Four mild-mannered women enter a phone booth and emerge as superheroes. If you’ve ever wanted to see something like that, be at Fitzgerald’s Thursday night for the Go Betty Go show.
It’s been nearly ten years since the Los Angeles-based, all-Latina, totally awesome garage-punk band touched down on Texas soil, but Houston is its first stop here. After that, it’s a Texas two-step to San Antonio and Corpus Christi this weekend, then back to their Clark Kent-styled lives in California. According to drummer Aixa Vilar, Go Betty Go wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We love to play. It’s so inspiring, especially now that we don’t do it full-time, to just have a normal life,” she says. “Sometimes we feel like superheroes because we go out and have a rock show. It’s like there’s this whole other side to us that we can get into.”
There was a time when Vilar and her bandmates -– bassist Michelle Rangel, guitarist Betty Cisneros and vocalist Nicolette Vilar, Aixa’s sister -– were a full-time band. After forming in 2001, their infectious songs and energetic live shows boosted them to national prominence. SideOneDummy Records signed them and they toured incessantly on the strength of their EP Worst Enemy and a full-length, Nothing Is More.
We first caught GBG at the 2004 Warped Tour. We showed up to see Flogging Molly and The Casualties, but were enthralled by a big sound coming from one of the small stages and got an up-close view of Betty’s faster-than-a-speeding-bullet guitar-rock meanderings. Aixa and Michelle held the beat down like it was a prison escapee. Nicolette’s soaring vocals were authoritative and commanded our attention.
“I think all the times we went down to Houston were in the summer. We remember very sticky, humid summers. Lots of rain, something we don’t get out here in L.A. anymore. But we always remember good shows and really nice people,” Aixa says. “I know Texas has always been really good for us, and that’s why it’s so nice to go back.
"We don’t really do tours anymore, we always just do things on the weekend or things we can drive to from the L.A. area," she adds. "When we finally said let’s get out to a new spot where we can actually fly to, the first thing we wanted to do was to go back to Texas. We’re very excited to go back.”
The last time Go Betty Go played Houston was in 2008, and this Texas tour is another in a series of recent, measured steps. Only half the original lineup was still playing regularly the last time they were here; Nicolette left first, in 2005, then Michelle. Things eventually ground to a halt until 2012, when the original lineup re-formed for a single date. Aixa says the familiarity of it all encouraged them to consider more Go Betty Go work.
“It’s so cliché to be like, ‘It’s just like riding a bike,’ but it actually was," she offers. "It’s so weird. When we said, okay, we’re going to play just a one-time reunion show back in 2012, Nicolette hadn’t been in the band in seven years. And yet, it was kinda trippy to rehearse for the first time, and the songs just come very naturally, even to her, and she was the one that had stopped playing music the longest.”
Last year, the band released a crowdfunded EP, appropriately titled Reboot. It toured almost exclusively in California, save a couple of Nevada and Arizona dates. But, Aixa explains, these small steps have been the right strides for the band at this point in its existence, mostly because its members are relishing the balance of life they couldn’t have as a full-time band.
“A lot of people end up finding out in this career it’s a huge sacrifice on your personal life because you almost don’t have a life," she says. "The band and the music become your life. Of course, you love to do it, it’s your art, but sometimes that just can become very overwhelming.”
Nicolette was the first in the band to come to this revelation, Aixa notes. As front woman of the band, she felt some added pressure to be present. But her time away wound up helping everyone in the band realize how critical it was to untie the cape every once in a while.
“She experienced what a lot of musicians feel when they’re out on the road, and she just had to let it all go," says Aixa. "But then she realized when she came back, by us setting boundaries and saying, ‘Okay, the band is not our life, but it’s part of our life and we’re going to do this in a way where we find good balance,’ it works perfectly. Everybody’s happy. Those old little demons that used to haunt us are gone because we’ve learned how to deal with them. With experience and maturity, you’re able to overcome those things. You learn your lessons. That’s life.”
Aixa isn’t just the backbeat; she’s the backbone of Go Betty Go in some ways, emerging as a leader and a constant over the years. She says she enjoys when new acts share how Go Betty Go inspired them to do their own thing. Invariably, they ask for advice. She tells them the requisite things — work hard, practice — and gives them the secret to her own success.
“Almost everything I’ve done, even from the first time we booked a show, I had no idea what I was doing,” she admits. “You’ve just gotta do it. Sometimes you’ve just got to pretend you know what you’re doing. I’ve found that works for me a lot in life. You eventually find yourself understanding everything.”
What she understands today is how much more the entire band appreciates what it does by taking a thoughtful approach instead of a whirlwind pace. It was evident when the band started putting Reboot together.
“Because it had been so long since we all wrote together, it took longer than it had in the past to get it done," Aixa says. "But it was very rewarding at the end when we saw and heard the results. We were just excited. We were actually able to do this, which I never thought — especially after Nicolette left the band in 2005 — I never thought that we would be able to be in that situation again. It was nice and probably therapeutic in the sense that after everything we had gone through, we were able to do it.
“I think some people were afraid that ten years after our last album, it would be very different from what that was, and people loved that,” she continues. “We feel like we wrote some good songs and we’re happy with them. Of course, there’s a difference. It’s been ten years and we’ve done a lot of growing up. We’ve experienced a lot of different things in life. But we’re still definitely rocking out. We’re still doing what we love to do, which is just playing rock and roll.”
Vilar says the band is considering some East Coast dates later this year and would be working on new songs, too, contingent on everyone’s flexibility.
“We do what we can. I think we’ve found a good balance," she offers. "It’s just a matter of playing and seeing about adding some new music, and I think, all around, that’s what a musician does. That’s what we can put out into the world, so we’ll keep doing that as long as we’re all healthy enough to do it.”
Go Betty Go returns to Houston Thursday at Fitzgerald’s, 2705 White Oak, with Fea and The Freakouts. Doors open at 8 p.m.; all ages.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.