Gathering the tribes of Houston's local punk, metal and hardcore fans together for one wild night is no easy task, particularly on a busy weekend of live music. Throwing a free extravaganza of loud, aggressive sounds at Fitzgerald's is a good way to start, however.
Ten bands unleashed a wide variety of styles Friday across both stages of the old club, bringing crusties, 'heads and other assorted creeps out of the woodwork for what may go down for many as the ear-splitting party of the summer.
At the top of the lineup was Bury the Crown, the new project from the ex-A dream Asleep boys, who were celebrating the release of their debut EP. Bands up and down the bill brought their own support--with no cover charge, there wasn't much excuse to skip this show. The diverse crowds meshed nicely, and alcohol sales appeared brisk.
The first group out of the gate was Defending the Kingdom, who pounded the early birds with stoney, dino-sized riffs that instantly reminded of Red Sea-era ISIS. Drummer Steve Smith burned more than a few carbs behind the skins, bashing out driving rhythms that propelled the band's doom riffs forward into oblivion. The trio sounded tight, evidence of many a smogged-out practice session.
Much like the When We Ruled H-Town showcase a few weeks back, Friday's show forced concertgoers to get a little exercise if they wanted to see everything. When Defending the Kingdom wrapped up, I charged past the staggering smokers up the stairs to catch some of All Dead Here's distorted, grungy sludge. Then it was right back downstairs again for the noisy shrieking of Burn the Boats.
By this time, the club was beginning to fill up a bit as fans straggled in off the street. Heads commenced to banging as they were greeted with the crushing, tidal-force riffs of BTB songs like "Blood of the Titan" and "Release the Kraken."
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Upstairs, Omotai doubled down on the racket, delivering what may have been the night's most eardrum-shattering set. The volume up front was excruciating as drummer Anthony Vallejo screamed bloody murder into his mike that was lost somewhere beneath the band's massive waves of distortion. His floor tom fell casualty to a whipping punk beat at one point, but a helpful guy from the crowd rushed onstage to right it almost immediately.
Back on ground level, vicious death-punks Hell City Kings instigated the first mosh pit of the night with their hard 'n snotty tunes. Fans swung each other around in front of the stage as if training for the Olympic hammer toss. That familiar Fitz stench of dank sweat began to creep into the air as the humidity level in the club rose.
The moshing (and stage diving) only intensified when War Master plugged in upstairs. The buzz for these guys was palpable in the room even before they ripped the lid off a brutal batch of crusty death metal, and to my eyes it appeared that they might have played to the largest audience of the night.
Some of that probably had to do with their favorable set time, but War Master made the most of it, inspiring enthusiastic slamming and mondo headbanging with songs like "Ritualistic Carnage." It was big, brutal fun that certainly seemed to win them some new fans, myself included. Things simmered down a tad downstairs for the American Heist before the smilin' punks of Skeleton Dick arrived up top, clearly determined to have more fun than anyone else.
Things got super-rowdy in a hurry and briefly threatened to get out of hand as a familiar face from local punk shows got tossed following a moshing kerfuffle. Somehow, the batteries got knocked out of my camera as I moved up front for a photo -- that was a first.
Still, everything settled in nicely for the Dick's typically upbeat show. Members of Bury the Crown appeared to provide backup vocals during "Cancer" before the band closed out its bouncy set with "Oscar Mayer Tampon."
I missed part of the Ballistics' set downstairs as I hit up the gas station across the street for new batteries. Not sure I want to know what happened to my originals in the darkened crevices of Fitz. When I returned, the crowd was already thinning a bit as the clock neared midnight. Those who remained, however, still seemed well-lubricated from the cheap swill they bought at the bar or sneaked inside. The smiles and sweat in the gnarly pit up front were pouring out in roughly equal measure.
"It's a free show on a Friday night, what the fuck did you expect?" asked singer Jake Ballistic before the band tore into what sounded like "Religion is War."
After being pummeled by eight other bands, it was a bit more than I could take at that point. I retreated upstairs to recuperate before Bury the Crown delivered the night's finale.
Rather than attempting some grand statement to live up to the band's billing, Bury the Crown took the stage with a quiet, unassuming confidence and jumped right into their first song without preamble. Singer Mikey Seals stalked the stage in one of those increasingly popular "I'm Not Moving to Austin" shirts I've been seeing at more and more local shows of late as the band lit into a powerful breakdown.
"We're the last band of the night, so don't be afraid to get crazy," Seals told the crowd. "I want to see some mistakes being made!"
Though the brand-new nature of Bury the Crown's material limited its sing-along appeal, the audience members who stuck around long past midnight to hear the new stuff were clearly into it. Skeleton Dick frontman Bunny hoisted Seals on to his shoulders for a victory lap around the mosh pit that inspired a few ladies in the crowd to catch some air of their own.
Heavy, bluesy riffs got heads banging hard as bassist Ryan Girth screamed into a telephone receiver patched into the PA. The set wasn't long -- Bury the Crown is a new project without a ton of songs to its name yet. But the group appeared to relish the fresh start, with Seals tossing a pile of old A dream Asleep t-shirts into the crowd. It was a nice first step toward carving out a new sound and a new place in the city's aggressive music underground.
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Personal Bias: I wanted to cover this show to expose myself to more local sounds, and I got an earful on Friday.
The Crowd: Skinheads, stoners, punks and drunks. More tattoos than all the shops on Lower Westheimer combined.
Overheard at the Water Cooler: "Seriously? This is badass! I didn't want to be a pussy and order a glass of water."
Random Notebook Dump: It's not a true punk extravaganza unless somebody covers "Search and Destroy." Hell City Kings stepped up Friday.