Note: It took us a little while to track down pictures from the show. Thanks again to Mr. Adler for letting us use his. -- Ed.
When We Ruled H-Town reunion feat. deadhorse, Manhole, Tread, Wishbone Bush, Taste of Garlic, Fitzgerald's August 3-4, 2012
An interesting experiment happened in Houston over the weekend. Before Houston's top performers of 2012 took over ten downtown venues Sunday for the Houston Press Music Awards showcase extravaganza, a bunch of their counterparts from 1992 had their own thing going on across town.
To celebrate the release of When We Ruled H-Town, the new documentary about Houston's '90s rock scene by J. Schneider, Brent Himes and Robbie Conley, the filmmakers tracked down a slew of the old bands featured in the movie to relive a few glory days at Fitzgerald's. The goal seemed to be nothing less than to disappear back in time for two nights into a scene mostly forgotten until now.
That sounds excellent in theory, but the '90s were a long-ass time ago. Could these old dudes really still get onstage without embarrassing themselves? And would anybody care?
Both questions were immediately answered with a resounding "Hell, yes." It was a little astonishing how little rust was evident from musicians who in some cases hadn't been onstage together in more than 15 years. Keeping the sets short was probably a wise decision, but more than one act looked capable of stepping in and blowing the young whippersnappers at the HPMAs on Sunday off the stage.
When I arrived not long after the doors opened Friday night, the few people who'd already shown up were all clustered around the deadhorse merch. As it happened, the legendary horse went on first upstairs, which seemed a bit odd. No matter. Just like the old days, they drew the biggest crowd of the weekend for their set, and people went off hard.
With Mike Argo handling vocals, this wasn't a reunion of the band's classic lineup. Most headbangers didn't care. One shaggy graybeard near me muttered, "That ain't deadhorse," between songs, but even he seemed to come around after "World War Whatever."
Put simply, it's not every goddamn day in 2012 that you get to see deadhorse cover "Rock Lobster." Every show they play is a big deal.
The crowd-surfing got so intense at one point that the stage bouncers got into a shoving match with the audience in an attempt to keep fans off the monitors. Guess who won that one.
After an encore, a couple deadhorse fans on the patio complained to me that the set was too short. They felt ripped off. If they stuck around, they got more than their money's worth.
Deadhorse may have been the Kings of the Axiom, but there were a lot of heavy bands drawing crowds back then, and as I was about to learn, many of them can still go.
I'd never heard of bands like Manhole, Tread and Wishbone Bush before watching the doc -- I was 12 years old and half a state away during their heyday. The endless smiles, hugs and handshakes onstage and in the crowd -- and even a few tears -- let me know that they hadn't been forgotten by the people who were there.
There was a little magic in the air, and it wasn't just nostalgia. The music they played was powerful, confident and loud. Not everything went perfect: Drumsticks flew out of hands and equipment crapped out. But the bands I saw looked and sounded ready to reclaim the city once again at a moment's notice.
By the time Taste of Garlic closed out the night with its trademark six-foot bong, steamrolling big hits into the faces at the front of the stage, the sheer glee of everyone involved made it clear why this era demanded remembrance.
And that was just Day 1! Just to add to the chaos of the punk rock-flavored Day 2, the show fell on White Linen Night in the Heights. Parking wasn't even cool. A puzzled dude on the Fitz balcony asked me what the hell was going on. He was new in town, he explained, and had only heard there was a badass punk show happening.
I saw him later in the evening, probably hammered, having the time of his life. Context didn't matter. The music was good enough to stand on its own. The energy downstairs at the club crackled, where Vice Grip pounded the crowd with metallic hardcore.
"This is our first show in five years," said the singer. "We're gonna have some fun and pretend we're tough guys again."
Then he jumped into the mosh pit. The sheer enjoyment of the band members was infectious as they burned through hyperspeed assault riffs. At the end of their set, old-timers clamored over a few ancient cassettes the band had unearthed.
It was hard not to miss anything. Upstairs, Spunk made a pretty serious run at blowing the entire showcase out of the club. Singer Tod Waters bounced around the stage like he could do it all day as the band pumped out rock heavier and snottier than anything I've seen in Houston lately. Two guitars, two basses, too fucking loud.
The crowd for Spunk and the other punkers on Saturday skewed younger than Friday's audience -- way younger, in one case. A tiny girl of about six sat on her dad's shoulders near the front of the stage, pumping her fists wildly as Spunk wrecked the place.
When Spunk bade farewell, I scooped up most of my brains and headed back downstairs to catch Humungus. Vocalist Nicki Sicki looked as though he's been living hard over the past 20 years, but scarcely harder than the band's blistering crossover style.
Guitarist Joe Dead couldn't stop smiling throughout the set, even when he was grimacing. "I Hate Mother Fucking Cops" was a big crowd-pleaser, but a cover of "Search and Destroy" flat-out killed.
"That was like my Houston anthem," Sicki said.
Top floor: Monster Soup, resplendent in white linen, rocked the crowd with "I'm a Pimp" before exploding into a confetti orgy. Bottom floor: Poor Dumb Bastards insisted on having more fun than anybody, as usual. Mike Porterfield and Byron Dean couldn't help cracking each other up. Some of the youngest fans of the weekend skanked and shoved in the pit.
Everybody everywhere was laughing, talking, hugging and catching up. When they weren't slamming in the pit, that is. Nicki Sicki pushed his way up front and center for PDB's "My Pussy Hurts." All the bands seemed into each other's music, just as the documentary claimed.
Back upstairs was 30footFALL. And it wasn't even Christmas! The first thing I saw up there was a crowd surfer's Doc Martens kicking wildly toward the stage. How '90s is that? There was nothing dated about the local legends' show, however. Their energy level indicated that this is a band still in its prime.
By that time, it was an energy level I couldn't match. Over two days, all those old guys wore me out. They probably wore themselves out, but it was obvious they were having a ton of fun doing it. Too much fun, maybe, to never do it again.
There's no doubt Houston's current crop of rockers, rappers and punkers had a lot to celebrate on Sunday. It's got to feel good to be on top. But some of them had better hope the aging crew that took over Fitzgerald's last weekend go home to their kids and their mortgage payments instead of coming out of retirement permanently to smoke their asses.
For two more nights, at least, they rocked. They rioted. They ruled.
Personal Bias: First time to see nearly everybody. Last time for many, I imagine.
The Crowd: Enough tough, older rock and rollers to fill the club. True believers.
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SHOW ME HOW
Overheard In the Crowd: "Holy fuck, man, how the hell are you?!"
Random Notebook Dump: I'm not going to lie: I bought some merch. Consider me converted. Even if you never braved the Emo's bathroom, buy the DVD and watch it. The music is great and the sentiments are real.