A man is standing in the upstairs room of Avant Garden (411 Westheimer) clad in a lace-trimmed camisole. After we talk to him for a few minutes, however, his androgynous attire becomes only about the eighth most interesting thing about him.
This gentleman is taking in the final installment of a weekly Sunday-night experimental-music series called They, Who Sound. It's basically an hour or two of musicians — usually featuring Nameless Sound and TWS founder David Dove — trying to improvise the scary end part of Radiohead's "How to Disappear Completely" from Kid A.
Either you think what the TWS people are doing is brilliant or unbearable — it's like a Saturday Night Live skit. But we digress.
Camisole Top, 25, has an English degree from U of H. He's also voluntarily homeless. (FYI, voluntarily homeless people smell exactly like regular homeless people.)
Complementing his femme blouse are knee-high mismatched socks — both of which look like they might possibly belong to a costume — jean shorts with patches sewn all over them and a shaggy, full-grown beard.
This young man goes by Cap'n Kittens, he tells us. Historically, anyone who's ever had a variation of "Captain" preceding their name — as in Kangaroo, Jack Sparrow, Kirk, Morgan, etc. — has been wildly entertaining. There's no telling what kind of crazy shit Cap'n Crunch was getting into when he discovered Crunch Berries.
Cap'n Kittens is no different. His backstory is a little hazy, but filtering out his talk about fascism and anticonsumerism, here's what we could piece together.
He was, he says, taken in by a cat to live with her and her kittens after he got lost in the woods. Then he joined a Mexican circus at the behest of a restaurant cook.
He goes on to tell us about possible molestation — by old men, not the cook, nor the cat, for that matter — and occasional countrywide hitchhiking treks with a coalition of other roamers called the Rainbow Gathering that the federal government might hate.
As strange as Cap'n Kittens' tale is, he fits in perfectly here.
Avant Garden has been Montrose's main after-dark cultural center, offering dang near every kind of artsy event you can think of, for about 13 years — just not always under that name. It opened in 1996 as the Mausoleum, went by Helios from 2001 to 2006, and assumed its present moniker in 2007.
Prior to that, it was, among other things, a private residence, halfway home and crack house. Howard Hughes is said to have played here as a child, although we must have missed that part in The Aviator. In total, AG has survived a 100-plus-year history to become the cornerstone of Lower Westheimer alt-life.
"I was here a lot when it was Mausoleum," says Kittens, who is far more eloquent than one would reasonably expect a guy who spends a significant time digging through trash to be. "It was more bohemian then. It's changed quite a bit — tonight [during TWS] I wanted to bounce around and bang into things, but everyone looked so stuffy."
He has a point, but that's due in large part to the nature of the performance. For example, the regular Sunday-night Argentine tango event that follows shortly after TWS is anything but stuffy.
Usually, anywhere from ten to 12 pairs of people spin and strut across the upstairs room, which makes for some pretty remarkable viewing. But if tango isn't for you, AG offers up a multitude of other bohemian events, each drawing its own particular crowd — jazz, poetry, fire spinners, live art sessions, charity events and so on.
In the end, Avant Garden is almost exactly how you picture, and hope, a renovated two-story house turned alt-hangout should be: lots of greenery, an expansive back patio, ample parking — this is still Houston, y'all — and plenty of genuine character (and characters) inside.
Should you happen to favor shopping at Armani Exchange and hanging out at trendy/exclusive joints where wearing such threads matters, though, you might be better served watching two hours of Kenan Thompson sketches on SNL. Man, that guy is awful.
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If you're curious, get to know Cap'n Kittens for yourself at his MySpace page — of course homeless guys have MySpace pages; it's 2009, you caveman — at www.myspace.com/capnkittens. Browsing the pictures, you can almost see the legend of Cap'n Kittens unfold.
Meanwhile, Dove and Lucas Gorham, two of Houston's premiere experimental performers, play as part of the Screwed Anthologies event October 30 at La Botanica (2316 Elgin). More information is available at www.labotanica.org.
"Experimental music can take on any influence," says Dove, explaining how to connect his music to that of DJ Screw. "It's music that reflects the feel of a place, and you hear that in all music regardless of genre." We just hope Lil' KeKe shows up, because seeing him in the same room as a guy playing a steel lap guitar would blow our brains out.