Night Life

Still Angry After All These Years

Name an alternative lifestyle, any alternative lifestyle, and you're likely to find it somewhere on lower Westheimer. Pizza and (ironically) alternative music don't necessary fall under that nonmainstream banner, but The Oven (403 Westheimer), where both can be had, does boast something that's more underground than even an S&M party: punk rock music.

Wednesday night is Punk Vinyl Night at The Oven. It's an engaging premise: People arrive with vinyl LPs -- or CDs, the place is flexible -- of their favorite punk music, and the DJ on stage plays them. We're not talking about that tongue-in-cheek Green Day and Blink-182 bullshit you hear on the Buzz; The Oven wouldn't allow that stuff in the door. We're talking about the good stuff, the stuff that made your parents think something was wrong with you as a kid.

On a recent hump day, the stack of albums ready for spinning included recordings by all the biggies: the Misfits, Black Flag, Fear, Social Distortion, the Damned, the Oppressed, the Exploited and the Sgt. Pepper of punk sessions, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks. The evening has a profound, almost eloquent sadness to it. With the local punk scene virtually nonexistent -- once-grungy venues have either died or expanded their offerings to entice a broader range of patrons, the lone holdout being the indefatigable Emo's (2700 Albany) -- it's as if this gathering were the last gasp of a once-virile community. It's like something out of a Shel Silverstein story: The Oven is the giving tree, and the aging punkers are the old man looking for a place to rest and reflect.

"I think you're reading [way too much] into it than it actually is, dude," says Johnny Blackout, with a laugh. Blackout (a.k.a. John Espana) is the head DJ of this event, which he started with a former Oven bartender eight months ago. Originally held on Sunday nights, the evening shifted to Wednesdays to accommodate the needs of those folks who wanted a place, midweek, to kick back and wig out. "It's just a night to come out and hang out with your friends or whatever, and listen to punk rock music or whatever, you know," says Blackout. "I mean, there's nothing sad about it."

But there is something bittersweet and nostalgic about sitting around with die-hard punk fans, now reaching 30, listening to the music of their youth and recounting the times they spent outside long-gone punk temples like the Axiom, absorbing the anarchic anthems being played inside. If you ask any of these followers about the state of punk in Houston, expect an impromptu rant (of course) on the subject. "The punk scene in Houston is fuckin' dead," one fan vehemently declares. "No," another enthusiast chimes in, "it's dead musically, period."

Perhaps this night could reawaken Houston's dormant punk movement. Or at the very least, it could inspire neophytes to rush to a record store and snatch up all the old-school punk or psychobilly music they can find. The night already has begun to attract its share of cult punk fiends, both old and young, most notably the Whipping Boy, famed drive-time DJ for the Buzz. Oven owner Carlos Cagna is quite content with the punk add-on at his establishment. "I just thought it would be a nice taste to have another, I guess, dimension to add to The Oven," he says.

Finally, a place where lost souls can come in from the cold and listen to classics like X-Ray Spex's "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" with their fellow malcontents -- just the way God intended.

Last Call

A couple of raves this Saturday are looking to bring pre-Halloween fun and fright to all the kiddies. But the only scary thing about these shindigs is how massive their lineups are. Method Man is the fancy-schmancy main attraction of "Thriller" over at Funplex (13700 Beechnut). The extravagant roster includes out-of-towners Spacegirl, Boo Williams and Gene Farris, as well as about half of Houston's underground dance music community (DJ Sun, DJ Bizz, Krackernuttz, Sistah Stroke, Ceeplus). The other half will be performing at the "Fun Haus" rave over at De Andas Ballroom (5201 Hopper). Cypress Hill is the big draw, but the hard-core rappers are not the only must-see acts. Superstar DJ Keoki will be a top spinner, along with Hardware, DJ Craze and the X-ecutioners' Roc Raida. Throw in Jonathon Youmans, Dave Arbiter and other local talent, and you got a show that's chilling -- but in an entertaining, scream, Blacula, scream kind of way. Call (281)991-1749 for more details.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey