Paradise by the Dashboard Light/Houston Music
So I was still in South By mode last week, still amped, still believing I could walk out of my house and into a night full of music. I checked last Wednesday's slate of bands, and it looked promising. I got an e-mailed invite to see a new band called Porkpie at the Proletariat, a friend of mine was all in a swivet about Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band at the Continental and there were also full slates of (respectively) indie rock and indie rap scheduled at The Mink and No Tsu Oh.
I had a wild idea -- I would treat this just like South By. I would walk up to the bus stop near my house, hop on the #2 Bellaire, ride it to light rail, disembark at Wheeler Station and hit the Proletariat first. Then I could chomp on a Porkpie tune or two, walk down to Wheeler, catch the light rail again to the Continental/Mink strip, take in the bands there and then head up to No Tsu Oh and the other venues up at Preston Station.
But I knew by experience that if I did that and stayed until the last bands played, I had the choice of either coughing up an extra $20 for cab fare or walking home. Or I could catch the last train from Preston Station at 12:45, but the problem there is this -- that train connects to exactly zero buses, or at least not any that would take me within a mile or so of Chez Racket. Real world-class transit system we've got here, lemme tell ya.
So I decided to take the car. For various reasons, I ended up watching a couple of Sopranos reruns with Mrs. Racket. I set off a little after ten in the Racketmobile Mark IV (yes, I've gone through three cars since I got this job), with my ambitions slightly diminished. Maybe Houston isn't quite urbane enough for carless, cabless bar-hopping on a Wednesday night, but there was still plenty of action to be had. And after a quick stop at the Prolo, I could ditch the car at the Continental, catch the bands there and then glide on up to No Tsu Oh on the train. And who knows -- maybe I would luck into some serendipity somewhere along the way.
I arrived at the Prolo about 10:30. If Porkpie was playing, they were the quietest band in history. I drove all the way around the club at about ten miles an hour with my windows down, and I could both see that the place was empty and hear the lack of noise within. So scratch that.
Up to the Continental/Mink. The Reverend Peyton, a native of rural Indiana, is a hefty, long-bearded fellow -- a dead ringer for both Brutus from the Popeye cartoons and the King of Spades from your deck of cards -- who wears a tiny, Thelonious Monk-like hat. His brother bangs a minimal drum-kit, and they are accompanied by a big-boned, wild-eyed brunet lass -- The Reverend's missus -- who flails away on a washboard modified with a cymbal and other effects. Delta bluesman Bukka White is clearly their godhead -- it comes across both in the Reverend's booming, trombone-like vocals and the way he banged on his guitar percussively. (You can watch White do this on YouTube.) The band, both in look and sound, was very R. Crumb, and Peyton is a helluva acoustic slide guitar/Resonator player. The washboard woman was a treat to watch. Unfortunately, the band had only one gear -- full-tilt -- and they didn't really bring anything new to the table that wasn't done with even more intensity in places like Aberdeen, Mississippi, in 1934.
A trio of hefty drunk dudes didn't mind -- they stood near the stage and jiggled appreciatively -- but for me, Jug O'Lightnin' smoked these guys at their own game, even on their worst nights.
And so, at around eleven, to the Mink, in the company of Under the Volcano owner Pete Mitchell, who was as burned out with the Reverend as I was. After wending our way to The Backroom, where the bands play, we were treated to...an interminable sound-check. (By "interminable," I mean about 15 minutes.) Still, this is really a swell venue, with an array of plush furniture around the fringe of the room, a low ceiling and a sense of discovering a hidden treasure when you first arrive.
Sadly, the only treasures here this night were visual. I never caught the name of the androgynous Joy Division-wannabe Vice-mag-reading trio on stage, but they have a long way to go. They had the de rigueur tight pants and lopsided hair and all the correct influences. An audience of about three or four dozen hipsters stood impassively. The singer sung of his despair at his meaningless life -- cheap sex and "cocktails and lines of cocaine." Boring music born of boredom bound for an audience of jaded scenesters. To put it in the French a few of these folks favor, it was the ne plus ultra d'ennui. (In Texan terms, that means boring as fuck.)
On to the next adventure. Mitchell had to run back to his bar to do his payroll, so I talked local drummer Beans Wheeler into riding the train up to Preston with me. We took a couple of those little bottles of Gallo wine -- I call that stuff "Sneaky Pete" -- with us for our traveling enjoyment. We would need them. The doors opened, and we literally had to step over a hobo's jumbo bag of aluminum cans. The rest of the train was full of what looked suspiciously like a cargo of nonpaying customers. (This is what light rail is by night -- a multibillion-dollar stolen Fiesta shopping cart.)
They might have been freeloaders, but they were friendly. I gave the can-carrier two cigarettes; another wanted to talk to me about my Geto Boys T-shirt. As it happened, he was a cousin to, I believe, one of the Fifth Ward Boyz.
If there ever had been a show at No Tsu Oh that night -- a lineup of Bleubird, Filkoe176 and Babel Fishh was listed -- it was long over by the time we rolled up there. Instead, we were treated to Jim Pirtle's beloved vinyl copy of Japanese grrl-punk band Gitogito Hustler, while his partner Cheryl Pierce sported a sailor's cap, perhaps in honor of Turbojugend Humpday. Pirtle says business has been good since the Man shut down the thugged-out rap clubs down there. "I've got nothing against rap," he said, "but these people were all driving in from Humble and Channelview and clogging the streets and fighting. It was like lower Westheimer in the '80s down here. Now people can park close by, and there are much fewer thugs."
Wheeler and I knocked back a couple of brews. By then the train had quit running, so we called a cab, which was driven by an African guy. I asked him where he was from.
"Where do you think," he fired back.
"Sierra Leone? Liberia? Cameroon?"
"No, no and no. I am from Zambia."
"I don't know the first thing about Zambia," I said. "What's the music like there?"
He turned up his stereo. "Here's some new stuff," he said. And there was that boom-chicka-boom-chick beat familiar to anyone who listened to Mega 101 the last couple of years, seasoned with the jagged guitars of South African music.
Perfect. Zambian reggaetn. Serendipity at last.
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