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More Fun than a Barrel of Monkeys

Dispatches from the 17th annual Houston Press Music Awards

I stuck around M Bar and caught the first half of Chango Jackson's set -- this time around the guys decided to be German, so they decked themselves out in white face paint and "Sprockets"-style black turtlenecks. (God knows why -- maybe it had something to do with that "Do you vant to touch my monkey" catchphrase.) They opened with a jokey piano jazz intro and then tore into "Sana Sana" and then never let up after that. And then I took the hike over to Brewery Tap to see the Fatal Flying Guilloteens, who were as good as I've ever seen them. Seems like the less often they rehearse, the better they get. The Alvarez Report: Our New Assistant Music Editor Weighs In

I loved the Free Radicals at the Grasshopper -- they filled the room with sound without blowing everyone out the door. This had to be my favorite performance. Tight band, deep, dirty baritone sax, with an equally talented tenor. With all the Texas tenors who have played Houston, it's hard to measure up, but this guy did. And the crowd was most into them. It wasn't abstract, "I'm too deep to be understood" jazz, but they did push and pull the melodies around, stretching them into something fresh. Upright bass, percussionist -- all of them were dead on. And there was just enough New Orleans jazz/funk thrown in without it becoming a stereotypical Louisiana band.

As for Bojones at the Hooters stage, the guitar player was toooooooo white and skinny to be on stage with no shirt. You should be in better shape if you're gonna do that, or at least get some sun -- every time the light hit him at a certain angle, it looked like he was glowing. I really liked the guy on the keys, despite his tendency to get so abstract.

The Riff Tiffs are a nominee for Best New Act, and that seemed appropriate. Their instrumentals didn't bother the crowd, and the lack of a singer on those songs didn't keep them from finding plenty of melodies. And Casino was pretty good -- the guys sound like they're ready for a bigger pond than Houston.

God's Temple of Family Deliverance, on the other hand, did not play the room. They were way, way too loud, and way, way too wild. They didn't notice that they were losing the crowd. If you want to please just yourself, play in your garage. If you want to please -- or at least interest -- a crowd, look up sometimes and see how it's going.

I noticed that more than any other band that night, Los Skarnales brought -- and took -- their own crowd with them. Lots of folks were gone by the time poor Tody Castillo took the stage. More people overlapped at the other shows, but the Skarnales fans were there for Los Skarnales first and everyone else a distant second. It was similar with the Zydeco Dots: Like Skarnales, this crowd came for them. But while I saw the Skarnales fans walking around after, the Dots' people zoomed.

The Hunger worked a crowd better than anyone else I saw. They sounded fine -- I loved the keyboard player swinging his piano all over. You've got to find a way to hold everyone's attention, and they did. It was almost like they were checking in with the crowd every few bars: "Sing, sing, sing... (Y'all still with us?) Okay, sing, sing, sing, (still okay?)... Okay, sing, sing." And they seemed to get the most sound per pound -- not a lot of musicians, but lots and lots of sound. They had a sweet time slot, people were just drunk enough to loosen up, but not so drunk that they didn't get the music.

I loved the Ceeplus street team standing outside the Jéfe Bar telling everyone that there was free beer inside. It worked -- people would wander in and then get caught up by the music. He sounded fine, and of everyone, he probably had the hardest room to work.

For me, "best music" honors overall go to the Free Radicals, while the Hunger had the best stage show, but my favorite performance of the night was the drunken "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" free jam in the Rice around 8:30 p.m.

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