Live: The Dark Night -- Ex-Voto, Cardinal Cyn, & Ruby Rocket at Underworld
Larry Rainwater of Ex-Voto. Photo by Jef With One F.
NUMBERS -- 7/12/08:
Houston is abuzz with talk about Chris Gray's recent article in the Houston Press
on the city's diehard goth scene. Though some might say that the glory days are past, Saturday's Underworld
show at Numbers
should be a sufficient argument against our spooky kids' premature burial.
The night was slated to be one of decadence and debauchery, in celebration of local corset-maker Kenny Arocha's birthday. Arocha (aka "Mr. SINched"), who staged his first fashion show at Numbers with fellow Houston designer Batty last November, has been in the news recently for his fight against Needville ISD's insistence on the cutting of his son's long hair. Saturday served as a much-needed respite from fighting The Man, and Arocha and Underworld's major domo Carmina Bell went all-out in providing multi-media entertainment.
Before the performances for the night were slated to begin, my wife and I headed to the upstairs bar to scope out the art exhibit by Sarah Frank and Bret Harmeyer. Harmeyer, one of Houston's many New Orleans transfers, has added sculpture to his resume and displayed a new piece that was typically disturbing. His obsession with black wasps with vaguely human faces can now be had in three dimensions. Slightly out of my price range, I settled on ordering a print of an octopoid mermaid. I'll admit that I my interest in Numbers' upstairs lounge wasn't strictly cultural, by the way. The upstairs bar is manned (or "womanned," if you please) by two of the prettiest and energetic bartenders in Houston. Danni and Sissy take their jobs very seriously, and if you want to try something outside of your normal poison, make sure you look them up.
Drink in hand, I meandered back downstairs for the first act. Underworld rarely books more than one band an evening, preferring to use several different kinds of entertainment in a three-ring circus approach. It's a wonderful set-up, especially when your opening act is Cardinal Cyn.
Cardinal Cyn. Photo by Jef With One F.
Based in Austin and originally hailing from Los Angeles, Cyn is a world-traveling burlesque dancer who has been all over North America and Europe. She broke her femur four months ago, and where most people would consider turning down a gig if they were in that condition, especially when the gig involved such a physical performance art as dancing, Cyn decided to find a way around it. Draped across a red velvet easy chair like Satan's doily, she wiggled out of several layers of lacy black nothings before hanging upside down in a classic pin-up pose with only the law's legal amount of clothing and a smile on. Catching up with her in the parking lot, she said that Houston had been a wonderful audience and that she couldn't wait to come back. Judging by the heavy breathing all around the club, the feeling was mutual.
Unfortunately, I missed Cyn's fellow peeler Ruby Rocket for the chance to interview my main focus of the evening: Larry Rainwater, Ex-Voto's front man and fully one-half of all goth music in the city of Houston.
(l to r) Rainwater & Spleen. Photo by Jef With One F.
Rainwater, a gothic elder statesman whose music career spans decades, moved to Houston from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Though Ex-Voto has only played three shows in the Houston area since the move, they have all been high-profile and well-received, including opening for goth-satire icon Voltaire last year. He also found time to form an artistic (and now romantic) alliance with the 2007 Miss Spooky, Spleen, in the form of Ardour of Angels, who released their debut CD In The Valley of the Earth on Rainwater's Poor Alice Music label. Like most Houston goth bands, Ex-Voto and Ardour of Angels prefer to limit their local engagements to once every three months in order to avoid over-saturating the market. Nonetheless, they're not idle in-between, often touring in an out of the country at various festivals and special events.
"That's where the real money and security is," said Rainwater, though he also expressed a great love of the many small towns he has visited. "They are often very appreciative of something new and different from their usual rock music. They don't always get it at first, but most of them are very pleased by the end of the show."
Goth, death rock, and EBM remain fairly underground music scenes, but this doesn't bother Rainwater at all. "It's a chance to prove you're not just one of the countless thousands," he said. "It's a chance to be something different."
"Different" is something that he feels is going to change the world away from what he calls the "lawyer music market." Having almost completely abandoned Ex-Voto's official website, he makes his online musical home on the band's Myspace page. When I expressed some of Rolling Stone's recent sentiments, that the incredible number of vastly different bands on Myspace was preventing any of them from breaking out into wider success, Rainwater completely disagreed.
"The sheer number of artists out there creating music is a good thing. They are creating because they have to create, not because there is any money in it. And they are being heard. They are going to flush out the clog of modern mainstream music." It was on this hopeful note that he took his leave and made his way to the stage at the stroke of midnight.
The current incarnation of Ex-Voto involves Rainwater on bass and lead vocals, as well as handling the electronic backing music from an onstage laptop. He is supported by Spleen on keyboards and recent acquisition Patrick Dietz (who told me that he puts the "ick" in "Patrick") on guitar. These changes have vastly shifted Ex-Voto's musical direction away from the band's formerly more ambient sound into hard-edged death rock in the style of the Jesus and Mary Chain. From the first notes of high-octane opener "I Cry," Rainwater brought every inch of his dark presence to bear on a club packed with hundreds of upturned faces. Underworld gets a fair share of curiosity seekers mixed in with its regular crowd, and they were certainly getting their money's worth.
Spleen. Photo by Jef With One F.
The early part of the show was slightly off-target due to Numbers' usual and infamous sound equipment problems. They rent something vaguely resembling a PA for every show, and it usually results in an interesting evening from a technical standpoint. As I understand it, Type O Negative refused to ever play Numbers again for this reason. Still, Ex-Voto barely broke stride and electrified the bright stage with a full-on attack. It was something to see Rainwater and Dietz stoically play with eyes upturned before snapping into spins and jumps like madmen before resuming their foreboding stances. The music was also brilliantly counter-pointed, with Spleen's ethereal Dinah Cancer-style vocals slow-dancing around Rainwater's sinister and seductive baritone.
The set progressed at a breakneck speed with no pause, no dialogue, and no time to relax. By the time they had reached the softer side of the set with "Azrael," they audience was stunned and riveted. Ex-Voto refused to let up the pressure by even a millimeter and had everyone eating out of their black boots when Spleen took the lead vocals on the Ardour of Angel's track "I Walk Alone."
Belatedly realizing that standing directly in front of the speakers throughout this spectacle was impairing my ability to think clearly, I retired to the outside patio as Ex-Voto strutted into the end of the set. From outside, I heard Rainwater thank everyone for coming. It was a hell of a night, with all senses equally forced into overload. No matter what anyone might say, every Underworld offers a cornucopia of alternative entertainment. You never see the same thing twice, and it's a wonderful place for Houston's small but extremely energetic gothic artist community to show off their wares. I don't know of any other place in Houston like it. END