By now, most people who follow national politics have probably heard that Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from El Paso who is contemplating a run for president, once played bass in a punk rock band called Foss. The punk rock ethos seemed to infuse his 2018 Senate race against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, down to O’Rourke’s DIY-style of campaigning. During the campaign, O’Rourke performed on stage with Willie Nelson, brought a fog machine to his concession speech, and filmed himself playing air drums on the steering wheel during road trips. The state Republican Party, for its part, mocked him for appearing in a dress on the cover of Foss’ album, The El Paso Pussycats.
But Foss wasn’t O’Rourke’s only musical project. Nearly a decade after Foss split up in the mid-’90s—after he had returned to El Paso, started a web design company, and taken tentative steps toward a career in local politics—O’Rourke and a few friends (including other ex-members of Foss) formed two other bands. One was a rock group called Fragile Gang. The other was a cover band called The Sheeps, which performed punk rock classics. Band members wore a variety of disguises on stage—most notably, tight onesies and sheep masks.
“Our persona was that we were a very famous band from New Zealand and we didn’t want people to know our true identities—that’s why we wore masks,” Ailbhe Cormack, the band’s bassist, tells Mother Jones. “I think people followed along with the mystery of it, but they knew who we were.”
At a December 2003 show at El Paso’s now-closed Moontime Pizza, O’Rourke, the group’s rhythm guitarist, wore a white onesie and tried on a bad Kiwi accent for good measure:
The costumes varied. Aisling Cormack, on the audience’s left, dressed as a nun and played keyboard; Arlo Klahr, a former bandmate from Foss, played lead guitar; Joey Cazares, wearing a bunny mask rather than a sheep’s head, played drums. Ailbhe Cormack is on the far right. As of Wednesday, the video of this performance—which included a rendition of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”—had 53 views on YouTube.
The Sheeps had a short run. The band played three shows around El Paso between 2003 and 2004, “just for a lark,” according to Cormack. The group never toured. At its final show, in 2004, at a local club called the T-Lounge, band members wore brown paper bags over their heads—because some members had lost their sheep masks.
Fragile Gang—which, conveniently, opened for The Sheeps at Moontime Pizza—still exists, though O’Rourke stopped performing with the band after two of its members, Klahr and Cormack, moved to Los Angeles. (He did appear on a 2007 album cover, looking pensive.) But not long after the T-Lounge show, The Sheeps went off to pasture.