Last Night: Suicidal Tendencies and Sick of it All at House of Blues

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Suicidal Tendencies, Sick of it All House of Blues May 6, 2013

How will I laugh tomorrow when I can't even smile today?

That question served as the title to Suicidal Tendencies' third album, released 25 years ago. But for a while there at their gig at House of Blues on Monday night, the question on my mind was, "Will I see any smiles tonight?"

That's a bit of an exaggeration, I guess, but not by much. Crossover thrash shows are supposed to be wild and gnarly affairs. A decent crowd turned out for Suicidal's tour stop with fellow hardcore punk legends Sick of it All, but from the outset, the audience seemed oddly reserved. Maybe it was the sterile, decidedly non-punk venue, a collective Cinco de Mayo hangover or just a bad case of the Mondays, but whatever the reason, the crowd played hard to get all night.

The audience's hard-assed mood was most conspicuous during Sick of it All's set. I missed the night's opening salvo from Suicidal affiliates Waking the Dead, but I can't imagine they put the crowd to sleep. Nevertheless, Houston audiences can be tough and fickle for no apparent reason sometimes, and New York's hard-working hardcore heroes found themselves onstage facing one of Houston's toughest crowds of the year on Monday night.

It was a rather strange sight to see. Sick of it All is one of the most energetic live acts going, and their sound certainly seems a good fit for a Suicidal Tendencies crowd. But very little of the energy on stage was returned by the audience. Concertgoers weren't chatting it up, playing on their phones or waiting in line for drinks, either. They just sort of stood there, arms folded, daring the band to entertain them.

"How ya doin', Texas!" hollered Lou Koller, SOIA's affable singer. The crowd's tepid response seemed to puzzle him.

"Man, what happened to Texas?" he asked his bandmates. I couldn't come up with an answer, either, but aside from a few dedicated mosh-pitters, there was a lot less sweat being worked up on the floor than on the stage.

Sick of it All soldiered on nonetheless, unstoppable as always. The long-running group earned every clap and cheer, pounding out fast 'n' heavy chestnuts like "World Full of Hate" and "Step Down." The band members are in great shape, and their playing was characteristically tight and muscular. But for the most part, they had to provide their own gang choruses.

The most uncomfortable moment of their set came at the end, as Koller cajoled the folks up front to divide into two groups for a very reluctant "wall of death" maneuver. To call it halfhearted would be too generous. It was a wall of disinterest. Sick of it All graciously thanked the crowd and beat it offstage afterwards, likely still wondering where they'd gone wrong as the audience filed outside to smoke.

I couldn't have been the only one concerned that the energy in the room would remain flat for Suicidal Tendencies, which is currently touring behind its first new album in 13 years. When singer and bandleader Mike Muir announced that he was battling an illness on Monday night, things looked grim.

Mercifully, the crowd began to perk up a bit as Suicidal opened with the punchy punk/funk amalgamation of "You Can't Bring Me Down" from the band's Lights...Camera...Revolution album. Heads began to bob at last. Then, it was straight into "Institutionalized," the raucous, much-loved single from the group's debut. Finally, temperatures inside the club began to rise.

Sick or not, Muir skipped across the stage from one wing to the other for much of the night, leaving center stage to S.T.'s mighty rhythm section of bassist Tim "RAWBIZ" Williams and drummer/hype man Eric Moore. The pair were a pleasure to watch, with Williams' fingers flying nimbly across his glowing strings and Moore punishing his kit with the grace of a natural on powerful cuts like "War Inside My Head" and "Cyco Vision."

During the new song "Slam City," I even spotted a few crowd-surfers -- a rarity on Monday night, impossibly enough.

After the band flexed its diverse musical chops on the crescendoing "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow," Muir finally snapped the crowd out of its funk for good by inviting everyone onstage for "Pledge Your Allegiance." The audience swarmed up under the lights to bounce around during the blistering track, shaken awake at last. Shame it was the last song of the night.

Suicidal Tendencies and Sick of it All delivered the goods on Monday, but most who showed up preferred to spectate rather than participate. Next time they come around, here's hoping a change of venue and a weekend calendar spot will inspire fans to loosen up and thrash a little more.

Personal Bias: All I wanted was a Pepsi.

The Crowd: Skaters, 'bangers, and punkers, most of whom apparently had shit to do this morning.

Overheard In the Crowd: "You goin' to see deadhorse on Friday?"

Random Notebook Dump: Amusingly enough, a couple of the most enthusiastic fans in the crowd were some sport-jacketed cocktail drinkers that looked as though they arrived directly from the Offshore Technology Conference.

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