Here at Aftermath, we're aware that some people don't always appreciate a good festival, especially when in terms of the logistics: attendance requires you to stay in relatively one place for an extended period of time and share the same small set of bathrooms with the same set of people for hours on end, amongst other potential inconveniences (say, blistering temperatures at outdoor events). However, Aftermath is certainly a fan of the concept behind a good festival, as we believe that such parties, when held with any sort of regularly, can serve as a premier chance for a city's local music scene to display its strength. Case in point: both our HPMA's back in July and Free Press Houston's Summer Fest in August brought out Bayou City music lovers in massive droves, all for the chance to view a substantive, almost authoritative blend of Houston's best and brightest performers. So, we decided to indulge our need to listen to live music for hours on end once more and dropped by The Mink this past Saturday evening to catch The Festival. Created and curated by Alkari bassist Jason Smith, the night brought together a rather eclectic cast of characters, ranging from the whip-smart wordplay of Nosaprise, energetic funk-rock of Electric Attitude, folk-pop stylings of Elaine Greer, hook-laden indie rock of the Pons and most musical points in between.
In total, 12 different acts plied their trade on this night, making great use of both the upstairs and downstairs stages at the Mink. Of marked note is the fact that the sound guys and event organizers appeared to keep a steady hand on the shaky tiller that is any festival schedule, resulting in a rather smooth flow between performances. There were more than a few highlights from this evening, but few stood out more than the sets from Benjamin Wesley, The Manichean and the Blind Pets. The beauty of catching Wesley's set nearly every time he plays around town the man's growing status as Houston's own musical wunderkind, one who's unafraid to try out fresh songs, curious set list formats and tweaked arrangements of songs you just thought you knew. Yes, it's almost become passé to heap praise upon the creative juices flowing through this guy's veins, but you'd have to be dead to the world to not be able to appreciate how deftly and effortlessly he bends, twists and reshapes the concept of a basic folk-pop song. Midway through hearing a new track from Wesley, complete with grimy, phaser-heavy guitars playing Afro-beat riffs over a danceable Caribbean beat, we were touched with a wee bit of chagrin. We realized that he was opening the Festival, meaning that only a few people were there to see him: this guy should have headlined the event and blown the roof off the joint.
Later on that night, we drifted upstairs to watch The Manichean, a band we've been meaning to catch for months now. Suffice to say, it was actually worth the wait, as this eight-person, straight-out-of-art-school collective won us over with its brand of freaked-out folk-rock. Mixing together a heady collage of sounds and instruments (including tenor saxophone, djembe, and violin), the overall effect was one of a hoedown repurposed for some indie-rock performance art, something straight out of Faulkner-meets-Vonnegut with a much less pretentious version of Conor Oberst writing the score. The lead singer's magnetic personality and spoken word bits almost stole the show, but he always knew how to hand things back to his band, and they were always ready to start romping and rocking through a fresh series of builds and breaks.
Directly following that outstanding bit of musicianship, we made our way back down the staircase, past couples both hipster and preppy actively making out, to take in the sounds of The Blind Pigs, a band we'd never heard before. Well, we certainly know them now, as our eardrums were gleefully and willfully blasted to shreds by the loud, aggressive punk rock from this Austin trio. Featuring a drummer who banged the skins like Animal from The Muppet Show and a guitar player/singer who brazenly meshed together punk, garage and bluesy '70s psychedelic rock, there was some amazing hard-rock fury on display from these guys. The tiny room that passes for the downstairs stage at The Mink was filled to overflowing for 30 minutes with a host of relentless, searing songs powered by a big, sweaty mix of distortion and overdrive. Bands of this nature serve to remind us just how much we love actual punk rock.
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Was everything we heard enjoyable? Not necessarily, but that's the nature of any festival. When you bring together 12 quite varied acts over the course of six or so hours across two stages, not all of the bands are going to shine in comparison to those bands that absolutely wowed you. The point remains - a scene that's as strong as Houston's (and it's only going to get stronger) should be able to support happenings like The Festival at the Mink with some sort of regularity. There's no reason that organizers of all shapes, sizes, styles and genre preferences shouldn't be able to put together a festival of some sort every six-eight weeks or so. Yes, we are definite fans of what Omar Afra has been doing with the reborn Westheimer Block Parties - both Spring and Fall editions of recent vintage - but we feel that Houston can do even more. Kudos to you, Jason Smith, for believing in the music of your city enough to set up The Festival at the Mink - we're looking forward to seeing what you might decide to create next.