Can't Knock Me Down: Vex Singer Returns for One Last Howl
In a time before Houston was overly infested with sprawl, when portions of downtown were dripping with decay, mechanical bull-riding mesmerized crowds at Gilley's, and police violence regularly marred neighborhoods, bands like Vex, peppered with heavy duty politics, the "plague" of punk, and bruising live sets, set themselves far apart from wafer-thin New Wave and moronic glam-metal that held sway in the 1980s.
Photos courtesy of Vex
They sided with a slightly older set of witty, spirited outcasts like Really Red, Orgasm, Mydolls, Anarchitex and the Hates, whose music -- rank with disaffection and disarray -- served as a countercultural beacon in the Reagan era.
Singer Mike May (who also later joined Keelhaul and Crust), now suffering from Stage-4 melanoma, was the band's center of gravity.
"Back in the early 1980s, Mike jumped right into the trenches of the punk rock scene, the whole DIY ethos," J.R. Delgado of Screech of Death, Party Owls and Derailers recalls fondly. "He started a band, made flyers, put on shows, he even had a warehouse called Vex World where they practiced and threw parties."
"Vex World was a trashed-out bungalow, one block off I-45 on the opposite side from University of Houston," Bob Weber, drummer for Really Red and Culturcide, says. "Behind the house there was a garage that was converted into a band space. It also
served as a party space, a political action center and a place where mentally frayed kids got advice and treatment from Dr. John Peters. It's long since gone, demolished to make space for the Metro park-and-ride center."
"The Party Owls played there once," Delgado adds. "It was crazy fun. He was also very politically active, like helping with the Rock Against Reagan shows and a few other political events."
"I believe it is a people-power movement, what any one person does is not the issue; it's what we as human beings can accomplish together," he admits to Rocks Off.
The mid-1980s represented a landscape of bitter dividedness. On one side, the neo-cons ruled with iron-hearted, warmonger zeal as Hollywood avatar Ronald Reagan smiled in faux innocence, like a salesman regurgitating the American dream by rote.
On the other side were legions of feral youth, children of dysfunctional homes, broken-hope high schools, a fervid underground press, and class war stimulation that espoused a kind of adrenalized anarchy -- or Henry David Thoreau with distorted-guitar sense of righteousness -- in songs serving as truncated rampages against a stifling late-Cold-War order. Above all, these people felt a sense of community, a bond thicker and more electrifying than Boy Scouts.
"Vex was from the second wave of Houston punk bands, and you can hear influences of Really Red and Culturcide," Ed Rudy of Hot Box Review intones. "They were all friends and played shows together. Vex still brought something different and honest to the table while being fueled by their predecessors, environment and friends."
The respect, though, remains bilateral.
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