Identity Crisis

Mary Cutrufello's leaving makes us wonder: Is your band a Krogers, Randalls or a Fiesta?

What we need to do is come up with a sound that combines all that, one that includes the bad stuff but also what makes this city great against all odds. DJ Screw had the humidity and the codeine parts down; now if we could just find a band that can combine that with a sound that screams Houston the way Calexico's whispers of the desert, or the Strokes' reeks of Manhattan, or Dr. John's billows New Orleans. The world doesn't have a cohesive image of Houston yet, musically or otherwise, the way it does of New York or New Orleans. But neither was there a common conception of Seattle pre-Nirvana. In that case, the music came to define the city, which is what Racket is calling for from Houston's musicians.

In short, we need cross-pollination. We need to fuse a bunch of stuff together to create something new and accessible. To step over into Houston's country history for a moment, think of Freddy Fender and Lyle Lovett. Neither of them kept it pure by any means. Lovett's jazzy big-band blues-country shouts Houston, and where else but here would you find a Mexican-American guy singing country and blues tunes set to a Cajun beat? We need more stuff like Calvin Owens's experiments with Latin rappers, the Free Radicals' grab bag of genres, Tejano versions of "Wipe Out," and Tow Down's fusion of rap and country. We also need to get the Africans, Caribbeans and Asians involved in the Anglo/Hispanic scene the same way that myriad ethnicities mix in the music scenes of London and Paris. So far, our city's music hasn't reflected the awe-inspiring swamp of Babel the Bayou City is.

You see, bands are like supermarkets. Some bands are Krogers; they make few concessions to where they are. A few are great, most are mediocre, and some are terrible. Cutrufello typifies a great Kroger act -- she could be from anywhere in America. Most indie rock bands are Kroger-style, as is any country act that wants to conquer Nashville.

Then there are Randalls-style bands. These bands are old-school Texas, the reliable good old boys and girls. They usually don't travel well beyond the state, though ZZ Top certainly did. Into this bracket also goes the play-it-safe wing of the Texas country movement, though Racket would much rather spend an hour in Randalls than five minutes listening to Pat Green.

What we need more of are the Fiesta bands. These are vibrant, fearless, funky and always interesting, if at times a little frustrating. Bands that are doing something original, something that reflects Houston. Here are the mold-shattering roots acts like Jug o' Lightnin'; Arthur Yoria, a popster with a pedal steel leading his band; and Simpleton, a band that combines the best of underground hardcore with stellar rap.

If you have out-of-town visitors, are you gonna take them to Kroger or Fiesta? If you enjoy shopping on any level other than the utilitarian, you're gonna go to Fiesta.

If you're an out-of-town record exec, and the same ol' stuff isn't working, and you're looking for a city with a sound, what type of band are you gonna sign?

Like Cutrufello said, all it takes is for one band to make it.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

KPFT ambient rock DJ Jeffrey Thames (a.k.a. the King of Grief) is the host of that station's excellent Sound Awake program. It's the best show in town you've never heard, that is, unless you stay up until three on a Wednesday-into-Thursday morn. Thames mixes local acts like Pale and Strangelight with national artists like Air, Doves and DJ Shadow, and offers us a clue of what mainstream radio will probably sound like five years from now. As Thames puts it, it's "the cool stuff from KTRU, without all the avant-garde caterwauling." On September 7, Thames will be kickin' it live for the first time in a club setting. The 18-and-up show at Numbers features cheap drinks and benefits KPFT, so go and get your grief on for a good cause.

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