School Daze

Weekday performances can be bittersweet for any band whose members have yet to rid themselves of their dreaded, proverbial day jobs. Pot Roast, who has a standing Wednesday-night gig at Last Concert Cafe, is no exception. While the club's spacious courtyard and mellow vibe benefit the combo's improv rock, playing until the wee hours of the morning exacts a heavy toll.

"Sometimes it's horrible. It can totally suck," admits guitarist Sebastian Ayus, who by day is a Texas history teacher at Bellaire Junior High. "I'll put it in concrete terms," he says. "On Wednesdays, the earliest I will get into bed will be 4 a.m. I have to wake up at 6 a.m. You see what I'm saying? Thursdays are tough. My students know this already, so they're aware that Mr. A. isn't to be messed with on that day."

One might think that the kids would be interested in their teacher's side job as a rock 'n' roller, but Ayus says that few ever ask about the band. "Remember, these are seventh-graders," he says. "Their hormone levels are racing all over the place. The more artistically inclined ones are curious, but the rest of them…it's hard to get them interested in anything at this point, you know? You throw an idea out there and they may be interested for about five seconds, and then their minds bounce towards tugging on someone's hair or throwing a paper ball across the room."

While he confesses a desire to eventually work as a musician full-time, Ayus says that being on stage has certainly enhanced his teaching prowess. As an entertainer, holding people's attention is the key to any good performance, and the same holds true in the classroom.

"Teaching is a performance," he says. "You want to captivate that crowd. You want the students to hang on every word you're saying. At the same time, being in front of seventh-graders, who are a demanding crowd, hones your abilities to deal with music crowds."

Of course, making every show sound like a spontaneous musical experience isn't always an effortless job. That's part of the challenge of playing to a crowd of regulars each week.

"These kinds of challenges are endemic to being in any kind of band, not just a jam band," Ayus says. "The struggle to stay interested musically can be difficult, especially after a few years. Keeping the show fresh and not killing each other in the process is something we have to contend with. People can tell if you're bored, but even the best of the best will have moments where the band is just kind of indifferent. You just have to intersperse those moments with real joy and real inspiration, so the audience isn't cheated out of a genuinely unique performance."

Luckily Ayus and the rest of the band hurdle these obstacles with all the skill and grace of an act that truly loves what it's doing. Typically the next Pot Roast show will be better than the last. And while Ayus has a love-hate relationship with the band's hump-day high jinks, he's proud of the reputation the gig has helped them build.

Aside from Ayus, the group consists of bassist Johnny Bryant, guitarist/vocalist David Culbreth, harmonica man Dino Gambino and drummer Brian Scardino. With their dance-friendly covers of jam standards as well as reggae and old-school funk, the band covers a lot of ground. It does so with innovation, expertise and positivity, which makes for a fun mid-week party.

While Wednesdays at Last Concert are still Pot Roast's time to shine, the band also has made waves in dissimilar clubs around the area. From alt-rock pubs like Rudyard's to Americana strongholds such as the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Pot Roast's aural aroma has wafted beyond the tiny Warehouse District. "We play a much different show when we're at Last Concert Cafe than at other clubs," says Ayus. "Elsewhere, we'll try to concentrate on doing only originals. We'll tighten it up a little bit and make it punchy, so that if people have never seen us, they won't be so freaked out."

While Pot Roast went in the oven just three years ago, Ayus has been playing in groups since he was a teenager. In fact, Ayus, a native of Argentina who has been in America since he was three, has always had an interest in music. After cutting his teeth on the drums (the band Yes was a favorite) and graduating from high school, he got a job at Sound Warehouse and bought a guitar with his first paycheck. Since then, he's added to his résumé a stint in Mountain of Joy, a band that once held court at Last Concert on Mondays.

In the short life of his current combo, Houston's jam band scenelet has remained very stable, and its fans loyal. Along with local contemporaries such as Moses Guest and visiting favorites like Austin's Larry and Soulhat, Pot Roast has had little difficulty finding acceptance in H-town. It's a far cry from a decade ago, when the scene was limited to just Thursday nights at Last Concert Cafe.

"Circa 1990, there was hardly any scene. We all went to see the Hightailers on Thursdays," Ayus recalls. "I wouldn't classify it as a jam band experience, but that was the closest thing to it. I think the [small] size of the scene is because there aren't that many college-age musicgoers. If they're here, everyone's so spread out, so one audience is not connected to one particular venue."

Ayus says that the band is starting to get more organized. "We finally have a press kit." With that, it might not be too long before a Pot Roast studio CD is in the can. For those not willing to wait for Pot Roast product to be circulated, a variety of tracks can be downloaded from the band's Web site, The group also makes its live shows available via cassette free of charge.

According to Ayus, his students at Bellaire have yet to hear any of Pot Roast's material. Although background music is allowed during class time, he hasn't brought in any tapes for the seventh-graders to sample. But just think how those blasé adolescents will brag a few years down the road should Ayus follow in Guided by Voices' Bob Pollard's tracks.

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Mike Emery