A little vindication... On a personal level, I can identify with the plight of this city's much-maligned (and slightly paranoid) local music scene. As a plump kid who hungered for respect, I took a lot of abuse during my impressionable grade-school years, living for those rare moments when the weaknesses of my oh-so-superior tormentors were exposed by those who knew better.
Maybe that's why I took a dysfunctional pleasure in writer Andy Langer's reaming of Austin's famed Sixth Street in the October 11 issue of the Austin Chronicle. What was once the hub of the "Live Music Capital of the World," Langer claims, has in recent years taken a turn toward the lame. Attendance is down at some of Sixth Street's most respectable haunts, including once-reliable venues such as Steamboat and Headliners. Who's to blame? According to Langer, just about everyone, from lazy bands to indifferent audiences to the bigger, concert-hall style venues whose high ticket prices for big-name shows leave music lovers with less disposable income for clubbing.
Apparently, appreciation of local original music is waning among the University of Texas student body, members of which account for a disproportionate amount of Sixth Street's paying customers. Many undergrads, it seems, would rather spend their evenings scouting drink specials at bars, dance clubs and brew pubs, playing it safe with a cover band and even (God forbid) crooning into a karaoke mike. The way they see it, $3 pitchers and no cover sure beats shelling out $5 at the door and $2.50 a beer to hear a band no one knows anything about. And often, the reason no one knows anything about said band is because said band hasn't bothered to promote itself even through such simple techniques as postering and starting a mailing list.
Small crowds, lazy bands, poor promotion, bellyaching journalists -- hmmm, sounds familiar. The Houston music scene has long been a lightning rod for such bad karma. Sure, there are concrete reasons to bitch, and many of them have been addressed in this column: lack of organization, lack of cooperation, lack of even the most informal pact between musicians, club owners, labels and other local players to work together toward something a little more far-reaching than their own survival. Our scene could use an ego boost, and bolstering its self-esteem can only make it a more attractive place for major-label scouts and touring bands. A Sixth Street/Deep Ellum atmosphere downtown -- say, around Market Square -- wouldn't hurt matters, either.
The best thing (and, some might argue, the worst thing) about being dumped on for so long is that our humble little music community has a skin about as thick as it comes. With that "others be damned" attitude occasionally comes rewards -- significant ones, in fact. Local heavy alternative quartet Chlorine, for instance, practically bullied its way into a just-inked deal with major-label Columbia.
"I hunted recorded companies; I lied to get past secretaries," says lead singer Mark Fain. "I've been slagged a lot for being too cocky, but the truth is, I'm just highly motivated. Too many bands around here would rather just sit around and smoke pot and do nothing."
Chlorine gained the respect of Columbia A&R rep Benji Gordon, whom Fain had met a while back while playing with a band in Los Angeles. Fain returned to Houston eight months ago to start Chlorine, which made a demo at Sound Arts Studios with money supplied by Gordon, and now finds itself a member of the Columbia family.
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Another recent addition to that family is inventive singer/songwriter, and Houston native, David Rice. He released two CDs on Justice Records before heading off to the West Coast to find his fortune. Now based in Austin, Rice is currently in England working on his Columbia debut at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios.
So, yes, big things can happen to musicians from Houston; and, no, Austin shows no signs of succumbing to a lethal bout of self-pity; and, yes, we will continue to be seen by some as the capital city's doormat. But hey, look at it this way: we only have to contend with obnoxious packs of boozed-up collegiates on school holidays.
Etc.... Friday morning at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, the Houston Blues Society hosts the first of four free concerts focusing on the blues and its influence on other genres. It features Jimmy "Louisiana" Dotson (blues), Kinney Abair (jazz), Jacky Scott (gospel) and Dope "E" (rap). That evening, members of the Houston chapter of the American Guild of Organists convene at theU of H Organ Hall for two special Halloween performances. Costumes encouraged. If that's not a frightful enough Friday night prospect, how about three hours of chillingly aimless doodling from the Dave Matthews Band at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion? If anything, go for opener Me'Shell Ndegeocello, and blow off Dave and all that loosey-goosey instrumental nonsense. For jams with a point, try Austin's Breedlove, which recently finished recording its debut CD, Reach Out, available in stores November 8. The band makes its semi-regular appearance in Houston Saturday at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Also Saturday, a culturally diverse underground experience at Emo's Alternative Lounge with California performance art freak show Idiot Flesh and Czechoslovakia's Uz Jsme Doma, the latter of which combines the folk traditions of its homeland with punk rock, avant-garde music and other unlikely ingredients.
-- Hobart Rowland