Bringing on the leather
Details were sketchy, confirmation was impossible, but the rumors still backfired down the streets of Deep Ellum like fiberglass in the muffler of a muscle car. Despite an eight-month leave of absence and reports of a breakup, Glasspack--a local supergroup few have heard of and even fewer have seen--would once again take a Dallas stage in late July. The wave of expectation was almost as great as the constant clamor for a Four Reasons Unknown reunion.
For the uninitiated, the phenomenon known as Glasspack--or glASSpack, with a giant "A-S-S" so people far away will think a band called ASS is playing--sprang into Deep Ellum's collective consciousness, appropriately enough, on a Halloween night at Trees just a scant few years ago. The occasion was a show celebrating the release of One Ton Records' Sandy Does Dallas, a compilation of local talent remaking the Grease soundtrack.
It was a strange night, a power riff on the retro-tribute craze sweeping the music industry--a sort of nasty and noisy '90s throwback to '70s iconography that was itself a throwback to the '50s. Several of the bands that appeared on Sandy Does Dallas were on hand to play their respective covers in short, but not too sweet, sets. The gussied-up Toadies tore down "Beauty School Drop-out"; Ugly Mus-tard, all rosy-cheeked and pig-tailed, bemoaned "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee."
There was only one potential bright spot in the lineup, only one possible calm in the relentless high-decibel storm: Spyche--the woman with a Greco-Roman's jackboot, a seraph's voice, and a mysterious origin--delivering her wanton version of "Hopelessly Devoted to You." But instead of Spyche, a four-piece called Glasspack took the stage.
With mini-Marshall amps, Flying V guitars, and nary a single string in tune, Glasspack erupted in a parade of arena-rock anthems that had no connection to '50s doo-wop pop, songs that couldn't be covers because no one would ever record songs like these on purpose. Fish-white bellies bulged between skin-tight KISS Army tees and button-fly jeans. Pelvises were thrust. Hips gyrated. Jim Beam was guzzled. Through the overabundant between-song patter, one mantra was repeated: "Texxas Jam '78," a reference to a long-ago, lost performance after Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush that no one could ever have seen but apparently plenty can imagine.
Teresa Gubbins, The Dallas Morning News' voice of the Pepsi Generation, summed the group up as "an in-crowd collaborative... whose tedious goof-on-you nonperformance charmed no one but the band members themselves." Less loquacious audience members with khaki gimme hats and ankle tats simply waved clenched fists and yelled, "You suck." To this, a taken-aback Glasspack simply replied, "No, you must be confusing us with another band that sucks."
Hindsight being 20/20 and all, this initial audience reaction was predictable. The band--Jimmy McMillions on vocals and lead Flying V, Spyche "from France" on bass, Duncan "C*ckblock" Donut on drums, and Casey "Lunchbox" Masterpiece on other guitar--has unfamiliar names, but familiar faces. Isn't the guy with the stringy goat-beard that James guy who runs sound at the Curtain Club? That's Spyche who tends bar and sometimes plays bass--I didn't know she was from France. And that's Duncan Black, who used to book the Orbit Room and play drums in Dooms U.K. and Slowpoke. And that other guy is either Ian Moore with chest hair or Casey from Secret Goldfish and Valve.
With such a roster, there could be only one question on everybody's mind, and it's the only one that matters in rock and roll: Are they any good?
A year and a half after the fact, sitting in the cool, 78-degree Curtain Club, Duncan dismisses the hoopla with a wide smile. "We can't help that we're so popular. We are who we are and, well, we rock. And people eventually see that."
Jimmy is a bit more modest. "We were told the Sandy Does Dallas show was this '70s revival thing, but all we heard was this '50s music. Well, we're not a '50s band. We're Texxas Jam '78. So we just did our thing. I don't think..." He trails off, snapping his fingers. "Psoriasis, Sorrissa, Torisa, Theresa, Teresa...Yeah, Teresa didn't really understand what was happening to her at first, but since then she's come around. The Texxas Jam is something everyone needs to experience. But the big arena-rock shows are pretty much gone. We keep it alive."
Alive? Well, maybe on life support. Despite a history of solid crowds that boast the likes of such local rock royalty and avatars of good taste as Hagfish's Zach Blair and One Ton Records' Aden Holt, as well as unsuspecting frat boys who wander in hypnotized by the sheen of classic metal, Glasspack played only a handful of billed Dallas gigs last year--the most recent during the first week of November.
The band blames its infrequent gigs on everything from a problem with Jimmy's lymph nodes to an air-drumming injury suffered by Duncan, but the word on the street had co-founder and tuning ear Spyche "from France" quitting the band. When press releases announced that the band Mess had reformed as Darlington, with Spyche on bass, the end of Glasspack seemed definite.
Jimmy shakes his head, and lets out a laugh. "The media always gets things so wrong. Spyche 'from France' has a half-sister named Spunky 'from D.C.' and she played for a while in an all fat-girl band named Darling Ton. They tried to steal our fans. But there's only one Spyche 'from France,' and she's exclusively Glasspack."
Before Spyche "from France" can respond, Casey interjects, "We're all exclusively Glasspack."
In the face of what may be band discontent, Jimmy says that the reason for the long delay is simple: "When you play a show, you have to give it your all, let it all out. Then, after the show, you have to put it back in, and that can take some time."
Casey chimes in, "And we have to learn the songs again."
"People need to understand," Jimmy explains. "Unlike other bands, we've never asked for a show. We've always been invited to play. So, we've never thought about booking a show. When the public is ready for us, they call us."
"Like that Oriental guy who's been talking to us," says Duncan. "What's his name? Hy-din?"
"Yeah, yeah, Hayden from Won Ton Records," Jimmy adds. "He's setting up our next show."
Ignoring that it's, in actuality, Aden Holt who's responsible for Glasspack's return show July 30, a more obvious question begs to be answered, especially as the band is, in its own words, "one of rocks most forgetable [sic] bands...a farce of the '90s [that] still attempts to relive the glory day(s) of a hot summer in 1978." Can a band that plays late-'70s arena rock really be anything but a parody? And, more importantly, isn't a parody of late-'70s arena rock simply redundant?
The band erupts in a series of ill-tempered whistles--except, that is, for Spyche "from France," who is ill-temperedly restrained.
"Don't take that kind of shit from him," Duncan barks. "Those are fighting words."
Jimmy puts on a calm, cool, and collected face, rarely seen from lead singers of this decade or any other. "Listen, we're a serious band, straight up. We're incredibly serious about what we do. I mean, Texxas Jam '78. That's what rock and roll is all about, isn't it?"
But even if stadium rock is the pinnacle of the rock-and-roll experience, is Dallas in risk of overdosing on bands that have soldered their flesh to classic rock?
"Who else does it like us?" Jimmy asks out loud. "ASKA doesn't compare, because they have that '80s twang. And Dooms..."
"Aw, 'Dooms sucks' says it all," Duncan interrupts.
"Now, now," Jimmy says, making the peace sign. "I'll admit I'm a little jealous of Dooms. They do have Tommy Shaw [Jon 'Corn Mo' Cunningham] playing for them, and, one day I'd love to do a collaboration with him. I'm a big Tommy Shaw fan.
"But who else does what we do?" he repeats. "Sure, the high-powered rock moves we do, you might see other bands doing them, but they all came from Texxas Jam '78! And, you know, we're totally against owning tuners. We have a few of those pitchfork things and strobes for the guitars, but when you've been playing as long as we have, you just kind of know when things are right. I've watched a lot of bands in Dallas, and they seem to be catching on, 'cause they don't use tuners, either. It's the new way, and everybody's doing it because of us. But nobody does it like Glasspack."
If nothing else, he's right about that. Nothing is really like a Glasspack show. The band swears this one will be no different--literally--than in the past.
"We thought about getting new songs once," says Duncan, "but then we realized: Who wants to hear new stuff?"
Indeed. When the lights go out this time, just as that first unexpected time, Glasspack will hit with all the force of an Andy Kaufman piledriver. On stage, the band seems to tower over its Marshall stacks, and the guitar solos make your teeth hurt. Longtime fans and newcomers alike will pogo to hard-hitting anthems such as "Pack of Smokes," a song that, well, smokes, and "4X4," with its irresistible break down: "1, 2...1, 2, 3, 4." But the jewel of the night is, of course, "Speechless." Written and sung by Spyche "from France," the song is like a tree falling in the woods with no one around.
If there's any concern that the crowd won't get it after such a long layoff, most of the band doesn't let on. "Texxas Jam '78 never goes outta style," Jimmy explains.
Glasspack performs July 30 at the Curtain Club.
Put a Sock in it
The Exposition Park revolution never quite happened, thank God; the Fair Park oasis is still relatively untouched by the greed and foolishness that has turned most of Deep Ellum into SMU's downtown annex. Need proof that a flower can still spring up through the downtown asphalt? On July 31, Sock Monkey opens its doors in Expo Park, turning an empty space into an art-gallery-cum-retail-store-cum-performance-venue. Run by Michael Allen, who runs lights and film projections for a number of bands, including the tomorrowpeople; artist Joey Weldon, whose work will be on display; and local poster artist Sarah Walker, Sock Money sounds like a little slice of heaven. Art in the front, avant-rock in the back, and a little bit of everything else in between. (How Austin.)
"We have three pretty unique concepts," Allen says of himself and his partners in the gallery. "It seemed like fun to try to run a shop exposing people to all three: Joey's art is really nice, Sarah does her posters, and I have something like 25,000 16-mm films. We ran across this space in Exposition Park, which is a great area for us, and we thought we could have this great venue for experimentation."
Right now, Allen plans on hosting music in the back yard the last Friday of every month, and Sock Monkey debuts as a live-music venue on opening night: At 8:30 p.m., Captain Audio will perform a half-hour set--the only "real set" of the evening, Allen explains--followed by "experimental performances" by a number of local bands, including some of the guys in Tripping Daisy performing as The Platinum Experience; Bedhead's Chris Wheat and members of Bobgoblin playing as the neat project; and members of the Hazy Daze Collective, local DJs who make the rave-circuit rounds.
"It's completely disorganized," Allen says of the night's lineup, laughing. "And we're going to see how it works with the DJs on one end of the yard and the bands on the other. It's going to be a psychedelic freakout. The idea is to have it all be experimental. I mean, we're not gonna have bands perform. We're trying to highlight artists, to let them do their thing in a more artsy manner, something you can't do at Curtain Club or Trees. Most creative people have stuff they do in their bedroom with a four-track, but you can't necessarily take it out to the masses because they're not paying to hear you experiment. So I'm trying to provide it in a gallery without a cover charge." Sounds like, well, paradise.
The rare opportunity to catch the Earl Harvin Trio is reason enough to recommend the handful of club dates forthcoming this week; that Harvin, pianist Dave Palmer, and bassist Fred Hamilton will be recording a live album makes it that much more special. On July 31, the trio will perform at Sambuca in Deep Ellum; the next night, they'll play Dan's Bar in Denton. Then, on August 3 and 4, they'll take the stage at the Gypsy Tea Room, where they will record the forthcoming disc for Mark Elliott and Keith Foerster's Leaning House Records, the best jazz label in America, run by two former Thomas Jefferson High School students who never seem to make any money capturing lightning in a bottle. The Harvin Trio live album, with an indefinite release date, will mark Leaning House's second in-concert disc: In September, the label will release former Atlantic Records alto saxophonist Wessell Anderson's recording of his recent appearance at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan. And score one for Elliott: Reverend jazz critic Stanley Crouch is writing the liner notes for Anderson's album--appropriate, as Anderson plays with Wynton Marsalis, and Crouch and Marsalis are tighter than David Coverdale's pants...
They're not exactly opening for Metallica, but it's close enough--if you count being on a completely different stage, like, close. Chet Arthur (the metal band, not the 21st president of the United States) was just named one of the dozens of semi-finalists in Musician magazine's ongoing "Best Unsigned Band" contest, along with such local bands The Visitors and Triprocket. The grand prize--to be determined by a panel of judges that includes Ani DiFranco, Joe Perry, and Moby--is a bunch of equipment. Good luck!
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