Living in Harmony
Wednesday night on Lower Westheimer is a tale of two types of erotica. At Helios, the erotic poetry night is a deliberate, pull-no-punches attempt to stir up the patrons. At Cafe Brasil, the all-star drum circle that is Global Groove does the job much more effectively without really trying.
Racket blundered into Helios's poetry gathering by mistake. The bar's ever-shifting lineup of music, dance and spoken-word fare provides ample opportunity for accidents such as these, and having never attended such a gathering, Racket decided to stick around, though he didn't take a crack at the open mike.
After observing a half-dozen of the poets, he came away with the conclusion that there is very little that is purely arousing about a night of erotic poetry, or maybe just this particular one. The poems (paraphrased here) were either too French (all Racket could make out was the word "Lesbos" repeated as a leitmotiv), show-offy ("Try me out, baby, I got skills!"), angry ("My ex-wife is a bitch and a terrible lay to boot"), humorously yearning ("Damn, I wish I was a lesbian!") or bluntly deadpan ("We met. We held hands. We kissed. We screwed. You came. I didn't. And things were never the same") to be verbal Viagra. It all had the feeling of a child's furtive game of doctor out behind the garage, a knowing revelry in the naughtiness of it all. At its best, it was cathartic stand-up comedy. At its worst, it was way too much information from people you'd just as soon not hear it from.
Contrast that with the bacchanalian Carnaval-esque eroticism of Global Groove's Wednesday-night jam. If you want to follow up a promising first or second date, this is the place to go. A half-dozen of the city's best percussionists, along with the Gypsies' Steve Adams (bass) and Greg Harbar (accordion), rotate on a stage full of congas, bongos, tablas and dumbeks.
Like the drums, the drummers themselves are from all over the place. Shahab from Persia plays the Sufi drum known as the daf, a round, flat instrument that looks like a giant tambourine. This one has an inscription painted on it in Dari. Shahab translates: "Come to the tavern and let wine flush your cheeks / don't go to the temple because those are ashtrays."
Then there's cue-ball-bald Ilya Kolozs, who describes himself as an Ecuadoran-Mexican-Hungarian-Romanian-American. On this night Kolozs, Nick Cooper of the Free Radicals and a former member of Prison Love Scene named Giovanni are all fighting for a crack at Harbar's new toy, a boxlike Afro-Peruvian drum called the cajon.
Global Groove all started with the equally bald Terrence Karn, who plays with the Gypsies and in the jazz/ flamenco/world beat group Moodafaruka when not jamming at Brasil. He says Global Groove was slow to evolve but has since become the centerpiece of his week.
"I started this show off by myself on the accordion, but I'm not really an accordion player. That's just something that I use for work sometimes, and my repertoire is kinda limited, so I started inviting friends," Karn recalls. "Greg [Harbar] started coming in on a regular basis, and that brought in the whole Eastern European thing and the harmony and melody. Then other drummers came in from India, Turkey and Persia."
Karn then shifts into mystical gear, and in the immediate aftermath of one of Global Groove's shows, it's hard to be cynical about it. "It's totally ballooned into this little global village every Wednesday night," he says. "If the world could be like this, it would be an amazing place. We've got virtually every nationality in this place hanging out in harmony, just riding on the vibes. Global Groove is a ritual."
If anything, the crowd is even more of a mélange than the musicians. There are Indians, East Asians, Africans, South Americans, Russians, French, Bulgarians, Romanians and Germans in attendance, along with punkers, metalheads, ravers, hippies, perpetual grad students and people striking various belles- lettres poses.
The tiny dance floor is the nexus of the show. An exotic dancer on her night off dances with her preschool-age daughter right in front of the stage. Before long they are joined by a willowy Romanian woman and a curvaceous Latina in a black halter top embossed with a spangly Playboy bunny.
So that's how drummers get all the chicks! They get them to dance. Look at Tommy Lee -- there has to be something other than what was revealed on that infamous home video that keeps him perpetually in starlets.
At any rate, the trancelike rhythms of Global Groove are a much better way of putting the hump back in your hump day than the erotic poetry over at Helios.
Speaking of Greg Harbar, he performed before his fifth president two weekends ago when Bill Clinton came to town. The Man from Hope was raising cash at the home of local attorney Benjamin Hall, and Hall booked the Gypsies for the $1,000-a-person shindig. Slick Willie now joins Tricky Dick, Carter and Bush père et fils in Harbar's scrapbook of high and mighty fans. No, Harbar says, Clinton didn't sit in on sax, though he reports that Clinton's legendary flesh-pressing was the most effective he's yet seen from a chief executive Houston-born honky-tonker Clay Blaker is retiring from music. In a letter published last month in the Austin Chronicle, Blaker explained that after his wife's recent hip-replacement surgery, he realized that it was time to slow down and smell the roses. And what better place to do that than at the retirement home he and Mrs. Blaker are building on four acres of beachfront property on an island off the coast of Panama? Blaker, who lived in Maui for a time in his youth, plans to spend the rest of his days surfing, fishing, catching lobsters and maybe writing a song or two if the mood strikes him Priority Records released local rapper Big Moe's major-label debut, Purple World, on April 23. Moe's 2000 album, City of Syrup, sold a staggering 200,000 copies without any kind of label support whatsoever Rudyard's bartender/doorman Mark Parker recently told Racket that Texas musicians can be pretty cheap. Rudz provides free Shiner Bock to all the bands that play there, and Parker says that bands from overseas, the North and the Midwest are all gracious enough to tip him a buck or so per brew. Not so Texas bands, he says. C'mon, y'all, didn't your mamas teach you any manners? The Houston Astros recently persuaded manager Jimy Williams to lift his Taliban-esque ban on music in the team clubhouse. With each day's starting pitcher now playing DJ, the struggling team's fortunes seemed to improve; they took two out of three on the road from the hated Atlanta Braves. But then the 'Stros turned right around and dropped two of three to the lowly but scrappy Montreal Expos. Make of that what you will On another baseball/ music note, Racket misses the cheesy organists that once were as much a part of the ballpark experience as dubious hot dogs, 15 Astros left on base and bad, expensive beer. There was nothing quite so surreal -- even psychedelic -- as hearing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" booming out of a top-of-the-line sound system at 150 decibels. Now all you get are tinny clips from yesterday's tired hits or stale baseball songs like John Fogerty's "Centerfield." Bring back the blue-haired organist! Now! From the unused band name file: Genghis Khan Carne, Rail Car Killers, Brat Pack Exterminators, and from former Press staff writer Brad Tyer we have Übervagina.
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