Best of Houston®

Best Of 2000

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Out-of-Print Book by a Dead Local Columnist

Sig Byrd spent years as a columnist with the old daily Houston Press and later moved to the Houston Chronicle, but his columns, compiled and connected here, read today like nothing you'd expect to find in a newspaper, daily or otherwise. Downtown, when there was still a thing called Vinegar Hill there, and the Hispanic east side were his favorite beats, and if Sig Byrd's Houston reads like a different town entirely, that's partly because it was, and partly because of Byrd himself, whose ear was finely tuned to the town's skid rows: "Raquel, who comes to Martin Nelson's photo parlor to have her picture made every payday, is about 17, small for her age and as cute as a speckled pup. Bark-brown hair, curly; limpid brown eyes, golden-tan cheeks and lush red lips. Petite figure. You know the type. In certain circumstances she could go far. But living in the Second Ward and working as a tomato packer at a place on lower Louisiana Street, she will never go much of anywhere. By the time she is 25 the freshness and bloom will be gone from her face and figure, and at 30 she will not even resemble the pictures made of her at 17." As with Raquel, so with Houston. At least there are still a few stray copies of this photograph floating around.

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 Out-of-Print Book by a Dead Local Columnist: Sig Byrd's Houston, Sigman Byrd, The Viking Press, 1955

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