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Introducing Avitiapalooza... If Tony Avitia hasn't already clinched the title of Houston's underground Bill Graham, he's on his way to earning it. An Avitia-backed show is something of an event these days, thanks to the success of the annual showcases that feature acts on his local Broken Note label. Recently, Avitia's promotional muscle has strengthened enough to lure out-of-state acts as well.

"I've just gotten really lucky," says Avitia. "Being on-line has really helped; I've done a little networking."

Avitia is currently polishing his master-of-ceremonies bullhorn for Broken Note's latest hard-core extravaganza, 20 Bands, 2 Nights, which will be held Friday and Saturday at, as usual, Fitzgerald's. Music starts at 7 p.m.; tickets are a measly $7 a day at the door or $12 in advance for both days. Ten acts will be crammed into each night's entertainment -- talk about more bands for your buck (and logistical nightmares as far as set changes and sound problems are concerned).

Friday's succulent bill of fare includes Dinosaur Salad, Planet Shock! offshoots Aftershock and Tha Rebel Crew, Dethkultur BBQ, Fitz regulars Taste of Garlic and I-45. Out-of-towners The Sillies (Denton), Ghost (New Orleans), Fragile Porcelain Mice (St. Louis) and Heckle (somewhere in New Jersey) will also play. Saturday features local punk's Energizer bunnies, the Hates, as well as 30footFALL, Sad Pygmy, Bickley, Lower, Rubbur, Peterbuilt and Cornerpiece. California representation will be provided Saturday by Squat and Accustomed to Nothing, both from the San Francisco Bay area.

Fourteen of the 20 band are local, which seems to indicate the Houston music scene is fattening up again. Bands may come and go at a rapid rate, but at least there's always two or three to sprout up in place of the ones that die. What does the recent proliferation of new bands say about the state of the underground in Houston? Avitia's not sure.

"There's sort of an upswing, but also I think a lot of people are really discouraged," he says. "We've still got a long way to go."

Raves and wave-offs... What did you do last summer? If you're a typical college student, it's likely you found a lame summer job and spent weekends getting messy with your friends. Not Erin Yount. She made a CD.

Yount's Play the Game isn't exactly a work of art, but it's hard not to admire the effort. What the 12-song debut from this wannabe Juliana Hatfield lacks in originality and experience, it makes up for in charm and finesse -- and in the hapless realm of low-budget local releases, those aren't always easy qualities to locate. Yount, a graduate of Cypress Creek Senior High School, has just finished her studies in English at Atlanta's Emory University. She recorded Play the Game in the summer of '95 at Studiomuse in northwest Houston with the help of producer Jeff Keaton, a few friends and an occasional studio musician.

Charming as it is, Yount's inexperience figures negatively in Play the Game. She settles too often for cliched couplets and obvious metaphors, as if concerned that anything more elaborate would make her sound pretentious. As a vocalist, she clings tightly to a precious, pillowy style that threatens to feather-dust everything in its path. Her singing works best when propped up against the jangly chord progressions and hum-along choruses of "Take It from Me" and "Walk Away," two songs in which Yount most mirrors Hatfield. The slower stuff leans in the direction of Aimee Mann-style confessionals, and tends to drag.

Yount is at her best when she's sounding like someone else, and therein lies the problem. Maybe after she's emerged fully from her campus cocoon and sits for a spell in the real world, Yount will have something a little more tangible to get off her chest. Until then, Play the Game is a pleasing enough introduction to a singer/songwriter whose life needs to get a little more complicated before her songs truly resonate.

Bob Gallarza is no rank beginner. He's also no Selena, but he does know his place in the development of modern Tejano -- and, rest assured, others around Houston do, too. You can curse him for ripping the heart out of Tex-Mex with his buff production techniques and tacky, nothing-is-sacred mainstream attitude, or you can praise him as a reluctant pioneer who balks at limits. Gallarza's latest full-length CD, the immaculately conceived, performed and produced Visions, could be used to support either position.

Still, regardless of how you view his adult-contemporary approach to Tejano, it's hard to deny that Gallarza is good at what he does. He's a craftsman who uses his considerable studio expertise, lengthy experience as a sideman for superstars such as Frank Sinatra and James Brown and connections with some of the best voices in the business to concoct his own squeaky-clean vision of Hispanic pop.

Etc.... Thursday, Emo's hosts a triple bill of punk from Dallas featuring Pump'n Ethyl, REO Speeddealer and Shovel 13; Friday, heavy metal bump-'n'-grind at The Equinox with Anthrax, the Misfits, Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse; also Friday, singer/songwriter Kieran Kane and songwriter/fiddle player Tammy Rogers headline a Dead Reckoning Records showcase at McGonigel's Mucky Duck; Saturday, the Bay Area Bluegrass Association celebrates its tenth anniversary at the League City Civic Center with a full day's entertainment featuring the Lonestar Bluegrass Band, Saltgrass, Interstate Bluegrass Co., the Right Connection and the Grammy-nominated Claire Lynch and the Front Porch String Band; Sunday, Richard Buckner, who recently signed with MCA, will make his last stop in Houston as an indie artist at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge; and in Galveston Sunday, Willie Nelson headlines a Gulf-side barbecue picnic at the new Backyard at the Beach.

-- Hobart Rowland

 
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