The Axiom, Part 2: Venue Cast Long Shadow Over Houston
The Jesus Lizard at the Axiom
Photo by Ben DeSoto/ courtesy of Lisa Sullivan
Thursday Rocks Off talked to three people behind this weekend's Axiom reunion -- former owner J.R. Delgado, Rivethead magazine's Lisa Sullivan and ex-Axiom publicist/co-manager Julie Grob -- about the club that was Houston's underground-rock headquarters. They set the scene, a vivid tableau of everyone from Mudhoney and Social Distortion to deadhorse and Cave Reverend onstage and packs of wild dogs roaming the then-deserted East End streets.
For Part 2, we asked them to talk about the Axiom's rich legacy, and the shadow it continues to cast over successive Houston music scenes.
Rocks Off: What kind of shadow do you think the Axiom cast on successive "scenes" around Houston?
Lisa Sullivan: I think successive scenes did not have the camaraderie that we had. We all depended on one another and looked out for each other. There was a sense of being in this together. The Maggot Colony solidified that. When it opened up as a rehearsal studio it took on a life of its own. The kids all came there to practice and they never left. It was a block from the Axiom and everyone just commuted back and forth.
I think if anything, it didn't cast a shadow; it set an example for others to emulate.
Julie Grob: I don't know the answer to that. I just wanted to mention that there was another axis for the Axiom besides Francisco Studios which was Lexington St., where a number of bands like Sprawl and Dry Nod and de Schmog lived and practiced.
RO: Do you see anything like what was going on at the Axiom in Houston today?
LS: I don't, but I am still somewhat removed from the scene. I see that camaraderie when these shows happen but it's those of our generation and now, our kids. I think there was more of a sense of unity back then.
Society seems to have polarized us more these days and keeps our youth busy with electronics and gadgets, so the interdependence has diminished. I would like to see it happen again. I know there are some who are trying. I met this kid at Walters -- from Austin -- who has an online site for punk bands who is trying to make connections. It's kids like that who will bring it about.
JRD: I still go out to see local live music and I believe the music scene is going great. There are some great bands of all genres really having momentum here. I also think there are many great venues these days. Fitzgerald's - Omar [Afra] is doing great things for the scene. We also have Walters, Mango's, Rudyard's, Notsuoh, Super Happy Fun Land, Continental Club, Dan Electro's, Last Concert, and a few others, all great venues promoting live music and art.
We even have Cactus, Vinal Edge, and Sound Exchange promoting the scene with in-store performances. Although Houston does not come close to rivaling Austin's music scene, we do have a vibriant music scene. But, I don't see any venue coming close to what the Axiom had going - the scene was small, it was before grunge and punk became mainstream, before low-tolerance from city officials (noise ordinance).
JG: I agree with JR that the music scene was different then. Underground rock and metal and punk felt really important, because there wasn't a lot of it on the charts. The rock music on the radio was stuff like Bon Jovi and Guns N' Roses. So to go to the Axiom to see something like the Jesus Lizard or Fugazi was really exciting. Then in 1991 Nirvana broke out with "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and the major labels brought underground rock into the mainstream.
David Yammer, also known as the "Kommando Poet," tended bar the Axiom and sang in Houston metal band The Academy Black.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Sullivan
RO: I know there had to be at least some crossover, but how was the Axiom "scene" different than the one more centered around Fitz, as seen in When We Ruled H-Town?
LS: The When We Ruled H-Town scene came a little after. That were more centered around the mid-90s. I think J and his team had the same type of interconnectedness that we did, and many of the bands featured in the film came out of the Axiom scene. There was also Pik n Pak -- Ralph Ullrich was very supportive of the scene, Goat's Head Soup which burned to the ground in '93 or '94, the Vatican run by Tom Bunch, and The Unicorn.
J Schneider, Robbie Conley, Brent Himes and Mike Hutson did a great job capturing the next era in WWRHT. I was really proud to be a part of that project. When I found out about it I wouldn't leave J alone. They did an incredible job with no financial support at all. I am really proud of those guys. A couple of them will be helping with running the stage for this show.
JRD: J Schneider did an amazing job with When We Ruled H-Town documentary, but the fact is most of those bands came from the Axiom. Even bands like Taste of Garlic were band members of other bands that played the Axiom. Also, at the time, Fitzgerald's drew more minors than The Axiom. Kinda seems like after the Axiom closed, a wave of kids merged with the Axiom scene to created another peak in the music scene. Fitz provided a place for the local scene to continue....?
JG: I don't know how they were similar or different, but Lisa and JR are right that that scene came later and included a lot of younger people.
RO: More generally, why do you think so many people were eager to get back together and celebrate the club?
LS: The Axiom shaped who we are. It was one of the best times of our lives. It was the place we went to hear great music - much of it on the fringes of society like we were. No one judged us. The Axiom let us be ourselves and just have fun. A lot of us found ourselves there and built lifelong friendships.
Most of us have remained true to our callings to be musicians and artists -- though we may have been forced to move into the mainstream to survive -- and having the opportunity to come together and celebrate our amazing history is priceless. That is witnessed by how many of us are bringing our children to the show this weekend.
JRD: Well said, Lisa.. I concur.
JG: I want to mention also that some of the proceeds from the reunion are going to the Tom Carter Fund (helptomcarter.org), to help our friend Tom, a guitarist and Charlambides member who developed severe complications from pneumonia while touring in Europe this summer. Tom was a member of the Mike Gunn and worked at Sound Exchange during the Axiom era, and was an Axiom regular.
The Axiom reunion featuring Pain Teens, Verbal Abuse, Dresden 45 and lots more is 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, www.fitzlivemusic.com. See the links for Friday's lineup and Saturday's lineup.
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