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Mystery Bopping

Racket searches for the hoppingest grocery store in town

Grade: F

Montrose Kroger, 3300 Montrose

Clientele: Young yuppie couples, old hard-bitten types, a transvestite or two and a couple of runaway teens. Probably more gays and lesbians shop here than anywhere else in Texas.

Neighborhood: The vortex of the Montrose, the eye of the never-ending storm.

What we heard: Simply Red, "Never Never Love," smooth jazz, Bob Seger's "Against the Wind," and Lord help us, Patrick Swayze's "She's Like the Wind."

What we should have heard: Not so long ago, this Kroger's mix of the Cure, Erasure and Depeche Mode earned it the nickname Disco Kroger. Sadly, those days are gone. Bring them back!

Grade: D-minus. Seger saves them the F.

West U/Greenway Kroger, 5130 Buffalo Speedway

Clientele: Families, lots of codgers from the nearby old folks' homes.

Neighborhood: A nether zone between Greenway Plaza and West University.

What we heard: Soporific Spanish guitar picking away at light classical stuff like "Greensleeves."

What we should have heard: Seems about right, but it ain't much fun at all. Maybe okay during the holidays.

Grade: C-minus

Highland Village Rice Epicurean, 3745 Westheimer

Clientele: Minimal

Neighborhood: Highland Village, Houston's palm-lined stab at Rodeo Drive, albeit one bordered by heavily trafficked Southern Pacific railroad crossing.

What we heard: Some dreck-alicious new country, a Fleetwood Mac B-side sung by Christine McVie and the Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow."

What we should have heard: Rice is still in business? Located next to Central Market, this one wasn't faring so well. Almost no one was there -- agoraphobics and rich people with an aversion to standing in line must be keeping them afloat. At any rate, depressing, doomsday fare like the Specials' "Ghost Town," Gene Pitney's "Town Without Pity," George Jones's "The Grand Tour."

Grade: C-plus

Gulfton Fiesta, 6200 Bellaire

Clientele: Overwhelmingly Hispanic, including Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. Also, some West Africans in native garb, and some Indo-Pakistanis. A sign over the door welcomes you in six languages.

Neighborhood: Gulfton, a teeming hive of multiethnic humanity west of Bellaire and east of Sharpstown. Bellaire football players just out of practice cross paths with Mexican vaqueros lugging ornate handmade harps in these streets, which are lined with pawnshops, taquerias and places where you can wire money all over the world.

What we heard: Ranchero. Kind of a disappointment, really. We love ranchero, but we were looking for something a little more exotic, something in the way of a Salvadoran cumbia, perhaps, or Puerto Rican reggaetón. But ranchero -- all trumpet fanfares, horsy milieu and naked emotion -- does sound like a cavalry charge, which is what it feels like in this carnival-like hypermarket, the nexus of 21st-century Houston.

What we should have heard: Something more exotic, dammit, not the stuff we've been hearing at Mexican restaurants since we can remember.

Grade: B

Central Market, 3815 Westheimer

Clientele: Extremely rich people. We were a little surprised to be allowed to park the Racketmobile -- a dirty, battered '93 Ford Escort -- amid all the pearl-colored Navigators, maroon neo-T-Birds, and menacing black Mercs.

Neighborhood: See above.

What we heard:Something by Morrissey we caught the end of, something we took to be the work of prefab girl band Tatu that turned out to be "Point of No Return" by prefab girl band Exposé, U2's "In the Name of Love" and M's "Pop Muzik."

What we should have heard: This place kept us hanging out for an extra song just to see what was coming next. Nice work.

Grade: A-minus

Third Ward Fiesta, 4200 San Jacinto

Clientele: Almost entirely black, with a few hipsters and Hispanics (and one fuchsia-haired Hispanic hipster) in the mix.

Neighborhood: Fringes of Midtown, the Museum District and Third Ward. Payless Shoe Source, an old-school Sears, a ramshackle barber's college/wig shop, numerous burger joints and the Mexican consulate are a few nearby establishments.

What we heard: Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone," something that sounded like soul-bluesman Tyrone Davis, and Sade's "Lovers Rock." In the past, we've heard some James Brown in here other than "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Feel Good," which is as rare as it is awesome. A woman here was swaying to the music and mouthing the words as she selected her lottery scratch card.

What we should have heard:Don't get any better than that, even though we wouldn't want our son to be alone with Michael Jackson.

Grade: A

Montrose Fiesta, 3803 Dunlavy

Clientele: Mexican immigrants, hipsters, old-guard Inner Loop Houstonians, some gays and lesbians.

Neighborhood: Fringes of Montrose and the Museum District.

What we heard: Dr. Hook's "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman," Heart's "Straight On," Poco's "Keep On Tryin'."

What we should have heard: This was a subpar night for this Fiesta, wherein we have heard everything from "Hey Bo Diddley" to Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" to the Beatles' "Hey Bulldog." We've seen people dancing and singing along here more than anywhere else, so we'll give them a mulligan; after all, none of those songs was offensive.

Grade: A-plus

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Hard to believe, but it's that time again, time to send in your application to South By Southwest and wait for your annual rejection. So click on over to www.sxsw.com and fill out the application. Then get yourself a big ol' envelope and enclose in it a CD of at least three songs of original material, a photo, a bio and a press kit. Mail the whole schmear to SXSW Music Festival, P.O. Box 4999, Austin, TX 78765. The early application deadline is October 8, 2004, (postmark date) with an application fee of $10 if you fill the form out online, or $20 if you print the application and mail it in with your packet. The late application deadline is November 8, 2004, and each of the fees doubles, so get it in by October 8. Austin/Dallas acts will be notified no later than February 7, 2005, that they are accepted; Houston acts will all be rejected by that same date. (Just kidding. All Austin bands have already been accepted. Just kidding again.) SXSW 2005 will take place March 16 to 20.

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