Wallet, keys, lighter, cellphone, camera(s). We had it all last night as we walked into the arty confines of the East End's Super Happy Fun Land. But one thing we didn't have was a pair of earplugs, and right about now we feel kinda silly not dishing out the extra buck for the ones sitting right behind the counter.
Two of Houston's loudest bands, Muhammad Ali and Black Congress, brought forth a hellacious ferocity last night that grinded down the eardrums with the equally decibelic Double Dagger sandwiched in the midst.
Muhammad Ali is arguably the best band to come out of the Houston indie scene this year, currently traveling troupes of indie-swooners notwithstanding. The erratically-spelled and emphatically loved Ali has never failed to bring a smile to our face since we first saw them in February. Last night's opening slot ahead of Double Dagger and tape-mates Black Congress was nothing if not hella chaotic and hooky.
As John Zambrano belts out his own lungs and even a few of ours in the audience, the band uncovers new and hidden pop sensibilities in each song. As the year has gone on and the band has gigged relentlessly over the Houston area, those original four songs and the handful of new tunes have taken surprising turns toward Melvins-style grind with glancing traces of the Pixies' melodic wail throughout.
In a live setting, each of those four original songs now feel like warm blankets, with each chime and jitter now in our personal lexicon, if not all of Houston as well. Bassist Jeff Smith and drummer Benjamin O'Konski are allowed to veer off by themselves creating dissonant noise for Zambrano to build on top of, and the payoffs are immense. The trio leaves for a small national tour on Thursday and has promised to check in when they can for blog reports cognizant or not.
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Just as soon as the crowd recovered from the Muhammad's set, Baltimore's post-punk Double Dagger and lead singer Nolen Strals broke down the metaphorical fourth wall of traditional performance. Strals flailed and squalled over his band's simple bass and drums assault and invited onto the stage. The effect of having Strals in your face screaming his band's introspective ideas directly at you made each song feel like a conversation with a unhinged friend, telling you all his damning secrets and realizations.
"The Lie/The Truth", from this year's MORE release, reminded us of early Rites Of Spring, all emotion and vitriol and 100% energy. Strals took gulps from a gallon of water in between bouts of enragement and at one point looked as if he was possessed. It was a harrowing and intimate filling for this H-Town affair.
Before Black Congress goes on one gets a twinge of forboding, not exactly knowing what the band is about to do to you, namely lead singer Bryan Jackson. The band's metallic wall of sound fits Jackson's embattled and bitter persona perfectly. It allows him to exercise almost no restraint, bellowing and dancing into the crowd like the bastard son of the late Bon Scott. He taunts and hectors at the throng, showering himself and them with a twelver of Pabst Blue Ribbon like an exorcist unleashing demons.
The new "Davidians" and "London's Burning" are punishing fits of anger and speed. The band is all-star cast of Houston heavy illuminati all old hands at huge blasts of noise. Producer Chris Ryan on drums, Dann Miller on bass, and Bret Shirley and everyone's favorite bar-slinger Roy Mata on guitars. The material is in able and experienced hands, even when it sounds like it's about ready to derail the next train that comes loping by on the tracks behind the venue.