The guitar player on stage has impossibly long legs. And he's entirely too calm to be playing those licks. Other guitarists would be making all sorts of faces, grimacing and scowling, contorting their bodies, showing us how hard what they're doing really is. This guy's just standing there, blazing away, calmly burning up his Les Paul guitar.
I'm sitting at McGonigel's Mucky Duck (2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999), and the guitar player on stage is Lance Smith, part of the Dan Colehour band. This is the second time in a couple of weeks that I've come to the Mucky Duck; for folks who like acoustic music, that's not unusual. There are several "must-see" shows a month here.
The last time I was here it was for the Vance Gilbert show. Gilbert is a sort of folk musician/comedian. He used to sing jazz, but now he does folk (from the low-paying frying pan into the lower-paying fire). He does some great Bobby McFerrin/Al Jarreau/Luther Vandross kind of sound effects and what I can only describe as rumblings. He can also hold a note for a whole 90 seconds. I remember because one, that's a big deal, and two, that's the night the waitress broke my credit card. My card was in perfect condition when I gave it to her to start a tab for the night. When I got it back, four drinks and one bread pudding later, the plastic facing was pulled off and my little metallic smart chip was dangling by a single edge. Since I had just eaten a massive amount of bread pudding (which is delicious, by the way), I was a little too muddleheaded to say anything about it right then. Not that it would have done much good; it's not like she could have pasted it back together or anything. So I just shoved it in my purse and stumbled out of the bar. (That bread pudding gives you a real buzz!)
McGonigel's Mucky Duck
But the next morning I was sober, and down a credit card. Not good. I stamped my feet a little bit and said something like, "Damn that Duck! I'll never go there again!"
A stout resolution which lasted all of three days. When I heard that Dan Colehour was going to be here, and I instantly forgot about my broken credit card. Colehour, like Gilbert, isn't the kind of artist who fills arenas. He should, but people just aren't that smart yet. Tonight I'm glad of that, because it means I get to sit right up front, just a few feet away from the tousle-haired Colehour and his long-legged guitarist. Along with Lance Smith on guitar, Steve Brown is on bass and Paul Valdez (Houston Press Drummer of the Year 2006) is on drums. And they're wonderful.
Colehour's got a roots-rock thing going, kind of alt-country with a sense of urgency. It's perfect for a room like the Mucky Duck, which is small enough to feel intimate but large enough to hold a good-size audience. Colehour used to live in Nashville, but now he's in Houston and starting to gig regularly here, and I'm glad.
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The Duck is supposed to be an Irish pub, and I guess it is -- or at least it's as close as anything in Houston is going to get to one. Nobody talks with an Irish accent, and the waitresses aren't in leprechaun outfits or anything, but the people are friendly and there are regular Irish jam sessions. There are cozy booths along two walls, a bar along another and a maze of tables surrounding a tiny stage in the corner. Tonight every table is topped with a little sign that says "Unsupervised children will be given an espresso and a free puppy." The owners, Teresa and Rusty Andrews, take turns sitting out front on the sidewalk in comfy chairs, collecting everyone's cover charge under the street light, a couple of very large, lazy dogs at their feet (they produce those free puppies, I guess).
All that seems Irish pub-ish. Where the Duck isn't very Irish pub-ish is in the menu. Bangers and mash, Irish. Jalapeño poppers, not Irish. They've got something called a Scotch Egg (a hard-boiled egg, some sausage and bread crumbs deep fried into an edible puck), Irish. And hot chili, really great hot chili! Not Irish. See the problem?
But maybe there are little leprechauns around after all, because I'm sitting in an Irish pub eating chili, Dan Colehour's got a guitar player that's hot and cool at the same time, there's a broken credit card in my purse and, muck a duck, somehow it all makes sense.
(Full disclosure: Lance Smith is the son of William Michael Smith, a frequent contributor to the Houston Press.) For information about McGonigel's Mucky Duck, visit www.mcgonigels.com. For information about Dan Colehour, visit www.myspace.com/dancolehour.