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Live: Deafening/Plump/Casino

Casino pic #1
Look, I know it was a Tuesday. I know that most of us have jobs. But seriously, how is it possible that a well-advertised, strong band lineup (three bands for eight dollars) show in the fourth-largest city in the country only draws 50 people (I counted)? And I'm pretty sure that most of those attendees were friends or girlfriends or parents of the bands. As a Seattle transplant, I'm appalled. There a midweek show like this would draw 200 easy. And yet, in my conversations with the esteemed leader of SCR, I learned that this is about par for the course: every time Ume pulls a hundred at Rudyards, twenty other shows go unattended. For example, Bring Back The Guns, Genghis Tron, and Akimbo drew 12 people to Walters this past March. Akimbo and Genghis Tron played to 250 in Mississippi the night before, and played two packed dates at SXSW the next weekend. What is wrong with us?
The sick thing is that there are a ton of really good bands in Houston. Further, any random show around here is bound to have an interesting combination of bands that probably wouldn't share the stage in most other cities. Consider this bill: Casino, a band that dropped straight out of the late '60s, all blasting Les Pauls and Marshalls, tight pants, sneers and pentatonic guitar solos; Plump, the only funk band that I know of from Houston, with a fresh frontman and bass player, plus a monster jazz guitar player with an effects setup that Eric Johnson would be proud of; and Deafening, a detuned-drop-C double bass power trio with the best lead singer I've heard in a long time. This lineup was tossed together at the last minute, as Plump was a sub for another local band, and the IV Thieves (UK) cancelled because they were homesick.
You would think after 15 years of going to shows I would've learned that the time stamped on the ticket stub is when the drinking, not the music, starts. Warehouse Live was empty, with the exception of the bands setting up and the bartenders (note to all venues: It does not suck that stiff Cuba Libres cost only $3.50-$4, please don't raise prices). I attended the show with my usual partner in crime, Dan. Dan is a jazz and funk aficionado and plays sax. Before Dan arrived, however, I was accosted by James Yarbrough, the new frontman for Plump. I had attempted some research by hitting MySpace prior to the show, but due to the vagaries of timing, I managed to only listen to IV Thieves and Plump. So much for research.
Plump pic #1
Yarbrough, who bore a grin that could split the Astrodome and a striking resemblance to a tatted Phillip Seymour Hoffman, asked why I was there. I used the tried and true reviewer pat answers -- A randomly chosen show / A friend wanted to see them / I found them on MySpace -- but I think he was on to me. Yarbrough talked through three or four smokes, mentioning the new album they were writing, the new band members, the Houston Press vote for best funk band, the venue, the subbing they were doing this evening, all the while smiling and stifling the energy bursting out of him. Dan got there, so Yarbrough gave us a CD for showing up and got ready for the show to start.
The first thing you notice with Casino is the look. Well, if you're a guitar player, you'd notice a cool vintage Vox and a Marshall half stack with the jumper cable mod plugged into the front; if that doesn't say "rock," I don't know what does. Casino frontman Damon Murrah and guitarist Robb Moore are lanky, drawn, heroin-chic rockers straight from London circa 1967, with cocksure tousled hair that Liam Gallager would be proud of, if he wasn't a washed-up coke freak. On stage, the twin guitar attack vamps, broods, and struts with pursed lips, while bassist Mike Gogola goes catatonic and thrashes about spastically, all the time holding down the bottom end with drummer Ron Rushing. Equipment issues aside (I think some batteries were dead in a footpedal or a cord was broken in Murrah's gear during the first song), Casino rolled along with polished sass, combining music and stage presence without being the least bit corny. You can tell the quality of a band not when the room is full but when it's empty, and Casino didn't care whether there were 15 people or 1500 on the floor -- they still tore it up.
After a quick equipment change, Plump came on. Yarbrough got everyone in the room up close to the stage (difficult to do when there aren't a ton of people there), and the jam started. For a band with two new members, Plump was incredibly tight, thanks in large part to the wonderful groove of new bassist Josh Matranga and drummer Doug Payne. Saxophonist Jason Jackson killed it, smoothly integrating effects and modal licks without ever overplaying. Al Bear tore up a wonderful-sounding hollow-body Ibanez through the jazz standard Roland JC-120, flitting in, over, and around the arrangements. Yarbrough kept everything interesting and everyone interested with a hyper-kinetic pace, great dancing, and solid percussion. I found myself glad they were subbing.
Deafening pic #2
Finally (after another quick change-over, yeah), Deafening took the stage. Mindblowing, just killer. Dan and I were getting more than a bit spun by then and were ready for something a bit heavier. Deafening didn't disappoint. Lead singer/guitar Tony Casella went huge with what sounded like a newer solid state Marshall into split 4x12 cabinets on either side of the stage, and Carlos Torres and Muttley held down the bottom end like a pair of vice grips. For once, here was a power trio that didn't sound like three people wanking or that they were missing a member.
As anyone who has seen this band live can attest (or heard their album or stuff on MySpace, but I think it sounds better live), Casella's voice is god. Thick, rough without screaming, dynamic, perfectly in tune, and -- surrounded by the detuned musical onslaught -- beautiful. One of the best rock/metal voices I've ever heard. Combined with a wry stage presence and a coif that Sebastian Bach would have killed for, Casella is every bit the perfect heavy metal frontman. I didn't hear him come close to blowing a note all night. A great ending to a really good lineup.
The show ended, and the 40 or so people still in attendance left. Dan and I talked shop with Al Bear and Jason Jackson for a bit after their set, and I shook hands with kudos to Damon Murrah (who seemed ready to hit the after-party), but overall it was a pretty low-key ending to a really good set of shows. I implore all of you who read SCR to start attending shows like these. The bands and our scene need the support, and you are missing a ton of really good music. END