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The tamale, one of many launched by Chango Jackson's roadie from the Lower Westheimer stage on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, flew upward into the cirrus-clouded sky. Up it sailed, turning end over end, until it reached its apex. There it seemed to hang in the air for a second -- much like the bone the Australopithecus hurled heavenward in 2001: A Space Odyssey -- before plummeting earthward, where a forest of upraised arms from the moshers scrumming in front of the stage awaited it. Many of those who caught the snacks ate them immediately, despite the fact that they were frozen solid.
Meanwhile, Chango Jackson ripped into a prog-punk paean to the masa-based pre-Columbian staple. "Tamales! Tamales! Tamales!" shouted singer/ bassist Mojo Jackson, while guitarists Jaco and Chango Van Jackson interwove dueling mean-ass riffs around him. Mojo was wearing his Bono/ Buggle-goggles, while the chin-bearded Jaco looked like a younger version of Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos. Chango Van looked like nobody else on earth. Resplendent in a full-length, salmon-colored cocktail dress (low-cut to reveal his hairy chest), black-painted fingernails, a cheap shoulder-length purple-red wig and combat boots, he brought to mind only a guitar-wielding Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.
After all the tamales had been hurled from the stage, they continued to circulate around and over the heads of the crowd, much like beach balls at a Jimmy Buffett show, or dollar bills at a Lil' Flip concert. But this was not a Parrothead soiree or hip-hop show -- this was the return of the Westheimer Street Festival to its ancestral home.
It was something of a guerrilla event. A few years back, the event was forced over to Eleanor Tinsley Park after Montrose residents complained about all the parking, noise, fighting and public-urination hassles the event brought with it. There, as the Westheimer Street Festival in exile, the event went into decline, so organizer John Florez decided to stake it all on moving it back to where it all began 30 years ago. They didn't get street closure permits, so all the action was in parking lots and the few vacant lots that remain in the gentrified district. (This year, the event stretched from Taft to Montrose.) Racket saw few traffic hassles, no aggro and not a single public urinator, but unfortunately for those who attended the fest on Saturday, most but not all of the good bands were on Sunday's slate.
A few things had changed. Back in the day, the West Fest swarmed with as many serpents and iguanas as a typical episode of The Jeff Corwin Experience.This year, Racket saw only one reptile, one measly boa constrictor flicking the nicotine air with its forked tongue. The dogs seemed to have shrunk since the fest's glory days, too -- more Great Danes had dwindled to terriers, Dobermans diminished into Chihuahuas.
Serpent-dearth and leviathan-pooch famine aside, a lot of stuff hadn't changed at all. The West Fest has always sported more body ink than any other party this side of Sturgis, South Dakota, and as always, probably an absolute majority of the attendees were tattooed.
And there was also a lot of swearing and talk about weed, if not any actual partaking that Racket's nostrils could detect. (There was a pretty heavy police presence.) Every band Racket saw used the word fuck or a derivative thereof, and likewise, every band Racket saw either talked about or sang about reefer.
Los Skarnales said it was "fuckin' hot" and did a toe-tapping Tejano-billy number with a guest on accordion called "Juana"; Chango Jackson tossed out a couple of lines about weed in one tune, said it was mucho caliente, chinga madre, and sang that they "don't want to speak no motherfuck inglés." While tuning up on the Helios backyard stage, a belly-dancing siren in a band whose name Racket failed to catch told generic bluesmen Smokestack Lightning on the much-too-close Guitar Center Music Alliance stage about 30 feet away to "shut the fuck up." And when they did shut the fuck up, she launched into a slinky Latin-tinged number about the pleasures of drum roll, please sex. And, of course, weed.
Obligatory pot references and pottymouths aside, the fest's return is a good thing, though afternoon outdoor parties in late June are torture tests worthy of the Spanish Inquisition.
Not that you noticed the heat at Chango Jackson's set, which was so cool it seemed to form a little bubble of October air around it.
After the aforementioned tamale ditty, the band tore into "Frida," a hypnotic and melodic Spanish rap about Frida Kahlo. In front of the stage, a burly, shaven-headed guy in a sleeveless checked shirt -- who looked a little like Bald Bull from the old Punch Out video game -- slammed over and over into a skinny vato who wore a ski mask pulled over his face, Zapatista-style. (Call him Subcomandante Mosh-os.) Tamales were still whizzing around all over the place. Chango Van straightened his gown, set down his Howard Finster-looking, slogan-bedecked guitar and went loco as a donkey with a hornet up his ass. He danced a berserk tarantella. He collapsed to the floor and thrashed around like a snake handler all hopped up on strychnine and copperhead venom. He flopped over a couple of monitors, wiggled all the way over to stage left and fell from the stage headfirst. At which time he took the stage again and proceeded to play normally, until after the last song, titled, naturally, "All Fucked Up" -- which he dedicated to "all the jobless crackhead losers that live in their cars -- and the women that love them." When that tune was done, they tore into "Speak English," with its closing chant of "José, José, José / Can you see?" Whereupon Chango Van blindsided Mojo, shoving him several feet across the stage, where a battle royale raged between the two for a couple of minutes
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