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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.

Early Quintron albums were noisy, anarchic affairs, but time has healed this musical open wound into something relatively accessible, even danceable, and Organ Solo is distinguished by multilayered production courtesy of garage-punk legend Tim Kerr. Somewhere between modern Electro and a 1940s roller-rink accompanist on his last brain cell, Mr. Quintron continues to take the whole novelty thing to new heights. -- Scott Faingold

Saturday, May 29, Fat Cat's, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.Gary Jules/Matthew Ryan

Sometimes your lucky break can come in the most unlikely of ways. When musician-producer Michael Andrews couldn't afford U2's "MLK" for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, he asked an old high school pal, singer-songwriter Gary Jules, to sing a cover of Tears For Fears' "Mad World." The spare, haunting rendition became a slowly building phenomenon, eventually topping the pop charts in the UK and helping Jules to get his self-released disc Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets reissued on Universal. (Ironically, Jules was dropped from the Universal-owned A&M Records following his 1998 debut, Greetings from the Side.)

While "Mad World" is Snakeoil's drawing card, Jules's originals reveal his exceptional songwriting gifts. His introspective, literate sound recalls such singer-songwriters as Paul Simon and Cat Stevens, and he proves particularly adept at penning bittersweet portraits of his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. While tunes like "DTLA," "The Princess of Hollywood Way" and "Something Else" essay life at the fringes of glamorous Hollywood, they speak to the universal truths of broken dreams and bruised hearts.

Co-headliner Matthew Ryan also is an A&M refugee; however, he hasn't yet had Jules's big commercial break. Not that he isn't deserving of one. His most recent album, Regret over the Wires (Hybrid Recordings), stands as not only his best disc yet but also one of 2003's finest offerings. The husky-voiced Ryan makes judicious use of synths, guitar trickery and ambient organ to give an invigorating jolt to his muscular heartlands rock. If something can be called "joyously melancholic," it's a song like "Little Moments," which delves into life's desperate moments while still holding out the possibility of hope. On the superb "Long Blvd.," Ryan hints at his idols Dylan, Earle and Westerberg but never smothers his song's own powerful sense of heartache and loss. Although Texas is home to many talented troubadours, it is well worth the effort to check out these two gifted singer-songwriters from Yankeeland. -- Michael Berick

Tuesday, June 1, Rhythm Room, 1815 Washington Avenue, 713-863-0943.The Damnations

Back in the late '90s, the Damnations appeared to be a band on the verge of big things. They had made a name for themselves in Austin's fertile and competitive musical hotbed. In 1997, the Austin American-Statesman named them the city's best new act. The following year, the band, fronted by sisters Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly, recorded their major-label debut on Sire Records. But the road to success is treacherous, and Sire stuck an awkward "TX" at the end of their name because there was already another group around called the Damnations.

Despite a well-received record (Half Mad Moon) and a successful round of touring, the band became an unwilling participant in Sire's ill-fated alt-country experiment. But, hell, at least their record got released, unlike those of fellow signees Tim Carroll and Dale Watson.

After Sire severed ties with them, the band sliced the "TX" off their name and soldiered on. They self-released Where It Lands in 2002, and the terrific disc highlighted their strengths: an engaging sound that encompasses both raging cowpunk and quieter folksy stuff, the sisters' potent harmonies and the group's infectious spiritedness.

The Damnations' impressive stylistic range has proved to be double-edged. They can crank up the twang just as well as they can serve it up gentle, but this musical diversity makes them difficult to conveniently pigeonhole.

The recent addition of former Ministry/Scratch Acid drummer Rey Washam to their fold might make you think that the band is exploring even broader musical avenues, but rest assured, the Damnations haven't gone industrial. Even better news: The group has been recording again, and they're in the process of shopping around their demos. -- Michael Berick

Saturday, May 29, Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.Annie Lin, with Bonfire Madigan

Rice grad Annie Lin lets her well-crafted songs do the talking for her. She knows that playing too many local gigs becomes a curse, so she has used a low-key approach while -- get this -- getting out of Houston for national tours and winning raves from the likes of Lisa Loeb and Sarah Harmer. While Lin has drawn myriad comparisons, we'll go with Poe Lite as our wonky little label. The diminutive singer packs a melancholy and delightfully snarky edge in her newer offhand tales of relationship snarls, with lines like "I'll break you like a habit 'cause you keep me comin' back," from "In the Waiting Room." This gig, a homecoming after a show in Chicago in May, will find Lin joined on stage by pal Henna Chou on cello, banjo and guitar. -- Greg Barr

Sunday, May 30, Aurora Picture Show, 800 Aurora, 713-868-2101.Todd Rundgren

Call him genius, visionary or musical pinball, but Todd Rundgren has bounced through most modern musical styles and media technologies with an ever-present flash of light and sound. Throughout a career of more than 35 years spent producing and performing -- production credits include Grand Funk's We're an American Band, Patti Smith's Wave, XTC's Skylarking, Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now and Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell, as well as his own 1972 double-album masterpiece, Something/Anything? -- Rundgren's ongoing, never-bashful experiments have been equal parts self-indulgence and exploration, unquestioningly supported by a base of near-cultish fans.

The month of April brought Liars, yet another concept album and Rundgren's first fully developed studio work in a decade, highlighted on tour with new LED-light-show technology. For better or worse, Rundgren is always in the driver's seat, so strap yourself in and hold onto the handrails. -- Rob Trucks

Friday, May 28, Club V at the Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas, 713-230-1600.

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