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This time last year, we were bemoaning the death of Emo's, yet another Montrose institution to bite the dust. "Progress" of the destroy-everything-cool-so-rich-yuppies-can-live-near-the-artists variety claimed that venerable bar last Labor Day weekend. But something's changed since then, and Racket's damned if he knows what it is. But he has an inkling: As this recession deepens and broadens, this town is starting to remind him of the dear old Houston of the oil bust days. Lame, music-free swankiendas are shutting down all over the place, and scruffy little bars and venues are taking their place. Even the chains are finally getting in on the live music action.
For starters, the building that once housed Blue Iguana will soon be reincarnated as a new bar, under the ownership of a woman who sounds like she knows what she's doing. Local artist Denise Ramos is the dictator of The Proletariat, which is what she and her partners are calling the resurrected Ig, and she hopes to have her liquor license ironed out and hanging on the wall by the time you read this or shortly thereafter. Once it's open, her goal is to try to recapture that boho Montrose magic that's been disappearing so fast of late. "We're shooting for something like Rudyard's meets the Davenport meets Metropol," Ramos says. "We'll be having DJs on Tuesdays and as far as live music, I'm real particular about who I like, so I won't be having shows just to have shows. I really want cool bands that I really enjoy, someone like Calexico or something like that."
The Proletariat also has eclectic seating arrangements, a game room and a cool jukebox. "We have the greatest jukebox in town!" Ramos exclaims. "We hand-picked everything, we've got stuff like Jucifer, the Flaming Lips, Spoon, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and all that great new shit."
Ramos was frustrated by the fact that she had run out of places to chill in the 'Trose. So, like the Hands Up Houston promoters and the guys at Tapir Productions, she decided to do something about it. And that's all it takes, kids.
In NoDo, seafood restaurant St. Pete's Dancing Marlin is stepping up its bookings something fierce. Thursdays belong to this year's unofficial Houston Press Music Awards Grand Champeen John Evans for the foreseeable future, and Moses Guest, Austin's Gnappy (featuring ex-Commercial Art guitarist and ex-Rockefeller's manager Buck McKinney) and New Orleans's Rebirth Brass Band perform on a killer September 28 bill. Jamaican reggae act the Itals played last Sunday, while their countrymen, the Meditations, will be there in November. Yeah, St. Pete's is a chain, and no, there isn't much cool cachet in hanging out at a seafood restaurant, but hey -- they're trying.
Also downtown, battles of the bands rage on at troubled Paesanos and at Hard Rock, where 12 hopefuls have now been whittled to three in their Shot at the Cabo Wabo Battle of the Bands. Brother Luck won the first round, while Simpleton bested Southern Backtones, House of Moist and Fallen Line in the second. Pander, Module, Chasmatic and Austin's Pavlov's Dogs duked it out on September 12, with Pander coming out on top. Simpleton, Brother Luck and Pander will face off on September 19, with the ultimate winner representing Houston against the winners of similar challenges in 11 other cities. The band left standing at the end of it all gets the rare privilege of opening for Sammy! Fucking! Hagar! and Smash Mouth in Cabo San Lucas October 4 through 6.
So don't let it be said that downtown ain't rocking at least a little. Now that all the cheesemongers have come and gone, and the palmy Jones Bar days of the $12 martini and $50 Cohiba are long past, maybe, just maybe the downtown/Montrose/Midtown/Washington Avenue scenes will take off. It looks that way already. Of course, once the choo-choo starts rolling down Main, the scene may collapse again in an avalanche of tapas plates, single-malt scotch bottles and expensive stogie butts. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, out in suburbia, Texas country/ folk/blues/rock troubadour Calvin Russell is coming to Henry's Hideout -- the "horniest bar in Texas," so called for the 600-plus racks of antlers on the walls -- in tiny Fetzer. His bio reads like something a wet-behind-the-ears Hollywood screenwriter would concoct for a TV movie. One of nine children born to a waitress and a short-order cook, Russell grew up in a diner hard by Pistol Pete's junkyard on the wrong side of the tracks in Austin. He's done time in a juvenile home, served prison terms on both sides of the Rio Grande, resided for a time in the dirt crawl space under a friend's home in Austin's Clarksville neighborhood, and lived hard enough to earn a visage as craggy as that of Kris Kristofferson. A running buddy of drunken angel Blaze Foley, Russell abandoned Texas for Amsterdam in 1989 and eventually conquered Europe. By the time he came back home last year, he was signed to Sony/France and was headlining festivals in front of 70,000 people. After a stint in Switzerland, he even learned to speak French. It's unlikely there will be much call for that skill at his September 26 gig at the 65-year-old dance hall near Magnolia, but if you want to hear an authentic Texas legend deliver the goods, that's where you'll be.
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