The possibilities weren’t quite endless. In fact, they numbered two: disaster or a good night out with friends, maybe even both. Such is life when your favorite garage rock n’ roll band of all time reunites for its first local performance in 13 years.
Forged from chunks of Houston punks Dig Dug, Sore Loser, and Panic in Detroit, braised in a giant kettle of beer over the fires of anti-capitalist rage, the Business Machines were almost instantly too much for their hometown. A few performances as IBM went over with such spectacular aplomb that they drew the electric eye of the giant corporation already squatting on the name. Cease and desist orders followed and the Business Machines were born.
The band bought a van. The band put together its own nationwide tours, performing with acts like Teenage Bottlerocket, Rye Coalition, 400 Blows, and The Fleshies. The band drove to Chicago and recorded its debut album, ‘Almost Automatic’ (2003) with Steve Albini. The band moved to L.A., engaged the machine, recorded a killer demo with Karl Derfler (Roky Erickson, Flamin’ Groovies, Mother Hips, etc.), played the Troubadour, the Roxy, the Kibitz Room inside Canters Deli, got booked at the Viper Room but bumped for a Sting birthday party, lived on the cusp of almost making it for as long as it could, …and imploded.
Its vocalist buggered off to Maui. Its bassist became a manager/booking agent. Its drummer remained in Los Angeles and immersed himself in the visual arts. And its original guitarist moved to Austin and became an engineer/producer.
Years went by. Weird rumbles were heard from redneck NorCal (Redding) that an all new lineup had emerged, led by front-guy. They played in the woods. More years passed without another peep. But a recoalescence had started. Drummer and second guitarist began jamming, writing for a new project but also teasing the world with run-throughs of old Business Machine numbers.
Members started to see each other again, drawn together by the same events that pull on us all: holidays, funerals, benders. And then the improbable started to happen…
There were no ashes from which to rise. Those had long ago been rain-soaked, stomped through, and reground to dust under humanity’s collective boot. But in mid-October 2019, and against everything but the rock-est of gods, a deep cover, quasi-reunion show was announced: a five-song set in Austin as part of SatelliteFest with guitarist and vocalist performing with a backup band as the Fuck Trump Machines. They rehearsed three times before the show. A center of gravity was found. The duo’s powers grew.
One step remained to achieve full reconstitution. A full set. With the full band. Back home.
One month to the day after SatelliteFest, the date was announced: Friday, Dec. 20 at Rudyard’s. Never prone to pussyfootin’, Business Machines did it right, turning the night into a mini-fest by adding Fun Haunts, Bayou Vimana, and The Cops to the bill.
But almost on cue, the dominos started falling the wrong way. The venue had to be changed. Big Star Bar stepped into the void to keep rock alive.
Seven days before the show Lucas Juarez (vocals) came down with a sinus infection. “My sinus is fucked and show pending…not gonna let the universe fuck me over again. We’re gonna kick the universe in the fucking nuts and curb stomp that motherfucker if it gets in the way of this show. Fuck you universe!!! We’re back and pissed off!!! Get ready to have your milky way pushed in.”
Another day went past and drummer Alex Arizpe’s back started to tweak him. “As usual, Life is attempting to keep us from playing this show on Friday. Lucas suddenly developed a harsh sinus congestion and my back is threatening to give out. We’re working last minute on getting cymbals for the show and time is ticking away ever so quickly. It’s always something! But we are two-hundred percent determined on executing our set. WE’RE GONNA DO THIS! We are willing to sacrifice everything for this one moment, ready to punch anyone or anything that gets in our way. The universe has been against us from day one, and we’re not gonna get fucked over by it, or God or the devil or anyone or anything! We’re ready to quit jobs, health and money for this set that may mean nothing to anyone else but us. We are, and have always been, professional and punctual. We will rise and we will rock the shit out of it! It’s not about the venue, it’s about the performance. This moment is ours, and we will choke it into submission and fuck every second of this set to complete satisfaction. And that’s how you retaliate against the universe! After that, we can cry and die! At this point we don’t care if we die on stage, but we’re gonna do it no matter what! Business Machines for life!”
Calls went out. The necessary hardware was secured.
A railed-in, elevated seating area near Big Star’s center served as the stage. Production—both audio and visual—was expectedly minimal, but as Fun Haunts kicked into its aggro-tinged power pop, a 100% on point mix emerged. Even to brand-new ears, and at an already kicking volume, everything could be heard
No similar lack of familiarity accompanied Bayou Vimana. They’d been gigging around town for years on bills both large and small and built a ‘must-see’ reputation among those who like their rock hard-livin’ and dirty. Consisting of a bunch of dudes who’d been playing Houston since the 90s in acts like Twenty-Three, Donkey Punch, End Result, Small Craft Advisory, The Drunks, Vice Grip, and WD-40oz, playing a table island in front of an initially half-attentive crowd was old hat.
But BV became a band for one reason, literally: to rock as many asses as possible while still able to do so. And, as amply demonstrated on their now played-into-the-ground EP, they are up to the task. Listen to it. Imagine it live. The experience is every bit as good as you would hope and lacking even the tiniest whiff of cheese.
The Cops are hugely entertaining. They dress like cops. They play short bursts of retro punk. They were the perfect setup.
Business Machines filed onto the stage for one last tuning and level check. Gil Lira (The Killer Hearts, ex-Bickley) plunked his bass, filling in for the one missing member from the classic line-up, Andrew Harper. Alex clattered around his kit. Lucas paced. Guitarist John Michael plugged into his rig and…nothing. Not even a hum or pop. Matthew Juarez (Lucas’s brother. former Sore Loser bandmate, and promoter of tonight’s show) stepped into the fray, poking and prodding however he could. Cables and power supplies were checked, rerouted, turned off, turned on. Still nothing.
A call for merciful assistance (aka “can we please borrow someone’s amp”) went out and went out again. One of the Cops’ guitarists stepped into the breach.
‘Chronic Marriage Syndrome’ lurched from the gate, disparate parts of a whole as everyone got their legs under them. As the stomp of perennial b-side ‘No Class’ kicked in, a groove started to emerge. ‘Big Trip,’ a young man’s letter home from the rock n’ roll road, followed as the band’s power continued to grow. Lucas strained at first, but when the song got to its bridge and he started the talking-to-his-mom part of the lyrics, the clouds parted.
Juarez ditched the mic stand as ‘Secret Admirer’s slither began. Mid-tempo and one of the greatest stalker songs ever, it brought full gel to the band and crystalized Lucas’s comfort out front.
Hot Water Music-tinged ‘The Real’ kicked Business Machines into attack mode and when the pure garage of ‘Biggest Little Whorehouse in Texas’ (a 90-sec ode to Ken Lay and Enron) followed, blast off occurred. ‘Down But Not Out,’ ‘Rock n’ Roll,’ ‘Pattern,’ and ‘Almost Automatic’ were non-stop shreds of undiluted rock glory, removing time and space the way only the best can. There was a third option after all. Greatness.
And then it was over. A friend who hadn’t caught them back in the day leaned in: “Dude. What the hell? A great band, with great songs, and a great show. How did this not happen?”
Show biz, brother. But it would still be amazing to see what this looked like at the end of even a four-show run sometime. Holy shit.
L.A. shows are coming. More for Texas too.