December 25, 2016
If you broke free from the mandatory Christmas dinner and all the annoyances that accompany it and got to Fitzgerald’s early enough, you might have caught 30footFALL front man Butch Klotz rehearsing his solo set in the parking lot before the band’s 22nd Annual Xmas Show. When he was done, he told a small circle of us that the band was in high spirits. He felt the show was going to be great, even, he said, if only the bands and their friends and families showed up.
By now, Klotz knows well that every 30footFALL fan considers him or herself a member of the family. And you move up from the kiddies table if you’ve been to one or more of its annual Xmas shows, a Houston music tradition since before Y2K. This year, the night included an onstage marriage proposal, former drummer Damon DeLaPaz sitting in for some songs, Klotz stripping off a sweat-drenched Deadpool onesie to his undies and the long-awaited musical antidote to 30-plus days of Christmas songs on the easy listening radio station.
The hosts took the stage at 11:40 p.m. to the strains of Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” an homage to George Michael, yet another music icon lost to 2016. Klotz told the crowd that there wouldn’t be a “three-hour, Grateful Dead” set this night, but by then the band was already 90 minutes into a set that would stretch another half-hour. It included 30footFALL favorites like “Urine Nation,” “Feel Like Morrissey,” “Punk Rocks In Yer Head” and “Fuck Y’all We’re From Texas,” plus covers like Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69,” Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” and the aforementioned Wham! song. Those were all actually partial covers, just came-to-mind musical moments for Klotz, with the band jumping right in to indulge him. Actual set list covers included the Vandals’ “Oi to the World” — which opened the show — “Creep,” “Dancing With Myself” and “Just Like Heaven,” which closed it.
30footFALL has to be one of this city’s most cherished bands. It’s hard not to love them because the music makes you move in strange, hey-I’m-alive ways. You see genuine love among bandmates. Those good vibes leap off the stage and into the crowd, then surf over the audience as everyone passes the feeling around. There was jubilant celebrating occurring in the crowd all night, and it all emanated from the guys onstage. Family indeed.
As for the other bands invited to perform, our opinion means a lot less than Klotz’s and he said more than once that the lineup was one of the best in recent years. He made a personal point to see each act, starting with Idiginis, which boasts one of the purest singing voices in Houston (Aauzraam Levi) and one of the dankest beards in all of the Houston music scene (bassist Dizzy Bootz). Their set is like the warmup before an especially strenuous aerobics class. It’s upbeat, gets you moving and builds your confidence for what’s to come. It’s a fun time, fit for humans as young as the toddler in a fedora who took in the early set and went home, presumably long before Klotz stripped to his drawers. Klotz’s solo acoustic set was early and downstairs, but played to a packed space. Heavy on NOFX covers, the set allowed him to slow the pace a bit. He was accompanied by 30foot guitarist Chris LaForge and Escape From the Zoo’s Koi Offish and Justin Paxton.
Upstairs, Frog Hair thrilled the crowd with its grungy rock-slash-pop-slash-blues hybrid. The foursome was wrapped in tinsel and occasionally tossed candy treats and wrapped presents into the crowd. Everyone in the band was wearing a Santa cap except lap steel player Scott Ayers, who naturally donned a cowboy hat. A Frog Hair set is never boring; they’re visually arresting and the songs resonate so strongly that you don’t want to pull away, which is what we had to do to catch THe Cops raiding Fitz downstairs. The band is faster and has tighter precision than a patrol car chasing a tollway violator down Beltway 8. While most upstairs fans were gazing in wonder while Frog Hair freaked out, THe Cops’ watchers were moshing and disturbing the peace to the band’s tongue-in-cheek law enforcement-oriented ditties. The whole thing has an old-school punk feel with a new attitude aimed squarely against the very modern police state.
Revels followed on the downstairs stage and had the unenviable duty of playing its set at the moment 30footFALL’s revelers were jockeying for space for its headlining set upstairs. No matter, as the band was in holiday regalia – drummer Jamal Eldam in an elf’s hat; bassist Ronny Spera in a Santa jacket, with the sleeves torn away to expose his prominent biceps; and guitarist JD Grande in a mini-skirt that exposed tattooed legs that would have had Mrs. Claus jealous. The band played a robust set to a sparse crowd. If you missed them, Houston, be on hand for their January 5 benefit gig at Warehouse Live.
Personal Bias: It’s been noted here ad nauseam (but out of decorum) that my son is in Days N Daze, one of the night’s acts. Because no one wants to go to a music review only to find a dad bragging about his kid, I generally avoid these commentaries; but last night was one of the proudest moments I’ve had watching him do what he does. I’ve seen him in Europe, playing to hundreds of foreign-language speakers who know his lyrics by heart, but that paled next to the Houston love he and his bandmates were shown Sunday. To have Klotz come on and ask them to play one more song after the set, then sit in with the band for it, then give them his critical endorsement – it was almost too much. It was also a wonderfully weird full-circle moment. 30footFALL was the first punk act Jesse ever saw live.
The Crowd: You’ve read a lot about Houston crowds talking over bands. That doesn’t happen at this city’s punk shows. For one, every band goes to 11. But, also, a big show like this one brings out familiar faces and veteran show-goers to lead the way. Right from the Idiginis set, the audience was attentive and responsive. I might be biased, but Houston’s punk crowds are some of the best, most considerate and engaged audiences we possess.
Random Notebook Dump: Watching the crowdsurfing during 30foot’s set was a highlight of the night. We ran upstairs just to get a bird’s-eye of the carnage that men, women and children voluntarily flung themselves into. There are a few Houston chiropractors who should be sending the band a thank-you note, at the very least, today.