Indie Bands Skipping Houston
It's the venues: It's hard to believe John Nova Lomax, Super Unison and everyone else in the indie music community continue to blame the Two Gallants show as the main reason our music scene flounders ["Skipping Town," by John Nova Lomax, July 10]. Lomax danced around the issue, but it's something most music lovers in Houston discuss openly: The venues inside the Loop (most owned locally, which is embarrassing) are awful.
Customer service isn't that hard to practice. Band of Horses recently skipped Houston, opting for Dallas and Austin, so, as most frustrated Houstonians do, three of us made the trek to the Palladium in Dallas. The parking lot attendant started with "Enjoy the show," followed by the ticket taker saying, "Thanks guys, enjoy the show," and finally the bartender ending with a "Thanks, guys." The venue itself sported modern production gear, a sober sound guy, clean bathrooms and something called "air conditioning." I've had the same experience at musical venues in Portland, San Diego, Atlanta and almost every other city I've visited.
Compare that to a recent trip to a venue on Washington here in Houston. The doorman barked at everyone to wait outside till he was ready; the bar ran out of Shiner (when we actually got to the bar); the AC didn't exist, the artist was pissed at the sound guy, the bathrooms required several STD tests post-usage; and my car was broken into. Even the famous Prolo had its issues. Bishop Allen and Page France had to stop a set last year because the bar was "having a DJ." I was so embarrassed I found the lead singer outside and apologized. People don't go to shows because the venues don't appreciate us. We're here. We love indie music. We have cash. All you venues have to do is say "thanks."
Listen to the sound man: Although the article was about why the trendy-indie bands won't play in Houston, Ryan Chavez whining about how Houston sucks and how Houston only has five good bands was absurd. We might only have five or so super groups from Houston, or does Ryan mean his five side projects? This is the same town where Hands Up basically dictated what and whom kids would like very successfully. Did the kids grow up and change their tastes? Did the people booking grow up and change their tastes? I think Hands Up was really good for Houston, although it always came down to booking one of those same five local bands as openers (ya know, one of the only five decent ones).
Yes, I was one of the house sound men at Mary Jane's and the Proletariat, both of which had inadequate sound systems, like most of the other clubs in Houston. What would one expect from a town that doesn't have a big, profitable, established local scene? And at Mary Jane's, Hands Up did have its own sound person, who sounded pretty good when not blowing speakers (and leaving the house guys to clean up).
I think the problem is that Houston is a working-class town that is not as easily led as, say, Dallas, where there's plenty of money and plenty of bands that all sound the same. And Houston doesn't have a specific place to go to learn how to dress and look cool like most cities, so we generally don't have our tastes spoon-fed to us.
Name withheld upon request
Location withheld upon request
Not indie: I was incredibly disappointed with the article on Houston's bad reputation with touring indie bands. I have been attending Hands Up/Super Unison shows since 1998, and was around back when Jana Hunter was in Matty and Mossy and Bring Back the Guns was (the rawer and much better band) Groceries. I have to say that the article suffered from the same problems Houston as an audience suffers from — an overdeveloped sense of its own trendiness without much real information and its concentration on a critical, however useless, point of view. The writer, John Lomax, is addressing the masses of Houston hipsters who probably really dig Les Savy Fav and Vampire Weekend and complain that touring "indie" bands, who are truly now the mainstream, never make a Houston pit stop.
Shortsighted indeed. They never stop at Houston because it's about the money. It's about the money because these are mainstream bands. Bright Eyes, Cat Power, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Of Montreal: mainstream. Indie rock Wal-Mart.
What's even more ironic is Lomax's claim that Houston lacks the homegrown musicians to prove its worth against cities like New York and Austin. John Lomax is ruefully unaware of the sources of his beloved tight-pant wearing, Fall Out Boy-off-shooting, self-haircutting, Lone Star-drinking "indie rock." John Lomax, then, is unaware that legendary, cutting-edge and influential musicians like Daniel Johnston, Jandek, Richard Ramirez and the woefully-lost-to-the-pop-culture-machine Devendra Banhart are all homegrown, fully connected and incredibly respected (okay, maybe not Banhart) musicians any self-respecting hipster should know.
And why? Because there literally would be no indie rock without them. Daniel Johnston and Jandek are revolutionary figures in the history of experimental music. Richard Ramirez still tours with Sonic Youth. Saying that Houston has driven out its creative component to other cities is asinine, narrow and misinformed. Houston, if anything, has exported its no-talent, greedy, shallow trend hunters to where they belong — inauthentic cities teeming with inauthentic hipsters.
If Matador bands don't stop here, it's because — news flash — Matador is a major label. And Drag City, Touch and Go, etc.: all major labels. Really. Please, just go to Austin or New York or L.A. and go to major label circle-jerks like SXSW or Austin City Limits. Leave the thriving Houston avant-garde scene just as it is — a fertile ground for copycat bands that build their cred here and "make it" out in the big city. No one can deny that the clear and resonant talent of Houston's avant-garde scene is hugely ignored by those who (knowingly or unknowingly) feed off its ideas. And Houston Press, please just change your name to Hipster Press, because that's what you've become — a worthless rag for hip kids who love Bright Eyes but, uh, don't have any idea who the fuck Scott Walker is.
Nice cover, by the way. You've got the indie "look" down to a uniform!
Name withheld by request
The feature "Selling You" [by Craig Malisow, July 17] gave the incorrect address for the Sunshine Subscription Agency. The company is based in Coral Springs, Florida.
The Houston Press regrets the error.
Public Service: Todd Spivak wins national recognition for environmental report
Todd Spivak, former staff writer for the Houston Press, has been named a finalist in the national John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism.
Spivak was recognized for "Toxic Town" [in the December 6, 2007, Houston Press], an in-depth investigative story that told of grossly elevated levels of carcinogens in the small town of Somerville, apparently due to discharges from a wood-treatment facility, the town's largest local employer for many years.
The John Bartlow Martin Award was established in 1988 to encourage outstanding stories in public interest journalism. Martin was a journalist and professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The magazine stories he did often prompted policy changes.
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