TAKE A WHIFF
Midway through this column, I recall a night spent at a biker rally in the suburbs breathing in the smell of slumped shoulders as we watched a band limp through a set of poorly chosen covers. That’s real reportage. And in the interests of a Pulitzer, I want another taste of the bright lights. I want to feel the power. Which suburban rock venue has the most powerful, the most eye-blistering laser show? Who among you has the most ear-rupturing PA system? Where are the bluest drinks? Who are your champions? And who among you will be my guide, my Virgil through the circles?
Since I’ve charted my course to becoming the poor man’s Leon Hale, I get regular entreaties from music publicists begging for coverage for their stable of bands. I’ve been by the general store a few times, and I’ve sat on that porch and come to understand a few things about that side of the music industry. (Tony Bedard of the Hemlock Taven in San Francisco has made a compilation of the most inept pitches that he receives that he's titled Folder Rock.) Publicists generally get paid better than bands, they go to better-catered parties and it has come to light that at least one of them seems to have picked up some nasty moves from the abuse-of-power playbook. I’ve read the justifications of the accepted role of publicists and other middlemen, that they filter or curate (as the language devolves it) the running order of things. Nor am I a purist. But there’s something about all this reaching out that reminds me of the last days of vaudeville.
At the same time, I can’t help but read a lot of band bios. It may well run counter to a deep appreciation of music, but it’s a passion of mine that goes way back. My brothers and I used to prank call all the bands with listings in the Members Wanted section of papers like Riveted and the Public News. We used to claim all kinds of superpowers for ourselves, stringing these desperate almost-bands along with regard to our chops and our looks, putting forth and eliciting the stupidest utterances imaginable.
What I’m saying is this. From Conroe to Clear Lake, Katy to Baytown, suburban bands like to talk themselves up. They beat their chests and wave the American flag and make great claims regarding their talent, their rockingness and their other powers of attraction. Perhaps they have to — perhaps it’s the isolation, the disenfranchisement, the feeling that no one cares. I think it’s admirable in a cage-fighter kind of way. I’m always rooting on the hare against the tortoise. You see, city bands are cagey in a different way. It could be that they’re more aware of what’s at play, or it could be that they’re just scared to end up tangled and battered.
WHO'S THE BEST?
My daughter likes to read a book called I’m the Best. It’s about not being a dick. Basically, it’s the opposite of the collected works of Ayn Rand, and it’s much more concise. But here I’m asking, so you aren’t necessarily a dick if you answer. Are any of you any good?
And if so, who’s the best? I’m serious. I want to know and I don't want to hear it from your sister or your girlfriend; I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Do you have the high-octane rock that you think the world needs? I don't want to hear your demos; I don't want to waste my time on your YouTube clips. I don't want to read your provocations. I want to see you in your best light, the beer light, and I'm prepared to travel up to 20 miles to do so, with proper notice.
For what’s worth, I’ve got a horse in the race. You can look it up on your own time. We’re the tannest gang of stage-shakers. We can back it up. If you’ve got a gang that's more tan, I’d like to see you at the salon, hombre.
WHAT IS LOVE? BABY DON'T HURT ME
There’s a membrane, hardly impenetrable, between art and music in most second cities, including this one. It’s not a wall; this isn’t a human-rights issue, just a sticky membrane, which is gross enough. On one side of it is that hot tax money and easy access to those deep boxes of wine, on the other an occasional pizza. Don’t get me wrong; pizza is one of the mice that run the wheels that turn the turbines and power the whole grid.
But the turds in charge of a lot of things don’t get it that this a hybrid town, not a segregation town, and you can’t be having art without a lot of filthy music (and worse) rolled up in its sock, and vice versa, or else none of it’s not going to be any good. What I’m saying is this: There’s a ruckus coming with the cold winds. Are you looking for some action, sailor?
Etched In the Eye w/ Damon Smith
Khon’s, January 22
On the strength of both their name and this recording, which sounds something like a dog chewing on a fiberglass collar during a weather event in which a high wind blows through a junkyard, one should consider going to see Etched In the Eye at Khon’s, where they'll be playing a raspy, wheezy, scratchy, "don't go in that room, honey, the killer is in there" kind of music in a place where darts are thrown. If possible, bring somebody who already loves you.
They, Who Sound
AvantGarden, January 25
Dave Dove's series of unknowable and unquantifiable electro-acoustic activities resumes with performances by Project Artichoke and curator/publisher/musician Sally Glass.
Maramuresh, Splendid Emblem, Rat In the Knife Drawer, Alex Tu
Walters Downtown, January 27
Even more primal concrete music sludge and technologically enhanced existential quicksand. And at $2, it's really cheap! As at the tracks, I bet on the names in these sorts of cases, so try and save your Powerball winnings to spend at the bar.
ON STARING INTO EYES AND GETTING NOTHING
Too many bands flirt. A show isn’t the beginning of a courtship, much less a friendship. Let your mom or your neighbor be your friend. No self-respecting band needs to go that route.
On Tuesday night, I stared into a lot of eyes onstage at Walters and I got nothing. There was nothing in the eyes of Craig Willis Bell. Nothing in the eyes of John D Morton. Nothing in the eyes of Lamont Thomas. Maybe there was something in the eyes of Andrew Klimeyk, but I couldn't make it out exactly, as he was wearing ambiguous glasses. That’s all for the best. Cleveland's X_X made their name in the assholes-on-purpose department. They started off as dada pricks, bad wrestlers — along the lines of Andy Kaufman insulting the entire city of Memphis. For a taste, here are some of the hits they played: “You’re Full of Shit.” “Cleveland Sucks.”
A lot of bands make a lot of promises to their audiences. I can’t say why; maybe they suffer from bad nerves. You can think what you want, but bands, particularly touring bands, don’t owe you anything. They’re not even obliged to look at you. To a touring band, there’s always a Tuesday somewhere on the horizon, always a Houston sneaking up on you.
A few years ago, my homegirl and I came into some tickets to see Blue Öyster Cult and Foghat at the horse track. This particular night of classic rock under the stars coincided with a biker rally. Foghat were pretty good in their own grab-bag of scabs way, and we managed to make a pretty crisp bootleg phone recording of Slow Ride for our nephew. Blue Öyster Cult, their timeless hits notwithstanding, made for a pretty mild, disappointing ending to the night. But here’s where good fortune almost intervened. As we were heading back to our car, we got sidetracked by a carny.
Forget Blue Öyster Cult, he barked. Come see some real biker rock; come see my dogs! So we made time for this particular pack of dogs, because that’s written somewhere in the Tao. But, Heavens, what a bait-and-switch! These dogs were nothing but a Stone Temple Pilots cover band. To my way of thinking, they weren’t dogs at all. Better that they call themselves the furniture fittings from the outlet mall. And I couldn’t help wondering, where was the biker outrage? What has become of American motorcycle owners and aficionados that they don’t demand something more bloody for their rallies?
So let me say, in the interests of germaneness, either Poizon or the Snooty Garbagemen could have been those dogs we needed to see then — real dogs, not furniture coverings, and, had they been boosted back in time, either band could have turned the Rolling Stones' Altamont disaster into the kind of boozy, pill-popping success that Hunter Thompson would have envied.
It is a longstanding tradition in our house to wish any birthday-haver, Happy birthday, I hope it’s worth it. That said, Tuesday and the prevailing Houston quiet nearly caught Obnox off-guard. Who can blame them? They’re seasoned street dogs, and it shows, but surrounded as we are by New Orleans and Austin, there’s no helping the culture-shock. A Tuesday night in Houston finds most of us at home reading interbellum English literature of the Evelyn Waugh or HH Munro variety. Nonetheless, Obnox won some points for rock music, the economy of means and doing without sleep. And volume, but I’m pretty sure the Snooty Garbagemen had already amply made a case for volume. There’s never been a time when really good bills like this were particularly common things, but it sometimes seems that way owing to the compressions of memory. Like Proust's muffin, Obnox and company sent me reeling back to hot clubs in Ohio completely lacking in PAs or other less critical amenities, home to bands like Kill the Hippies, Fake, Sockeye and the Go Go Bots.
Was it an organic procedure at one time to cut jazz moves in with caveman rock? Speaking of that, where were the KTRU DJs and their listeners? I didn’t even see Robo. Whether yes or no, X_X gave away nothing. Their oblique take on whatever music could be 30 years before the Internet was real fun in an oblique way. It was enlivening, slithery and loosey-goosey, the kind of music you want to remember as it was, avoiding the temptation to metaphor. They were innovators along the lines of the early post-rock, high-low bandwidth, like Faust or the Red Krayola. They pulled some camp moves like pausing between songs to cut a piece of bamboo into sections with an electric carving knife. Otherwise, bristly, bracing, just mean-spirited enough to be engaging. Cheers to these veterans of the wasteland.