Murder City Devils at Fitzgerald's, 1/3/2014

Murder City Devils, American Sharks, Crooked Bangs Fitzgerald's January 3, 2014

Is it fair to call the Murder City Devils nostalgia-rock at this point? Jeez, who even knows anymore. The Seattle outfit broke up in 2001, and they haven't released any new music since, save for one single in 2011. Since reuniting seven years ago, though, MCD has sporadically hit the road for a few shows and short tours here and there, keeping appearances rare enough that their Houston fans knew better than to miss the band's gig at Fitzgerald's on Friday night.

The old club's floor and balcony were both nice and crowded by the time Austin's Crooked Bangs opened the show. The trio started out by vamping on a menacing, bass-heavy garage-rock riff, but quickly dropped the groovy swagger in favor of an impatient sprint.

Singer-bassist Leda Ginestra's pleasant voice did a nice job of smoothing over the band's aggressive guitar and drums on tunes inspired by '70s garage-punk, but she sounded nice when her crooning revved up into a holler, too. The Bangs capped their set with a new track from a forthcoming split 7-inch with local punker-types Secret Prostitutes, and the up-tempo number had plenty of fuzzy snap to it. That'll be one to look out for.

Up next were Houston expats American Sharks, ready and willing to deliver the hardest rock of the evening. Singer/bassist Mike Hardin appeared especially jazzed to be there, explaining the impact that the Murder City Devils had made on him as a younger man watching them open for At the Drive-In quite a few years back.

"It's a real honor to be standing here right now," said Hardin before the Sharks commenced with their stony, Satanic grooves.

The band's short, sonic bursts alternately reminded of an even hairier MC5 and a slightly less burly Clutch. It was excellent beer-drinking rock, and drummer Nick Cornetti hopped up from behind his kit as if let off a leash after each song, providing a fun kind of exclamation point to the Sharks' boozy, coked-out stomp.

Would've been just fine with me if American Sharks could've just kept going, but of course, the evening belonged to the Murder City Devils. While Fitz didn't quite seem sold out, the place was certainly crowded down front, up top and out on the balcony by the time MCD appeared. The band's loyal fans looked just about like you'd expect: white, semi-reformed, turn-of-the-century punks easing comfortably into their prime parenting years.

For their part, the Murder City Devils looked quite a bit like the most precious hipster dads you can imagine, especially singer Spencer Moody, with his neatly manicured beard and Mr. Rogers sweater. The mild shoving and enthusiastic head-bobbing started up as soon as Moody began hooting and hollering, and it didn't let up for the rest of the night. The group's sinister, haunted-house organ rode high in the mix, swirling around throbbing bass that kept hips shaking badly throughout the room.

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Cheers of recognition went up every time the band began a new song. At this point in their career, the Murder City Devils are not attracting a heck of a lot of neophytes. Their crowd consists of dedicated, longtime fans, and there were enough of them on Friday to turn Fitz into an uncomfortable sweatbox as the group churned out its signature brand of chugging, mid-tempo garage-punk.

I found myself wishing more than once that the swelling music would explode or at least boil over a bit, but MCD was careful to keep its witchy brew on a low simmer all night. Steamier that way.

The biggest cheers of the night came for the capstone, "Broken Glass." As late- '90s garage tributes to Iggy Pop go, it's a good one, I guess. The Murder City Devils never really approached the danger of even late-period Iggy, but that wasn't what the audience was after on Friday, anyway. Fans came to hear the band's tightly focused energy channeled through that oscillating synth-organ and Moody's microphone.

They generated enough heat inside that old club to make the chilly winter air outside feel warm as the audience burst through the doors. Reason enough to wish they'd never leave.

Personal Bias: Typically prefer my punk harder and my organ-music churchier.

The Crowd: Folks who haven't been to Fitzgerald's in a few years. Maybe more.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Do you think that chick's hair is real, or she's wearing a wig?"

Random Notebook Dump: Thanks for reminding me, Mike, that I never got to see At the Drive-In.


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