Featured Music: Wednesday July 23, 2003
Killer or Filler?

Pantyhose rock ’n’ roll is sheer energy — listening to a blue radio is not.


So many wonderful things are happening in The Scene now that I can’t contain myself. Like when Startlegram rock critic Malcolm Mayhew — at the gentle behest of his editors, no doubt — bumped into four gay men who promptly began rearranging his furniture, frosting his hair, and dressing him as a TCU dead languages major. The moral of the story is that you don’t have to look like a malevolent forest ogre in a ballcap to write about local music — you can actually look ... nice. I’m extremely grateful to the local metropolitan daily newspaper for bringing this to my attention. I now regularly wear a sky-blue button-down that bears the tiny image of a vicious swampland reptile on the left breast. And my lifelong dream of smashing an aluminum bat over Dave Matthews’ right shoulder has changed dramatically. Now, I just wanna punch him in the groin region. Really hard.

Another something we should be thankful for is the preponderance of local shows with 12 bands on the bill. There’s nothing like a good, solid mélange of rock bands that sound identical to one another jumping on and off the stage more frequently than small people in sequined leotards on a trampoline. Why else would the hardworking plebes of Fort Worth pay $7 every time they walk past a venue? To be served $4 beers, watch crappy tv, sit on seizure-inducing bar stools, and be rejected repeatedly by hot members of the opposite sex? No. It’s to listen to the same song over and over, played by a revolving cast of idealistic young men with long hair and guitars. We’re lucky our booking agents and club owners understand this. Otherwise, we’d have to endure Radiohead clones, droning on for hours about curbside parking law, feminist readings of NFL helmet logos, President Bush’s teeth, and the effects of greenhouse gases on sexually uninhibited plankton. God bless Fort Worth.

‘I’m a Fool for Your Stockings, I Believe’

Jesus Christ. I mean, I dig pantyhose as much as the next guy — but on women! There are these two clowns who’ve been kicking around town for some time and who call themselves Sexy Trash: Pantyhose Rock ’n’ Roll, and, from the cover art of a four-song e.p. of theirs that just crossed my desk, the tall one with the long black hair — who obviously sings and plays lead — dresses in short black outfits that expose his pantyhose-clad legs while the other guy, forty-ish looking and bald, plays the butch (figuratively) and the garbage cans (literally). It’s the White Stripes — if Jack and Meg were even more sexually confused than they are, impossible to embarrass, and destitute, intellectually and financially. The thing that pisses off the snob in me who hates novelty acts is that the music is not only passable punkabilly; it’s decent punkabilly. I shit you not.

The role of the rock ’n’ roll god hasn’t changed much since Elvis first combed hair jelly through his pompadour. It’s still all about fulfilling our fantasies. The problem with having an image as specific and unique as pantyhose rocker/rockabilly /punk is that your potential audience is limited. Sexy Trash’s obvious immediate crowd is, um, bi-curious pantyhose fetishists who don’t listen to ZZ Top — not, I imagine, a large niche. So no matter how kick-ass the music is, a band like Sexy Trash doesn’t have many commercial avenues at its, a-hem, disposal. It’s stuck with playing hair-transplant parties for yogurt traces on plastic spoons and for shoelaces soaked in non-sweetened iced tea, and with sending out c.d.’s to local alt-weekly music critics, just to get a reaction from somebody. Like I said, not many commercial avenues (which, need it be said, isn’t good for someone who wants a “career” in the biz). Of course, for all I know, these two guys could be making millions off their music and right now reclining in a hot tub of gin, watching their stacks of dollar bills be counted by half-dressed accountants who used to be Sears catalog models. All I’m saying is that it’d be cool if a band this interesting and semi-talented could play to a few appreciative crowds somewhere in town (other than the Wreck Room, where, reportedly, Sexy Trash has played). Ask me to name a couple venues, I draw a blank. Yeah, it could be because there aren’t that many adventurous venues in town, but ...

So the tunage: The first song on this four-song e.p. tries to carry the Sexy Trash image over into the music — just in case someone pops the c.d. in your player without showing you the cover art. The uptempo “Pantyhose Rock ’n’ Roll” is essentially about the relationship between the lead singer and his pantyhose and him and the audience. Talk about confidence in control-tops: “I’m a mean motivator with a mind full of sin,” he spits, with that little tremolo in his twangy voice. “All you boys and girls are dyin’ to get in.” (Into his pantyhose, that is.) The beats are simple, straightforward, not simplistic, and the riffs are tight and inventive, bluesy in a New York Dolls kinda way, not in an SRV kinda way. Frankly, it’s amazing, the racket these two create. Tip o’ the hat to Bart Rose of First Street Audio for an exquisitely produced disc.

The bottom line: Sexy Trash is rock ’n’ roll, alright. What their music has to do with pantyhose exactly, I’m not sure — but I’d be lyin’ if I said I didn’t like the concept ... or the execution. For more info, fax 817-457-8099 or write P.O. Box 24878, Fort Worth, TX 76124. GRADE: B

Blues Hammer

It’s gotta be embarrassing — playing blues in a darkly lit room strewn with sports pennants and exposed female body parts or, worse, playing blues in the blazing sun at an outdoor festival. Not because blues is by its nature intimate, personal music meant to be heard, preferably, by one or two kindred spirits max; it’s because everybody thinks that “real” blues has something to do with old black men and tales of woe. No matter what you say about barroom blues, a.k.a. whitey blues, it takes a lot of gusto for a person even remotely aware of the history of the blues — and it would be logical to assume that this person we’re talking about here has some familiarity with blues history, per his knowledge of the pentatonic scale — to get up on stage in front of drunk people or step into the studio with the understanding that drunk people are going to hear the result and play something that, for sake of categorization, passes as the blues. I’m kinda of the mind that barroom blues should speak to me, an Italian-American thirtysomething urban product of the lower middle class, in a vernacular friendlier to the ear than, say, “authentic” blues, or blues by someone black, blind, and of the Jim Crow era or earlier. But I’m still waiting to hear something, anything bluesy, from my generation or thereabouts that makes musical sense to me. The blues that emanates from bygone generations kicks ass — Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and, on the folk tip, Leadbelly. And the blues from yesteryear in the hands of modern museum acts, like Chris Thomas King and John Hammond, kicks ass, too. Now, let it be said: I’m not allowing my ass to be kicked out of white guilt. I just think that blues that hews close to that of the masters sounds better than a lot of what’s coming out of 6th Street Grill or J&J’s. It’s just more — how you say? — adventurous. Being the music snob I am, I’m more attracted to music that doesn’t appeal to the most people as possible. I’m attracted to music that’s true to its creation, that doesn’t sound forced or gratuitous.

The trouble is the rock influence: It’s often said of most art that the really interesting things happen on the boundaries or where different genres overlap. Why then does blues rock suck so bad? You got blues (great), you got rock (great), you mix ’em together and you get ... shit. ZZ Top, SRV, Allman Brothers — there are about six good songs between the three of ’em (and the best ones are less bluesy, more rock-poppy). The obvious explanation hinges on accessibility. Blues, as it is — or “authentic” blues — is too gritty, too unpolished for wide audiences. You gotta throw a little rockish beatsmithery and straightforward rhythmics in there to make the music palatable for the children. And anytime you start increasing the accessibility quotient of your music, you’re begging not to be taken seriously, at least by snobs like me. My ears have heard too many good songs to be disrespected by something like “Legs” or “The House is a-Rockin’” or this months-old record by local barroom blues outfit Blue Radio.

Let’s grant Blue Radio a few things: The guitarists know how to play, the drummer knows how to keep time, and the singers know how to approach a microphone. Now. Let’s hold Blue Radio up to the same light under which we’d hold, say, Eric Clapton. Things start to look a little different. Not only does Blue Radio come off as a bunch of part-time shipping clerks who happen to play guitar, they end up looking like everything purists and general music lovers alike hate — got-damn white guys making a buck off the blues. The saving grace is that, by virtue of the song “Blue Radio,” these old heads have the potential to do some interesting stuff. This mid-tempo light-rocker is soft and sweet, with an indelible vocal melody line laced the entire way through. But like every half-decent number performed by so-called “blues” rockers, “Blue Radio” is less blues, more pop. In case I wasn’t clear: Blues usually works as blues the way Bob Johnson knew it; it hardly ever works as rock. Some day, it may. Far as I can tell, it just doesn’t. Visit www.geocities.com/Blue_Radio2002 for more info. GRADE: D

On the IR: Dave Matthews

Eli and Young, of the Eli and Young Band, are from Denton. They like to wear nice-guy clothes. They like Aerosmith and Alabama. They regularly play pick-up joints like the Flying Saucer. Eli and Young probably like to romance their best friends’ hot girlfriends with wispy songs of lost love, of how love never works out, of how hot women should live for the moment and take sexual advantage of nice guys with guitars who sing wispy songs of lost love. Still, Eli and Young have a lot going for ’em — an ability to produce foot-stomping grooves, a knack for writing big hooks, and the good sense to avoid coming off like The Eagles. The problem(s): “If I ever got that ’56 that I always wanted / I’d drive down to L.A. / Cruise along some beachfront road / Playing ‘Surfing U.S.A.’” “It was love at a heavy price / His dreams he’d have to sacrifice / Just to be with her.” And: “Forever etched in stone / Forever in eternity / Forever you would never be alone / Forever you and me.” Gay. Gay. Gay. A warning should be on the cover of every one of Eli and Young’s eponymous discs: “Attention: People with brains. Listening to talented musicians play around mediocre, impersonal, cookie-cutter, mainstream-radio lyrics will make your blood pressure skyrocket.” Like I said, I can appreciate a catchy, country-rockin’, boot-scootin’ number. I just don’t have to listen to it a second time. GRADE: B-

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