April 16, 2016
Ever since my first visit to the new venue, I’ve wondered what it would be like to catch a show at Raven Tower when the weather wasn’t quite cooperating. The main stage in the place resides inside an old, aluminum metal fabrication shop with most of the sides cut out, leaving the roof intact but exposing occupants to most of the elements. It’s a great setup to get a little breeze going in the summertime, but what happens when that breeze kicks up into something more?
When I showed up at Raven Tower on Saturday night for Guilla’s Children of the Sun album release concert, a cool, fierce wind was whipping through the place, causing the lights over the stage to sway back and forth and absolutely wrecking ladies’ hairstyles. The wind roaring in our ears was a little concerning, especially as the threat of a downpour loomed. But it was exciting, too, because the musicians onstage would have to blow twice as fiercely just to be heard. And I knew enough about these local performers to suspect they’d be up to the task.
It’s a bit of a bold move to open up a hip-hop album release concert with a rock trio, but the novelty of Mojave Red’s fuzzy, falsetto psych-pop seemed to be appreciated by the folks who turned out early. It was certainly more interesting than the Jay Z and Drake tunes that the DJ had been tiding us over with, at any rate. The local three-piece grooved through a short set before ceding the stage to Kyle Hubbard, who came prepared with new tunes, free T-shirts and a slew of special guests. Fellow Houston MC Fullmetal came through for a fun, bouncy number, and local hall-of-famer Chase Hamblin helped out with another impressive rendition of the slightly haunting “Not Without a Scar” from Hubbard’s Majestic Hotel album.
The song I was most excited to hear, though, was “Same Old Song,” the (ironically, I guess?) brand-new track from Hubbard’s surprise Four Free EP release last Friday. T2 the Ghetto Hippie appeared to tell the whole crowd he wished to inhale marijuana with each of them individually, and then he and Kyle smoked Hubbard’s most dripped-out tune to date. The set was another very strong performance overall from Hubbard — one that wouldn’t be easy to top on the evening.
Luckily, Bizzythowed showed up next to cleanse our hip-hop palate before Guilla’s main course was served. Bizzy is an interesting character — the Third Ward native has worked in the studio with the likes of the Weeknd and Nicki Minaj, but he also happens to sing and play a mean guitar as well. Backed by live drums and bass, he had Raven Tower rocking hard with some heavy, Rage Against the Machine-inspired riffs on his flame-top Gibson. It wasn’t all headbanging, though: A searing guitar solo performed with his teeth melted into an easy, reggae skank that raised a few eyebrows under the awning.
“I’m from Houston; I like to chill out and smoke my weed,” offered Bizzythowed as a fairly acceptable explanation/apology.
The wind was picking up as producer and hype man iLL FADED kept the crowd warm, but the rain, miraculously enough, didn’t seem to start coming down until Guilla popped out of nowhere, rapping from his diaphragm in the middle of the crowd. He started us off with a new song, the hard-hitting “Stare Into the Sun,” from his celestial new disc, Children of the Sun, and Raven Tower was feeling him from the jump.
Clearly buoyed by the love in the building (well, shed, anyway), Guilla tore through all the best cuts from his new record — often with a little help from his friends. A woman who looked and sounded eerily similar to the Suffers’ Kam Franklin — minus the trademark Afro, of course — stopped by to assist with the hook on the driving, spacey “Cosmic Heartbeat,” and Guilla earned my undying respect by becoming what must be the first Houston rapper to collaborate with a real live opera singer when Houston Grand Opera soprano Alicia Gianni provided the pipes on “Death of Tomoe.” That was something I didn’t know I needed to see until I saw it.
As his lyrical references to light sabers and laser gats made transparent, Guilla’s Children of the Sun has something of an outer-space theme to it, and the rapper came dressed for the role of a sci-fi villain, stalking the front of the stage, shirtless, sporting a wicked pair of welder’s goggles. Not everything he spat was of cosmic concern, however. Older cuts “Groupie Love” and “Stack That Cheese,” the latter featuring a motor-mouthed guest spot from Roosh Williams, kept things grounded in the hip-hop essentials. The crowd liked those two songs a lot, even if they sounded almost as if they’d come from a different artist than the man who had just been rapping about supernovas.
Frankly, not many of Guilla’s fans in attendance knew the new stuff by heart yet. This was, after all, the record-release show. But it sounded so slick that they’re going to, and soon — especially if Guilla brings the same excitement and energy to every performance that he delivered under the Raven Tower.
Personal Bias: Never could choose between Trek and Wars.
The Crowd: Happy to be catching a show at one of Houston’s newest hot spots.
Overheard in the Crowd: “I honestly can’t tell if it’s raining right now.”
Random Notebook Dump: The roof of the Raven Tower ain’t the nicest place to be in the middle of a windy thunderstorm, especially after a light dappling of whiskey and mezcal. But I sure wasn’t the only one up there who needed to discover that for himself.