Friday, March 10
What you see is not always what you get with Middlefinger. But the initial observation helps. The short-cropped hairdos, black-rimmed eyeglasses, intentionally shocking T-shirts and the bleached-out blond guy, David Cummings -- stage right, far stage right -- with the '80s-metal Ibanez guitar strapped around his shoulders, may lead one to believe this quartet is quirky, loud and maybe a little crunchy.
Lo and behold, once the band hit its first note at a crowded Fitzgerald's, all of those aspects came through in spades. The band's musical center lay in the ska/punk it has been blasting across town for a number of years. But there was also the odd metallic bit that popped up once in a while, as well as the occasional burst of old-school, West Coast-style agit-punk that made one believe Middlefinger was on to something new. This ska-rock leaning, in fact, is what separates the band from Houston's pure ska-punk acts.
The naturalness of this hodgepodge allowed Middlefinger to play well-balanced sets that rarely let your attention stray. If it did, front man Matt Kelly was ready to wrangle it back with his onstage antics, whether nearly mutilating himself with his mike cord or going down on a rubber chicken. To be fair, these were only the most overt attention grabbers used by Kelly, a guy who, even when just standing and singing, proved that he possessed that crucial front man X-factor: He compelled people to watch -- just so they didn't miss anything.
The only real question here is, Why on earth was the aforementioned blond guitarist playing nearly from the wings? The band might as well have put a curtain up in front of him like arena-rock acts do for their keyboard players. The puzzle was made all the more confusing by the fact that he, as opposed to the main guitarist, did most of the noodling.
Middlefinger is a high-quality (and fun) band deserving of a following. If you like your music simultaneously loud and left of center, you might want to trail along. -- Les Mixer
Saturday, March 11
Those who attended this late-night show looking to find the much-reported black singer/white rock-band synergy that has made goneblind so popular were probably shocked to learn the band is now whiter than Gwyneth Paltrow locked in a Siberian meat freezer. The brooding lead vocalist, the copper-colored Joe Paul, has been gone for quite some time. Now, goneblind is just a regular ol' barroom band, albeit a very effective one. The new front man, singer/guitarist John Curry, is ever the accommodating showman, offering the kind of soul-sick vocal stirrings and freewheeling charisma that are charming and unpretentious. The rest of the band, which includes Instant Karma owner Mitch Burman on bass, served up an abundance of heavy guitar riffs and furious bass-drum rhythms. The band's nine-song, 41-minute set had it plowing through a collection of angst-filled speed-metal tunes with just a tinge of slacker cynicism. Oh, yes, the group did throw in a slow-strumming ballad for all the ladies in the house. But all the way through the show, the band was into it. goneblind has conviction. And isn't conviction what you want in your rock band? -- Craig D. Lindsey
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Friday and Saturday, March 10 and 11
Vocalist and former Houstonian Kellye Gray, who now resides in Los Angeles, danced like a woman possessed and proved her alto is strong enough to overpower a band even when she is off-mike. This is what she often did during her four-night run at Cezanne last week (March 9 through March 12). Gray, whose rhythm section consisted of Austin pianist Doug Hall and Houstonians David Craig on bass and Sebastian "Bash" Whittaker on drums, presented two well-conceived 11 p.m. sets Friday and Saturday. On Friday, playing to fewer than a dozen people, Gray turned Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" into a stunning vocal display, emulated Shirley Horn's slow-ballad singing on "If You Never Come to Me" and put some free-jazz touches and a trumpet-style scat into Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." She also led a hard-driving, funked-up version of Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't," which included improvised lyrics and some theatrics. On Saturday, playing to an almost full house and using a different set list, Gray injected another avant-garde intro, which had even more funk and improved lines, into "Well You Needn't." Like comedian Chevy Chase making faces behind a cohort's back in an old Saturday Night Live skit, Gray mimicked Craig when he bowed/voiced his own solo. Gray also turned "Summertime" into a total scatfest and emulated a horn without sounding hokey. But it was her closer that ranked as the evening's most memorable moment, as the group performed a hip version of Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose." Filled with modern chords, a teasing false ending, tasteful solos and a great trading sequence between Gray and Bash (a powerhouse drummer who used extralight touches here), this "Honeysuckle Rose" should have been recorded for posterity. Maybe next time. -- Paul J. MacArthur
Bach 2000 Cello Series, Part 2
Thursday, March 9
The University of Houston's Bach 2000 Cello Concert brought together two of the Moores School of Music's better-known faculty players, cellist Laszlo Varga and pianist Matthew Dirst, for the second part of the Bach 2000 cello series. Varga's solo rendering of two Bach suites was satisfying, but the baroque composer's multi-voiced melodies sounded warmer when Varga and Dirst teamed up for Sonata No. 1 in G Major. Here, Varga substituted an older-style miniature cello for his modern instrument. The polyphonic tones of the period cello and harpsichord had a rich, authentic hue. But Dirst's keystrokes were often too heavy for the outmoded instrument. The harpsichord has a plucked percussive timbre and needs a light touch, particularly in the intimate arena setting of the Moores Opera House. Varga and Dirst team up again for Part 3 of the Bach 2000 Cello Series on Thursday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m., at the Moores Opera House. Tickets are $6. For more information, call (713)743-3313. - Cynthia Greenwood