It's hard for Aftermath to believe it's been a year since the last Music Awards showcase. Thanks to the "old-person-friendly" in-stores at Cactus Music, we've been able to keep up with the scene better than usual in the past year, and can truthfully say that in the 19 years we've lived in this city, this is the most vital time in local music we've ever seen. Since the Press showcase is when we usually catch up, we decided this year to go for acts that I had not seen before. We missed a few favorites but saw some great music along the way - as usual. I started off at House of Blues' restaurant to see Dominique. We guess critics would call her style "neo-soul," but it didn't seem very "neo" to me, more like "jazzy soul." She fronted a piano-led trio with two backing vocalists and from the first sultry Fender Rhodes groove to the final explosive climax, she added some spice to HOB's catfish and shrimp. Her phrasing was definitely jazzy, more Nancy Wilson than Aretha, and she heroically resisted the temptation to oversing for the entire set. Most of her compositions eschewed the standard verse-chorus setup in favor of just riding the groove. A mid-set cover of Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It" brought a lovely Stevie Wonder/'70s vibe to the proceedings. Of her own songs, "Good Girl Blues" was a standout, starting at a slow simmer and building to a rolling boil just like it should. The final number let the drummer show off his impressive chops; however, the complicated rhythm seemed a little incongruous with what had come before, something that no doubt arose from the band wanting to show the scope of what they could do in only 30 minutes. From downstairs to upstairs at HOB, Karina Nistal was Aftermath's 6 o'clock choice. We really didn't know what to expect, but sure didn't expect a potential mainstream superstar. Nistal fronted an eight-piece band with the confidence and swagger of a seasoned performer. The first number started the show in high gear with a guitar-led Latin assault that would not quit, Nistal belting it out the lyrics English and Spanish. Suddenly she's spitting a rapid-fire rap in Spanish while the band burns behind her, bringing the song to an end and the crowd to their feet. (Well, they were standing anyway but they would have leapt up had they been sitting!) Whomever is writing the material knows what they are doing because both "Weekend" and "U Should Know" sound smash hits to our old ears. The 35-minute set flew by. Nistal's terrific vocals, her rapping skills, strong songs and amazing band should be enough to land her a big record deal. (Her natural beauty and charisma shouldn't hurt either.) All of these elements were in full effect on set closer "Trabajolo," which sent us out with a spring in my step towards Isis and Chango Man.
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The Latin groove continued with CHangoMan. Aftermath is actually at sort of a loss for words to describe their style, as they careened all over the place during their set (please don't think that's a bad thing). They mixed cumbias with Ramones-like tributes to tamales (complete with tamales thrown into the crowd!) hard-rock guitar with funky Latin rhythms all topped with a singer who began the set banging on a cowbell and ended it screaming in a fetal position. Awesome. By the way, guys, Aftermath was lucky enough to hang out with the Ramones twice back in the day, and both times we ate tamales we kid you not. Three-fourths of the way through the set, a second guitarist arrived, bringing the total of musicians on stage to ten. We sure hadn't missed him, but the interplay between the two guitars sent the last part of the set into the stratosphere. The singer introduced the last song by saying they were "living proof you can rock and dance at the same fucking time!," which Aftermath thinks sums CHangoMan up nicely. Our only complaint would be that the concrete-heavy Isis was not the best venue to appreciate a band this loud and raucous. Guess we'll just have to see them again. Nevertheless, we stayed at Isis for the Mighty Orq. We had seen Orq play with Tony Vega years ago, but this was Aftermath's first time to see him with his trio. We have to say, he's another guy who could definitely break out on the national scene. This is "classic rock" in the non-cliché sense of the phrase. Mixing catchy riffs with low-key guitar heroics, good songwriting with good singing and avoiding clichés like the plague, Orq and his trio drew a crowd that mixed classic-rock fans with local hipsters - itself no mean feat. Nothing went on for too long, and all of it was done with a laid-back professionalism uncommon to either the classic rock or hipster scene. Orq's mash-up of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" and Prince's "Kiss" summed the experience up perfectly. It was followed by radio ready rocker "The Sweet In-Between", a place Orq seems to feel very comfortable. I left happy and headed back to HOB for the Sideshow Tramps.
Sound problems led to a late start for the Sideshow Tramps' set, but that really didn't faze them as the poured drunkenly into the crowd playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." They took it right out the door and back in, stumbling back onstage and launching into Jerry Jeff Walker's "Women I've Never Had." The Luckenbach-in-Montrose vibe was a perfect summation of what they do. Never has Aftermath seen a band break down the wall between themselves and the audience more thoroughly or successfully, and we saw the Replacements seven times. By the time they brought up Kam from Heptic Skeptic to help out on "John the Revelator," the place had become a drunken revival meeting. Aftermath looked around and realized that not only were we the oldest person there, we were also the most sober. Aftermath realized that might make getting a cab home really difficult, so wereluctantly ducked out a few minutes early and headed home, totally satisfied and worn out.