This time last year, we were bemoaning the death of Emo's, yet another Montrose institution to bite the dust. "Progress" of the destroy-everything-cool-so-rich-yuppies-can-live-near-the-artists variety claimed that venerable bar last Labor Day weekend. But something's changed since then, and Racket's damned if he knows what it is. But he has an inkling: As this recession deepens and broadens, this town is starting to remind him of the dear old Houston of the oil bust days. Lame, music-free swankiendas are shutting down all over the place, and scruffy little bars and venues are taking their place. Even the chains are finally getting in on the live music action.
For starters, the building that once housed Blue Iguana will soon be reincarnated as a new bar, under the ownership of a woman who sounds like she knows what she's doing. Local artist Denise Ramos is the dictator of The Proletariat, which is what she and her partners are calling the resurrected Ig, and she hopes to have her liquor license ironed out and hanging on the wall by the time you read this or shortly thereafter. Once it's open, her goal is to try to recapture that boho Montrose magic that's been disappearing so fast of late. "We're shooting for something like Rudyard's meets the Davenport meets Metropol," Ramos says. "We'll be having DJs on Tuesdays and as far as live music, I'm real particular about who I like, so I won't be having shows just to have shows. I really want cool bands that I really enjoy, someone like Calexico or something like that."
The Proletariat also has eclectic seating arrangements, a game room and a cool jukebox. "We have the greatest jukebox in town!" Ramos exclaims. "We hand-picked everything, we've got stuff like Jucifer, the Flaming Lips, Spoon, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and all that great new shit."
Ramos was frustrated by the fact that she had run out of places to chill in the 'Trose. So, like the Hands Up Houston promoters and the guys at Tapir Productions, she decided to do something about it. And that's all it takes, kids.
In NoDo, seafood restaurant St. Pete's Dancing Marlin is stepping up its bookings something fierce. Thursdays belong to this year's unofficial Houston Press Music Awards Grand Champeen John Evans for the foreseeable future, and Moses Guest, Austin's Gnappy (featuring ex-Commercial Art guitarist and ex-Rockefeller's manager Buck McKinney) and New Orleans's Rebirth Brass Band perform on a killer September 28 bill. Jamaican reggae act the Itals played last Sunday, while their countrymen, the Meditations, will be there in November. Yeah, St. Pete's is a chain, and no, there isn't much cool cachet in hanging out at a seafood restaurant, but hey -- they're trying.
Also downtown, battles of the bands rage on at troubled Paesanos and at Hard Rock, where 12 hopefuls have now been whittled to three in their Shot at the Cabo Wabo Battle of the Bands. Brother Luck won the first round, while Simpleton bested Southern Backtones, House of Moist and Fallen Line in the second. Pander, Module, Chasmatic and Austin's Pavlov's Dogs duked it out on September 12, with Pander coming out on top. Simpleton, Brother Luck and Pander will face off on September 19, with the ultimate winner representing Houston against the winners of similar challenges in 11 other cities. The band left standing at the end of it all gets the rare privilege of opening for Sammy! Fucking! Hagar! and Smash Mouth in Cabo San Lucas October 4 through 6.
So don't let it be said that downtown ain't rocking at least a little. Now that all the cheesemongers have come and gone, and the palmy Jones Bar days of the $12 martini and $50 Cohiba are long past, maybe, just maybe the downtown/Montrose/Midtown/Washington Avenue scenes will take off. It looks that way already. Of course, once the choo-choo starts rolling down Main, the scene may collapse again in an avalanche of tapas plates, single-malt scotch bottles and expensive stogie butts. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, out in suburbia, Texas country/ folk/blues/rock troubadour Calvin Russell is coming to Henry's Hideout -- the "horniest bar in Texas," so called for the 600-plus racks of antlers on the walls -- in tiny Fetzer. His bio reads like something a wet-behind-the-ears Hollywood screenwriter would concoct for a TV movie. One of nine children born to a waitress and a short-order cook, Russell grew up in a diner hard by Pistol Pete's junkyard on the wrong side of the tracks in Austin. He's done time in a juvenile home, served prison terms on both sides of the Rio Grande, resided for a time in the dirt crawl space under a friend's home in Austin's Clarksville neighborhood, and lived hard enough to earn a visage as craggy as that of Kris Kristofferson. A running buddy of drunken angel Blaze Foley, Russell abandoned Texas for Amsterdam in 1989 and eventually conquered Europe. By the time he came back home last year, he was signed to Sony/France and was headlining festivals in front of 70,000 people. After a stint in Switzerland, he even learned to speak French. It's unlikely there will be much call for that skill at his September 26 gig at the 65-year-old dance hall near Magnolia, but if you want to hear an authentic Texas legend deliver the goods, that's where you'll be.
Where you haven't been so far is at the Sidecar Pub on Tuesdays -- unless you're from Austin. Peron Einkauf reports that Austin's Sundowner is wiping the floor with the competition at his Tuesday-night People's Choice Band Challenge, and furthermore, that they are outdrawing local competitors by a factor of four. Quite amazing (and shaming), considering that Sundowner is based 200 miles away and the contest is held on Tuesdays. Houston modern rockers Deep Ella and heavy rockers Dereistic are running second and third, respectively, in the chase for $2,500 cash and 16 hours' studio time. The contest ends December 14.
Atomic Age Records is staging a concert/ punk rock garage sale at Mary Jane's on October 18. If you have a punk band and are willing to play the gig for no money, they want to hear from you. The event stretches from dusk to the wee hours, so they're gonna need about ten or so bands who definitely are not up on their musician's union dues. A tiny cover charge will entitle attendees to rummage through and buy various (presumably punk) flotsam and jetsam and to scarf down an (also presumably punk) plate of free food. Interested bands should e-mail RocktheAtomicAge@hotmail.com Local bands Elsa Mira, 24 Count and Sly Letter all broke up this summer. Sly Letter announced their demise a mere ten days after their write-up in the Chronicle, which shows how much good an article in that rag will do for you. No band that Racket has written about, on the other hand, has broken up until at least a month after his articles have run -- except the Suspects, and that's not really fair Thanks to the Verizon Wireless Theater and B.B. King, $50 from every ticket sold in the first three rows at his September 26 show will be donated to the Project Row Houses El Dorado Ballroom restoration project. Project Row Houses spokesman Andrew Malveaux says the renovation should be complete by next spring Would the last Texas country artist in Nashville please turn out the lights? Robert Earl Keen, Deryl Dodd, Ty Herndon, Jack Ingram and Junior Brown are the latest to leave their Music City labels Compadre Records honchito Brad Turcotte reports that Billy Joe Shaver recorded all 15 tracks for his upcoming album, Freedom's Child, in a mere three days. While that album was recorded in Nashville, it will be released on Houston's own Compadre on November 19 Next week is the mother of all weeks for live touring music in Houston. The Clinic/Apples in Stereo/Lift to Experience bill September 27 at Mary Jane's is a fairly unbelievable piece of booking. Meanwhile at the Verizon that same night, H-town's progressive stoners can revel in the glory of the Queens of the Stone Age/ And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead/Peaches tripleheader, while the mullets among us will be delighted to hear that Faster Pussycat and Pretty Boy Floyd are sharing a bill September 27 at the 19th Hole. Oh, yeah, the week also features Biz Markie and Jaheim at Max's 2002, Slobberbone at Rudyard's, and Christian Pearl Jam tribute band Creed at The Woodlands. Then there's the honky-tonk/alt-country/ Americana slate, which includes Kelly Willis, Monte Montgomery, John Prine and Iris DeMent, Calvin Russell, Kinky Friedman and Billy Joe Shaver, Hank III, Nickel Creek and Gillian Welch, Caitlyn Cary, Martin Sexton, Kevin Fowler, David Allan Coe, Reckless Kelly, Asleep at the Wheel, Delbert McClinton, Steve Young and Steven Fromholz, and Allison Moorer. Oh, yeah, Little Richard's coming to Galveston, too It may well be dry out there, but none of you stoners has seen taunting billboards from the DEA saying, "If you think it's dry now, wait until October." It's an urban legend. A quick Internet search finds the same legend popping up in Minnesota in 1991, in Illinois in 1992, in Florida in 1998, and this year in Texas and Mississippi. (For some reason, the excruciatingly dry month is always September or October.) Racket has vague memories of hearing about these nonexistent signs in Tennessee circa 1990, but strangely he's never seen one, and neither has anybody he knows. It's always a friend of a friend. And why would the cops do that, anyway? To spike sales of hydroponic accessories? Some suspect the rumor was started by disgruntled pot growers preparing to go on strike, which would be almost logical.
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