"Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective" Rauschenberg's credentials as one of the world's leading contemporary visualists have never been in question, so why are the first words from the lips of so many art aficionados "He's never been one of my favorite artists"? The question lingers in the air, despite the quality of the Texas native's work in general and of this specific exhibit. A potential answer: "By fusing and intermingling painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking and performance, Rauschenberg has become the preeminent practitioner of breaking down the barriers among art-making genres and methods," says exhibit co-curator Walter Hopps of the Menil Collection. That's one way -- a stuffy, curatorial-speak kind of way -- of saying that Rauschenberg is the ultimate mixed-media artist. For us, the lay viewers who confront this stuff with untrained but critical eyes, it seems Rausch has bebopped crazily, fitfully, through the realms listed above, with additional pit stops in abstract expressionism, assemblage, pop art, high-res digital, etc. (The brochure accompanying the exhibit terms Rauschenberg's tendency to aggressively overbook his muse "thoughtful inclusion.") Trying to get a fix on the legend of Port Arthur is like trying to stop an ice cream cone from melting away in the sticky heat of a summer afternoon in Rauschenberg's hometown, and some of us have grown exhausted (and hungry) from the effort. But the going just got easier thanks to "A Retrospective," organized by New York's Guggenheim Museum. The ode to Rauschenberg's 50 years in art puts his artistic restlessness into context, and does so in a largely linear fashion, allowing the hushed din -- the delicate, thundering static -- of his vision to filter through the self-generated shock waves of a career spent on the cutting edge(s). The exhibit, the first-ever collaboration between Houston's big-three public art trusts, is best experienced in this order: the Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 525-9400; the Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose, 284-8250; and the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. It opens with a free preview/reception for Rauschenberg from 6 to 10 p.m.; gratis shuttles ferry patrons between facilities. The exhibit's up through May 17 (see Thrills for more info).
The Rolling Stones We dubbed these dudes the "Rolling Bones" nearly a decade ago, during the Steel Wheels tour, and our cynicism has continued to balloon along with the group's collective prostate. Fine wine and mountain ranges age well; gallon jugs of Night Train and British rock bands don't. The Stones are now as old as the hills but not half so wise, if their latest disc, Bridges to Babylon, is any indication; their last album to share space in the same sentence with the word "greatness" was Tattoo You in 1981. So what's the lingering attraction? As advertised, the Stones were the "World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band" for the first half of their 35-year existence, and they've earned the right -- at least in their minds -- to piddle away the remainder by releasing a passable album every few years and doing a spectacle-filled support tour. Fleetwood Mac's recent reunion was mostly about cash flow, no matter how much the members yakked about musical integrity and resuscitated synchronicity, and so are the more frequent rebandings by the Stones. But, hey, it's your money. Jonny Lang opens. 7:30 tonight and the same time Friday. Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 961-9003. $40.25-$126.25 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Pan-Cultural Film Festival The second edition of this festival, which continues through Sunday at various locations, features a special focus on Mexican cinema. This week's highlight is tonight's gala screening of Rojo Amanecer ("Red Sunrise"), a 1989 film about the Tlatelolco student massacre of 1968 by Mexico's Jorge Fons Perez, who will be on hand to present the piece in its Houston debut. Other scheduled Bayou City premieres include Luis Argueta's El Silencio de Neto ("The Silence of Neto") (Guatemala, 1994), Luis Alberto Lamata's Jerico (Venezuela, 1990) and Charles Burnett's NightJohn (USA, 1996). Rice Media Center, Rice University entrance 8 (off University Boulevard), 527-4853; the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300; Talento Bilingue de Houston, 2115 Runnels, 222-1213; Farish Hall at the University of Houston, UH entrance 13, 743-5010. More info: 527-9548. $5-$50.
The Ben Folds Five Robbie Fulks shares the stage; see the separate Critic's Choice entries for Folds and Fulks on page 79. Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 526-6551. $15 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
"Bolo Round-Up" The national neckwear of Texas actually originated in Arizona, more or less (these haute-couture border disputes can get heated). Anyhow, the sun-addled heathens out west call the string tie with the variable clasp a "bola," and while many dictionaries side with the cactus heads on this matter, we Texans know the truth -- and without havin' to look it up, neither. A passel of jewelers and metalsmiths present unconventional takes on the nontraditional garb in this show, opening today; a reception's slated for 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday (for more info, see Thrills). Artables, 2625 Colquitt, 528-0405. Free.
The Crystal Method See the story on page 75. BT and DJ Taylor open. The Orbit Room, 2524 McKinney, 267-9834. $15.
Mardi Gras! Galveston: "The Big Speakeasy" The largest Mardi party in the Lone Star State reinvests Galveston -- known as the "Queen of the Gulf" in its heady, naughty heyday -- with a vestige of its former glory. Flappers on the Seawall? Gangsters and their molls at the Galvez? Once the norm, such sightings now seem as odd as one of a Scotsman in full kilt and kit strangling the bagpipes in the surf beneath the sagging Balinese Room, but we got an eyeful (and earful) of the latter mere weeks ago; Galveston's just that kind of a place. Expect a big bellyful of the "Charleston" era as the isle pays tribute to the Roaring '20s during its 14th annual commemoration of the pre-Lent celebration of satiation. The 12-day fest opens today and continues through February 24 (Fat Tuesday). This week's highlights include the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Mardi Gras Parade, the Zanie Processional, the Pinstripe Pasquinade, King Gambrinus's "Valentines of the World" Parade, the Postoffice Promenade and concerts by Chuck Berry and New Orleans's Wild Magnolias. The Seawall and the Strand, (888) GAL-ISLE. Many events are free; tickets ($10) are required for admission to the Strand district from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and the same hours February 21.
Seven Guitars The seventh in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson's ambitious, ten-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th century, Seven Guitars is a simultaneous homage to the bitterly redemptive beauty of the blues and examination of the travails of the (black) men and women who made -- and make -- the century's most haunting music. Alex Allen Morris stars as the play's linchpin, star-crossed bluesman Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton. The production previews at 8 tonight; the official opening is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (for other dates and times, see Thrills). The Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 228-8421. Tix: $19-$33 (previews); $31-$46 (regular).
"Millennium Fever" Contact, the ham-handed but hard-to-put-down novel by the late Carl Sagan, outlined the idiocy and chaos uncorked by humankind's near-millennial brush with alien intelligence. The purview of this cheeky show, curated by Susie Rosmarin and Eric Niebuhr, is the alien (that is, non-mainstream) intelligence that lurks in dank corners of Houston's art world. The press release promises an examination of "the various and extravagant ways human beings go berserk at the approach of each new century and millennium," plus explorations of "future art trends such as Art Luxe and cyberpop" and "the viability of techno-subversion as art-making strategy." The exhibit includes works by Brook Stroud, Charles Cohen, Dario Robleto, Julie Mehretu and Hills Snyder; it opens with a reception from 6 to 8 tonight (see Thrills for more info). DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346. Free.
The Arturo Sandoval Ensemble Arguably the finest Latin-jazz trumpeter who ever was, the Cuba-born musician (and co-founder of the cult-fave group Irakere) blew away Dizzy Gillespie during Sandoval's inaugural stateside tour, and went on to join Dizzy's United National Orchestra. Sandoval also plays a pretty mean flugelhorn. 8 p.m. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $21-$32 (DaCamera Music Center: 524-5050; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
"Robert Rauschenberg: Anagrams" Held in conjunction with the touring exhibit "Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective," this installation includes numerous works from one of the Texas-born contemporary artist's latest series. Essentially, they're large-scale narrative works on paper, achieved via a mating of photography and a vegetable-dye-transfer process of Rauschenberg's own creation. The exhibit opens with a reception for the artist from 6 to 8 tonight (see Thrills for more info). Texas Gallery, 2012 Peden, 524-1593. Free. (Note: Prior to the "Anagrams" opening, Rauschenberg and his longtime dance partner, choreographer Trisha Brown, co-host a gratis dialogue about "the collaborative process" and some of their joint efforts. 3 p.m. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300.)
Orchestra X's La Boheme John Neal Axelrod's combine includes musicians from the Houston Symphony, Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and the University of Houston's Moores School of Music, and aims to capture the fancy of Gen Xers with its interactive, informal concerts and reinterpretations of repertory staples. For this contemporary update of Puccini's tale about a group of cash- and love-poor bohemians, the ensemble's augmented by a worthy cast of opera singers, including Dean Elzinga from New York's Metropolitan Opera, Amy Pfrimmer of the New Orleans Opera and Nmon Ford-Livene from the Los Angeles Opera. The show's performed in English. 7 tonight and Sunday. Cafe Artiste (a.k.a. Puccini's famed Cafe Momus for these shows), 1602 West Main, 528-3704. $15 (225-ORCX; proceeds from a related silent auction benefit AIDS Foundation Houston).
Little Milton and Duke Robillard Mississippi-born guitarist/vocalist Milton (real name: Milton Campbell Jr.) is one of the most underrated bluesicians of all time; he's waxed classic sides like "Little Bluebird," "If Walls Could Talk," "Grits Ain't Groceries" and "We're Gonna Make It" for labels like Chess, Stax and Sun. Fellow ax man Robillard formerly fronted Roomful of Blues; the Duke opens shows at 7 and 10 p.m. Billy Blues Bar & Grill, 6025 Richmond, 266-9294. $25.
Jamie Foxx The star of small screen (the WB Network's Jamie Foxx Show; the late, lamented In Living Color) and large (Set It Off, Booty Call) does his standup shtick. 7 p.m. Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway, 988-1020. $32-$37 in advance; $34-$39 the day of the show.
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1-900-ALL-KAREN Mouthy performance-art diva Karen Finley -- infamous for sticking unlikely stuff like candied yams where the sun don't shine -- takes her confrontational self on-line (telephone line) to make a few points and a few bucks to make a few more points. Billed as Finley's first national public performance piece, 1-900-ALL-KAREN will, according to the press release, "respond to a range of topics, including observations on news headlines and social injustices as well as more personal reflections on motherhood and daily life." (One of the "social injustices" Finley will surely address -- barring a gag order -- is her own case, recently petitioned for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, regarding the 1990 rescinding of her National Endowment for the Arts grant on obscenity charges.) DiverseWorks is the local co-presenter of the piece, which begins today and continues, with a new message every day, through August 16. The call costs $1.75 for the first minute, $1.25 per minute thereafter; the funds, after costs, go to the artist.
"Texas Writers: Modern Perspectives on 'A Whole Other Country' " The series explores "how the state has changed over the past 20 years, and how current changes in demographics, social values and institutions ... will affect the future." Houston author/activist Tony Diaz (The Unspeakable) kicks it off with a lecture at 7:30 tonight. Texas Monthly senior editor Joe Nick Patoski is scheduled to speak at the same time Wednesday. Rice Memorial Center, Rice University entrance 1 (off Main Street). Info: 527-4839. Free.
The Damned See Critic's Choice on page 79. Tura Satana and Man Will Surrender open. The Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue, 863-7173. $13 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band San Francisco-based keyboardist and so-called "psychedelic Pied Piper" Saunders recently came through town as part of the Jazz Is Dead collective featuring Billy Cobham and T Lavitz -- the latest in a career-defining series of collaborations that includes work with the motley crew of Johnny Mathis, Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Blues Traveler, B.B. King, the Statler Brothers and, most notable, Head Deadhead Jerry Garcia. Merl's back with his own band tonight. The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-