There's no other way to say this except to say it: Houston has a lot of music venues, a lot of music venues, but most of the high-profile shows around here get routed into a handful of places. This happens for any number of reasons, most of them financial: Very few promoters in town can afford to put up enough money for the kind of talent that draws big crowds, and they're either affiliated with the city's biggest music venues or own them outright.
But the Houston music scene hardly stops there, and this list is about those other places. It's not part of Rocks Off's "Rest of the Best" series, which will resume Friday. This category is even more subjective. Creature of habit that I am, I wanted to write this as a way of encouraging our readers -- and myself -- to go exploring a little more often. Looking over the list, a couple of patterns emerged. None of these places are terribly big. A few are downtown, but only on the very, very outskirts. The East End did well (and I could have included a couple more), but only a couple are in Montrose and the Heights. The majority have been around for years and years and years.
It was difficult to capture these places with just one word. They are definitely off the scene's beaten track, some more than others, but "underrated" and "underappreciated" didn't really fit. The people who do pay cover and play shows here seem to appreciate them just fine. So because it's also a musical term, I settled on "unsung." I think that works.
10. WALTERS After its protracted move from Washington Avenue, and especially now that it has its own parking lot, Walters has settled quite nicely into its new spot at the tippy-toe of downtown. It might have been higher on this list, but its booking calendar is growing so crowded with both top-notch locals (Grandfather Child, Indian Jewelry) and touring acts (Deerhoof, Dysrhythmia) it's getting tough to call Walters "unsung" anymore. 1120 Naylor, waltersdowntown.com.
9. ANDERSON FAIR Like Walters, Anderson Fair might be higher on this list if it hadn't already been plenty celebrated elsewhere, specifically alumni Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and others singing the praises of the "retail restaurant" in the award-winning 2010 documentary For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair. These days local and regional singer-songwriters such as Shake Russell, Wendy Colonna and Matt the Electrician carry on the tradition, while Wayne Wilkerson and Ken Gaines host the long-running Thursday songwriters showcase. 2007 Grant, www.andersonfair.com.
8. RUDYARD'S Oh, Rudyard's. Besides one of the city's most competetive darts leagues (and that delicious burger), Rudz has been one of Houston's most important incubators of local bands for what feels like generations. Many of them come back long after they technically "outgrow" the cramped upstairs room, just to hear themselves mixed by sound engineer Joe Omulchuck's alchemic talents. 2010 Waugh, www.rudyardspub.com.
This Clear Lake alt-rock mecca may not be the average indie-loving inner-looper's cup of tea, but it's hard to imagine anyone at Scout Bar loses a lot of sleep about it. The walls are festooned with autographed guitars and tattoo-heavy promo photos, the sound system could turn one of those Saturn rockets over at NASA on its side, and the service is friendly and fast. Scout Bar takes both rock and roll and its customers seriously. 18307 Egret Bay Blvd., www.scoutbar.com.
6. AVANTGARDEN Already legendary in local-music circles from its days as the beloved Helios, AvantGarden is an appropriately eclectic venue for one of the country's most comopolitan cities (and neighborhoods). Right now live music is restricted to Mondays -- with the avant-garde Free Radicals and even more avant Nameless Sound players -- and most Fridays, usually some sort of jazz-rootsy group like the Beans or Kelly Doyle Trio. Other times it could be hosting belly dance, comedy, a sketching class or good old-fashioned socializing, which ought to give you some idea of what a crossroads of bohemian ideas AvantGarden really is. 411 Westheimer, www.avantgardenhouston.com.
5. WHITE SWAN It's a little difficult to find out what's going on at the White Swan at any given moment -- they never call, they never write, but both the owners and bands who play there update the Swan's Facebook page often enough that it seems like things are going OK. Now the preserve of intimitading metalcore bands like Slut Puppie and Smells Like Someone Died, the decades-old venue near the Houston Ship Channel's Turning Basin could well outlast the cockroaches. 4419 Navigation Blvd., that Facebook page.
Another Eastside mainstay that's been around a while, D&W is anchored these days by Nick Gaitan & the Umbrella Man, whose Gulf Coast Tex-Mex sounds have helped steer rootsy regional acts like Austin honky-tonk singer Amanda Cevallos and San Antonio polka-rockers Los Nahuatlatos over to "Segundo Barrio." 911 Milby, Facebook page.
3. DAN ELECTRO'S GUITAR BAR It's hard to think of a cooler single visual effect at a local venue than the constellation-like ceiling of Dan Electro's, especially since some of the music can get pretty trippy. If it rocks, or if it's got some blues in it, it'll probably end up here. Dan's can also get some pretty interesting visitors, like former Dwight Yoakam guitarist Pete Anderson, who makes a return trip Thursday night. 1031 E. 24th St., Facebook page.
2. LAST CONCERT CAFE Always one of Houston's more interesting music venues, Last Concert Cafe is supposedly in line to get its own Texas Historical Marker next year. Surely not that many former brothels can say that. Now operated by Havin' a Ball Productions, a group of friends with roots in both Houston and Colorado, Last Concert has recently upgraded its sound and light systems and reconfigured its outoor stage area with an eye toward making it a hub of the Southern jam-band circuit. With Ohio live-electronica act Papadosio and a return visit from ex-Bad Liver Danny Barnes on the way this month, it's off to a good start. More soon. 1403 Nance, www.lastconcert.com.
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One of the highights of Free Press Summer Fest each year is whatever is happening on the Super Happy Fun Land Stage at the time. That kind of intergalactic musical cross-breeding and eye-popping insanity is happing all year round at this Eastside former warehouse with the spray-painted walls and rescued AMC movie-theater seats. SHFL is somewhat well-known for its annual SXSW Overflow Fest in March, but the club also throws open its doors for events such as this Saturday's Dead Audio Music Festival, which welcomes dozens of experimental and noise acts including Houston's Future Blondes and Black Leather Jesus for almost 11 hours of ear-punishing abuse. 3801 Polk, www.superhappyfunland.com.