Downtown H-town Throwdown

Tearing it up at the Music Awards Showcase

On stage at the Copa Cabana, the Linus Pauling Quartet's Ramon Medina is in a frenzy. His eyes are tightly shut, he's white-knuckling the mike in his hands. He's growling unintelligible, guttural gibberish -- the only words that can be made out among the band's twin-guitar acid-metal din are the chorus, and for that Medina pitches his voice as high as the ululations of many an Arabic moment of tragedy and/or triumph. "LA TAPATIAAAA!" he wails, vigorously rubbing his vocal cords to squeeze out every last wobble in his voice in his tribute to the venerable Richmond Avenue taqueria.

Country-rock troubadour Greg Wood is taken by it all. He strides over to the stage alone, stands about two feet from Medina and stares, half smiling. And stays there for the rest of the song, just standing there alone, staring. The only other person on the club's dance floor is longtime local musician and Rudyard's employee Brad Moore, who is sitting down, nodding his head to the beat.

Medina thrashes, growls and wails, Wood stares and smiles, and Moore sits and nods, and the song ends in a crescendo. Medina screams "Satan!!! Satan !!! Satan!!!" and the band hammers home his point -- which apparently is that La Tapatia is Lucifer's favorite place to pick up a plate of goat-meat tacos. (Medina says that he offered Wood the post as the Linus Pauling Quartet's "official Satan mascot" and Wood accepted.) If it wasn't the finest strictly musical moment of Sunday's Music Awards Showcase, it was certainly the strangest.

Or maybe it was seeing Michael Haaga performing at the Verizon. I've seen quite a few Haaga shows over the last year or so, and all of them were in small clubs. Seeing the band stretch out on the huge stage and hearing their music over the Verizon's stellar sound system was quite a treat, as was the world premiere of his video for this year's would-be Song of the Year "If and When" on the venue's swimming-pool-size screens. The fact that it starred "Duncan" -- my neighbor's son who figured in my family's travel misadventure of a few weeks back -- made it all the weirder.

Also strange was the fact that I didn't see a bad band all day. With my delicate sensibilities and finely tuned hip-o-meter, I expected to hate LoneStar PornStar, but their gritty, blue-collar ska-funk-rap won me over in spite of myself. (Other critics at this paper despise me for that, but what the hell.) Sure, they're trashy, and sure, their Sublime-meets-Chili Peppers sound isn't the most original, but they worked hard in both bringing out their fans and then in entertaining them while they were there.

The Delayed kicked off my afternoon with a set of ferocious hard rock. I would call it punk -- after all, the band members are all heavily tattooed, and the drummer (one of the best in town, by the way) sports a Mohawk, and their music is loud and fast -- but the band mocked that designation throughout their set. "We'll play you some more of that fuckin' punk rock," snarled their shaven-headed singer, who looks a little like a mixture of David Cross and Henry Rollins, and ignored a table full of children immediately in front of the stage. "Fuck your mother! Fuck your father! Oi! Oi!"

You wouldn't confuse blues-rocker the Mighty Orq with punk of any kind. You might be forgiven, however, for thinking that he is one of Duane and Greg Allman's long-lost brothers. His guitar-playing has improved by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, but for me it has always been his voice -- deep, soulful and majestic -- that has set him apart, and under the soaring ceiling at the Twelve Spot it billowed forth, well, mightily. And when he averred that his is no longer a straight-up blues band a week ago in this paper, he spoke the truth. Today, his trio sounds more like a blues-steeped rock band like ZZ Top, the Arc Angels.

By eight o'clock I was in the VIP area in the Rice Hotel, where I gathered plenty of news. The guys in Chango Jackson have signed with a new manager and are planning to release two albums…Medicine Show is planning an upcoming "stoners vs. drunks" basketball game…Hayes Carll, who couldn't attend this year's showcase because of his road schedule, just landed some opening slots on Buddy Miller's U.K./Ireland tour…Spain Colored Orange's recording sessions for its Lucid Records debut are progressing well…John Evans didn't "circle the drain" very long -- he has another new record coming, and he says this one finds him making yet another stylistic shift…

Other Press correspondents have different stories to tell, so I'll let them take it away.

William Michael Smith didn't care much for Molly & the Ringwalds ("lame," he called them) but was especially knocked out by Los Skarnales. "Distill their act down to its best 45 minutes and they're superstars," he says. And then there was Filthy McNasty, which in the interest of full disclosure I must tell you is headed by Press Nightfly columnist Brian McManus. "They tore it up," Smith says. "People were standing on the bar. It was pretty incredible."

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