With all the bright promise of this year's HPMA showcase, it's a damn shame that Aftermath could only make two sets. What we saw both depressed and encouraged us, in that I missed so much and in that there was so much to miss. Peekaboo Theory manages to thrill us every time. The deep-space throb of analogue synth wash; echo-laden turntable fading in and out like cosmic radio scatter; guitars that alternate between the angular stab of post-punk, the riffing crunch of hardcore and occasional moments of gentle fingerpicking; pulsating bass that makes the music feel as if it's pounding out of your chest. And of course, singer Jamescayn, one of Houston's most dynamic frontmen at the moment. Given such a small stage, James' usual prowling and leaping was somewhat curtailed, but he did his best to stir the audience into a frenzy. Proving his versatile voice, he veered between soft-throated soul crooning, atavistic howling and all manner of exhortations to the audience. He got his wish, as most of the crowd was quickly slithering and grinding along to Peekaboo's sinewy beat.
Every showcase, it seems we pick up a new favorite band, and this year's honors go to Sideshow Tramps. After launching into a rollicking acoustic rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In" that led the band through the audience and out the door, Geoffrey Muller remounted the stage and announced "We're the Sideshow Tramps, and if you couldn't tell, we don't give a fuck." A pretty good summation.
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From that jumping off point, the Tramps launched into a thrill-a-minute hootenanny of epic proportions, both feeding and feeding off the crowd's growing frenzy as they whipped their instruments - traditional and homemade - through a series of morphing semi-songs that seemed to have more to do with that moment and that crowd than with anything approaching traditional song structure. The backwoods hoedown atmosphere expanded to include simulated sex acts; odes to alcohol and loose women (both of which made on-stage cameos); triple-speed tempos and partial nudity, both male and female. Appearances were put in by Robert Rodriguez on accordion and a broken-legged Kam on a few sultry duets. Muller's much-ballyhooed saw put in its requisite appearance, and its haunting presence was well received. Muller capped things off with a statement as evocative as his first: "I know, I know. We're a bunch of damn hillbillies." It almost makes me long for the ozarks, and glad the Tramps call Houston home.
As everything else was winding down, the crowds made their way over to Mosaic to see Houston's hottest work the wheels of steel. Unfortunately, when the house heard "spin," they thought disc drives instead of turntables, and didn't quite know what to do when the gang showed up with crates of vinyl. Relatively undeterred, a few stalwart partygoers moved to the dance floor, though the feel was noticeably subdued. Outside on the patio, the vibe was different, the crowd clearly more interested in mingling than in moving. Down at the far end, a few eager folks started an impromptu limbo line, showing off some impressive flexibility. (Even Press music editor Chris Gray got in on the action, sneaking just under the bar, and just past the cameras... oh, for missed opportunities.) Aftermath finally got the chance to catch up with Matthew from Nauset Concepts, who we'd seen throughout the night filming the mayhem. If you want to see what he saw, the footage will play at the HPMA award ceremony. As we were rolling out around 12:30, there were a couple of newly present decks in use, a strong indication that the best was yet to come.