A rose by any other name... Granted, it was an inane moniker. Hell, even the band members knew how juvenile it was: Pull My Finger, a name that conjures up sulfur-tinged memories of that kid in seventh-grade gym class always willing to let one rip for anyone willing to yank on his digit. Yuk, yuk, yuk ... yech.
Even so, it took three years and a full-on brush with the music industry to make these twentysomething Magnolia residents even consider a more tasteful tag -- one that did their ever-evolving, indie-pop-in-overdrive sound some justice. These days, the group is called Ultramagg, a much more appropriate (though no less cryptic) tag for a foursome of 'burb denizens scrambling to find common ground in the larger-than-life guitar-rock principles set forth by Billy Corgan, Bob Mould and Boston's Tom Scholz. And, come to think of it, there's plenty of room for everyone on that playing field.
The relative disgust over the Pull My Finger name -- and all it represented -- came to a head two years ago, around the time the group was voted a semifinalist in Musician magazine's best unsigned band contest. The band's surprising showing sparked some interest among roving label scouts, none of whom had any reservations about telling the guys to ditch the lame name. The addition of rhythm guitarist Jason Linus last spring -- which filled out a lineup of guitarist/singer Nathan Parsons, drummer Marcos Echegaray and bassist Mikell Linus (Jason's brother) -- appeared to facilitate the change. In no time, they'd settled on Ultramagg -- "Ultra," as in another word for the prefix "super," which has already been done to death by other acts; "magg," as in Magnolia, a town the group obviously favors over Houston, seeing as they diss the city every chance they get in their press bio.
"We wanted to come up with a really cool name," says Jason Linus.
Even cooler is the group's debut CD, Ultramagg, a tightly wound, ten-song neuro-frenzy that rarely overstays its welcome, boasting sizable Pumpkinesque power chords and nickel-cadmium hooks. The band's angular tunesmanship and Parsons's strained vocals are slathered with just the right amount of studio dressing by producers Dan Workman and Robbie Parrish. Both were exceedingly patient while Ultramagg recorded the album in fits and spurts over an extended period at Sugar Hill Studios. The guys had hoped a deal of some sort might come out of their Musician placing and showcase. But when nothing of significance materialized, they simply released the album on their own Less Than Records late last year. "We just got tired of waiting," says Jason Linus.
By then, a studio version of the group's minor-key, slacker lament "Somedays" (also on Ultramagg) had already caught the attention of David Sadof, music director at The Buzz (KTBZ/107.5 FM). Sadof promptly added the tune to the coveted play list of his weekly Lunar Rotations show. As a result, the group was invited to play the '97 BuzzFest's second stage. Says Sadof: "They're definitely among the better bands in the city."
And now that they've done away with the fart reference, could the sweet reek of success be far behind? Smell for yourself when Ultramagg invades the Mausoleum Friday.
Etc. ... Hide the sheep. Former Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus's band, Honky, is wheeling into Emo's Friday. Houston's very own antichrist superstars, Truth Decay, open the show. Expect the worst. If you're partial to a bit more subtlety on a Friday night, Draper & Whipple, a danceable union of Schrasj's Gram LeBron and de Schmog members Jonathan Sage and Kilian and Christian Sweeney, performs Friday at Rudz! Also that evening, former Houstonian Darin Murphy brings his latest smart-pop project to the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. The band, simply dubbed Darin, opens for American Horse.
Finally, the city's martini-quaffing men-about-town have a respectable place to toss their garter-belted babies in style. On all counts, the Orchid Lounge is the real item, a smoky, high-class liquor joint with a hep, street-savvy clientele. Indeed, nearly everything about the Orchid suggests the swingingest nightclubs in Los Angeles. It's as close as you're likely to get to the Brown Derby in Houston.
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Tucked in a side room at the Village Brewery, the Orchid is no shrinking violet, with a hardwood playground of a dance floor, ample bar space, comfy little nooks for necking and one of the classiest small stages in town. In the club's first few months of operation, owner Jim Florence and booking agent Chris Harkness have been able to bring in some of the nation's best neo-swing acts -- bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Recliners and the Necro Tonz. The last, a death-lounge act from Las Vegas, must be seen to be believed; your chance arrives Sunday.
You can bet Florence is serious about making the Orchid Lounge something more than an impermanent receptacle for a lagging trend; he's out to build a god's-honest scene, with first-rate entertainment six days a week and dance lessons Friday and Saturday. About the only thing wrong with the place is its raised dance floor, which, when packed, makes it virtually impossible for folks in the back of the club to see the stage. Florence tentatively plans to lower it in the coming months, which ought to make the Orchid even sweeter. (H.R.)
Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at Hobart_Rowland@houstonpress.com.