Carburetors and the Devil
The Riverboat Gamblers are explaining Texas for us. King of the Hill is dead-on, says singer Mike Wiebe. So is The Last Picture Show. Pat Boone and Roy Orbison both lived in the Gamblers' hometown of Denton, a flat little college satellite outside Dallas. Stone Cold Steve Austin went to school there, but if you have a bachelor's degree in psychology, there will be nothing you can do with it. And if you call up the other members of your band on a Wednesday night, one of them will be making ceramic masks, and the rest will be working or preparing to drink. When you play shows, you will play at AIDS benefits for nine people at a Holiday Inn. Or you will play for a house party full of beefy, red-faced frat boys; uptight emo kids who sideline in bands like Leaves and Mother's Day; and lost-at-16 hick punks wearing rattails, raver pants and NOFX T-shirts ("Some of them make it out," says Mike). And you will play in as many rock & roll bands as you can, and you will write a lot of suicide songs.
"Yeah," says Mike with a sigh. Despite singing in a band with songs such as "Hey! Hey! Hey!" and "Ooh Yeah," and despite playing live shows with agility and enthusiasm to rival an oversexed spider monkey, Mike is sort of introspective and thoughtful right now. "We really are pretty poor, and for me, there's a lot of frustration in trying to play in a band."
The trend has caught up with them, he says ("Fucking sucks!"), and he's even more frustrated that the Gamblers' overdriven party rock could be put through the white-trash chic machine—they are from Texas, right?—and come out next to riffy shit-shower garage garbage like the D4 or the Datsuns or whichever one of those fuckers covers the Dogs. The Gamblers are more than an A&R cartoon mess of carburetors, the devil and flaming dice. "Everybody," he says, "kind of has this thing that the band is the only good thing going in our lives."
Good thing they are good, tempered by four years of house parties in North Texas, where the people—as in The Blues Brothers—make sure the band plays, um, good. Or else. When they started in the heart of the desert—figuratively and otherwise—they were determined to be the least emo band they could possibly be (note: it's still okay they had suicide songs—Cheap Trick says so). Drive around with their new full-length on Gearhead (or their old full-length on Vile Beat) fighting out of one busted speaker, and you can practically see their record collections coalesce into your passenger seat, dangling lopsided out of a stack of milk crates next to a trash can full of Lone Star empties: Alice Cooper? "Uh, I'm not that familiar with Alice Cooper," admits Wiebe (we recommend Love It to Death). But Turbonegro? "Apocalypse Dudes is gonna be the top album of the '90s," says Wiebe. AC/DC? "Um . . . um . . . grandfather," says Wiebe, "but a kindly great awesome grandfather!" Descendents? "'Der Weinerschnitzel' is so ingrained in everything," says Wiebe reverently. And Journey? Wiebe's a little worried there.
"If I let my hair grow, I automatically look like Steve Perry," he says. "I try to avoid that." But you guys sound like such good closing-credits music, we say: as the camera pans out over the red convertible full of bikini blondes throwing their graduation mortarboards in the air in the shopping-mall parking lot, we cue the Riverboat Gamblers' "Rattle Me Bones," and it's another feel-good summer PG-13 T&A romp in the can, right?
"Like at the end of the hijinks, where everything turns out okay?" asks Wiebe. "And even the little dorky guy gets laid?"
Yeah, we say. He sounds like he's into it.
The Riverboat Gamblers perform with the Materialistics at the Liquid Den, 5061 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 377-7964. Thurs., May 29, 9 p.m. $5. 21+.
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