Minimizing the carnage... While locals are busy debating the significance of the Abyss's sudden demise and its potential impact on the scene, touring acts and booking agents around the country have their own mess to deal with. Upon its closure at the end of August, the Abyss had national-caliber live music scheduled right up through the end of October. But rather than hanging in there until its calendar ran out, club owner Rex Shalchi -- disheartened by the violations heaped on the club in recent days and the prospect of forking over a small fortune for a new air-conditioning system -- went with the knee-jerk solution.
In hindsight, a more considerate -- and very doable -- choice would have been to ride out the flack from the city for a few a months, making good on the dates already booked. Granted, it's hard to blame Shalchi for sealing off the crummy dive before the roof caved in on the patrons or some poor sap died of heat stroke, but he could have gone about it in a more caring manner. For a guy who claims to love music, he sure left a lot of musicians and their fans twisting in the wind.
"They could've handled it better," says Fitz's owner, Sarah Fitzgerald. "They just turned everything off, walked away and shut the door, and left everybody else holding the bag."
For its part, Fitz's is doing what it can to accommodate the Abyss's victims. Despite ongoing renovations, it will be taking on the Jesus and Mary Chain show, which will come off as planned on Saturday; all pre-sold tickets for the Abyss date will be honored. Ditto Incubus on September 24. Fitz's management is also trying find an appropriate venue for cartoon-rap degenerates Insane Clown Posse, who were originally scheduled to perform Thursday at the Abyss. At press time, though, no venue (including Fitz's) was willing to subject its sound system or its interior to the sticky Faygo soda-dowsing that is the duo's trademark.
"We finally cleared up the whole Ticketmaster issue," explains Fitzgerald. "[The Abyss] sold all of its pre-sale tickets through Ticketmaster, and we couldn't get the money. We had no contract with [Ticketmaster], so in their mind it was a canceled show. It was such a nightmare." (Shalchi recently signed a release to grant Fitzgerald's access to funds from Ticketmaster sales.)
It's difficult to say what the Abyss's closure means for the future of live music in Houston -- other than a temporary respite from death-metal bands. But it does hint at the often insurmountable problems that come with operating a live music club, not just in Houston but in any city.
"Just because you have rock bands doesn't mean you go home like Steve Rubell with wads of cash in a suitcase," says Bruce Godwin, proprietor of the Montrose dance club/concert venue Numbers. "It just doesn't work that way. Putting on live music [can be] prohibitively expensive."
But the fact remains, death metal has a big market in Houston. So chances are, some other hole-in-the-wall will pick up the slack, and before long, the Deicides and the Hate Departments will be back conjuring more chaos. Something to look forward to, no?
Gluttons for punishment... Those wishing the Sperlings would take their garage-pop toys and go home are in for a rude awakening: After a brief hiatus, the band is back, its creative neurons refiring at a a rapid clip. Long the whipping boys for the local alternative media, they christened their unlikely re-emergence early this month with a pair of modestly attended live appearances at the the Mausoleum (September 4) and Rudz! (September 11).
With a few gigs out of the way, the Sperlings are now spending their free time at Bronze Beagle Studios (also the home of Sandin) working on the follow-up to last year's Sea of Sarcasm CD. Titled Green Manilow, it ought be out early next year. At the very least, it's got my vote for best album title of '99.
Etc.... Local Christian act Frail worships at the altar of Billy, Dusty and Frank on its new self-titled debut EP, which offers up a simmering, uncensored version of ZZ Top's "Jesus Just Left Chicago." The band -- the roots of which can be traced back to Houston's First Presbyterian Church, where it first came together under the name 4O Days -- celebrated Frail's release with a September 13 showcase at Rockefeller's. Predictably, the album's other three tracks are of a style more befitting the group's ecclesiastical origins (overtly spiritual folk-rock). But the dance with the devil is fun while it lasts.
If a Civil War-era soundtrack featuring songs performed by the Nashville likes of Travis Tritt, Tracy Lawrence and Deana Carter sounds a bit suspect, it shouldn't bother you any more than its inspiration: The Civil War, Frank Wildhorn's contemporary musical (?) adaptation of the five-year conflict, now playing at the Alley Theatre. One of a few planned companion albums, The Civil War: The Nashville Sessions is already in local stores. Since Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde went over so well here, Houston is privy to the new album well in advance of its November release date in the rest of the country. And if you're wondering what Wildhorn's modernized take on the War Between the States might entail, here's a hint: In the past, he's written songs for Dennis DeYoung and the Moody Blues. Bad sign.
-- Hobart Rowland
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