Linus Pauling Quartet Breaks Out the Big Guns for Madness on Main

Of all the acts set to appear at tomorrow’s Madness on Main music festival, probably no one is chomping harder at the bit to get onstage than the Linus Pauling Quartet. For more than 20 years, the cerebral stoner/psychedelic/monkey rock quintet (yes, quintet…don’t ask) has been a fixture of the Houston music scene’s darkest, weirdest corners, blasting out thoughtful tunes about Victorian literature, Prussian physicists and mind-blowing bong rips in roughly equal measure. But life has conspired to keep them out of the spotlight for nearly six lunar cycles now, and on Saturday, they’re planning to release all the pent-up distortion in their souls in a single, mighty, electrified orgasm.

“Larry [Liska], our drummer, had a lot of stuff at his day job that was preventing us from playing together live much,” explains LP4 guitarist and co-founder Ramon Medina. “From May to November of last year, we didn’t play any live shows. Lately, we’ve been playing a lot of record stores. This weekend is the first time in a while we’re coming out with the big guns.

“We just want to crank up the amps, make ears bleed and just rip shit up, because we haven’t had a chance to do that in a while,” Medina continues. “So, we really just want to be loud and stupid. It should look like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when they’re just beating each other with sticks.”

That’s certainly the spirit in which the group’s latest album, Ampalanche, was named. The wonderfully fantastical press release accompanying the record’s launch last year relates the tale of a mystical journey to discover the ancient Tube Lords hidden deep within the mountains of Kashmir. Predictably, that expedition ended in disaster, to be rendered in the title track’s stop-motion animated music video slated for release in the coming months.

The album isn’t all heavy guitar rumbling, however; far from it. Other highlights include “Slave to the Die,” a gently folky number featuring flute from Mlee Marie (Hearts of Animals), and “Planck,” a pop-tinged tribute to the founder of quantum theory with lyrics by Brandon R. Brown, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of San Francisco.

“This is kind of a more varied record, so we have lighter songs and more rockin’ songs, as opposed to a straight-out, punch-you-in-the-face-for-30-minutes kind of thing,” Medina says. “The pattern seems to be, we have one balls-to-the-wall rock record, and then the very next one ends up being something where we just jam or just write more all-over-the-map things. I’m sure the next one will be just the opposite — just straight ridiculousness.”

Unless, of course, it isn’t, the guitarist adds.

“We don’t really plan anything,” Medina says. “We just throw stuff together, and what comes out, comes out.”

Ampalanche was written and recorded during the band’s unintended retreat from the stage in 2015 and recorded at bassist Steve Finley’s Digital Warehouse studio. The vinyl was released by Vincebus Eruptum, an Italian label with a keen interest in weird American rock.

“It’s funny — people in Europe like what we’re doing, and over here, no one could care less,” Medina says, laughing. “That’s pretty much the case, but I understand why that is. We’ve been around for so long, everyone here is like, ‘Ehh, I saw ’em last time, when they were babies.’

The recently released digital version of the album, however, has an extra treat for the Quartet’s most severely stoned fans: a nearly hour-length jam titled “Vi, de Druknede (We, the Drowned)” that features some very strange instrumentation and sounds like the background music one might hear in a seedy Turkish drug den.

“I don’t know why, but I always get instruments that are completely useless,” Medina says. “Instead of buying something practical, it’s always something stupid like an electric sitar. I had a didgeridoo, and I had a singing bowl. We just put two electric tablas rolling, and we had the Grendel doing some weird oscillations. It was one take live, pretty much, and it was really fun!

“That’s the nice thing about getting to do the digital bonus track — if someone wants to sit down and listen to us wank around for like an hour, they have the option to do that,” he continues. “It’s nice background noise to kind of chill to.”

Chilling is all well and good, especially with a cool buzz going. Just don’t expect to bliss out with the Linus Pauling Quartet at Madness on Main. Tomorrow, they’ll be striving to make the Ampalanche as large, loud and dangerous as possible.

“We’re going to do a mix of more heavy songs, because we’ll have the big amps, finally,” Medina says. “As much as I love my little Fender combo amp — it’s got some great sounds on it — when I plug into my Marshall with the four 12s, full-blast, it’s just a gorgeous sound. That wave of sound in your chest is just gorgeous. We’ll be going for big, dumb, fun rock.”

Good to know. If you’d like to enjoy the performance properly, it might be prudent to bring a windproof lighter.

Linus Pauling Quartet will appear at the Madness on Main festival at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. Admission is $25 at the door. 
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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith