Snowboarding in L.A.

Adventures in LaLa Land... Those big-guitar-soundin', herb-worshippin', one-lovin' hip-rockers in Planet Shock! are back from their latest field trip to Los Angeles, and if they still haven't signed on anybody's dotted line, that's not to say they didn't return encouraged (though their manager will tell you there's no rush, the band's all about peace, love and sampling, and that business stuff can just happen when it happens). Shock! made a two-day visit to the city that never shuts up and capped the stay with a dream gig opening for Ice T's thrashmetal offshoot Body Count (dream gig, because it's rare that you find someone as high-profile as Ice T involved in a project so irredeemably shitty that you couldn't help looking like the next, umm, Guided By Voices in comparison). Oh by the way, said gig occurred beneath the glitzy eaves of a club called Glam Slam, owned by a small, slinky purple man who used to be called Prince, before he stopped calling himself Prince and put out a new album under the name, er, Prince (what the hell was that all about?). So you get the picture: this was a big deal sorta show.

Shock! manager Ed Maldonado says the A&R folks, including some 20 from Priority, were there to see the Houston boys play (though that could just as well have been Johnny Depp and his youth brigade in disguise), and among the minor revelations provided by the brief exposure to such name-brand opulence was this: Body Count can't draw a crowd to fill a hole in the ground in Ice T's home city of L.A. The 2,500-capacity club had only about 400 customers inside, and half of them came to see Shock!. Maldonado reports 107 presale tickets and 26 walk-ups. Body Count's label had to buy out more than 200 tickets to make the show happen and they couldn't give them away. I don't know why I think that's so damn funny.

Maybe because Planet Shock! at home can reliably draw enough of a crowd to fill several good-sized holes in the ground, and so if Body Count can find a label to throw money at it, then perhaps Shock! eventually can, too, and for the first time in the more than two years I've been writing about music in Houston, I'll get a chance to write about a local band signing a deal with a major label to take a shot at the big time (without the band being the Galactic Cowboys, who've since divided their energies between opening tours for crappy art-metal bands, giving charity shows for the Houston Music Council and housepainting for all I know, and who've never really counted as a local band in the first place anyhow). Yes, I'm aware that the fabled major-label shot at the big time is not what the music's all about, and our scene's probably better off this way anyway, tucked away in its corner where nobody can hurt it, but just once, just for the variety, I'd like to see it happen. I want to know what it looks like.

Planet Shock!, of course, would like to see it happen as well, and maybe it will and maybe it won't. But in the meantime, band members are sprouting into a tidy little cottage industry of side projects. Soul Rebel is one such, composed of Shockers John, Ricky and Joe B., and an unidentified deejay. It's a live instrument acid jazz thing, and you'll occasionally see them on the calendars at Soulstice, Laveau's and the Blue Iguana.

Cloud Nine is another, comprising DJ U.N.T. (Say it fast... It's like unity, get it? Only not quite. Go figure.) and Shock! vets John and Joe B. According to reliable if not terribly specific sources, Cloud Nine exists in that musical space where tribal, acid house, jazz, trance and ambient music (yup, bona fide categories one and all) collide and confuse the hell out of you, making you hear things all funny. Cloud Nine may be checked out on Thursday nights at Laveau's.

And while you're at Laveau's, since those nice folks are such big TV fans, lean on 'em to special order a copy of the soon-to-be-released (though probably not in this neck of the woods) snowboarding video that features snippets of Shock!'s "Maggot Brain" on the soundtrack, alongside tunes by Wool and some other pretty cool bands. Snowboarding videos, L.A., I don't know... When do they get famous?

Cassette of the Week: This one's so much a demo it doesn't even have a title, but it's got five songs and J. Jaye Smith's name on it. It's Smith's voice and a piano and that's it as far as instrumentation goes, which is so terribly simple and un-hip in itself that it puts a big grin on my face. Smith's voice and songwriting are what's being shopped here, and her voice is powerfully clear across the range, if not terribly passionate. The songs range from the vampy opener "Even Though, Even Now" to a series of more heartfelt and less effective meditations on the usual romancy topics. Smith's at her best, oddly enough, when she's showing off; the effort gives her lines something of the attitude that might cause tuxedoed men to drape themselves across her baby grand in some imaginary supper club where, unfortunately (since the venue's only imaginary) this material might be most effective. I continue to wish for that supper club, though if it ever opened, I doubt they'd let me in.


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