THE WEEK IN REUNIONS: Texas is the Reason and Lotion

on Oct 12, 2012

Later tonight, at the Showbox in Seattle, Rodriguez and Donnie and Joe Emerson will both play at a concert celebrating Light in the Attic's 10th anniversary. It will effectively be the 'check-mate' of rock reunions. No band is really broken up any more, only on a hiatus of one length or another, and for those acts that are too dead to come off their hiatus, hologram technology is on the way. Most any reunion is now well within imagination. Still, I never imagined sharing the moment of finally seeing Lotion play live with the band's own children. 

Any notion that their Sunday matinee show at the Rock Shop would be a semi-poignant Gen-X circle-of-life afternoon was quickly humbled by the realization that some of the shorter people in the audience were there to watch their dads briefly do something that said dads used to do all the time before they were born, a concept which is probably still not fully comprehensible to them. This presumption is based on personal perception; the 1960's have always existed in my imagination in a distant paisley past, even though the actual distance between The Beatles breaking up and my birth is roughly the time from now since, say, The Rapture released Echoes. Such a feeling of epochal separation is likely how the mid 90's seems to the kids sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the stage.

What you can't see are the dozen kids on the floor.
The following Wednesday, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Texas is the Reason had friends and family in the room as well, though singer/guitarist Garrett Klahn, playfully noting that "there's a lot of you f@#kers," indicated they were up in the balcony, wisely away from the main floor.

Texas is the Reason and Lotion have a little bit more in common than one might think on first examination. Both are New York City bands formed in the early 1990's. Both Klahn and Tony Zajkowski from Lotion had a way of singing at times as if someone was pinching their nose. Their most notable records (of course, in TitR's case, their only full-length) were released by indie labels (though spinArt brought Lotion nationwide CD club distribution) within a couple months of each other in early 1996. They also shared more than one fan: Dale, the guy who first introduced me to emocore, for one, agreed with how cool I thought Lotion's Nobody's Cool was.

The bands that history validates in rock'n'roll are usually not much of a surprise -- some age better than others -- but Lotion always seemed to deserve a slightly bigger patch of grass in the public consciousness than they've received. Urgent and dynamic, Nobody's Cool belongs on any shelf that has Chavez's Ride the Fader on it -- yet another album released in 1996 by a New York City group with a nasal-voiced singer. The fact that this year's Lotion concerts (their first reunion gig was last year) are at the Mercury Lounge and the Rock Shop, while Texas is the Reason sold out the much larger MHoW and Irving Plaza (for the next night's Revelation Records 25th anniversary party), doesn't necessarily mean that TitR's music has aged better, or arguably all that well. But TitR were a great band that never had the chance to get worse, and they also influenced a lot of bad bands that came after them who got very big. So they've been able to keep their artistic integrity while being cited all over the reference pages of one of the most popular, if unfortunate, rock trends of the previous decade.

Not as many children sitting on the floor at this one.
Texas is the Reason are the first band I've seen walk onstage to a CD playing their own song. They are also the perfect band for a reunion show, because no one could be disappointed by the set list. Their entire recorded output consists of thirteen songs that clock in around an hour total, so there's time for everything, including bonuses, even if we don't get to hear the aforementioned instrumental "Do You Know Who You Are?" conjured with real instruments. When the first of two 'new' songs is introduced, a cheer rises up from the crowd, and Klahn clarifies that it is new in the sense that it was written only thirteen years ago. The remark drives home exactly how old these tunes are, but Klahn, guitarist Norm Arenas, dapper-white-scarved bassist Scott Winegard, and drummer Chris Daly, tear through their cemented legacy with the visceral precision of guys looking to make a name for themselves, not run a victory lap.

As much as I long to hear Lotion charge into their set with Nobody's Cool opener "Dear Sir," I  adjust my expectations pretty soon after someone's grandparents arrive. As it happens, my father is in town and I've brought him to the show, but he can't even claim to be the oldest person in the club. The 10:30pm show at the Mercury Lounge the night before surely must have been a different scene. I'm guessing that Edsel (another underrated 90's band), coaxed out of extended hiatus to play these two shows, had their amps turned up a few notches louder than at the Rock Shop. The kids all have ear plugs in, by the way. Lotion are responsible parents with good looking families. There are one or two other guys in the audience that aren't personally affiliated with the band. They seem as mutedly happy as I am to nod along, and at long last be in the same room with "The New Timmy," "Rock Chick," and "Blind For Now," even if the experience does come with the charming-but-slightly-awkward feeling of dropping in on a family barbecue that isn't your own.

The demographic slice at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is more predictable, though there's less heartfelt hand gesturing than could have been reasonably expected. In front of me, there's only one 'sky grasper', and one guy close to the stage who does the point-up-then-point-at-the-band thing, like sign language for "Is this song from heaven? No, it's from you, bros." The audience anticipates well in advance when the best moments to do the emo breakdown forward-lurch are coming; the biggest one comes in the middle of "Something to Forget." The front half of the floor finally cuts footloose when "Dressing Cold" and "Back and to the Left" are vigorously wrung out before the encore break.

Given their limited output, there are no truly obscure Texas is the Reason tracks. "Blue Boy" may technically qualify due to it being the lone one not on their album or EP, but it was also released as one side of one of the most coveted split 7-inches of their genre. Also, of their baker's dozen discography, "Blue Boy" has perhaps the most interesting structure. The song's big hook is a quite brief and comes multiple times in a row in the second and fourth sections, with a guitar chord that suddenly jumps up the fretboard as Klahn's voice gets as close to blissed out as it ever does. The effect of this tight cycle puts it somewhere between a standard circular verse/chorus structure and a loop, producing a quickly recurring melodic payoff. If that's lost on any of the fans here, it hardly affects how genuinely moving their reaction is.