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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Open-Mike Poetry Reading

Usually an open reading serves a particular clique, but when Mike Alexander started running things at the Mausoleum, he made an effort to create the kind of environment where anti-intellectual anarchists could follow the academic folks from the creative writing programs. A selected poet opens the reading every Wednesday at 9 p.m., and poets who sign up to read are randomly called up to the stage, with rotating hosts. Just about every subgroup of poetry is represented here. Angst-ridden teenage death poems, Afrocentric rants and political rallying cries can be heard the same evening as AIDS poems, the sappy-rhymed verse of bored housewives and even the poetry of a staff-wielding regular known as Merlin. The night we were there, a drunken redneck staggered in, as if looking for some venue with a liquor license that hadn't banned him from the premises. "What is this -- open-fag poetry night?" he kept shouting after each shot glass he emptied. Yes, sir, it is. And it ain't too bad.

Best Manly Ballet

Stevenson's biggest ballet since Dracula was billed as a star vehicle for Lauren Anderson, the African-American principal Stevenson spotted at the Houston Ballet Academy when she was just a child. But while the title role certainly allowed Anderson to show off her explosive athleticism and theatricalism, Cleopatra turned out to be a much broader ballet for the whole company, including, most surprisingly, the men. In Cleopatra's dances with her lovers, Stevenson let Caesar (Timothy O'Keefe) and Marc Anthony (Dominic Walsh) out from the conventional male partnering positions behind -- or beneath -- the ballerina, and both men seemed to jump at the opportunity to dance and act as much as the star. Stevenson even left Anderson out of the picture entirely in another pas de deux. The homoerotic and devilish dance between the burly Nicholas Leschke and the diminutive Mauricio Canete was as captivating as it was unusual. And the male corps de ballet, Stevenson's stars of tomorrow, nearly stole the show with a sequence of leaps in the Roman Senate that barely allowed the dancers' feet to touch the ground. Once again, Houston Ballet's artistic director has shown he can tweak the traditional in just the right way.

Best Manly Ballet

Stevenson's biggest ballet since Dracula was billed as a star vehicle for Lauren Anderson, the African-American principal Stevenson spotted at the Houston Ballet Academy when she was just a child. But while the title role certainly allowed Anderson to show off her explosive athleticism and theatricalism, Cleopatra turned out to be a much broader ballet for the whole company, including, most surprisingly, the men. In Cleopatra's dances with her lovers, Stevenson let Caesar (Timothy O'Keefe) and Marc Anthony (Dominic Walsh) out from the conventional male partnering positions behind -- or beneath -- the ballerina, and both men seemed to jump at the opportunity to dance and act as much as the star. Stevenson even left Anderson out of the picture entirely in another pas de deux. The homoerotic and devilish dance between the burly Nicholas Leschke and the diminutive Mauricio Canete was as captivating as it was unusual. And the male corps de ballet, Stevenson's stars of tomorrow, nearly stole the show with a sequence of leaps in the Roman Senate that barely allowed the dancers' feet to touch the ground. Once again, Houston Ballet's artistic director has shown he can tweak the traditional in just the right way.

Best Band Stage Show

During a CD release performance at Fitzgerald's earlier this year, Middlefinger lead singer Matt Kelly asked the crowd in between songs for the correct pronunciation of the name "G-O-E-T-H-E." Whoever answered first would get one of the Middlefinger CDs Kelly held in his hands. After getting nothing but quizzical looks, Kelly, a wheatstalk wearing thick black eyeglass frames, asked again: "G-O-E-T-H-E." "Ger-ta," a concertgoer blurted, as if she had just unraveled a trigonometry equation in her head. The response prompted Kelly to launch one of the jewel boxes in the direction of the answerer. Whatever connection the band thought it had with its crowd at this point looked a little strained. As "Ger-ta" wrote in Faust: "Man still must err, while he doth strive." So, yeah, five-year-old Middlefinger still has much to work out in its stage show. But a decent-to-bad Middlefinger show is most likely better than anything else going on at the same time in Houston. Sudden tempo changes, clean yet raw punk sound and Kelly's too-cool-to-be-choreographed moves -- like the one in which he boinks himself on the head, sinks a couple of inches, then pulls himself back up to full height by the shirt collar -- make for engaging entertainment. And no one's asking you to sell your soul for the pleasure.

Best Band Stage Show

During a CD release performance at Fitzgerald's earlier this year, Middlefinger lead singer Matt Kelly asked the crowd in between songs for the correct pronunciation of the name "G-O-E-T-H-E." Whoever answered first would get one of the Middlefinger CDs Kelly held in his hands. After getting nothing but quizzical looks, Kelly, a wheatstalk wearing thick black eyeglass frames, asked again: "G-O-E-T-H-E." "Ger-ta," a concertgoer blurted, as if she had just unraveled a trigonometry equation in her head. The response prompted Kelly to launch one of the jewel boxes in the direction of the answerer. Whatever connection the band thought it had with its crowd at this point looked a little strained. As "Ger-ta" wrote in Faust: "Man still must err, while he doth strive." So, yeah, five-year-old Middlefinger still has much to work out in its stage show. But a decent-to-bad Middlefinger show is most likely better than anything else going on at the same time in Houston. Sudden tempo changes, clean yet raw punk sound and Kelly's too-cool-to-be-choreographed moves -- like the one in which he boinks himself on the head, sinks a couple of inches, then pulls himself back up to full height by the shirt collar -- make for engaging entertainment. And no one's asking you to sell your soul for the pleasure.

Best Pastime for Hands When Not Servicing $100,000 Automobiles

Acquaintances who happen to see 27-year-old Jug O' Lightnin' front man Aaron Loesch tooling around town in that glossy, black late-model Jaguar of his might well wonder whether The Jug has somehow managed to parlay its regular free Sunday-night gig at Rudyard's into a multimillion-dollar deal with Sony or somesuch. No such luck. Fact is, Loesch poured a good amount of blood, sweat and tears into piecing that ride together. Literally. Turns out Loesch works for his father's Galleria-area Jaguar of Houston repair shop, where he fixes the lean machines by day and maintains an upstairs studio by night. And if you think such knuckle-banging work seems like an unwise choice for a guy who gets his yayas out as a finger-picking guitarist of substantial speed, just remember that Loesch arrived at his modified Scruggs-style picking only after having busted his hand too badly to keep up on the banjo. Hell, maybe another busted knuckle is just what the guy needs to take it to the next level.

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Best Open-Mike Poetry Reading: Mausoleum

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