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Skybar's Saturday-Night R&B "Party With A View"

Up, Up and Away

On any given Saturday evening, even if you've never seen his face before, you can usually tell which of the 200 or so patrons inside of Scott Gertner's Skybar (3400 Montrose) is Scott Gertner.

Gertner, for the uninformed, owns the ­decade-old Skybar, so named because it occupies the entire tenth floor of its Montrose building. He's been performing live for around 30 years, in a career spanning teenage AstroWorld entertainer to three-time Grammy nominee.

He's not a flashy guy by nature. Gertner actually laughs when asked about his Grammy nominations — he can't remember the third category he was nominated in — but he is easy to locate.

First of all, he's dressed head-to-toe in black. In any club, men dressed in all black are either busboys or power players. Scott Gertner, sir, is no busboy.

Second, the top three or four buttons of his shirt are undone, but Gertner looks neither sleazy nor Magnum P.I.-ish, a feat in and of itself.

And lastly, Gertner is standing on a tiny circular stage in the middle of the small performance/seating area. He's surrounded by onlookers, completely lathered in R&B smoothness, singing about how he sees what happiness really means in our eyes (as per Luther Vandross's "Here and Now"). That's kind of a giveaway, too.

"He puts on such a great show up there," says occasional Skybar visitor Khalilah Campbell. "Every time we've come, we've had a great time. This has to be one of the best places for [live R&B] in Houston."

Many others echo Campbell's sentiment throughout the evening, and it's obvious why.

Though the interior's aesthetic is, shall we say, slightly dated (mirrored walls, flashy neon lights, wood-panel dance floor), it makes the room feel lively. The decor may do little to hide the fact that Skybar was built about the same time Moby — the bald New York techno-vegan, not the portly former 97 Rock jock — was becoming completely insufferable, but that ambience is Skybar's major draw.

"I like coming here because I don't have to worry about getting shot," deadpansSteven Williams, who's celebrating his wife's27th birthday.

"No, it's an older crowd so everybody's cool," adds the birthday girl, Terri. "It's very relaxed."

While the crowd definitely tends toward between 35 and 45 years old, that range probably only accounts for about half the people here tonight. The mix is surprisingly varied — old and young, black and white, Armani suits and trenchcoat/ten-gallon cowboy hat ensembles. (Actually, there was only one guy dressed like that, but we felt obligated to mention him.)

Skybar has the requisite VIP perks of most upscale venues. Should you be so inclined, $600 per year will buy you a Platinum membership, including a reserved table in the performance area, free entry and the convenience of not having to wait in line with the unimportant dolts. That privilege seems worth the price alone, as most Saturday evenings the line is almost guaranteed to reach out the door.

Gertner's talented band warrants mentioning as well. Vocalist Kym Smith has toured nationally with the Black Crowes; Montina Cooper and Marcie Chapa just returned from touring with Beyoncé; and saxophonist Eric Demmer caused us to write comments like "sax guy friggin' owns" in our notebook. That's not even all of them, let alone Gertner.

If you like your R&B performances a little more gritty and a lot more sweaty, a visit to Sammie Relford's weekly soul revival at The Real Sammie (711 Franklin) might be more your speed. But if you're looking for the proper sheen that any Earth, Wind & Fire cover should possess, Skybar is a right good time.

LAST CALL

Two things: First, we'd like to be politic enough to say that we're looking forward to seeing all of the bands at Saturday's Westheimer Block Party (see "Pony Up, Houston," p. 43), but that would make us liars, and nobody respects a liar. As far as we're concerned, though, don't miss Homopolice, Devin the Dude, Perseph One, JUZCOZ and St. Vincent.

Also, Kym Smith, the vocalist mentioned briefly above, was a lot of fun to watch live. We made it, like, at least a minute and a half into hearing "Simply the Best" before we realized it was coming from her onstage, not Tina Turner through the sound system. Poke around on www.kymsmithrocks.com a bit, and you'll discover Smith is a rock and roll singer at heart — just like Tina — and released the Colors EP last year. It's available on CD Baby.

 
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