, indie -- all in one convenient stop. But Robinson doesn't see it that way. She wants the cluster to offer three shades of roots music, not a little of this, a little of that, and a little of the other. Also, with the Satellite's shutdown last week -- rumor has it that the building soon will be housing a hair salon -- Robinson sees a rock-based void on Washington. (By the way, one ex-Satellite co-pilot has already landed on her feet. Robinson has hired former FabSat bar manager Donna LaMel to fill similar duties at Fat Cat's.) And since Mary Jane's is long overdue for a cosmetic makeover, Robinson felt it was time to go whole hog and retire the club.
There were pressing marital reasons for the change as well. "I'm happily married and I want to stay that way, and my husband doesn't like the name Mary Jane's, and I don't give the big guy enough, so I'm giving him that one."
Robinson believes Fat Cat's is the perfect name for a club in a city that keeps on racking up "ample" awards from national mags. "We just got the title fattest city," she says. "We might as well have Fat Cat's, you know? Tie it in to that scene. Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat. Have another chicken-fried steak "