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Friends Night Out

Love hip-hop, but tired of the same ol' beats and bling-bling rhymes? Then Friends Night Out, a new monthly hip-hop/reggae/dancehall multimedia extravaganza at Helios, is for you. This month's installment features movies, videos, and DJs Steve Swift (of Blunted) and B-Boy Ace (of Rebel Crew) downstairs. Upstairs you'll find DJ Lion 808 (Dubtex, Rebel Crew) and, last but not least, the hip-hop group Friends of the Enemy.

"Preaching ignorance to the intelligent" is FOE's mantra. The humorously conscious Jamaican-tinged hip-hop ensemble is driven by samples of Cookie Monster, the bass of Dubtex's Ras Mark, the keyboards of Panfilero and the raps of Benjamin O'Blivion, who claims to have invented the twist and that his rhymes can "tame savage beasts and castrate sexaholics." The band -- and they are that, a band -- has a thing for Mr. T and Iron Chef. They're definitely prime practitioners of 21st-century Houston music, so tell your friends to tell their friends' friends about the Friends, and check 'em out.

Meanwhile, we might as well tell you some more about Lion 808's doings around town, as the drummer/DJ is a busy man these days. With Dubtex decknician DJ Mercury, the mighty cat has established a couple of new residencies, including Beat Buffet at Helios (next event, June 16) and Natural Mystic Thursdays, a reggae/acid jazz/South Asian/trip-hop weekly at the 12 Spot. And Dubtex will team up with FOE, Revolt of the Sun and DJ Cef for a show next Saturday at the Rhythm Room. -- John Nova Lomax

Friday, May 28, 411 Westheimer, 713-526-4648.Anthony Hamilton

It's ironic that Anthony Hamilton is playing the Neo-Soul Sunday show at H-Town's Arena Theatre this Sunday. Since his album Comin' from Where I'm From debuted last year, the Charlotte, N.C.-cum-NYC singer has tried to duck that very tag. "Neo-soul makes me think of neon," he's told journalists. "My shit ain't glowin' in the dark. It's just really good music."

Proud of his country roots and unafraid to drop such rustic jargon, Hamilton could easily be pigeonholed as another bland Dirty South product. But this gritty, world-weary crooner (who wears a trucker hat because he's "always haulin' somethin'" -- Ashton Kutcher wishes he had a reason that cool) is a glorious embodiment of late-'60s, early-'70s soul. He's Bill Withers and Bobby Womack incarnate, the kind of player who doesn't need ass-shakin' honeys or bling. And his songs of loss and love tell us everything we need to know about this imperfect ladies' man.

Or do they? In "Comin' from Where I'm From," we catch a glimpse of the world through Hamilton's eyes -- or, perhaps, those of a character he's playing. He purposely leaves it ambiguous. The tune, with its epic soul opening as classic as any from Shaft or Superfly, features a narrator who reflects on his bad choices as he sits in a jail cell. The bad boy gets fresh with his get-up-and-shake-it, smack-yo'-ass "Cornbread, Catfish, Collard Greens." Then, after the good old-fashioned smack, he becomes heartbreaking. He sounds like an angel singing from hell in "Lucille," a farewell to a lover: "So you choose to lose someone who loves you / for a bottle of gin / a bottle of sin," he despairs. The lament fades with Hamilton singing "I know he didn't love you the way I did" in a raspy, Al Green-inspired soprano that would melt steel.

Having paid his dues as a backup singer for rustic Kentucky rappers Nappy Roots and others for the last ten years, Hamilton has earned a place in soul heaven next to Withers and Marvin Gaye. But for now, this refreshingly honest, genre-breaking poet is here to save our souls. -- Steven Devadanam

Sunday, May 30, 7326 Southwest Freeway, 713-988-1020.Mr. Quintron

Strictly speaking, Mr. Quintron is a novelty act, but don't let that scare you away. In this case, the act is indeed novel. Come to think of it, I'd probably pay to read a novel based on the exploits of this one-man-band/mad inventor/modern-day snake-oil salesman. Legend has it that Mr. Quintron once had a regular name and played bizarre, homemade Harry Partch-meets-Einsturzende Neubauten percussion for mid-'90s Chicago art-wonks Math, but according to an Internet search, that guy died in a car accident -- and as we all know, the Internet trumps legend every time. Regardless, the tall, imposing Mr. Quintron now operates out of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, and his seventh full-length release is called Are You Ready for an Organ Solo? for good reason.

A charismatic preacher for his own nervy cult of personality disorder, the Amazing Spellcaster (as the man is also occasionally known) testifies in a frenzy from behind his electric organ, accompanied only by primitive electronic percussion and the sounds of his potentially seizure-inducing light-activated invention the Drum Buddy, which is newly patented and available for a reasonable $999.99 plus shipping, so step right up. The Mr. Quintron experience is hair-raisingly visual, with insane porn-inspired costuming and, at no extra charge, concurrent "Technicolor puppet shows" put on by Miss Pussycat (Mrs. Quintron, to you), supplying a visual élan sadly missing from most of today's entertainment.

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