By Matt Lehtola
Vetter Kids playing at CMJ. Photo by Matt Lehtola.
For the first night of CMJ 2014 I elected to attend the Texas is Funny showcase at Shea Stadium. I had three reasons for this choice:
1. Texas is Funny is an up-and-coming independent label based in San Antonio, and I knew nothing about the music scene there.
2. I’d never listened to any of the four bands playing it until earlier that day.
3. I liked what I heard.
Unfortunately the New Orleans-based quintet Glish were unable to make the show, so Brooklyn’s own Living Room filled in and took the opening spot. The foursome released an LP in August via Jetsam-Flotsam called Mooncatcher, and they’re a big part of the Bushwick DIY venue Suburbia (where three of their four members live). Personally I didn’t have a lot of passion for their set (as that style of emo-ish singing has never been my thing), but I dug their dual guitar work a great deal.
Next were The Hawks (Of Holy Rosary), whose genesis goes back to Holy Rosary School in San Antonio, Texas, where founding members Chuck Hernandez and Frank Weysos were basketball teammates in fourth grade. Now a quintet, they released their sophomore album What Team Am I On? via Texas is Funny in September.
Due to day jobs restricting band members from traveling, however, they were two Hawks short. Or as frontman Frank Weysos put it: “I don’t know what you all had to do to get off work to play this, but I had to suck my boss’ dick.”
Lacking their drummer, the band rebounded beautifully by using cassette tapes to supply the beats. Each song had its own tape (complete with case), and between songs frontman Frank Weysos would go to the player, switch out cassettes and press play, all the while saying hilarious shit:
Frank: I swear to God on friendship on the cross? We really did lose a bag of weed…
Christine Roberts (on keys): It’s wrapped in Saran Wrap.
Frank: It’s wrapped in in Sar- Christine I swear to God!
Christine: It looks like a little bag…
Frank: She fucking, brought it on the plane? Wrapped in Saran Wrap- not up her ass but between her ass cheeks–
Christine: It’s not true–
Frank: Don’t fucking lie now!
Christine: It looks like a rabbit’s foot.
Frank: Fucking… (sighs). It did look like a little rabbit’s foot–right up her fucking ass!
Christine: A little cellophane rabbit’s foot.
Frank: This next song’s called “Drugs,” we wrote it in the green room.
As Texas is Funny label owner Scott Andreu told me before the show, “Hawks (Of Holy Rosary) don’t practice, they rehearse.”
These bits of banter made for seamless transitions in the Hawks’ set, since whatever was just said served as the background story for the next song. Still I wished the band had been at 100 percent, as their studio recordings are catchy as fuck and full of instantly gratifying sing-alongs. Lacking the full monty, it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been, sure, but Weysos is a charismatic frontman, boasting a warm and throaty bellow. He carried the show, and his pornographic freestyle prior to the last song was funny as hell.
After that came the power trio of Vetter Kids, also out of San Antonio. They released their first EP (III) in May and their second EP (Logan) in October. Having never heard either I asked drummer Austin Maytherne how he would describe the difference between the two. He said III was recorded in parts, with the instruments and vocals all separately tracked. Then the band went on their first tour, stopping off in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Maytherne knew an engineer there who had just booked some studio time at Apocalypse the Apocalypse East End Recording Facility. So Vetter Kids recorded another crop of songs but this time they did it live, with everybody in the same room.
“It’s a lot more indicative of our live show,” says Matherne, “and we really wanted to capture that.”
So what was it like?
To begin, Vetter Kids were super tight. Their set began and ended with instancy, like flipping an on/off switch. This always hallowed skill allowed the trio to utilize unexpected stops mid-song, which created both space and brief moments of tension-building silence. Combined with a knack for crafting non-linear songs instead of the usual verse/chorus/verse structure, there was never a dull moment.
The band also displayed the ability to play both loudly and quietly. This is harder than it sounds. Out of nowhere finger snaps suddenly became the only percussion, and there were multiple moments where frontman Marcos Gossi stood away from the mic, electing to use projection instead of amplification. This added drama.
But my favorite moment came about three quarters into the set, right before the band launched into a song… I heard Gossi panting for three or four seconds (dude was out of breath from throwing himself around the whole show). It was the only time he did this in front of the mic, and given the emotion of the music it added a certain gravitas.
For the grand finale Gossi launched himself into a group of people standing in front of the stage. He hugged them all and proceeded to hug other people standing close by, his guitar feeding back and hanging by his side. This went on for about 10 seconds, and I thought it would continue but then, on one snare hit, all the sound ceased.
It all comes back to that perfect synchronicity.
Closing the showcase were Ex-Breathers out of Tallahassee. I would describe their sound as extreme hardcore punk, with elements of thrash metal. Hearing it awakened something in me I had thought dead since the end of my 20s. I haven’t moshed since April 2, 2001, but had there been more like-minded people at Shea that night I might have just lost my shit.
A few weeks ago the trio released EXBX; an 11 and a half minute 7″ consisting of 12 tracks, most of which are under 60 seconds. They played the whole thing with juggernaut force, unleashing brutal stomp riffs and whirling through sudden tempo changes at a speed I can only describe as breakneck. Bassist Jack Vermillion sang a few songs with such intensity I thought he might dislocate his own jaw, or pop an eye out onto the floor. Dude’s face during these moments looked insane–it actually frightened me a little.
Guitarist David Settle also sang a few songs, albeit in a different style. It reminded me of Biohazard a little bit, which utilized Billy Graziadei’s higher voice (Settle) and Evan Seinfeld’s deeper voice (Vermillion) to great effect. The bands themselves don’t have that much in common, but the contrasting vocal approach is similar.
At one point drummer Adam Berkowitz slowed things down to a basic drumbeat. This sounded amazing after the all-out barrage that came before it. After 20 seconds or so Vermillion came in on bass, and then guitarist David Settle started doing his thing. I struggle to describe the sound of the melody he played, but it made me think of Lichtenberg figures. I loved that Ex-Breathers offered a glimpse of this other, more pensive side to their sound.
It didn’t last, but watching them masterfully build up to the moment where the song would explode back into that incredible speed was a treat. Shortly after it did Settle screamed “EVERYTHING’S A FUCKING BLUR.”
“Yeah,” I thought, it certainly was. Watching Ex-Breathers was like being on a frighteningly fast roller coaster with loops, drops, inverts, and twists. Math made it possible yeah but, I never noticed because I was having too much fun riding the thing. Instead of gripping the safety bar I was gripping my phone.
So ended Texas is Funny’s first ever CMJ showcase. I hope they come back and do it again next year.