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Monsters of Hip

Five bands' worth of Urban Outfitters employees grace Cardi's stage with shopworn licks and attire

A little background for the uninitiated -- Urban Outfitters(Galleria; also Rice Village) is a retail apparel and furnishings store. On the surface, it sells pretty standard fare: clothes, knickknacks for the home and goofy trinkets (Mr. T air freshener!? Why I never...). But delve just beneath the topsoil and you begin to unearth what makes this sales giant a bit different.

Unlike say, Target, UO deals in a currency of cool. They traffic in what's considered the new, and the now...as best a corporate behemoth can.

Which, as it happens, is not very well. Want to know when a trend has jumped the shark? Head to Urban. If they're outfitting their shelves with it, chances are its day in the heavenly glow of the hipster sun has passed. Hell, you can't fault 'em for that. These days, even a meth freak on a Red Bull bender would have trouble keeping up with the breakneck pace of hipster fashion trends. It's no surprise, then, that a mammoth enterprise can't spot, manufacture, market and regurgitate a trend to consumers before that trend's wave has crested. Hip is a leprechaun, a fairy, a sprite -- not a Cyclops.

So, Urban's hawking old-school Nike, eh? It's back to the new school for you then, stud. Urban's peddling trucker caps? Give yours to the bums that have been wearing them since they were invented, because now they're as tired as Pharrell's falsetto.

Some things have considerably more staying power than others, of course. A sturdy pair of jeans, a classic shoe or pasta shaped like little bitty penises...these won't crash on the flighty whims of TRL-watching turds who want to dress like Ashlee Simpson.

Which brings us to something else that sets Urban apart from (although not necessarily ahead of) the retail pack: music.

The chain prides itself on staying abreast of the latest Pitchfork darlings. This, of course, is much easier to do. Something's burning up the indie charts? Order your managers to play it in the store and then print the playlist on your company Web site to make sure everyone knows that you too are rocking the new LCD Soundsystem.

Make sure to accompany the March playlist with a mock-aggressive, ironic quote, "We...encourage you to let us handle your music decisions. You know we're right. What's that? You disagree? Fine then, start your own list. Matter of fact, start your own band. Put up or shut up, Mozart!"

Recently Cardi's 2000 (9301 Bissonnet) hosted an event called Urban Assault. Five bands played, each consisting of at least one employee of Urban Outfitters. The band names aren't important, although I will report that the four I caught weren't all as terrible as one might expect. All were a little too radio-friendly to be my cup of tea, but they made an honest-to-goodness effort, to say the least.

Before the show, I made up a list of things I might expect to see or hear a few times during the night, and then quizzed a few music- and pop culture-savvy friends about it.

The Players

John Nova Lomax is music editor of this paper. You've no doubt read one of his 1,001 essays lamenting the state of Houston radio.

Ryan Clark is the Webmaster and editor of www.theskyline.net, a ridiculously witty and dead-on satirical look at local music scenesters and their goings-on. He also plays bass in the band MEDEVAC. Don't worry. You didn't go see them when they were called KissKissKillKill either.

My twin brother, Sean McManus, has been collecting records since elementary school. He currently owns about a million and still clings to an old Houston Chronicle newspaper clipping about vinyl's resurgence. The article quoted him a few times and he uses it as Exhibit A when explaining to our mother that he isn't wasting his life.

The Game

Okay, gamers, here's the shake. You are watching four bands that comprise employees of Urban Outfitters -- 13 band members in all. Would the employees' bands and stage attire be as shopworn by night as the goods they sell by day? Try to answer the following questions.

1.Of these 13 members (all male), how many have highlights in their hair?

Lomax guesses three. Twin agrees with him but only because "Highlights are expensive. They make, what, $6.25 an hour?" Clark decides to go big with 13.

Actual number is two.

2.How many of these four bands feature a bass player that seldom faces the crowd?

All three competitors are right on the money with their guess: one.

3.Castro hats are the new trucker caps. How many of them are worn on stage?

Lomax guesses low with two, figuring the band members have had a preshow conversation about head gear. Clark guesses six, and Twin guesses four.

Actual number: one.

4. How many of the bands' songs feature very quiet (to the point of being almost silent) to very loud, Nirvana-style breaks?

Lomax again chooses to go low with 12. Clark figures 37 is a fair estimate, and Twin reasons that four bands playing ten songs each would feature said break in all 40 songs.

Actual number: Lost count on this one. It is quite frequent, however.

5. How many band members wear a "Jesus Is My Homeboy" T-shirt?

Lomax sticks to his grounded guns and guesses one. Clark remarks, "Last season," before boldly declaring that no one has donned Ashton Kutcher's favorite T. Twin has similar concerns, stating, "That one is kinda old," but agrees with Lomax and says one.

Actual number: Clark is right on the money. Goose egg!

6.How many references to Urban Outfitters sales are made from stage?

Lomax changes strategy and goes high with seven. Clark plays it safe with three. Twin is off the charts with ten.

Actual number: Trick question. Zero mentions. "I guess employees of Urban Outfitters have no sense of irony," quips Clark.

7. Finally, of the four bands performing at Urban Assault, how many failed to get the memo that Staind completely sucks nard?

All three of our players guess four.

Actual number: Can't say -- don't actually know what Staind sounds like. Like any good in-the-loop music fan, I listen to only bands played over Urban Outfitters house speakers.

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