Many moons ago in the city of Houston there was a place called Cabaret Voltaire. As a young punk in my mid to late teens, I would go to that old warehouse in what used to be called Chinatown (which was really more of a Vietnamese neighborhood) and see bands like D.R.I., The Offenders, Verbal Abuse, Jodie Foster’s Army and The Big Boys. In that decrepit building with nothing more than a rickety wooden stage, my friends and I were part of a scene that worshiped punk, hardcore and the bands that made it our life.
Last Friday I found myself in a place and a state of mind very reminiscent of those old days where I would spend hours talking to Ronnie Gates at Cabaret Voltaire about how Ronald Reagan was the Angel of Death or with Chuck Roast at Vinal Edge Records, listening intently at what new bands he would recommend for me to make my ears bleed and my heart race or with Richie Rad and Robert Boardman, slam dancing in a sea of brothers and sisters who shared the same passion for punk rock.
Last Friday night, Houston band Jodie Seabody and The Whirls had a tour kickoff show at a local club called Satellite Bar on the east side of town. I decided to pop by and check them out because I really had not had the chance to see them other than at large festivals with a bunch of other bands where I had to run like a chicken with its head cut off in order to be able to shoot them all (with my camera you psychos). This time I’d be able to see their whole show and find out what the buzz was all about. To top off the bill, artists JOnBlack, Funeral Horse and Giant Kitty were also going to perform so I was looking forward to that.
I got to the venue after covering The Lories at 8th Wonder Brewery (that review here) so I was well fed and ready for some more beer. Satellite Bar has a HUGE selection of canned beers (which I normally would not like since I prefer bottles, but their selection is so large and varied, it merits a few brews) to chose from. Curiously enough, most of the bar’s patrons drink Lone Star beer which, as God is my witness, I simply cannot fathom but to each their own. I downed a couple of Weisse Versas and then the first act of the evening started his thing, JOnBlack.
From San Diego, California and later adopted by Houston (or maybe the other way around?), JOnBlack is a rapper who comes on stage with his game on. He plays tracks off of his phone which he connects to the PA and fires off witty and smart rhymes through the mic to the delight of the audience. Melodically, Black is not much of a singer but his diction and eloquence as a rapper is evident as he clearly enunciates each and every word that reaches your ear like a guided missile to its intended target. His performance is simple yet striking in that he connects with his audience at a visceral level that goes well beyond that of a regular performer and his crowd. I cannot make comparisons to other artists since my own knowledge of rap is limited to Puerto Rican reggaetón and the old 80’s and 90’s rap acts like Ice Tea, NWA and Cypress Hill. JOnBlack sounds nothing like these. The tracks he plays are much more musical, with a clearly West Coast (and by West Coast, I don’t mean West Coast rap, I mean more like West Coast rock and folk) sound over which he lays out his poetry like a carefully set metronome. The rock and roll audience seems to take to his sound easily given how they reacted to his performance. People danced and sang along to his songs in complete abandon and joy. It was an impressive communion, indeed.
Personally, I would like to see JOnBlack performing with a live band behind him or maybe even a D.J. The tracks on his phone sound very good but he is forced to fumble with the device in order to change the tracks himself between each song and this takes away from the magic of his show. I am sure that given how many rock musicians are loving his work, he should have no problem finding some muscle to provide a living animal to his powerhouse lyrics. That would be amazing to see.
Next on stage was one of those bands that I kept hearing about but had never gotten around to seeing, Funeral Horse.
To make comparisons with Alice Cooper would be too easy. With names like Paul Bearer, Jason Argonaut and John “Stumpy” Pepys it is clear that this is a band that has taken on a persona of its own creation and amplified it to theatrical proportions. If you were to tell me that you were going to see Funeral Horse for the first time, my immediate reply would be, “Prepare to be entertained”. Because MAN, are they entertaining!
Singer and guitarist Paul Bearer wears Alice Cooper-esque eye makeup and tall platform shoes along with his suit and tie as he blasts out countless decibels of pure heavy metal madness from his guitar. If you ask me, I think his Mesa Boogie amp actually does go to eleven! His performance is more than just alive, it is swarming with vibrancy and passion for the stage. He commands your attention in the most invasive way possible and makes you a willing prisoner as you watch with your jaw wide open during the entire show. Drummer, John Pepys is a madman behind his kit who swings his arms around in terrifying arcs that would make you believe he is about to tear a hole in the skins but actually lands them with uncanny precision. Wearing overalls and a candy-striped shirt he manages to look comical and slightly insane as he astonishes you with his deadly rhythmic accuracy. Bassist, Jason plays in a corner with his hair ever in his face so that all you can see is a crazy man’s smile peeking through. His fingers furiously playing up and down the fret board of his bass guitar as if trying to put out a fire. With song names like “Vultures” and “Burial”, Funeral Horse describe themselves as “Stoner Metal”. Their sound is powerful and at times can feel overbearing if not for the awesome stage show they put on. I have to say it… It is metal but with very obvious punk undertones that reminded me a little bit of Misfits. I was surprised at how much I liked them. I’m definitely going to keep going to their shows.
Following Funeral Horse was Houston punk band, Giant Kitty.
Giant Kitty is a band I have seen quite a few times over the last couple of years and this latest (and I believe, permanent) lineup is just amazing. They have managed to bring back the energy, raw power, sense of humor and attitude of punk rock in ways that I have yet to see from other punk bands. Singer, Miriam K is a great performer who connects to her audience directly into their veins like an IV tube filled with pure adrenaline. She can growl through a verse like a lioness getting ready to pounce as she stares you down into submission. Her facial expressions are exquisite as she sings out lyrics like “Hey girl, you’re gonna need thicker skin than what you got”, plainly championing the woman’s cause for equality and respect. Guitarist Cassandra Chiles-Quirk dishes out a beehive of power chords that seriously put the word “fuzz” in that fuzz box distortion pedal. Her guitar sound is pure overdrive that pushes through the songs like a bulldozer without giving a damn what’s in the way. I have seen many of today’s punk bands and I can say that none have managed to capture that unique guitar sound of the punk I grew up with the way Cassandra has. It is not pretty. It is not sculpted. It is not meant to make you bang your head like some long-haired teenage dirt bag. It has one purpose and one purpose only… to punch you in the gut and make you rock. Johnny Ramone would be damn proud. Drummer, Trinity Quirk sits in back, paving the way of each song in classic 4 by 4 punk style. She would be very much at home at the old CBGB’s stage marking off the beats with no fuss and no fanfare. Just playing the damn drums so people can jump and have a good time. End of story. Completing the quartet is bassist, Glenn Gilbert. It was good to see Glenn playing with Giant Kitty again after returning from a tour with one of his other bands, Prophets of Addiction (more about them one of these days). Glenn is kind of the glam rock incarnation of Paul Simonon mixed in with a lot of Steve Stevens. Armed with the wide stance, the low slung bass and the stage presence of a rock and roll idol, Glen picks out the bass notes in powerful thrusts and parries that pound into your ear drums like sledge hammers.
Listening to Giant Kitty, you will get a lot of Bikini Kill, Ramones, Pussy Riot and even some X. Their songs are straight up punk rock that will fill your heart with hope for the survival of rock and roll. In these days of supposed punk bands like Blink 182 and Green Day, it is a truly heartwarming feeling to hear bands like Giant Kitty putting the soul of punk back together so thoroughly and efficiently. Thank you!
Finally, closing off the show was the unbridled energy and force of Jody Seabody and The Whirls.
Before you ask… no. None of the members is actually named Jody Seabody. The band is composed of Guitarist and singer, Bryce Perkins, lead guitarist, Dave Merriet, drummer and singer, Clint Rater and Bassist Stuart Cooper. What they play is pure, undiluted and righteous rock and roll.
Calling themselves a psychedelic punk-pop-rock band, I find Jody Seabody and the Whirls to encompass a wide array of everything that makes rock and roll great. High energy, loud guitars, screaming solos, fast paced songs and a devil may care attitude on stage and off. I am not saying they are the only band to do this and much less the best of the lot but they certainly are damn good at it. They take the stage like a tornado and from the first to last song they whirl you around (Hey! Maybe that has something to do with their name) until you are dizzy with delight and adrenaline.
This show was the first of their “Holographic Slammer Tour” which includes shows in Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas. Houston gave them a hefty send off as the crowd roared with excitement and approval after each song. It’s true that the drunk guy who insisted on slam dancing with everyone (but was too wasted to stand up on his own) created a hole in the center of the crowd during some of the performance, but eventually some kind, wise and blessed soul got rid of his drunk ass and the rest of the crowd was able to enjoy the show. Jody Seabody and The Whirls pummeled through a substantial set of raw force like a fire through a dry pine forest. Relentless and with no excuses, they took over the evening that was already filled with the drive and spirit of punk rock. Check this band out immediately and prepare to get your blood pumped.
A highlight of their show (other than the annoying drunk guy and his apparent issues with the center stage monitor) was during the end of their performance when singer, Bryce came off stage to sing in the audience with members of Jealous Creatures and The Wheel Workers. What started out as a shout-a-thon in the microphone ended up with a pile on as Bryce lay on the floor and audience members (including the aforementioned musicians of other bands) created a mountain of people on top of him. Total adolescent testosterone laden behavior that is SO much fun to do. I was sad that I could not join in because of my camera and lenses but it was still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It says a lot about a band when they make grown men allow their inner adolescent to come out and wreak some havoc. Rock and roll, baby!
Going back to Cabaret Voltaire in 1984 and 85, I went to many shows like the one I saw last Friday at Satellite Bar. It is good to know that there are still bands who are able to channel that same essence in their shows and create a very real vibe of what I had come to think of as “what was” but am now starting to see as “still is”. It is also awesome to know that there are venues like Satellite Bar that will cater to such artistic expressions with open arms and open heart.
See you at the next show!