Pocket Fishrmen Serve up Punk and ... Fish
What to expect at the punk cutups' annual Fish Fry
Besides 1100 Congress, this might be Austin's most important address. Off Rundberg, past a rustic wooden ranch house belonging to honky-tonk hero Dale Watson, lies a vast backyard. Right now it sprawls a parking lot of vehicles owned by the singer's bandmates whilst they pursue an endless string of one-nighters aboard his tour bus.
Adjacent to Dale's Used Cars, there's a hillbilly version of a pagoda. In front of it sits the like-minded Ameripolitan Studios, run by Watson's business partner Cris Burns, one of Austin's finest recording engineers. He's also lead guitarist for 30-year Austin punk rock superheroes, the Pocket Fishrmen.
When Dale isn't busy saving country music here, or Burns isn't recording sundry other bands, the Pocket Fishrmen headquarter here. Consider Ameripolitan their Batcave. They rehearse here, will follow up last year's re-recorded best-of collection The Greatest Story Ever Told (revisit "Texas Platters," Dec. 22, 2017) here, and do photo shoots and field interviews here. All apparently in their rather silly stage costumes, which they're wearing at this moment.
Wardrobe notwithstanding, the Pocket Fishrmen have bigger fish to fry. Literally. Try 50 pounds' worth of catfish, plus beans, potato salad, cole slaw.
"The way Cris books the Fish Fry," muses bassist Jason Craig, now changed into his civvies, warming up to the subject of the locals' annual benefit for the Bill Hicks Foundation for Wildlife, "is he puts it out there that we're looking for bands. Whoever answers first gets slapped on the bill."
"I don't know that I want to put that out there," bristles Burns, reclining in his Ace Frehley/Flash Gordon spacesuit. "I want people to think it's a quality event, but it is egalitarian."
"What's important to note is that the billing's alphabetical," adds longest-serving drummer Lance Farley, adjusting his Roman centurion outfit. "So, think about what you name your future band."
"Going with a P would be really good," smirks founding frontman Brant Bingamon from inside his sexy lime green Morphsuit. "Because that would be right when things are cresting."
"That's why we went with alphabetical order," quips Craig, the only bassist they've had other than founder Ron Williams. "Because we knew we would always have the choicest slot. The only other rule is that no band plays two years in a row."
"However," deadpans Farley, a Hickoid when he isn't a Fishrman, "Jason usually plays in two of the bands."
(This year, Craig opens with All Monsters Attack.)
How does 17 bands for $10, plus dinner and a silent auction from "lots of local artists" with "weird stuff like massages and things," suit you? This now leads to a blitzkrieg of Beatles/Marx Brothers free association.
Craig: "We don't give massages."
Bingamon: "Are massages given at the thing?"
Craig: "Not any massages."
Farley: "There's misogyny."
Bingamon: "How about misanthropy?"
And so it's been since three San Antonio high school pals – Bingamon, Williams, and Marcus Trejo – met Orange native Burns attending UT in the mid-Eighties. They named themselves Pocket Fishrmen for Ronco's TV-marketed angling tool. With Williams on bass, Trejo hitting drums, Bingamon playing guitar, and Burns singing, the group performed its first gigs at a Vietnamese restaurant, Dong Huong.
This was Austin past the initial Big Boys/Dicks punk rush – on several tabs' worth of Butthole Surfers-inspired acid damage. Then Bingamon and Burns realized they were better suited in each other's roles, the latter showing a knack for shoehorning Jimmy Page-style arena guitar heroics into driving punk tunes. That mash-up could be considered Pocket Fishrmen's standard-issue form. Then notice how Bingamon frequently douses comedic perversions with left-wing politics.
The formula continues serving Pocket Fishrmen after three decades, as Williams left to concentrate on Jesus Christ Superfly so ex-Myra Manes bassist Craig could take his slot. Then Trejo yielded his throne to Snoopy Melvin, followed by ex-Offender Pat Doyle, and finally Farley for the 10 years they've been re-formed after an eight-year hiatus. It translated beautifully across five full-lengths, four singles, one EP, and a live disc as well. Not quite an anthology, The Greatest Story Ever Told can be rightfully marketed on late-night cable access channels as The Definitive Pocket Fishrmen Record.
Last year, as a sinister new administration took the White House and the group recut its earliest anthems – "The Leader Is Burning," "Go Go Saddam Hussein," "Amy Carter" – Pocket Fishrmen realized 30 steps backward may be necessary for a new world. And perhaps for their own future. Burns recalls a long period where the band's favored subject matter turned depraved after that early "soapbox" period.
"Right after Trump got elected," says Burns, "we played some of our old evil-smashing songs. It never felt more right, and the audience was so with us. This was what our old music was about, because we wrote all that stuff during the Bush administration."
"Reagan!" corrects Bingamon. "Those were dark days back then."
"This was rebellious music," declares Burns. "With Trump elected, all those songs got plugged in again. It's like the electricity got turned back on."
"We're getting back on that soapbox with this next record!" declares Bingamon, adding Burns' suggestion they return to the Fifties rock & roll structures of their earliest material to seek the right energy.
"There's definitely fresh evil to right," Craig announces in thoroughly Adam West tones, the superhero that he is. "The world needs the Pocket Fishrmen more than ever now!"
Pocket Fishrmen’s 10th Annual Fish Fry, featuring Jesus Christ Superfly, Gomez, All Monsters Attack, and 13 more bands begins at 4pm on Saturday, June 2, at the Hole in the Wall. Catfish dinner with $10 admission.
Heroes of Modern Perversion: 10 Twisted Pocket Fishrmen Songs
1) “One Blowjob, One Handjob, One Vagina Job” The aging countess and gorilla violate penal codes while giving new meaning to V-J Day.
2) “David of the Merkin” According to guitarist Cris Burns, songwriter Chip Taylor was not amused by what the Fishrmen did to his "Angel of the Morning."
3) “Oft Times When We Pork” Vocalist Brant Bingamon cinches the title of Austin punk's William Blake.
4) “Priapus Power to the Priapus People” The only dick joke to invoke the limestone stelae of Copán.
5) “Mommanatrix” Lurid triangulation between a deadbeat dad, a prodigal son, and a dom-mom who's had just about enough out of you.
6) “Operation: America Up in Flames” On the night of the post-9/11 telethon that Springsteen cold-opened with "My City of Ruins," the Fishrmen opened their set with this.
7) “Up in the Treehouse” Gen X latchkey kids mad on drugs. Like Over the Edge, it really happened.
8) “Big Ass on Fire” Burned but not consumed, this prophetic posterior in the desert flames on.
9) “Colonoscopy” Because what else are AARP punks supposed to sing about?
10) “Go Out Smoking” May we all live to see the day when this gallows rant becomes a nostalgic cultural artifact of marijuana prohibition.
– Greg Beets