Racket's goal at this year's Houston Press Music Awards Showcase was to see things he hadn't seen before. He even wrote out an hour-by-hour, venue-by-venue plan of attack. Of course, the battle plan held for only about two hours, but Racket still ran into plenty of surprises.
First up at 4 p.m., Grupo Kalor and Lisa y Aventura filled a Tejano double bill at Spy. Kalor, who performed inside, is the slightly less traditional of the two. Their sound is tinged with reggae, their electric guitarist brings a heavy rock influence to the mix, and vocalist Kristen G. (still a student at Pasadena High School) sings with flair.
Outside, a very short-skirted Lisa Torres led Aventura through a long set that was as hot as the weather. She took one look at all the Anglos in the audience and began to lecture us on the various Mexican and Tejano subgenres they were playing, from norteño to huapango to cumbia. The guitarless lineup gave the talented young bajo sexto player room to roam, especially on the set closer, the Surfaris' "Wipe Out."
Had we known of the feud between these two bands, we would have scheduled them across downtown from each other. Alas, we didn't, and when a tired Torres finished her set and went into Spy for a glass of ice water, a female Grupo Kalor fan started hurling threats and insults at her in front of about ten onlookers. Torres brushed off the verbal abuse and left the bar. She was in her car (which happened to be parked next to Kristen's) attempting to make peace with some Kalor members when the mother of that group's singer ran up to her and said, "If you want to talk shit about me, say it to my face, girl!" Minutes later, according to Torres, the mother told her to "Fuck off, bitch!"
Torres abandoned her peace mission and pulled out of the parking lot, but the outraged mother followed on foot and banged on the car windows all the way down the street to a red light. Torres ran the light, but her troubles weren't over. Her pursuer jumped into a friend's car, and there followed a nine-block car chase through downtown Houston. Torres finally escaped, and she says she is filing charges. "I mean, I was driving the wrong way down one-ways, running red lights," she says. "There were six people in the car, including a child. I was terrified."
Kalor manager John Valera is the brother of Kristen's mother, close friends with Torres's manager "Jumpin' Jess" Rodriguez, and a 12-year-veteran of the Houston Police Department. He didn't see the fracas, but he's understandably embarrassed by it. He says that the bad blood between Kalor and Torres has been brewing for so long now that nobody can really remember what started the feud in the first place. Nevertheless, he's making no excuses for the behavior of the fan or his sister. "What they did was inexcusable," he told Racket. "I personally called Lisa to apologize."
Still, Torres says that she won't be playing near Kalor anytime soon. "I always seem to have some trouble when they're around," she said.
Meanwhile, Racket was obliviously sweltering away at Spy's alfresco stage, taking in jazzy, funky rap-rockers Simpleton -- Houston's answer to the Fun Lovin' Criminals -- live for the first time. It was not the best of circumstances to see any band for the first time. The heat index on stage probably topped 110 degrees, and the show never quite flew as high as either of the group's two excellent CDs. Riotous Simpleton front man B.C. was wilting after 25 minutes, but the band willed itself through another two songs, with B.C. telling guitar player Jon Black to ride his riffs for all they were worth so they would last longer. Between songs -- most of which came off their soon-to-be-released sophomore disc, Baby You're a Star -- he also gave the Press a little crap for Simpleton's inclusion in the funk/R&B category. But where else do they fit? They're too rap for rock, and too rock for rap, and too jazzy and skilled for metal, where raw distant cousins like Faceplant reign. Like bluesy genre-melters Jug o' Lightnin', Simpleton is too original and sophisticated to fit neatly into any category, though they would be the best in several. This band has a better chance of breaking big nationally than any other group in town, so check 'em out now. Otherwise, the next time you see them might be on Cribs.
After Simpleton's set, Racket's battle plan went to hell. Instead of hiking over to Arthur Yoria's set at BAR Houston, he ate a plate of fajitas and hung out with Cactus Records general manager Quinn Bishop and the Houston Musicians Benevolent Society's Steve Sucher. Jiggernaut was downstairs playing what sounded from afar to have been a blistering set, but it was followed by a dreary gig by the Swishahouse All-Stars. These guys took the stage ten minutes early and announced they were done at 7 p.m., which was the time their show was supposed to start. D.R.U.M. was setting up to take over the slot when the All-Stars finally took the stage again for another short set.
Then, events conspired to put Racket in a pretty bad mood. When he finally made it over to BAR, MenMechanical was laid low by a busted sampler connection. After waiting for ten minutes, he wandered downstairs to Harlon's Bayou Blues for a little salsa, only to find that Grupo Batachá hadn't shown. When 8 p.m. rolled around, Racket had rounded up some friends at Bayou Place and trekked over to the Hub on Main Street for Davin James's set, which was canceled because of James's laryngitis. Somehow Racket managed to stumble into just about every canceled gig on the bill.
But every cancellation and/or tardiness gave somebody else a chance to shine. Thanks to Fondue Monks for keeping their pot boiling an extra 60 minutes and also to *mytwilightpilot* for flying well past sundown and into the night. Laurels especially are owed to Faceplant: In addition to putting on a crowd-pleasing hour of its own, the band played a brief set filling in for the tardy Lil' Flip and then sprinted off the stage when the man himself arrived. MenMechanical deserves a medal for waiting out the equipment snafu and turning in what was acclaimed by those who stuck around as a fine, if abbreviated, set.
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Racket did manage to get back in the groove once he caught a portion of a we-don't-give-a-shit-if-people-think-we're-cheesy Dune*TX set. These guys have no attitude whatsoever. They put their heads down and rock but aren't afraid to look up once in a while and smile.
The same goes in spades for the Suspects, who played their second-to-last show at the Hub. It's a narrow room, and Racket was near the back of the packed house. Once the Suspects' faithful started pogoing (about two chick-a-chicking guitar scrapes into their first bar), you could only intermittently see the stage. Trying to watch them was like peering through the works of some piston-packed machine. Reached a couple of days later by phone, Suspects guitarist Bill Grady said he was sad to be playing the songs for almost the last time, but also relieved. "We're breaking up after eight years and we're still talking to each other," he said. "Not many bands can say that."
Racket eventually toddled back over to Bayou Place for Trik Turner's finale but was waylaid at the gates by what Chris Berman would call "a developing situation": two guys wrestling on the Bayou Place patio. Their friends Jamie Sralla and Terry Nunn later said the wrestlers were just fooling around, but Bayou Place security guards thought the fight was real. The guards attempted to ten-count the tussle, only to find themselves set upon in earnest by the mock combatants. HPD intervened, and the would-be Stone Cold Steve Austins were escorted in handcuffs off the premises.
Minutes later, Racket saw the Greco-Roman grapplers in the backseat of a squad car easing down Texas Avenue. There was a hitch, though: The policeman had left his front passenger-side door open. "Excuse me," he politely asked Racket and his compañeros. "Could you please shut my door?" Nunn complied, and away his chums went to the pokey. One of them, a hulking guy with longish blond hair, grinned at us and banged his head three times on the back window as the car rolled past. And that was that for the 2002 Houston Press Music Awards Showcase.