Friday, March 24

From its opening sleight-of-hand sample -- a classic-rock groove that lasted all of 15 seconds before it gave way to straight-ahead punk -- to its thrashy crescendo, 30footFALL made sure of two things: that the audience never got its bearings fully established and that forward momentum never stopped.

The two aspects did, of course, blend into each other. Fitzgerald's was near capacity for what amounted to a homecoming show for the local boys done good. For fans, venturing anywhere near the front of the stage required a willingness to surrender one's physical balance. But even if you stood further back, vocalist Butch made sure you never got your mental bearings, either.

30footFALL trod a line between entertainment and enlightenment. One minute Butch was agreeing to a request to take his clothes off (which he's known to do) so long as everyone else did "because going to jail alone's a drag, but with a bunch of friends, it's a whole different story." The next minute he was alerting the crowd to an animal-rights protest against Proctor & Gamble at the neighborhood Walgreen's the next day.

When the band was playing, its mixture of punk styles -- jangly here, driving there, grating in yet another place -- and its dashes of other genres (a cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven") made for a delirious head rush. Guitarist Delron and bassist Rubio punched out the type of perfect-yet-jagged guitar work on which all truly great punk is built. Drummer Brian, meanwhile, prevented the jagged from becoming the ragged, never dropping a beat no matter what shifts occurred around him.

30footFALL assumed an anti-image ethos, wearing three-button discount-store shirts, old Iron Maiden concert T's or similarly disheveled attire as if to be a physical embodiment of the band's message: Just be comfortable with who you are. It was a message 30footFALL, which still resides in Houston despite having a spot on Offspring Dexter Holland's Nitro Records roster, pitched both believably and entertainingly. -- Les Mixer

Instant Karma
Thursday, March 23

On this night the Afro-Latino rap/metal/ funk outfit known as ragtag proved it could go for broke even when its equipment broke down first. After ten minutes of trying to get the right amount of feedback from their monitors, the band members finally began their midnight show, which simmered to a boil. ragtag began with a lukewarm number that the sedentary audience barely acknowledged between sips of their Miller Lites. But as the tunes got louder and rowdier, the crowd began to succumb to an old-fashioned hard-rock anarchy. Lead singer Tony Henderson led the charge on this assault, commanding the stage like a wild primate desperate to find fecal matter to use as a weapon. Guitarist Fred Martinez and bassist Craig Stevens often bounced their heads in unison, getting way too much into the noises their instruments were making. Rounding out the quintet, DJ Mike Weatherly and drummer Benito Coronado ably laid down the backbeat. It was near the end of the band's 38-minute set when tragedy struck: Stevens's speaker blew out. ("I finally blew out my piece of shit," he said.) Ever the troopers, the boys had to improvise their way through the final two songs, "Shattered Mirrors" and the new "Battle Cry." Sure enough, Stevens plucked away at his bass, as if to say, "Yeah, we got shitty equipment! But you did come here for show, didn't ya?" That's ragtag: a band that unquestionably lives up to its name. -- Craig D. Lindsey

Instant Karma
Friday, March 24
There it was, in incontestable black and white lettering on the glowing marquee: BYOB. Due to a paperwork delay, Instant Karma wasn't serving liquor, but beer and wine were there for the taking. A couple coolers with goodies galore lay scattered about the club, including one stationed dead center on the floor while secretsunday performed. The situation smacked of an impromptu frat party. That's why it was so freaky to watch vocalist Chris Hungate's over-the-top rock star posing and emoting. Combined with the uninspired light show, this drama seemed to verge on parody. Two photographers rushed about snapping close-ups while the sparse crowd, beers in tow, stayed about five feet from the stage. But honest chemistry and high energy blazed through the entire set. Bassist Stephen Wesson kept turning to face drummer Rick Wiggington, but other than that, secretsunday played to the audience. Guitarists Robb Moore and Joe Wesson looked like they were doing something they loved. The unchanging tempo and the brute sonic blast of "Move On" and "Safe" turned the beginning of the set into a multilayered plod that wouldn't quit. It wasn't until the quieter "Foster Child" that secretsunday showed versatility. During that song it was sweet to see a couple use the space in front for a few rhumbalike steps. "Servo King" and the ultralong finale, "Into the Light," dived into psychedelia, secretsunday's forte. The new songs, "Move On," "Memories of Stereo" and the well-received encore, weren't radical departures from the core sound. secretsunday has confidence in its music, and that kind of genuineness can't be faked. The aloof rock star bit, though, that can be tossed. -- Sande Chen

Paul English
Terrace on Main at the Warwick Hotel
Friday, March 24

Though the Terrace on Main at the Warwick Hotel oozed a lizardlike vibe, pianist Paul English wasn't playing lounge music last Friday. He was playing jazz, pure and simple. English is the Terrace's regular performer on Fridays and Saturdays, but sit-ins are becoming the norm. On this night, English was joined by the father-and-son duo of guitarist Mike Nase and bassist Brennan Nase, who traded solos splendidly on a rendition of "My One and Only Love." The trio also performed a funky rendition of "Maiden Voyage," complete with slap-and-pop bass work and some interesting vamps. The trio segued "Maiden Voyage" into "Alone Together," which had a slight cocktail feel -- in the best sense of the word -- and some interesting harmonic twists. Mike Nase made up for the lack of drums by creating percussive effects on the guitar, and each player had plenty of solo space. Another sit-in occurred earlier in the night, when teenage saxophonist Rex Gregory Jr. played "Oleo" and a few other songs. He showed a lot of promise. -- Paul J. MacArthur

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Sande Chen
Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey
Paul J. MacArthur
Les Mixer