Racket

The Last Concert Cafe has glimpses from its unique history

There has always been a little intrigue in a trip to the Last Concert Cafe. Actually, in the early days of the joint, it was more than a sensation. The famed locked red door remains so now only for tradition's sake, but back in the day it was bolted shut with damn good reason. Prior to its incarnation as a restaurant, Elena "Mama" Lopez ran a Warehouse District whorehouse in which sex was for sale not just between men and women but also between men.

The place definitely has one of the straight-up funkiest vibes in town, both inside the dining room and outside, where the stage is. The dining room looks like every mama-y-papa Tex-Mex eatery circa 1965, replete with gorgeous floor tiles and walls blinking year-round with Christmas lights. An added touch is the large framed portrait of Franklin Roosevelt near the bar, where he was always happiest.

Outside is all bold reds and deep greens. It's a lush spot teeming with palmettos and banana trees, fragrant with incense and citronella. Wooden cutouts of pink watermelon slices festoon the walls, along with posters from the folks at NORML, providing a backdrop to the stage.

The mildly psychedelic Tex-Mex hippie speakeasy was written up in the current edition of Texas Music,alongside Austin's Stubb's and Jovita's, in an article about the symbiosis of food and music. Fitting, then, that Last Concert regulars are called together each Wednesday night for a thing named Pot Roast. Pot Roast has been offering up tasty, oven-baked jams to the starving midweek masses since 1998, and it has become so symbiotically connected to the venue on Wednesdays as to render the band and the gig's name pretty much interchangeable. Does Pot Roast play Last Concert Cafe, or does it simply occur there?

The symbiosis goes beyond food and music. There's a relationship between band and fans as well. The audience is encouraged to bring drums and perform between sets. About 30 or so do each week.

Pot Roast's gig, like its music, starts slow and moves toward crescendos. An hour before the scheduled start time, a thirtysomething blond woman in denim shorts and a halter top stands in front of the stage, hula-hooping at a leisurely pace, which she keeps for most of the night. As the crowd slowly trickles in, it's apparent there is going to be an element of audience participation. How else to explain the fact that a good third of the attendees have brought their own drums?

Strangers sit with strangers and pass around the good times; there are no squares here. This is mainly a young scene, the average age at 23 or so. There aren't as many tie-dyes as one might imagine -- it appears the style has at last become cliché. (It did have a good run.) And when did all the hippies cut their hair? These neo-hippie locks would have labeled them tools of the man back in the Summer of Love.

"We get a good cross section of weirdos at our shows," laughs Pot Roast guitarist/vocalist Sebastian Ayus. And plenty of them. There are a couple of hundred people there and more arriving by the minute when Racket and wife pull out about 1:15 a.m. Not bad for a hump-night crowd.

Promptly at 10:30 p.m., Pot Roast eases into what appears to be an innocuous cover of "Dancin' in the Streets." Roughly a half-hour of improvisation later, by which time all traces of Martha and the Vandellas have vanished, the song segues into a blues jam. Many minutes later, it flows into a cover of the Wailers' "Small Axe." It's all pretty seamless, illustrating the concept that jam music has evolved into something resembling white man's jazz, as opposed to jazz played by white people.

The neo-hippies sit at tables, bobbing their heads in a gentle daze. The dance floor is empty, save for the hula-hoop queen. Not that much dancing, at least not the kind they teach in Leisure Learning classes, goes on at these shows. At 11:30 p.m. two swaying men take to the floor and offer up some prime tips on Dead-dancing. You know, arms slack at the sides, head down, weaving along in grooves heard only to themselves.

Sometimes a writer gets lucky and overhears words that encapsulate entire evenings into a tidy little package. While en route to the "MANS" room, as it is termed at LCC, Racket heard a bearded patron declare in broad down-home tones: "The only thing out of Seattle I ever liked was Jimi Hendrix, and he's dead."

No, this is not a post-Nirvana kind of scene. It's not even a post-punk scene. There's none of the sneering irony and inner-city 'tude one would get at Rudyard's or Mary Jane's. It's as if the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, Devo and the Ramones never happened.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Destiny's Child manager Matthew Knowles is on the move in Houston, and it is hoped that his groundswell will lift all boats. Knowles recently purchased 65,000 square feet of Midtown property, including an antebellum mansion that once belonged to the nephew of Will Rice, founder of the university that bears his name. Knowles hopes his planned Destiny's Child HQ, recording complex and rehearsal facility will put Houston in contention with, if not premier music towns like New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, then at least second-tier ones like Chicago, Atlanta, and Austin…In Spike Lee's magnum opus Do the Right Thing, the hot-headed Buggin' Out memorably demanded, "Yo, Sal, how come there ain't no brothers on the wall?" at the doomed pizzeria. A trip to Houston's Hard Rock Cafe made Racket ask a similar question. In the Texas Room of that eatery, alongside pictures and memorabilia of the Vaughan Brothers, Joe Ely, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Charlie Sexton(Charlie Sexton??) are several fine portraits of famous bluesmen. Trouble is, exactly zero of them are from or recorded in Texas. Instead of Gatemouth Brown, we get Howlin' Wolf. Instead of Lightnin' Hopkins, there's Hound Dog Taylor. Instead of Albert Collins, there's Muddy Waters. Instead of Bobby "Blue" Bland, there's Little Milton. No sign of Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton or Mance Lipscomb either, not to mention any of our homegrown living legends. I guess none of those guys were as good as any of those Mississippi folks, at least according to the suits who hung the pictures. Come on, Hard Rock, put some Texas brothers (and sisters) on the wall of your so-called "Texas" room…The Houston Astros have announced a series of post-game, on-field concerts, beginning with baseball fanatic Jesse Dayton, who'll play after the 3:05 p.m. game on July 19 with the St. Louis Cardinals. The August 30 Cincinnati Reds game, also a 3:05 p.m. start, will be closed out with a performance by Austin good ol' boy Owen Temple. A concert is also planned after the September 26 Cardinals contest, though the act for that bill is unknown. Probably won't be Jose Lima, though…Pat Green's anti-Nashville fulminations painted him into such a corner that when it came time to sign with a major, he was forced to ink with Republic out of New York City (git a rope). Why he thinks Big Apple suits know anything more than those in Nashville is anybody's guess..

 
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