Texas Garage Rock
The garage revolution of the '60s was arguably the first time in pop-music history that the idea of musical DIYism reared its subversive little head. Every kid on the block was grabbing a cheap Strat knockoff and pummeling it with his buddies, and some of them made some amazing music.
Fast-forward 40 or so years, and not much has changed. If anything, the ready availability of cheap, simple recording and production technology, along with direct distribution from artist to consumer, has made it simpler and more appealing than ever to grab a guitar and some friends and start thrashing out bare-bones, high-energy rock and roll.
Some of the most amazing garage rock, past and present, calls Texas home. This fact has not gone overlooked by Travis Frey, an Austin/Houston promoter and booking agent who works under the moniker He Said She Said Presents. In assembling this weekend's Texas Gone Garage festival, featuring more than 20 bands over three days at Walter's on Washington (day shows) and Rudyard's (night shows), Frey hopes to send the message that Texas garage is as strong as ever.
"Texas '60s garage rock is well respected nationally as well as internationally," he says. "What's new is the increased recognition that Texas still has its own garage voice."
Each of the event's three days has a different focus (it was originally called "Texas Gone Garage — A Garage, Pop, and Psych Showcase"). "Friday is more of a '60s raw garage rock night, Saturday is all the power-pop garage rock that goes well together and Sunday is more of a psych night," Frey says.
Providing a good opening roar, day-one headliners Amplified Heat take MC5-style proto-punk mayhem and channel it through amped-up electric blues. The Houston/Austin trio is a hard-rocking jam band at heart, so it wouldn't be surprising to hear one of the three Ortiz brothers scream "Kick out the jams, motherfucker" just before launching into the frenzied, blues-scale melee of "Bipolar."
While the raw, edgy sound of '60s garage provides a good sonic blueprint for many TGG groups, some take a more direct approach, re-creating the scene and the sound as much as possible. Austin's Ugly Beats, for example, frequently dress the part and use period-accurate gear to help complete the illusion that the audience has been time-warped back to 1965.
This kind of strict re-creationist attitude may rub some the wrong way, but not Steven Garcia, guitarist and vocalist for Houston's Something Fierce, who play Saturday night. "I could care less if a band wants to sound exactly like the Ramones, if they are writing songs as good as the Ramones did," he says. "Get it?"
Most of this weekend's bands don't go quite as far as the Ugly Beats (also playing Friday), but they all strive to put their own distinct spin on this instantly recognizable sound. Tim Trentham, drummer for Austin-based Friday-night openers the Bad Rackets, describes it this way: "We like to say that we put things through the 'Bad Rackets meat grinder,' and when it comes out the other end it's our own."
This is certainly true for day-two headliners the Pumpers. Borrowing the fuzz-tone guitars and simple melodies of classic garage, the Denton four-piece adds elements of punk and hardcore, screaming their way through songs that shake hands with five decades' worth of makeshift music. The result bears the mark of so many things at once, it sounds like none of them completely. The parts are easily recognizable, yet none wholly defines the Pumpers' sound.
In putting together the festival, Frey leaned heavily on scene stalwart and KTRU DJ Rosa Guerrero. "Travis knows from my show [Mutant Hardcore Flower Hour] that I love all things '60s and garage," she says. "He asked for my input early on."
Guerrero, who also declares her love for Sunday-night headliners/League City psych champions the Mirrors, is directly responsible for this weekend's biggest coup: the reunion, also Sunday night, of legendary Houston stoner-psych outfit The Mike Gunn. Defunct for almost 15 years, the band almost played October's Axiom reunion show but had to turn down the gig because it conflicted with guitarist Tom Carter's touring schedule as one-half of psych-folk darlings Charalambides.
Guerrero, a close friend of the band since the beginning, knew how close Houston had come to recapturing one of the most beloved bands in its garage-rock history, and couldn't resist trying again. "One phrase I never heard was, 'We'll never play again,'" she says. "So, being an optimist, I took this to mean, 'We can't wait to play when the circumstances are right.'"
Phone calls were made, disappearing drummers tracked down — Curt Mackey went AWOL in 1994, bringing the band to an end one year after Carter left to focus on Charalambides — and soon The Mike Gunn was on the bill. Today, both Mackey and singer John Cramer express a palpable yet strangely hesitant excitement about the show — as if each has longed for this moment to come yet can't quite admit how important it is to him. Carter, though, doesn't seem especially wistful.
"I always enjoy hearing the old recordings, though I'm frustrated by the flaws in the released versions of almost everything," he says. Carter does have one TMG-related wish, however: "some good — actually any — recordings of the more epic, stoned-out jamming stuff we did a couple of times at the Pik 'n' Pak."
Since The Mike Gunn will be playing mere yards from where that legendary Montrose icehouse once stood (and Rudz's parking lot is today), further epic jamming is almost sure to follow Sunday night. Certainly, discriminating Lone Star garage fans wouldn't want to be anywhere else — for The Mike Gunn or, for that matter, this entire ragged, raw, fuzzed-out, time-warped Texas Gone Garage weekend.
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