2011 Music Awards Showcase

2011 Music Awards Showcase

Here it is, the Grandaddy of all the Houston music festivals, the 23rd annual Houston Press Music Awards showcase. Twelve hours of music, featuring 50-plus bands and a slew of DJs to close out the night. This sucker runs the gamut from funky to twee, Americana to experimental, gritty rap and raunchy rock to ethereal folk and plaintive indie, from grizzled veterans like Texas Johnny Brown and Little Joe Washington (who together bring more than 100 years of experience to their stages) to up-and-comers like Rivers, Finnegan and the Beans. No other melodious H-Town soiree brings it like the HPMAs, and no other $10 wristband entitles you to as much great music and fun.

After last year's Washington Avenue experiment, this time around the showcase returns to its old stomping grounds downtown. Sort of. For the first time ever, this year's model will center on the central city's east side and spill over into Old Chinatown, with Discovery Green slap-bang in the middle. After the festival migrated from its birthplace in lower Westheimer's Tower Theater to the Richmond Strip to Shepherd Plaza to Bayou Place to Washington Avenue, could this become the event's permanent home? Let's hope so — with both House of Blues and Warehouse Live in the mix, not to mention a host of cool smaller venues, awesome skyline views, walkability and historic architecture, east Downtown seems like a natural.

Come out for a good time, come for yourselves, but also come on out for Chris Gray. On his way to work the morning after the Mastodon show in late October, the Houston Press music editor was stricken with an apparent heart attack and is currently recovering. This event is in the man's very DNA. No one person alive has done more to foster Houston's astounding local resurgence; no music critic in living memory has been to more shows, taken in more gigs and written about them all with such a knowledgeable and passionate touch. This showcase is Chris Gray's life condensed into one afternoon and evening, and Chris Gray's life sure sounds good. — John Nova Lomax

1201 Fannin

//TENSE// (2 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Electronic Act
Dark-beat duo //TENSE// inhabit the shadowy nexus of leather, skin and sexuality. In a city largely dominated by rap, indie and country, Robert Lane and Mariana Saldana are leading a charge, along with the like-minded Balaclavas, into unknown, terse and strangely comforting musical territories. Since their debut about four years back, they have opened for not only polar opposites Faster Pussycat but also spiritual forebears Nitzer Ebb. Craig Hlavaty

Kristine Mills (3 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Female Vocals, Best Jazz
This is not Kristine Mills's first rodeo. The chanteuse already has an HPMA award for Best Female Vocals weighing down her shelf, and Houston's sultry jazz darling is looking to earn a matching set this year in addition to also netting a nod for Best Jazz. For two decades she has fallen ever upwards, never letting a single piece of music that didn't throb with tremendous beauty appear on her albums. If you haven't heard any of the tracks from her upcoming fourth release As Yet Untitled, a collaboration with David Rice that has been two decades in the making, then you are missing out on the reason she also holds a Best Songwriter HPMA. Mills never fails to strike right at the heart with her uncanny cords, and you'd have to be deaf to deny it. Jef With One F

The Octanes (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Americana
Houston is turning out some of the best Americana music in the country right now, and with Buxton, Literary Greats and Folk Family Revival all taking aim at the same statue, the Octanes have some extremely stiff competition. The edge the Octanes bring to their sound is a much more rockabilly and straight-up Western swing approach: lines of attack that resonate with the more rough-and-tumble element among Houston's music fans. It's a dirty but delightful sound that has earned them multiple nominations in various categories in the past, including a Best Bass nod for the justifiably celebrated Nick Gaitan (also nominated as front man in Umbrella Man), who wanders the Earth laying bass down upon the masses like no other man can. We are hoping to have a follow-up to excellent Lucky Seven sometime in the near future, possibly by the end of 2011. Jef With One F

Diunna Greenleaf (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Soul / Funk / R&B
When you hear Lady Diunna wrap her clear, gospel-steeped contralto around a blues or soul lyric, it's immediately obvious you're hearing the real deal. As leader of her own Blue Mercy band, Aldine native Greenleaf has taken her soul-stirring brand of downhome blues to audiences all over America and Switzerland, Italy, Canada and Asia. Her most recent album, Trying to Hold On, included guest shots from A-listers like Billy Branch, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Rich Del Grosso, "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin and Anson Funderburgh. As her nomination category indicates, her live show often finds her ranging as far beyond the style as Sly and the Stone's funky masterpiece "If You Want Me to Stay," but even so, Greenleaf remains steadfastly devoted to the blues, "especially from a woman's point of view." John Nova Lomax

Ozeal (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Soul / Funk / R&B, Best Keyboards (Paul Viers), Best Miscellaneous Instrument (Isaac Munoz, saxophone)
It's hard to believe that Ozeal doesn't actually have an official release yet, though they are promising us an EP at the dawn of the next year. What we've managed to hear from them speaks of a band that maybe counts as hip-hop and maybe counts as funk. Trying to find a neat little box to shove them in is silly, because what Ozeal is really about is waking your body up for a good time. They combine the fun of the Roots with pure poetic flow and just a little bit of James Brown musk to make for a singularly fresh experience capable of funkifying the most un-funk situations. Paul Viers is also up for Best Keyboards, and while he's not busting out complicated ivory riffs, he does more to set the mood than scented candles and a bearskin rug. Jef With One F

1302 Dallas

Square and Compass (3 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best New Act
Fans of Hot Water Music and Taking Back Sunday — and expert tap guitar — will thrill for Square and Compass, who are relative newcomers to the Houston scene. The five-piece is a sight to see live, all arms and energy, and lead singer Thomas Heard hadn't even helmed a band before joining S&C in the summer of 2010. Craig Hlavaty

Sean Reefer and the Resin Valley Boys (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Country
Brent Best of Slobberbone once said he'd know the band had made it if they ever overcame their own moniker. That assumes, of course, that you're looking for some kind of acceptance by the mainstream community, and Reefer and his Boys have never given anyone that impression. At any given show, you're just as likely to hear rockabilly, Hank Williams Sr. and Western swing as you are to get songs extolling the virtues of controlled substances. Something for everyone, really. Pete Vonder Haar

Chase Hamblin Band (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Pop Artist
Chase Hamblin churns out buttery melodies the way some people sweat, which has made him one of the most beloved Houston roots artists, able to grab fans from all age brackets. The older folks get wowed by his old-school Kinks charm, and the younger folks get their power-pop fix. A new album, Can You See the Beast?, is in the works now, following up 2009's well-received A Fine Time. Craig Hlavaty

The Beans (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Bassist (Daniel Taylor), Best Drummer (Brendan Hall), Best New Act
The Beans' claim to fame seems to be a song about Houston, along with several hundred young, fresh-faced Facebook friends and followers on Twitter. The music is kinda bluesy, kinda psychedelic, kinda they-haven't-figured-out-what-they-are-yet. But the kids seem to like it, as a nice-size crowd showed up at their recent gigs at Rudz and the Continental. Daniel Taylor and Brendan Hall are nominated for Best Bassist and Drummer. William Michael Smith

The Journey Agents (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Soul / Funk / R&B, Best Keyboards (St. Clair)
Why it's the funkster players netting all the Best Keyboard nominations is a little puzzling when you put them up against people like Jennifer Grassman and Meghan Hendley, both of whom went criminally unrecognized. Not that Journey Agents front man St. Clair doesn't deliver the perfect mood when he lays down his lines, but his focus is clearly on being a seductive, fire-breathing mouthpiece. The group has a jazzy, beat poet approach, which is what you'd expect from a band named after a Rahsaan Roland Kirk lyric. This is The Journey Agents' second straight year running for the statue for Best Soul/Funk/R&B, and this band going head to head with Ozeal in the exact same two categories should make for some powerful competition. Personally, we would have liked to see the Journey Agents' B. Miles up in the Best Guitarist race. The man can really shred himself some jazz progressions. Jef With One F

Texas Johnny Brown (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Blues
Immaculate. Tasteful. Classy as a bespoke suit with matching tie and handkerchief, and smooth as iced and aged Cuban rum. That's Texas Johnny Brown, a true hero of blues, vintage R&B and a pioneering early rock and roller. Brown's career spans the decades down from Spotify to 78s — that's him on guitar with Amos Milburn's Chickenshackers way back in 1946, and that's him behind Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ruth Brown on many of her seminal Atlantic sessions. As a songwriter, Brown's best known for penning the title track to Bobby "Blue" Bland's canonical album Two Steps from the Blues. Despite that "Texas Johnny" handle, Brown is actually a Mississippi native, and his Choctaw County hometown of Ackerman recently claimed him forever as a native son, placing a plaque there on the Mississippi blues trail. Trivia: In 1941, the 12-year-old Brown, his blind musician father and their guitar-playing dog appeared in Virginia, a Hollywood film also starring Fred MacMurray, Sterling Hayden and Marie Wilson. John Nova Lomax

1204 Caroline

Kevin Taylor Kendrick (3 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Songwriter
Kevin Taylor Kendrick laughingly describes himself as "playfully endearing," and he comes by that from having grown up as an only child. Kendrick had to figure out how to entertain himself, and he developed a rich imagination. Today, many of his songs about, say, girls, are laced with adventure and exaggerated scenery: castles and majestic mountain ranges and the like. Kendrick delivers those embellished truths with a Dylanesque style and layers the lot with folksy guitar. Matthew Keever

Steve Krase & the In Crowd (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Blues
An oilfield salesman by day, Steve Krase works out his inner demons at night playing harp in front of a big, honking blues band, the In Crowd. A longtime member of the Houston Blues Society and supporter of all things blues in Houston, Krase played harp in Jerry Lightfoot's band for years before forming his own outfit. He's known for stepping up at benefits and for backing up legends like Big Walter "The Thunderbird" at his annual birthday soirees. Being a good old boy is nice, but you won't last in the Houston blues scene if you can't play, and it's Krase's ability and showmanship that keep him bubbling on the scene anywhere from Shakespeare's Pub or the Big Easy to any icehouse or biker bar that will open the doors and provide a stage. William Michael Smith

Folk Family Revival (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Americana
Led by gifted singer and picker Mason Lankford, Folk Family Revival is a band wise beyond its years, with more gig experience under its belt already than most groups of guys twice their age. This year FFR released Unfolding, a surprisingly crisp and sturdy country-inflected album built around Lankford's burly tenor. FFR already plays with the swagger of guys who have been on the red-dirt circuit for decades, without the whine and pomp, so the next few decades of FFR should be a joy to watch. Craig Hlavaty

Clory Martin (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Folk, Best Songwriter, Best Female Vocals, Best Song ("Sunshine")
Originally from Austin, Clory Martin is a singer-songwriter who now (thankfully) calls Houston home. She grew up singing in choirs and playing piano, but eventually chose the guitar, and now her simple chord progressions blend with her strong alto voice and come forth as indie-folk with a bluesy feel — "a smokier Norah Jones," as Press Assistant Music Editor Craig Hlavaty once wrote. Martin has been spending her Wednesday nights at Last Concert Cafe (opening for jam band institution Potroast), and her debut album, Summer Spent, was released in December 2010. Matthew Keever

Brant Lee Croucher (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Country
Since moving back to Houston after chasing the rainbow in Nashville and Austin, Brant Lee Croucher has produced an album of quiet Americana songs called Old Denton Roads. Another showcase performer who got his musical education at the University of North Texas, Croucher was trained as a classical pianist before turning his attention to guitar and songwriting. Lately he's spread his scope a bit and played Blanco's, the Firehouse and the Fairview, where he delivers his songs of love and loss with twanging guitars and a nice fiddle touch. William Michael Smith

Steve Steele (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rock, Best Male Vocals
While primarily a guitar instructor, Steve Steele sallies forth occasionally for a gig. But for all intents and purposes, he's primarily a studio guy, toiling away in front of or behind the knobs, piecing together albums like 2010 release The Expat, his cry of pain about existing in Houston. "The theme of The Expat is being disconnected," Steele has said. "I live in Houston, and I don't feel comfortable here at all." Steele's music is comparable to the stylized modern rock of local favorites Pale. William Michael Smith

813 St. Emanuel

Los Skarnales (3 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Reggae / Ska / Dub, Best LP/CD/EP (Dále Shine!)
During their BestFest performance in September, Los Skarnales showed that after 17 years of making music, they still put the ska in Skarnales. But the bowler-hatted carnales in the band also dip into punk, zydeco, reggae and cumbia and deliver it all with a variety of brass instruments and congas. Since the band's inception all those years ago, there have been more than a few personnel changes — at least three other bands performing at the showcase have former Skarnales players as key members. Out of the current nine-member roster, kinetic front man Felipe Galvan and guitarist Jose Rodriguez are the original founding members. The two keep the spirit of their former punk rock band, Desorden, alive, especially Galvan, whose energy and personality are the band's amped-up central nervous system. Allison Wagoner

Venomous Maximus (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Metal
Venomous Maximus gurgles with the sounds of proto-metal gods Pentagram and Blue Cheer, as well as new-school leaders like High on Fire. The headspace of the heavily tattooed group — lead singer Gregg Higgins slings ink himself — falls somewhere between an Alejandro Jodorowsky film and a New Orleans voodoo den. Hail Satan and pass the chicken feet. The band released a 12-inch EP, The Mission, early this fall. Craig Hlavaty

The Niceguys (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rap Group
Since 2007, the Niceguys have been a tremendous force in the underground rap scene, skyrocketing upwards and performing at SXSW earlier this year. You may be under the impression that the foursome raps only about clothes, but the Niceguys are the epitome of the DIY work ethic, driven to nothing less than perfection in their music no matter how long it takes to achieve. Jef With One F

Hell City Kings (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Local Musician of the Year (Josh Wolf)
Josh Wolf and company's music relies on the three B's of rock: beer, blood and bedlam. Hell City Kings make music to drink, fight and holler along to. Latest release H.C.K. throws punk, sludge metal and noise-core into a blender and flings the contents in your face like a pissed-off chimp. A Kings show is the aural equivalent of getting dragged out of a bar — let's say Lola's — just before closing time and stomped in the alley out back. But in a good way. I guess what I'm saying is, prepare yourselves. Pete Vonder Haar

Hollywood FLOSS (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Songwriter
Even though Houston native Hollywood FLOSS respects his Dirty South roots, he doesn't want to be labeled a "Southern rapper." The 28-year-old rapper/teacher draws influence everywhere from the multilayered verses of Lupe Fiasco to the soulful jazz of Sadé. That's not to say that FLOSS doesn't value his Houston upbringing, as it has subtly shaped his craft since he began rapping professionally in 2005. Artistically, he simply values substance over the shine of 84's and chains. It's this philosophy that he uses with the children he teaches. FLOSS raps about his disdain for the current hip-hop environment and the industry, but he stays positive as he matures each year. He released One Fan at a Time in September, and it was picked up by a few noteworthy hip-hop blogs, including XXL and The Source. Allison Wagoner

Roky Moon & BOLT! (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rock
Like a cross between David Bowie, Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise and that Meat Loaf album your parents used to make out to before you were born, Roky Moon & BOLT! have a distinct way of hugging your eyes and your hips in all the right ways. This year they not only released American Honey, an album largely recorded in a day, but also have gone on sporadic touring jaunts as far west as Marfa. Craig Hlavaty

1209 Caroline

The Abyss (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rock
The Abyss have clawed their way up the scene in Houston inch by painful inch, bringing their angsty rock to an ever wider audience. It took the band awhile to grow on us, and they still have quite a bit to go before they're ready to charge, but listening to "Beautiful Lie" remains a beautiful, spiritual experience, and it's nice to hear something that sounds like the Cure's Bloodflowers. Despite setbacks earlier in the year when the Abyss had to call on the help of Houston's music community to aid in the paying of singer Sean Oliver's son's medical bills after a horrifying accident left his arm looking like the letter "z," they never say die, never give up and keep on rocking. Will it be enough to beat Castle Lights and Roky Moon & BOLT!? If anyone can, it's the Abyss. Jef With One F

Beetle (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Cover / Tribute Act
Beetle is a Thursday-night happy-hour institution at the Continental Club. So much so, I know people who absolutely would not know what to do with their Thursdays if Beetle wasn't onstage churning out the "yeah, yeah, yeahs." The lineup has stayed intact for quite a while now, and that continuity has led to an overall tightening up. But no one comes to these shows for technical excellence or innovation; they come to hear the Beatles' catalog delivered as close to the original as the band can possibly do. Judging by the crowds, Beetle knows the job. William Michael Smith

A Dream Asleep (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Experimental / Noise
Hardcore music is something of a niche field, full of subgenres from screamo to death metal, but it has a loyal group of followers here in Houston. A Dream Asleep, which won the 2010 Houston Press Music Award for Best Hardcore/Noise, is at the head of that movement. This year's agenda includes the planned release of a long-awaited EP in a few months. Recently, the group added second guitarist Rikki Youngblood to the lineup, and front man Mike Seals seems to enjoy the new dynamic in the group's sound. Onstage, A Dream Asleep doesn't just hope for crowd involvement — they force it. From the very first grinding chords, Seals and crew are likely to jump offstage and mosh with their fans, who are always happy to oblige. Matthew Keever

Castle Lights (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Song ("Paint the Stars"), Best Rock, Best Guitarist (Jeremiah Wood), Best Bassist (Aaron Eaves)
This rock trio sort of sneaked up on us this past year, beginning life as Light Parade, before getting our attention with their cover of club gal La Roux's hit single "Bulletproof" and then quickly reeling in newfound fans with their subdued Muse-style anthems. Or are they Coldplay with balls? Not sure. Come see them and decide for yourself. Craig Hlavaty

D.R.U.M. (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Reggae / Ska / Dub
It's hard to argue with the excellence of D.R.U.M. as they enter the running for their 14th HPMA. They've been a constant fixture on the world music and reggae scene, even touring with the Bob Marley Festival and on three other continents. Their full name says everything you need to know about the group, Divine Rhythm United Motion. If we had a category for Best Music Businessman, then D.R.U.M.'s Frank Zweback would win every year just as easily as he captures other awards. The group has harnessed professionalism along with the laid-back accessibility of their sound in order to become a band that's likely to continue succeeding long after the rest of their dwindling number of contemporaries hang it up. Talk about a clash of the Houston music titans: This year, D.R.U.M. is up against Los Skarnales in a single category appearance. We will have to see if Felipe and the boys break D.R.U.M.'s streak. Jef With One F

1800 Texas

Little Joe Washington (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Blues
Out of a Third Ward blues guitar school that has now graduated to the great beyond Albert Collins, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Johnny Guitar Watson and Joe Guitar Hughes, Little Joe Washington is the last man standing. And he's hardly standing still: He's also pedaling his Schwinn from gig to gig, Fender strapped to his back, doing things with it you've never heard before and never will again, and then passing his hat around for tips. After opening with a cover of the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime," Washington brought down the House (of Blues) at last year's showcase, prompting Press Music Editor Chris Gray to opine that the dreadlocked, pint-size master was a national treasure and "the funkiest person on the planet, although he may not actually be from this planet." Call him the Ornette Coleman of the blues guitar. John Nova Lomax

Free Radicals (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Jazz
According to free radical theory, radicals (atoms with unpaired electrons) damage cells in an organism, causing aging. But if anything, Nick Cooper's Free Radicals have become more vital with the passage of time, with prophetic songs about environmental disaster and financial collapse. The band has been as close to a lock as you can have in the Best Jazz category over the last ten-plus years, but the Rads' sound is much, much more; a dizzying amalgam of genres as diverse as Houston itself. Pete Vonder Haar

Screwtape (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Indie / Alternative
Screwtape's name obviously sounds like they'd make rap music, both because the band's leader, Nosaprise, has been rapping in Houston for a few years now and because the moniker looks like a nod to DJ Screw's iconic Grey Tapes legacy. Instead, the band makes indie jams that coat the walls with melody, and Nosaprise manages to sound like — gasp — Elliott Smith on the ballads. And he does so without sounding whiny. So we understand now if your interest has been more than aroused. Get thee to this HPMA showcase slot. Craig Hlavaty

CHangoMan (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Latin
Former Moscas and Chango Jackson bassist/singer/songwriter Tino Ortega fronts this good-timing, thought-provoking American cumbia band. Over the Colombian-born genre's 4/4 infectious hiss-clomp-hiss-clomp beat Americanized with wailing rock guitars, Ortega mixes his own songs of devilish women and American bigots with mind-blowing covers. (Expect to hear anything from "Come Together" to "Sex Machine" to "We Will Rock You.") And make no mistake: The cumbia will rock you; few beats on Earth so powerfully compel you to shake your ass. PS: Watch out for impromptu conga lines and/or flying tamales. John Nova Lomax

Melovine (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Metal
Melovine is a Galveston power trio that veers between metal and alternative rock. Regulars at joints like Scout Bar and the 19th Hole, the band has released three EPs since forming in 2004 and has now recorded a full-length album, Blight. It features solid musicianship and songwriting and shows a band that has just had a huge growth spurt. Recently, they've been hitting the road to far-off destinations like El Paso, where they shared the bill with national touring act Chevelle. William Michael Smith

1800 Texas

Vivian Pikkles & The Sweethearts Über Alles (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Punk / Garage
Call them bratty, sexy and grimy, but don't call Vivian Pikkles & The Sweethearts Über Alles shrinking violets. This punk quartet began as a Breeders tribute group about a year back, before quickly turning into a straight-ahead gig for lead singer April Patrick — you should remember her from GUITARS — and bassist Anna Garza. The pair melded while working the GirlsRock camps and soon formed the Sweethearts. The band also includes Matthew Hall and Something Fierce's Niki Seven on drums and guitar, respectively. Craig Hlavaty

Zydeco Dots (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Zydeco
With a career spanning almost a quarter century and a regional following one could conservatively describe as "passionate," the Zydeco Dots can easily claim "musical institution" status in and around the Bayou City. They've had a stranglehold on the Best Zydeco category for some time, but complacency has never seeped into their live shows, which go off with the enthusiasm you'd expect more from a band that hasn't been together since the second Reagan administration. One thing though — could you update that Web page, www.zydecodots.com, fellas? Pete Vonder Haar

Frankie G Da Mex (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Latin
Frankie G Da Mex is a rapper out of Fifth Ward-adjacent Denver Harbor, where he grew up with gangs, drugs and violence, and it all shows up in his lyrics, which are primarily set to Southern beats. He has some interesting production flourishes, such as the creepy yet mesmerizing voice and acoustic guitar reciting the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" before a neat segue into his rap, "Deep." His current release is DaMex Tape. Don't expect political correctness. William Michael Smith

Something Fierce (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best LP/CD/EP (Don't Be So Cruel), Best Song ("Future Punks"), Best Punk / Garage
Amongst all your Robert Ellises, Fat Tonys, Buns and Slims, Houston trio Something Fierce often get overlooked for all the vast praise they have gotten nationally for their brand of hepped-up garage-punk. This year the band released Don't Be So Cruel on influential label Dirtnap Records, went on a national tour and just got added to SXSW's 2012 festivities. The infectious "Future Punks" from Cruel is nominated for Best Song this year as well. Craig Hlavaty

Sideshow Tramps (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Americana, Best Miscellaneous Instrument (Geoffrey Mueller, saw), Best LP/CD/EP (Revelator), Best Song ("John the Revelator")
Possessed by demonic angels that would be equally at home in oystershell Montrose back alleys and hickory smoke-redolent old weird American barnyards, Sideshow Tramps shows are equal parts hambone hoedowns and apocalyptic breakdowns. Country, bluegrass, punk, blues, soul, Gypsy swing and gospel are all trampled under the feet of these young neo-traditionalist Catholic school grads. At a Tramps show, the wall between band and audience is utterly abolished. The band's long early-and-mid-2000s run of shows at Helios has become the stuff of Houston music legend now, and on new album Revelator, they sound like nothing less than the beginning and the end of American music. And that's a good thing. John Nova Lomax

801 St. Emanuel

H.I.S.D (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rap Group
Contemporary rap mostly falls in one of two categories: granite hard or gooey soft. Hueston Independent Spit District has found that sweet, supple spot in the middle. Untrammeled by convention, the rapidly ascending alt-rap crew moves independent of the currents of modern hip-hop. Their playful poetry recalls De La Soul; their woozy loops and bass drops bear traces of Pete Rock. After three albums, H.I.S.D. has now evolved into one of Houston's deadliest groups. The rhymes are clever, of course, fresh and gnomic and just fancy enough. Their energy is in the music, too, with light, lighthearted beats that make it plausible to drop down and do the wop. And it don't stop. Rizoh

Monica Matocha (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Female Vocals, Best Pop Artist
If you have children and a Sirius/XM subscription, chances are you've heard Monica's former band, #1 Crush, on Radio Disney. Now a solo artist, this Woodlands native seems less bent on crafting an artificial persona (à la other House of Mouse alumnae Britney and Miley) than on building cred as a singer-songwriter. Her debut single "Impostor" is now available on iTunes, and a solo album is on the way. Check her out at the showcase and you might be able to say you knew her way back when. Pete Vonder Haar

The Manichean (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Indie / Alternative
The Manichean is unsettling, and not for the same reasons that, say, an expired gas station tuna salad sandwich is unsettling. The Manichean is unsettling because the band makes you think, from its manic live shows featuring lead singer Cory Sinclair going into the audience in a trance, to the challenging, unnerving music that comes forth from this Montrose-based crew. Craig Hlavaty

The Mighty Orq (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Blues, Best Guitarist
One of Orq's better tunes is called "The Sweet In-Between," and that's a great description for his wheelhouse. He's neither rocker nor bluesman, but he's beyond adept at fusing the two, harnessing the steadfast emotion of the blues to rock's flights of fancy. A deep-voiced singer with a flavorsome guitar style, Orq can shift between power-trio rock band mode and a National Steel solo acoustic setting with a graceful aplomb rare in performers decades more seasoned. He's also a genius with a cover; you won't forget his seamless blend of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" and Prince's "Kiss." There ain't no particular style he's more compatible with. Orq just wants your extra time and your...kiss. John Nova Lomax

Otenki (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best LP/CD/EP (Kinetic), Best Song ("Ghosts"), Best Male Vocals (German Hernandez), Best Rock, Best Guitarist (Fausto Padilla), Best Drummer (Chris Kelly), Best Bassist (Josh Tenorio), Best Keyboardist (Colton Majors)
Take a dash of pop, a hint of rock and roll, cook it on high and sprinkle a little alternative on top, and you'll have the closest recipe to that of Otenki, a Houston six-piece that has been playing shows and acquiring the ears of fans for the better part of a decade now. The band mixes in-your-face instrumentation with high-end vocal lines that smooth out the sound; band manager and guitarist Enoma Asowata believes the resulting accessibility is one of Otenki's greatest strengths. No matter your musical taste, Asowata is sure that he and his band have a song you can connect with. Otenki also takes relationships with fans seriously and, with the help of social media, they do a lot to let them know the band is there for them. "It's really humbling to get tweets and e-mails from kids in places like the Dominican Republic saying that they're starting a fan club for us," Asowata says. "I hope we're around for a while so they can get more music from us, and we can enjoy them a little longer." Matthew Keever

1201 Caroline

Rivers (4 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best New Act
Young blues-metal trio Rivers reminds us of Mudhoney and Blue Cheer, with an extra dose of Mark Arm's nihilism and a healthy dash of The Cult's mysticism. Their first set of seven songs, entitled Mind Your Mind, was self-released and distributed (we got a burned disc), and will smoke out your car like Willie Nelson on the way to Whataburger. Craig Hlavaty

Electric Attitude (5 p.m.)
Nominated In: Soul / Funk / R&B, Best Miscellaneous Instrument
The purist may balk at the nomination of Electric Attitude in the Soul/Funk/R&B category, as there is little in their sound of what you might consider true funk, but they do at least come up with good, sexy dance music. The band has been on a roll, doing six shows in two days at SXSW and opening for Semi-Precious Weapons and Dengue Fever, both red-hot national acts. The music is loud and primal, bringing to mind the early Detroit rock/soul fusions or a richer version of the White Stripes. We confess we haven't caught them live yet, and the recordings featured online don't really give any indication of what netted James Murphy a nod as a saxophonist, but any man who can keep up with Jordan Bell's guitars and Joe Ramirez's drums is clearly a force to reckon with. Jef With One F

Finnegan (6 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best New Act
Led in part by Houston musical dynamos Dwight Taylor Lee and Sara Van Buskirk, Finnegan has to have the heaviest soft touch in Houston. With Buskirk's titanic vocals — she's a wonder in her own solo right — trampling down the warpaths of their compositions, they recall the Arcade Fire if only Win and Regine had a jones for volume instead of spookiness. Craig Hlavaty

The Literary Greats (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Americana, Best CD/LP/EP (Black Blizzard)
Last year, The Literary Greats received more HPMA nods than any other artist. With good reason: The five-piece has climbed the college-radio charts and built massive followings both here and in Austin. Folk, country and rock music come together in a gigantic edifice of sound that could only come from brawny-shouldered Houston. This year's Black Blizzard is nominated for album of the year, and it's easy to see why. It builds on the strengths of the band's first two records and adds an ineffable layer of intricacies that you can only call audible maturity. Matthew Keever

Gene's Addiction (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Cover / Tribute Act
It must be a tough row to hoe being a KISS tribute band, considering that there's already a highly successful one with a huge budget that tours constantly under the name KISS. You have to give Mike Campion credit. Hearing him sing "Deuce" is miles better than listening to the Demon himself do it these days. Not to mention that Michael Emerson and Gready Hunter are tremendous guitarists. We don't know if they can out-write Paul and Ace, but we're willing to bet they can outplay them at this point. Gene's Addiction deserves major kudos for their massive sets and musical accuracy, though we have to say from a purely costuming standpoint everyone but Campion kind of phones it in. Seriously, guys, wigs and leather aren't that expensive. Jef With One F

813 St. Emanuel

Umbrella Man (7 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Bassist (Nick Gaitan), Best Drummer (Brian Shoppell)
Calling a mélange of Gulf Coast musical styles a "gumbo" is a cliché, so we'll call what Nick Gaitan whips up for his Umbrella Man project a "caldo" instead. It's a tasty H-Town stew, equal parts blues, Tejano, swamp pop, rockabilly, ska, cumbia, and vintage rock and roll, all roiling with a steady swing. When he's not thumping the bull fiddle alongside Umbrella Man bandmates Bart Maloney (steel guitar), Brian Shoppell (drums) and Roberto Rodriguez (accordion), Gaitan (formerly of Los Skarnales) fills the same role in both fellow HPMA nominees the Octanes and in Billy Joe Shaver's road band. The legendary honky-tonk hero even recorded Gaitan's 2009 song "I've Found My Weakness in You." Chances are Gaitan's band will find your weakness, too. John Nova Lomax

Ryan Scroggins & the Trenchtown Texans (8 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Reggae / Ska / Dub, Best Song ("Devil Box")
Like his predecessor to this stage Nick Gaitan, Scroggins is a veteran of Los Skarnales, but Scroggins has remained much more fixedly devoted to the Jamaican sounds that put the "ska" in that band's name. Which is not to say he's a hardshell traditionalist — the band continues to evolve away from Trenchtown and more towards Texas, with more steel guitar, fiddle and harmonica coming to the fore of late. Here's what Music Editor Chris Gray had to say earlier this year about the band's two new CDs: "Both Move to the Country and Folk Devils blend the unhurried (but never lazy) tropical rhythms of reggae, ska and dub with more native sounds like easygoing harmonica blues, jug-band bluegrass and sinewy Latin guitar leads. The result is some mesquite-smoked roots reggae that takes its time, and an ideal soundtrack for the sultry summer nights we've been having lately." John Nova Lomax

thelastplaceyoulook (9 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rock, Best Male Vocals (Justin Nava), Best Songwriter (Justin Nava), Best Drummer (Mikey Garcia), Best Song ("Band to Save Me")
Modern-rock radio fans already know thelastplaceyoulook from their catchy-as-sin radio single "Band to Save Me" and lead singer Justin Nava's husky vocals. The band has been a mainstay on the rock circuit here in Houston for years, playing packed gigs at Warehouse Live at least every other month without oversaturating their fan base. Back in October they played the main stage at 94.5 The Buzz's biannual Buzzfest in The Woodlands and turned plenty of heads, even when playing at half past 1 p.m. Craig Hlavaty

The Tontons (10 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Female Vocals (Asli Omar), Best Indie / Alternative
The Tontons may have left their record label and struck off on their own, but this young band bears watching closely. They've built a loyal following with loud, over-the-top performances that highlight magnetic singer Asli Omar's killer vocals. Their EP "Golden" is making nice waves and helping them widen their touring range. And they represented H-Town well in the first annual Houston Press BestFest, where they were paired up with national touring acts and seemed to easily hold their own. They have as good a chance as any band on the indie scene right now to break out with their next release. William Michael Smith

1515 Pease Street

DJ Mr. Rogers (10 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Rap DJ
Like bass players, there is a big, thick line between acceptable DJs and exceptional DJs. Mr. Rogers falls firmly in the latter category. He is a true mix master, not just a human jukebox. His ability to find the perfect buttery pat within a song and siphon off its energy into the whole of the set while leaving behind the filler is legendary, as is his ability to size up a crowd and tailor his choices. When he's not spinning, Rogers spends his time working with the Pink Ribbons Project, organizing local rap appearances, or personally mentoring young DJs by aiding them in purchasing equipment. The man is a true star on the rise, literally one good MC away from buying the world like the rest of us buy Baconators. You'd better catch him before he's gone. Jef With One F

DJ Bizonee (10:30 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Club DJ/DJ Night
Despite being a young thirtysomething, DJ Bizonee is already a veteran of the record-wreckin' game, having gotten his start as a 12-year-old tyke behind the decks at University of Houston frat parties. By 16 he was spinning for corporate shindigs and over the airwaves of KRBE, where he hosted a Friday-night mix show and appeared on Atom Smasher's show as "Wilbur the Intern." Since then, he's been holding it down at the Bronx Bar in the Village, whipping up "Sunday Fundae" at Midtown's Escobar, and moving the masses at Sawyer Park, the grandaddy of all Washington Avenue's fabled bro-hallas. Bizonee stakes his success on his wide and deep playlists – he's equally adept an energizing a '90s tribute night and thrilling the up-to-the-minute hard house cognoscenti. John Nova Lomax

GRRRL Parts (11 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Club DJ / DJ Night
GRRRL Parts snagged the win in this category last year, and we'll see if Gab-E and Natasha Ninjason do it again in 2011. Since 2008, the duo has remained one of the hardest working DJ acts in the city, and they continue to make the every-other-Thursday Haters Make Us Famous night at Boondocks one of the best events in town. There are some people who think a DJ needs testosterone to get people up and dancing, but we imagine that those people just have too much meat in their heads to hear the awesomeness laid down by GRRRL Parts. Want to argue: Take it up with Deadmau5, who deemed GRRRL Parts worthy to share a stage. Jef With One F

DJ Sun (11:30 p.m.)
Nominated In: Best Club DJ/DJ Night
Talk about an appropriate handle: If there's any one word to describe DJ Sun's jazz-inflected downtempo "soular grooves" music it is, without a doubt, very simply "warm." And just as the sun rises every day in the east and settles sleepily into the west, so too does this DJ grace pretty much each and every HPMA ballot with his life-giving presence. What's more, it seems like the Suriname-born DJ has been around ever since the Big Bang, giving life to Houston audiences by radiating beams of funky old soul and rickety old reggae. Overall, a DJ Sun set goes down like a shot of the very best tequila chased by a fresh juicy lime. John Nova Lomax

Gritsy (midnight)
Nominated In: Best Club DJ/DJ Night
Combining reggae/dub's throbbing low-end, facets of garage and two-step, and a veneer of Dizzee Rascal-type grime, Gritsy's dubstep music has been slowly carving out a niche for itself in Houston nightlife since the collective, headed by longtime club fixture Suraj K – first brought the sound here from South London in 2006. Expect an aural assault of seismographic proportions, especially if Gritsy releases the Kraken that is their "Aura Systems Wall of Bass." John Nova Lomax


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