Hole in the Wall, 3/7
Since it's right in our neighborhood, more or less, it beats me why Anna C. and I took so long to take in a show at the Hole in the Wall. Might be the parking situation. Not nearly as little as the name implies, the joint brings in local bands of note for free or cheap seven nights a week. If I were new on the scene most anywhere else I'm sure I would have been there several times already. But the range of alternatives here is stupefying (even in the few calendar months remaining without major music festivals). The two things I ask of a rock club are not playing games with the cover charge and putting together lineups with bands that complement one another. (In Austin you must ask yourself "What would Trophy's do?" and then do the complete opposite.) The Hole didn't try to shake us down for money for a show advertised as free and they supported the stripped-down power blues of Amplified Heat with other bands that made sense. That sends them soaring up the list when it comes to my personal power rankings of local clubs. We'll be back again soon, I trust. They have cool shows with The Black Drumset and the Cocker Spaniels coming up.
Amplified Heat, with their seven-foot amp stacks and three-Ortiz lineup, were one of my favorite close encounters of Free Week 2010. Their twist on the blues (overdriven to brutal effect and juiced by fleet, skull-crushing drumming) worked well without too many curveballs, but I'm excited and interested to hear that their new material is drifting away from the Cream-Hendrix template. By mixing up the midtempo grooves with upbeat, nearly hardcore thrash beatings, they're providing their riff-rock base with a nice, unsettling contrast in style. The "I Got a Right" mashing suits their boot-stomping rhythm section, particularly Gian Ortiz's molasses-thick bass. With the possibility afloat that the drums and bass are going to knock you flat at a moment's notice, Jim Ortiz's textbook Strat speed-fuzz solos gain intensity. I also liked Gian's increased vocal presence. Neither he nor Jim is exactly Rod Stewart but their scraped-tonsil braying definitely finds strength in numbers. The sheer quantity of 12-bar boogie bands in the area through no fault of their own diminishes Amplified Heat's mastery of the form. Hearing them now coming over as an unholy alliance between Blue Cheer and Minor Threat, they're more likely to appreciated on their own merits. With great rock power comes the responsibility to push the envelope, to grow and change.
Not to be overly harsh on the The Couch, of San Marcos, but I certainly don't feel as if they are putting effort equal to their abilities into their music. Their singer/guitarist is lazily talented; he has an enviable voice and real skill on his instrument but in this band he's not making the most out of either. The songs are two- and three-chord bores with no stops or changes; the drums ride the same groove song after song. Plugged into an odious mechanical device that removes all tonal quality whatsoever from his instrument, the bass player bounces back and forth sluggishly between the same two notes for the entire set. The guitar and drums are tight-sounding, but the songs aren't finished, and rather than developing his riffs or taking chances with solos the guitar player moves from one good idea to another unrelated one without any thought towards momentum. Rather than a set of songs it seemed like 25 random guitar fingering exercises performed in arbitrary order with planned, but unstructured changes. They need to throw out all their material (and probably get a better bass player) and start over, because whatever it is they're doing now, it isn't working.