Live: Sprawl/de Schmog/Blunt/Toho Ehio/U.Y.U.S - The Axiom 20th Anniversary
Blunt. Photo by J. Van.
FITZGERALD'S --10/12/2007: I guess you can go home again. Literally, for me. My wife and I dropped off the kiddos at my parents' house and headed to Fitzgerald's for the long-awaited and anticipated Axiom 20th Anniversary Party. From the official blog, you could feel the excitement for this event, with many musicians and fans reuniting in Houston to remember our misspent youths and that venerable club, The Axiom, which gave a generation of Houston kids a place to explore art, music, and general weirdness.
We got there a bit late (missed Fleshmop -- my friend already there promptly informed me that they were great) and walked into Fitzgerald's downstairs to catch an experimental noise song by Grindin' Teeth before stepping it upstairs to hear the band U.Y.U.S. I never got to see them back in the day, but I remember their flyers/album art. They turned in a good set of straight-ahead hardcore, and the crowd was enthusiastic and steadily building. There was still a slow-moving line, backed up into the parking lot, of people waiting to get in to the club. The band was energized and thankful; they reminisced between songs about the Axiom with sweat dripping off them telling the youngsters in the crowd to "Live it up! 'Cause it goes by fast!"
Then Toho Ehio took the stage with a more melodic but super-thick groove sound laid down by Jamie McGee on bass, super guitar man Ruben Dominguez, and drummer Sean Feeley. The vocals departed from the screaming of punk and became smooth and ethereal, thanks to the voice of Ifeoma Okoye. I enjoyed this band; they had a following that had come out to see them as their number-one band of the evening. Now I can see why I've heard so many people talk about the influence of this band on Houston music.
Next up was Blunt, fronted by the odd and amusing Toby Blunt, from all-over-and-Mary Jane's fame. On bass was the legend Johnny Gibson, of skateboarding and Sugar Shack fame, and Toho Ehio's Ruben Dominguez pitched in on guitar (except for technical difficulties on the first song), while Gregg Daileda worked the drums. The band had much more space than the previous bands, and you could hear some of their strangeness, including musings about how everything in universe boils down to your nose(?). Between songs Toby told some stories about the Axiom and after parties with zombies, only to have Johnny try to spit beer on him from behind. Toby quipped, "I thought we were family." Blunt rocked a few more songs before Toby removed his guitar to make odd feedback sounds and then left the building. The rest of the band left to cheers, as Johnny claimed that "the Axiom years were the best of our lives."
de Schmog. Photo by J. Van.
Then came de Schmog, one of my all-time favorite bands. I've seen them a million times and know all their songs, so I was pumped. And from the first note, it was like old times, like a flashback to early downstairs-only Rudyard's with a pint in your hand and windows fogged from the packed-in energy of dancing weirdoes. Super-animated singer Diane Koistinen and peculiar singer/guitarist Kilian Sweeney were in rare form, leading their bandmates in their one-of-a-kind, off-kilter drama-rock show.
Present and accounted for were their faithful and theatrical fans, who love to get down and throw down some suds. Early on Kilian broke a guitar string, so while the hunt went on for a replacement guitar, Kilian joined right in and showed off some funky dance moves of his own that had me laughing. Koistinen, Sweeney, and crew exchanged some questionable looks when some songs took unexpected turns (hey, this is a reunion show). Guitarist Brandon Holbrook added his complex sounds and scales, which really pushed the songs over the top, while brother Chrish Sweeney toiled lankily behind the drums and the entranced thumping of Johnathan Sage on bass locked down the rhythms. de Schmog ripped through songs like "Jon Hinckley," "Now I'm Going the Other Way," and "In This World," and ended the set with the rowdy song "House on Fire," where the Sprawl horns came out to help. The crowd danced into a frenzy. Then, as de Schmog disassembled their stuff and the next band, Sprawl, got set up, de Schmog played the "Rhino Song," which is sad and swaying and captured the moment as we said good-bye again to dear old de Schmog.
Sprawl. Photo by J. Van.
Okay, it's past one o'clock and it's already been a show for the ages, but now comes the band that I think the crowd most the longed for -- Houston funk legends Sprawl, who haven't played in about a decade! Sprawl shows in the early '90s were crazy energy, with young kids flying all over the place. How would this translate, now that we're all older? The Sprawl Horns (Clay Embry on sax, Bo Morris on trumpet, and Dave Dove on trombone) blared, and the best frontman Houston (or perhaps anywhere) has ever seen, Sprawl's Matt Kelly, said, "Let's funk." And that's what the crowd did. Bodies flew around, pushing and shoving, dancing, as Sprawl was back for a night. The band was incredibly tight (especially incredible for how intricate their songs are). Bass man Jeff Nunnally was godly and supreme, just chunking up all kinds of funk sounds -- I never realized before how much he carries the sound. The drums were held down by the ingenious Nick Cooper, and guest Kelly Doyle played the guitar.
Standout songs were "The Government Issued a Drought" and the frantic "The Infantile Beggar," which later brought the house down. The crowd cried for "Heat Miser" and finally got it (two guys almost got in a fight during this song? It's a cartoon song, come on...). All the while, showman Kelly was everywhere, diving in the crowd, dancing his crazy dances and herky-jerky funk moves like a Play-It-Again-Sam-era-Woody Allen on near-lethal doses of caffeine. One second he's throwing sweat soaked T-shirts into the crowd, another he's downing a beer with no hands or smacking baby-faced-straight-man-trombonist Dave Dove's bum while he played. The band played funk songs like "F-Word Radio," "Sugar Smax," and "The Sprawl House" and showed its pogoing ska side on "Ska Mitvah," "Sea Weed," and "Mold." The crowd loved it. The show was way overdue. It was not just a reunion of a band, but a reunion of a band and its fans.
During Sprawl and throughout this evening, I saw old time Houston scenesters floating by, being passed around, and just enjoying the show. I'm like, "there's Brad from the Keenlies, there's Butch from 30footFall, Jay from Joint Chiefs, and all the devoted fans of the Houston music scene..."
Alas, I was told to leave by the wifey at around 2:15 AM, just as Sprawl's Nick Cooper was saying, "We'll keep playing 'til they turn off the lights." As I went down the Fitzgerald's stairs and out into Houston Heights streets, I felt like I'd just visited some parallel universe where the good times just keep going and the bands you love just keep playing.
We drove back to the 'burbs -- just like in my youth! -- and snuck back into my parents' house at 3 AM, just trying to find a bed and get some sleep. My ears rang. My head felt split open. I chuckled at a night that I'd stepped back in time and went home again to visit something that meant so much to me and, as I saw tonight, it meant so much to a generation of Houston misfit youths.
Thanks to the fans, the bands, Fitz, the Axiom, and all who put this Reunion together. END