Tape head... You could easily argue that Houmidity: Bad Weather, Bad Attitudes isn't much of a documentary on the Houston music scene. And it's likely that the video's creator, Jamie Sralla (a.k.a. Butch Montenegro), would agree with you. Still, that hasn't stopped Sralla from slapping a photocopied label on his video and making it available to the public for rental and purchase at Cactus Music & Video. After all, well-intentioned crumminess is supposed to be avant-garde, right?
Maybe not. Even Sralla forgoes attaching artistic merit to his no-budget compilation of live performances by Acid Country, Clouded, Peterbuilt, Tractor Faction, Horseshoe and other local groups. Houmidity was made in three months using a camcorder and two VCRs, without the benefit of "a film, sound or lighting crew hired by some invisible money source" -- or so says the flier that accompanied my copy of the video. The bits were taped by Sralla and friends from locations that, in most instances, were closer to the bar than to the stage.
"It was sort of an experiment that I thought would maybe help some of the bands," Sralla says. "The only real money I spent was on a new VCR. And my windshield got kicked in at the Clouded show, so I had to pay for that, too."
The finished product is what you might expect. Blurry images and extreme close-ups of the backs of people's heads are rampant; in one case, the director's drinking buddies get more screen time than the band. And sound-wise, forget it. Anyone who has ever tried to record a live band with a camcorder knows the cacophony that can result. To say that the audio of Houmidity is muddy would be an understatement -- aural deluge is more like it.
Given the modest means and intent behind Houmidity, I'm reluctant to slag it. Still, the truth is that its overall quality is half-assed at best. In its mildly sarcastic mission statement, Static House, Sralla's makeshift recording studio, makes an attempt to excuse Houmidity's weaknesses by maintaining that " 'effective' media can be achieved through experimentation and ignoring things that would normally be considered obstacles by well-funded record and video producers."
Spare me -- and even more important, spare yourselves. Take the cash you'd spend renting or buying this thing and go see a few of the bands it features. That way, you'll make Sralla happy without having to endure this video.
Tape head too... One local music enthusiast better versed in the ways of video production is Grant Whitehead, whose Mass Murder Media has been slipping various videos into the homes of Access Houston viewers going on two years now. Chances are, if you're a channel-scanner, you've seen one of Whitehead's creations -- and quite possibly uttered to yourself, "What the hell is this?"
What it is is the small-screen manifestation of one man's love of noise in all its musical guises, from the verse-chorus-verse musings of Houston punk bands such as Bickley and Sad Pygmy to the out-there, eardrum-tweaking collages of ambient experimentalists Richard Ramirez and Rotten Piece. An acknowledged couch potato, Whitehead works days as a salesman for Industrial Audio/Video and his nights either taping his favorite bands at local clubs or plopped down in front of the television -- either at home or at work -- with a pile of video equipment.
"They're projections," Whitehead explains. "I'm projecting video and then re-videotaping the projections. It's a 300-inch image on the screen, and I just hand-hold the camera and zoom in and zoom out. I have access to a lot of toys in my day job; I wouldn't be able to do it otherwise."
While Whitehead's methods sound simple -- he essentially sits in front of a TV with a camcorder -- the results are often engaging and, at times, disturbing. His latest works -- This Is Only a Test and a remix of an earlier project, Noisefest '97 -- feature jarring audio contributions from Houston noise purveyors Ramirez, Rotten Piece and T.E.F., as well as the California outfit Death Squad.
Test is the more interesting of the two. Blending kaleidoscopic post-production video effects and diced images from a variety of sources (everything from black-and-white documentary footage on the history of television to a Mattress Mac anti-drug speech to mail-order music commercials to the Larry King Show), its effect is alternately soothing and disorienting. It's somewhat akin to watching late-night television while lying drunk on the sofa. If that sounds like your idea of fun, both videos are airing Sundays back-to-back at 11 p.m. on Access Houston through September.
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Link's return... It was Link Wray's first gig in Houston in more than 38 years, and the 62-year-old guitar legend wanted to do it up right. So Wray, the man responsible for "Rumble" and other indispensable moments in the history of distortion, showed up in town two days prior to his June 20 show at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Wednesday to Friday, he practiced at the club with a newly acquired rhythm section, which happened to be the drummer and bassist for his opening act, San Francisco cow-punks Dieselhed. While in Houston, Wray purportedly had his first run-in with an electronic guitar tuner (owned by Dieselhed) and spent downtime cruising with Satellite manager David Beebe in the latter's '67 Suburban, which Wray lovingly dubbed the "rumble car."
The advance preparation paid off. Come showtime, Wray was in peak form, straddling his ax between his legs during frequent solos and parading around the stage grinning and mugging like a guy half his age. The audience did everything it could not to spoil his buzz, the sea of hands near the stage reaching up to fondle his guitar whenever he held it above them -- which was often. After the show, ears ringing, I knew I'd seen the guts of rock and roll, and they belong to a guy my dad's age.
Etc.... Unexpected demand for the Road Kings' Live at the Satellite Lounge! has forced Justice Records guru Randall Jamail to reconsider his distribution strategy for the release. Originally, the CD was to be available only at the occasional Road Kings show. But frequent customer inquiries have swayed Jamail -- who produced the record with help from Sugar Hill Studios' Andy Bradley -- to supply Cactus and other local retail outlets with the disc. Maybe the Road Kings ought to make this reunion deal more of a regular occurrence. In related developments, the July release of Road Kings leader Jesse Dayton's second Justice outing, Hey! Nashvegas, has been postponed until early next year. Could there be a connection here?
-- Hobart Rowland