November 10, 2007
Better Than: Tinnitus for any non-rock-related reason
Download: “Invisible Type,” “Island,” “Linus Theme”
I’ll come clean. For the nearly 15 years I’ve been living in this airless, bug-infested urban blight of a city, I have remained woefully (and willfully) ignorant of the local music scene. Though I’ve been trying to remedy this of late, it’s slow going for a guy who doesn’t get out much. Saturday night, Linus Pauling Quartet’s record release show at the Proletariat gave me a much-needed and much-enjoyed shove in the right direction. With LP4’s apparent preference to cram as many great local acts into a bill as is humanly possible, spanning as many styles as there are bands playing, their shows provide a good crash course in local music.
Opener Jenny Westbury was great. With an unassuming yet captivating stage presence, Westbury and her solo acoustic guitar ran through a relatively brief set that highlighted her lovely voice and engaging lyrical sensibility. At times, Westbury evokes the avant-pop spirit of Laurie Anderson, as on “I Heard You’re Having a Baby.” Most of the time, however, she draws comparisons to artists like Erin McKeown and Julie Doiron, whose songs combine free-verse poetry “structures” and nostalgic pop-culture references with arresting and unexpected rhythms. Stripped down to just vocals and guitar, Westbury shone on “Invisible Type,” a free-association, stream of consciousness workout whose meter and melody keep shifting around as soon as you think you’ve got them pegged.
Middle band the Jonx were likewise amazing. I’ve known Trey Lavigne casually for about six years, and have crossed paths with (Houston Press contributor) Danny Mee on a few random occasions, yet have never before managed to see them play. I am a stupid, stupid man. Pounding, gymnastic bass lines; careening guitar fission; absolute percussive pandemonium. Slint meets the Minutemen meets Fugazi meets Television meets a point in sonic space-time you didn’t even know existed.
Their mostly instrumental set flew between funky/jazzy post-punk, screaming noise, math-rock workouts, and eardrum-melting feedback drone with precision and ferocity. The Jonx are one of those bands where each individual part would be a thoroughly engaging piece of music all on its own, yet they somehow work together instead of vying for attention. Their closing song, for example, opened with a loping bass figure that could absorb you for hours in its simple effectiveness, then drew in Mee’s pounding, tribal-pulse drums, with sheets of sound slicing through courtesy of Stuart Smith’s guitar. Throughout this lengthy workout, drums and guitar came into and out of focus, providing clear direction and purpose before devolving back into chaos. The only thing keeping it all together was the steady pulse of Lavigne’s bass. The whole thing made me think that they were trying as hard as they could to lose it and that somehow, like Reagan-era theories of Mutually Assured Destruction, this antagonistic tension kept the whole thing from collapsing in on itself.
After the Jonx cleared out, Linus Pauling Quartet mounted the stage, looking like anti rock stars, and proceeded to rock the fuck out. From the opening bars of “Old Crow,” from new LP All Things are Light, it was clear that this was going to be classic Linus: loud, brash and as unsubtle as a swift kick to the balls. The four songs they played off All Things were all faster, louder and in all ways bigger than on record. To a certain extent, it was sad to see most of the subtlety the band found on their new material vanish so completely in a live setting, but I think that’s only an artifact of having so thoroughly immersed myself in that record for the past month or so. Taken completely out of their recorded context, the new songs stand up well as testaments to the sheer power of volume and feedback, although there were a few moments where LP4’s feedback-drenched, three-guitar assault seemed to overwhelm the PA, resulting in an overly thick veil of high-frequency static that prevented any actual notes from making their way to my eardrums.
Interestingly, the one moment of weakness I found on the record, Clinton Heider’s wishy-washy singing on “Southern Pine,” was remedied live. Without a trace of echo, and with his vocals up front in the mix, the soft parts of the song stood up well to the bombastic jamming of the rest.
Guitarist Ramon Medina cleared up something that had been bugging me for weeks when he owned up to stealing the guitar part from Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” to match the associated lyric on “She Bad, She Thowed,” which the group played at warp speed Saturday. When Heider started ripping it out, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. Here’s hoping Led Zep doesn’t sue you guys for all you’re worth.
Throughout the set, the guys carried on a proud tradition of interruption and glorious amateurism, pausing frequently to retune their instruments between songs and laughing at their own ineptitude. Once they had everything set, though, they went for it with gusto, leaping around the stage, gleefully smashing into one another, and flailing their limbs in equal measure to their music. Medina, in particular, seemed transplanted from an early-‘80s hardcore show.
The band closed the evening with appropriate pomp, offering up the slow menace of “Waiting for the Axe to Fall,” which flared and smoldered with all of the ancient wrath of its protagonist. LP4’s punishing three-guitar assault came in handy when, toward the end of the song, Medina stepped on his cord and unplugged his guitar, repeatedly. In a clear moment of the “fuck it” mentality that permeates so much of this band’s persona, he simply stopped trying to plug it back in, rocking out nonetheless. Fortunately, the other three surged forward, undaunted, and avenged their fallen comrade by rocking as hard as ever. That’s the Linus Pauling Quartet for you.
Personal Bias: I have been living and breathing All Things are Light for a while now.
Random Detail: At the end of “Waiting for the Axe to Fall,” Medina swung around to the huge amp behind him and attempted to generate some wicked feedback, only to remember that he had been playing an unplugged guitar throughout most of the song.
By the Way: Apologies to Mathletes and the Dimes. I really wanted to see you guys, but I knew I was getting toddler duty early Sunday morning. Don’t worry, I’m sure Medina will make good on his promise to kick my ass for leaving early. – Nicholas L. Hall
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.