Summerfest is a Houston festival in every sense of the word, and should remain a Houston festival in every sense of the word. Sunday afternoon made that fact abundantly clear to anyone there. The city is only now beginning to find its own sound meant strictly for young people, and the young people who are helping grow that sound are completely aware they are part of the process. There is a palpable feel to Houston these days, a space-ness (rather than a place-ness, if you will) that has created an excitement for local music unseen over the course of the past decade or so; bands seem to want to stay here rather than leaving for Austin or some such the moment their first record hits a blog. This was personified perfectly in the three acts that played almost back-to-back-to-back early Sunday. listenlisten kicked it off at the KTRU stage when it was still morning, and big exhausty trucks were literally driving past as the boys were singing their songs Clem Snide-style and dudes riding fixies were trying to impress girls wearing headbands as they walked past old guys without shirts asking for directions to the bus-stop, because they were sorta lost and just wandered in to the festival without a ticket. But who really gives a shit that they didn't have a ticket, because all they're really good for is to look totally dope in their ambivalence to fitting in amongst the fitting-inners, and now ListenListen's giving away free shirts. Match that, ACL. Playing a festival show at 11:00 a.m. is obviously ungodly, so it's no fault of anyone's (other than maybe the diabolical planners) that listenlisten had to play in front of like a dozen loyalists who seemed to know every word in the 20-odd-minute set, but they should have gone on later. And the fact that they are taking a two- or three-month hiatus only goes to show that those who missed it should regret missing it. listenlisten is an integral part in making Houston relevant in the gargantuanly overstuffed animal that is indie music. They sound new and vintage at the same time, integrating what sounds like four-track style instrumentation on top of apolitical folk-pop like a breath of fresh air. It feels like they want us to be them, and it's hard to explain how important that is for this city. They are ours, and we are theirs; and we both seem to know it. Feels like hugging.
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When listenlisten stopped, Buxton started, which somewhat sadly usurped the buzz that should have accompanied the return of Houston institution Western Civilization, who played directly after listenlisten but shouldn't have. And Buxton, as we're sure you already know, are about to blow up Pitchfork-style. For the past year or so, there has been a very distinct crescendo that has followed these guys wherever they go - though mostly they stay in Montrose, but wouldn't you? - and for very good reason. They bring what sounds like the perfect combination of flawless harmonies, countrified guitar picks and beats just fast enough beats to be somewhat danceable; while at the same time never seeming to lose a humility that could have been abandoned long ago. Buxton could, if they wanted to, own a festival like ACL in a few years; but for now seem set to stay in the city that has made them what amounts to local deities. Everyone wants to say they've seen, or personally know, one of the Buxtons, because to know Buxton is to know what Houston is turning into. They represent a sound that is genuine and new and us. Feels like friendship.
And then there's B L A C K I E. We all know he's a goddamn madman with a microphone, and we all feel a little uncomfortable when he looks directly at us, most likely because we think he's gonna freestyle the shit out of our face. And he could, too. He's that good. Like the space bar. The power he holds in the heart of the city lies with his insistence on audience interaction. In ways very similar to Fat Tony, B L A C K I E plucks people from the crowd, invites them onstage or stays with them in the pit, and has them do what they do or do what they don't do; it doesn't matter, because all we're here for is the love. He plays just about every weekend - or every single day if you look hard enough - somewhere in town, and it's for very good reason that he can command such loyal fans to stick with him even though they might have seen him the night before. He raps about his life, almost raw to a fault; and his audience clearly sees in him a vulnerability that is severely lacking in hip-hop these days. He is sweat, he is rock and roll and he is ours. Feels like sex.