In the past year or so, both Rocks Off and our staff have written over and over about how impressed we are with the talent and diversity of Houston's current crop of local musicians, wondering many times out loud, in print and online just how long we're going to be able to keep this fertile scene a secret. More recently, we've been moderating (or at least monitoring) a spirited online discussion about how many of those artists are even interested in courting a wider audience, down to the most basic local grass-roots level. After Buxton's brief set Tuesday at Walter's, we realized just how fast the clock may be ticking whether those artists like it or not. Opening for Warpaint (a stunning L.A. quartet reminiscent of an all-female Disintegration-era Cure; catch 'em at SXSW) and Akron/Family (by which point we were long gone), Buxton debuted several new songs that burnished the wide-eyed folk-rock of the quartet's 2008 debut A Family Light with thickets of gruff electric guitars, scruffy harmonies (exacting in spirit if not quite in sound) and a haunted air crackling with the ghosts of Americana past and present.
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Early in the set, songs like "Down In the Valley" and "Bread" dropped those old and new elements into a musical steel cage and let them battle it out, emerging as trail-rider yodels riddled by the machine-gun guitars of singer Sergio Trevino, constantly bobbing-and-weaving lead man Jason Willis and extra hand Austin Sepulvado. It wasn't far away from the fire-and-brimstone folk of one of Aftermath's favorite bands of the late '90s, Denver country-Goths 16 Horsepower, especially when Trevino broke out a banjo and began shouting at the devil on "Satan." But just when we were wondering what Buxton must have done to incur such serious hellhounds on their trail - especially for five guys still so young and genuinely nice (see below) - they snapped back like a rubber band with perky Beatlesque rocker "Doctor," Sepulvado's handy-dandy tambourine pacing both bassist Chris Wise and drummer Justin Terrell. Closer "Feathers" did the same, only with the Pete Townshend surround-sound guitar effect upped by a factor of 10.
It was the song in between, though, that really brought Buxton - and, to a lesser extent, everything that's been going on at Walter's, Mango's, the Mink, etc. in the past few months - into focus. A patchwork of ethereal vocals and rootsy grit, "Boy" was but an eyelash away (if that) from the everything-old-is-somehow-new-again sound of contemporary indie darlings like Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and Blitzen Trapper. Watching that song especially, Aftermath couldn't help but think that if we were in Chicago, Seattle or Brooklyn instead of Houston, the local blogosphere would already be beside itself about Buxton and the band would have at least one Pitchfork festival, Sasquatch or All Tomorrow's Parties appearance under its belt, plus a booking agent forced to turn down gigs right and left. Hell, judging by the number of cameras and media wags at the show - which filled up immediately after the doors finally opened around 9 p.m. - we may already be more like those cities than we know. But this is still Houston, a point driven home by something that happened before Buxton even played a note. While Aftermath and a couple of colleagues were waiting in line to get in, we ran into Wise coming out of the club. At that moment, he realized that he had forgotten to put us on the guest list and slipped us a $20 bill. We gave it back to him, of course, but in a scene that's still uncertain about how it measures up elsewhere, it's gestures like this that only confirm what's going on in Houston now is like no place else. And we couldn't be happier to be part of it.