Hurricane Claudette may have just grazed us, but this tempest is gonna smack us full-force in the face. The Houston Press Music Awards showcase is upon us again -- and this year it's bigger than ever. Fourteen stages, 75 bands and seven bucks a ducat. You can't beat that with James Brown's lickin' stick.
The ballot's categories have been shaken up a little, as happens every year. Rock en español and traditional Mexican musicians each have categories of their own this year, as do lounge DJs. Many bands are on the ballot and showcase for the first time, in addition to the tried-and-true hardy perennials.
As usual, it's as eclectic as the wares on sale at the Gulfton Fiesta. To pick two venues at random, we'll have rap, bluegrass, metal and rock on the stage at Barcode, and zydeco, indie rock, tiki lounge exotica and reggae-funk at Dean's Credit Clothing. Where else but at this event can you see electroclash, rock en español, white-boy modern R&B, and punk over the course of four hours at one venue, as you can at TOC Bar this year?
But hey, it's time to say the same thing we say every year about this time: Enough yakkin'. Let's boogie. Band blurbs written by John Nova Lomax, Bob Ruggiero, William Michael Smith, Olivia Flores Alvarez, Greg Barr, Craig D. Lindsey, Jeffrey Thames, Matt Sonzala and Troy Schulze.
Happily, it wasn't supposed to end this way for angst-ridden synthpoppers Blue October.
Theirs had the makings of an all-too-common story, one especially prevalent in the make-it-big-now-or-die, brave new music business of the 21st century. Band breaks out of local scene and signs with a national label. Radio doesn't get aboard, and sales of their first major-label are decent but not of the blockbuster variety that the label had hoped for. Rather than developing the band, the labels cuts and runs.
Most times the epilogue to that scenario is that bitterness and ego then tear the band up. Band member blames band member for mistakes made, managers not fired at the right time, for being too stoned at the label showcase to get the job done. The singer goes solo, as does the lead instrumentalist, and the remnants form a third band. Back to the local scene they go, and there they stay, this time for good.
Not so with Blue October. Yes, they did sign with Universal, and yes, their major-label debut, Consent to Treatment, sold "only" 70,000 copies. The Buzz -- likely too timid to spin Justin Furstenfeld's anguished lyrics and Ryan Delahoussaye's violin -- wouldn't play 'em, even in their hometown. And yes, of course, they did get dropped, and front man Furstenfeld does have a solo side project as 5591.
But here's where it gets weird. Instead of breaking up, the band went back to the woodshed. After two years of hard work both on the road and in the studio, they came up with a new album, History For Sale, on Dallas label Brando Recordings.
And this time around, radio jumped on it. "Calling You" cracked Clear Channel playlists all over Texas, and was recently tapped to appear in and be on the soundtrack of American Wedding, alongside the Foo Fighters, Avril Lavigne and the All-American Rejects. The band made a big splash in Austin at a nonsanctioned gig at South By Southwest, and later at a whirlwind sequence of label showcases in New York. And Universal was willing to admit its mistake and pick the band up again, and Blue October was willing to let bygones be bygones. History will be for sale again -- this time around with a major-label imprint on the spines -- on August 5.
And for the first time in many years, our showcase will be headlined by a band that got started right here in H-town. Verizon Wireless Theater, 10:15 p.m
The Allen Oldies Band
Best Cover Band
Frenetic front man and High Priest of the Oldies Allen Hill branched out into political commentary this year, urging listeners to "Make Oldies, Not War" during the recent Iraqi conflict. And to be honest, what would you rather hear: Peter Jennings droning on about cluster bombs or dance party favorites like "Tossin' and Turnin'," "96 Tears" and "Land of 1,000 Dances"? The band concentrates on covers of the big artists and one-hit wonders of the '50s and '60s, combined with an "anything goes" live show that finds Hill acting as combination bon vivant and idiot savant. -- B.R.
Hard Rock Cafe, 4 p.m.
Best Cover Band
One thing that separates the myriad of cover bands is the level of authenticity. Well, Beetle is authentic right down to the collarless suit coats, mod hairdos and even John Lennon's jangly Rickenbacker guitars. These Yellow Submariners have quickly established themselves as a local favorite through their weekly Continental Club dates. He's-everywhere guitarist Jim Henkel is one of Houston's best-kept musical secrets, playing in numerous local ensembles, most notably the El Orbits and those crazy Flying Fish Sailors. -- W.M.S.
BAR Houston, 6 p.m.
Big Brown Truck
Best Cover Band
No, this isn't a band of UPS men. In fact, they may make you wonder if they're men at all, as they often pose the question "Are we not men?" And of course they answer, "No, we are Devo." Reprising the synth-pop of the futuristic quintet is the mission of these post-post-postmodern men, and they've whipped it good. Expect plenty of freaks and geeks and geeky freaks to be on hand for the jerky rhythms and synth chords. -- J.N.L.
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, 8 p.m.
Bozo Porno Circus
Nine musicians, performance artists and superfreaks make up the finely tuned Circus, where over-the-top showmanship meets musical talent head on. Although they could be called the Bondage Band, since shows include performances by the PornStarrz, a trio of fetish queens that engage in fire-eating, sexual reenactments and a variety of disturbing, demented deeds, Bozo Porno Circus doesn't rely solely on outlandish stage antics. They also have solid music skills. -- O.F.A.
The Brewery Tap, 9 p.m.
Texas Johnny Brown & The Quality Blues Band
A recording artist for parts of seven decades and 11 presidential administrations, Texas Johnny Brown is the most seasoned musician still regularly working the scene. Brown got his start as the guitarist in Amos Milburn's band, and later backed Ruth Brown, Bobby Bland and Junior Parker. Though he recorded a handful of sides for Atlantic in the '40s, his solo career got started in earnest about 50 years later with the release of two fine albums that showcase his clean, suave picking and swinging arrangements. But it's not just his guitar case that's packed with dynamite -- so too is his songbook. After all, this is the man who wrote the Bobby Bland classic "Two Steps from the Blues." -- J.N.L.
Hard Rock Cafe, 9 p.m.
Best Folk/Acoustic, Best C&W, Local Musician of the Year, Song of the Year ("Highway 87"), Songwriter of the Year
Yes, all of these yahoos who pose as Texas artists nowadays claim to be following in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt, even though most of them can't even spell his name. Woodlands native Hayes Carll is one of the few who can legitimately make the claim, which is not surprising, since he grew up as a songwriter around Van Zandt's old running mate Wrecks Bell. With his hot new band that includes Australian bluegrassers Kym Warner and Carol Young, the sly, humorous, word-playing Mr. Carll is one of the fastest-rising figures on the entire Texas music horizon. -- W.M.S.
Hard Rock Cafe, 6 p.m.
Best Dance DJ
You gotta love ol' Sean Carnahan. Even when at his most prima donna-esque, the boy is still an entertaining sight to behold. He and his Tastylick Records brethren still convene over at the Davenport Lounge on Wednesday nights for an evening of laid-back grooves. And during the week you can find him at residencies at The Social and the newly introduced Barcode. But Carnahan is still a social surveyor at heart, and if you wanna be hip to all the parties and clubs around the city, you can always log on to his long-running Web site 77002.com. All-seeing, all-knowing, all-doing -- Sean Carnahan is a supreme being of leisure if there ever was one. -- C.D.L.
Boaka Bar, 7 p.m.
Best Lounge DJ
This hip-hop-loving skate punk traded in his deck more than ten years ago and bought a pair of Technics 1200s and a mixer and immediately began honing his skills in some of Houston's earliest below-the-surface hip-hop spots. He booked groups like the K-Otix and Freedom Sold at some of their first gigs, in venues ranging from hole-in-the-wall juke joints like Hoi Polloi's Hip Hop Coffee Shop to elite dance clubs like Power Tools. To this day he remains the man with the plan behind many of the hip-hop jams going on inside the Loop, though he certainly doesn't limit his playlist to the urban stuff. Expect to hear everything from Trans Am to Boards of Canada to Anticon to Scratch Acid, and if you're lucky he might even spin some 50 Cent, albeit, backward. -- M.S.
Boaka Bar, 6 p.m.
Best New Act, Best Rock en Español
Ask the members of Chango Jackson how they describe their sound, and they'll just shrug their shoulders. All they know is that nobody else in the rock en español world sounds anything like their blend of punk, metal, jazz and the odd polka that bassist/singer Mojo Jackson calls "cock rock for the new millennium." Their apocalyptic live shows always have a different theme -- over the last year, they have taken the stage in pimp attire, cowboy duds and, on day one of the "Shock and Awe" campaign, chemical suits and gas masks. -- J.N.L.
Slainte Irish Pub, 5 p.m.
Remember the Jacques Loussier Trio and their popular "Play Bach" thing? Clear Lake-based Classical Grass runs in that popular-music-in-tuxedo-and-black-tie vein as their repertoire travels from traditional, easily recognizable bluegrass standards to classical pieces played bluegrass-style. Along the way they may veer into jazz, swing, blues and about any other genre that strikes their fancy. Kerry Jones (banjo), Steve Jaap (mandolin), Andy Moritz (bass) and Chuck Gunn (guitarist who just happens to be a former West Coast flat-picking champion) have more musical pedigrees than a dog show. Sparks will fly. -- W.M.S.
Barcode, 5 p.m.
Best New Act, Best Guitarist (Kelly Doyle), Best Drummer (Claudio Depujadas), Best Horn/Horn Section
This collective of groovy cats and cool chicks has the Tiki Spy Exotica Lounge music category all to itself, but the brainchild of Middlefinger alums Jay Brooks and David Cummings (and most of the ex-Suspects) also has a much broader appeal. We like the band's own take on its alluring style, something it describes as what Ward Cleaver would slap on the turntable to seduce June. Having upped its ranks to a dozen with the addition of vocalists Johanna Harris and Miss Formica Dinette, the totally unique Clouseaux makes us damn proud to be from H-town. -- G.B.
Dean's Credit Clothing, 7 p.m.
Having spent the first chunk of 2003 in the studio working on the follow-up to Last Year's New Thing, Deep Ella will no doubt be eager to reconnect with its local fan base, which grew considerably in 2002. Though silly U2 references somehow keep cropping up, Deep Ella is more akin to the emotional grandeur and power pop of Blue October. As long as the chemistry between vocalist Jeff Crowder and British-born guitarist Rob Atherton continues to meld, Deep Ella should surface on some record label's radar soon. -- G.B.
Mercury Room, 6 p.m.
Best Rock en Español
Showing a creativity and an originality that many of their local alterna-rock peers lack, deSangre -- which translates as "of blood" -- brings the noise Soundgarden-style, with a few touches of '80s rock here and there. Keyboards ride above the guitar crunch, adding a layer of much-appreciated texture to their nightmarish soundscapes. The five-year-old band's second CD, untitled right now, is due out this fall. -- J.N.L.
TOC Bar, 5 p.m.
dj cuba gooding jr.
Best New Act
As naive patrons have discovered, this act bears a cheekily misleading moniker -- and most initial assumptions have more to do with the implied solo turntablism than the name-checked multiplex hero. According to public relations lore, Urban H. and Arctic Lars fled the crumbling economic climate of their beloved Eastern Europe, synths and Vocoder in tow, to pursue their celebrity in the shadow of Old Glory. Why they set up camp in Houston is anybody's guess, but hey, there's always room in our fair metropolis for a smart, hungry electro-pop duo. (Insert your own post-Enron "Show me the money!" quip here.) -- J.T.
TOC Bar, 4 p.m.
Best Lounge DJ
What the hell is there left to say about DJ Sun? He's got the Saturday-night radio show, Soular Grooves, over at KPFT. His "Soular Sessions" are still going strong over at Brasil Monday nights. And now there's a couple of new additions to his weekly schedule: "DJ Sun @ Onion Creek," Tuesday nights in the Heights, and the just-launched "Soul Sushi" Wednesdays at the Japanese eatery Typhoon. And he's won this award so many damn times, we're still shocked that he hasn't pulled a Cosby one of these years and just declined his nomination. Come on, playa! Everyone knows you're a great DJ, so why don't you give all these hungry spinners dying for recognition a shot at the gold! -- C.D.L.
Boaka Bar, 9 p.m.
Rap-metallurgists Downfall 2012 might want to send a copy of their recent album, The Fuse Is Lit, to the commander in chief so he can incorporate the catchphrase from the cut "Don't F*ck with the USA" into his recent "Bring it on" tough-guy rhetoric. The band's machine-gun sound builds on the groove laid down by drummer Josh Pazda and his bass-playing brother Adam. That interplay's evident in a rapid-fire bass-drum bridge in "USA," which also highlights the band's trademark tempo changes and crescendos, not to mention those requisite in-your-face sociopolitical rants. -- G.B.
The Brewery Tap, 4 p.m.
One of the freshest and most invigorating (relatively) new bands, Drifter combines dew-drenched Southern rock with minty-fresh '70s pop in its own original style. Craig Feazel and Paul Beebe share vocal and guitar duties, while bassist-keyboardist Cullen "Monkey" Evans and drummer Chris Laurents provide a steady rhythm section. Their recent release, Lottery Bar, was like an Altoid to the mouth of Houston music, featuring great melodies, catchy choruses and commercial appeal without sounding wimpy. Extra kudos for their songs about healthy relationships between the sexes. -- B.R.
BAR Houston, 7 p.m.
Best Jazz, Best Guitarist (Marc Reczek), Best Keyboardist (Ian Varley)
Houston isn't the greatest city in the world for live jazz, but folks like Drop Trio are out to change that. They don't really fit in with the avant-garde, the martini sippers or the purists; they're more for the young cats who like their jazz a bit funked up with lots of energy. Drop Trio is anchored by a rhythm section tighter than the Texas education budget and a Rhodes keyboard that gets pushed to its limits on every cut. Think Medeski Martin and Wood, without their lame DJ, and then add in some elements of bayou funk and acid-tinged San Francisco hipness, and you're close to describing the sound of their instrumental jams. -- M.S.
M Bar, 8 p.m.
Best World Music
The cats in D.R.U.M. work harder at entertaining crowds than Jimy Williams works the Astros bullpen. D.R.U.M. lives by the cardinal rules every band should follow: Always keep working. Don't whine. Don't bitch. Don't kvetch. Just take your ass out to some venue and play. In town, you can find them headlining at the Last Concert Cafe, where they perform "Global Fusions" on the first Friday of every month. -- C.D.L.
Dean's Credit Clothing, 9 p.m.
Best New Act
This punky-funky-hip-hoppity collective comes from a diverse array of backgrounds, both ethnically and musically, but they all have one thing in common. No one in this band is afraid to push the limits of any genre, and while their sound definitely leans mostly into the realm of reggae, you'll hear elements of electro, rock, turntablism, rap, funk, blues, ska and Afro-beat too. Their beats are fresh, the songs are conscious and fun at the same time, and they feature one of the best MCs on the circuit in Houston today. Perseph-1 could give any rapper a run for his or her money on any given day. -- M.S.
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, 4 p.m.
Best Guitarist (Chris Sacco)
Most bands sound better recorded, where sound effects and computer tricks can gussy up even the most horrendous musician. But garage band Dune*TX sounds best live and close up. Okay, maybe not too close up, as the Dune*TX amps have only one setting: deafening. Last year's Goldenarm was their best album to date and promises even better things yet to come. -- O.F.A.
Barcode, 8 p.m.
The El Orbits
Best Cover Band
They're loungey. They're groovy. They're just a little loony. But the El Orbits have cornered the niche on bingo games bands with a wide variety of covers. Pop standards, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, blues, even '70s soft rock are all in their repertoire, as documented on last year's Live in Houston, Texas. Drummer-singer David Beebe, bassist Paul Beebe, keyboardist the Dazzling Pete Gray and guitarist Jim Henkel show sincere reverence for the material rather than jokey, Gen-X irony. But they don't take themselves too seriously, despite a stolid fashion sense on par with Agent Smith from The Matrix. When they sing the theme from The Love Boat, you'll wish that Isaac was pouring you a tall cool one and giving moustache-grooming tips. -- B.R.
Hard Rock Cafe, 5 p.m.
John Evans Band
Best C&W, Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly, Best Male Vocalist, Local Musician of the Year
Last year's top winner in this contest, Evans is a Buddy Holly-looking tall drink of water with a lean and mean sound. His band plays the sort of honky-tonk your mama warned you about -- rocking and razor-sharp, thumping and rough-and-tumble -- and Evans's commanding stage presence and sturdy baritone are the perfect accompaniment. Off stage, Evans is producing a soon-to-be-released tribute to Willie Nelson that will come out on Best Local Label nominee Compadre Records in September. -- J.N.L.
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, 9 p.m.
Best Metal/Industrial, Best Bassist (Marc Armaos)
Faceplant is becoming a Houston band in name only, and that's a good thing. With Jägermeister-sponsored club/arena gigs locked in for half the year, it now has headlining status guaranteed for its welcome-back-the-homeboys shows at Fitzgerald's. Having fattened up its rap-metal sound with the arrival of ex-Simpleton bassist Marc Armaos, and broadened its stylistic horizons on its most recent disc, Get Some, Faceplant has pretty much stated its case to its publishing company and fans that an even bigger breakout is in order. -- G.B.
Verizon Wireless Theater, 8 p.m.
Filthy McNasty & The Rhinestone Life
He wears a leather jacket. He cusses up a hurricane, tosses back strangers' drinks and has been known to perform with a thong on his head. He has a crew of groupies. He's an audience favorite yet a thorn in the side of every band he has shared a bill with. And that, above all else, is probably why he got a nod for Best Funk/R&B/Soul -- apart from the whole white-guy-singing-R&B angle. What was once the experimental side project of Fatal Flying Guilloteens guitarist Brian McManus has escalated into a blisteringly funny cult spectacle. -- C.D.L.
TOC Bar, 6 p.m.
The Fondue Monks
Best Bassist (Rozz Zamorano)
They haven't released a record since 1998's Baila Toca, but these men of the cloth have been anything but stagnant, constantly hitting stages in a flurry of gigs both here and around the country. Their à la carte musical menu of rock, blues, jazz and heavy funk have proved popular enough to make them unofficial musical ambassadors of the Bayou City. While many bands consist of players each pursuing their own agenda and musical direction (often at odds with each other), FM are a leading example of how bands should play together for their own boogie-down production. -- B.R.
Suede, 8 p.m.
Free Radicals with Harry Sheppard
Jazz is only the lettuce in the Free Radicals' salad bowl of sound. They also chop up and throw in a few slivers of old-school ska, shake out some fresh-ground hard funk and pour some extra-virgin hip-hop over the top. And depending on the night, they toss in a few croutons of African or Indian or Yiddish music as well. Vibist and heavy jazz cat Harry Sheppard brings a steadying influence to the musical anarchy, and a third Free Radicals record is due out soon. -- J.N.L.
Slainte Irish Pub, 8 p.m.
Grady Gaines & The Texas Upsetters
Best Horn/Horn Section, Album of the Year (Jumpstart)
Saxman Gaines trails only Texas Johnny Brown in the years-logged category -- he got his start in the 1950s as the leader of Little Richard's legendary Upsetters, and later played with Little Willie John, Gatemouth Brown, Big Walter the Thunderbird and Sam Cooke. Gaines is versatile, and the Upsetters can swing anything from gutbucket blues to trip-the-light fantastic disco, but the blues is his pleasure, if not always his business. Expect Gaines's warm tone and honking deluxe to be accompanied by Big Robert Smith, Patrick Harris and Paul David Roberts, three of the best blues singers in town. -- J.N.L.
Slainte Irish Pub, 6 p.m.
Best World Music
This eclectic ensemble combines serious chops and a taste for soulful, bluesy rock into an act that withstands the test of time. Formed in 1990, they have the musicianship and material to be taken seriously in a concert venue, but they also work with enough sweaty spunk and high energy to be welcome at any party. Where it seems many bands spend more time recording something to sell than playing, Global Village is only now recording its second album, a follow-up to 2000's Sugar What? In its 13th year, Global Village is still all about letting audiences feel the funk. -- G.B.
Mercury Room, 9 p.m.
Best Indie Rock
The Best New Act in 2000, Groceries were pipped at the post last year in the indie rock category by a handful of votes. One year later and the Westbury Squares are as kaput as their namesake shopping plaza, so things are looking up for the Pavement-like band headed by the singer (Matt Brownlie) with the most impressive Afro this side of Moochie Norris. -- J.N.L.
Dean's Credit Clothing, 6 p.m.
Opie Hendrix & The Texas TAllboys
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly, Song of the Year ("My Favorite Waitress")
In Opie Hendrix's case, the "alt" in alt-country stands for "altered." Even when Hendrix is playing it straight, we keep looking to see if this natural prankster has his tongue is in his cheek or his fingers crossed. Following up Smashed Hits, his collection of altered send-ups, his recently released San Jacinto reveals an artist who has the voice to croon country ballads or pretty pop ditties, but who can just as easily drop it into overdrive for a booming, authentic, substance-fueled, Waylon-style stomp or even a blistering Billy Idol tribute. Yeah, he's a walking contradiction, but he's our by-God contradiction. -- W.M.S.
Live Sports Cafe, 6 p.m.
We're not sure if this metal band from Baytown got its name from trying to describe the effects of living too close to big industry, but the sextet can shred through its tunes faster than carcinogenic petrochemicals zip through your nostrils any day. The group soldiered on eventually after the tragic death in late 2000 of front man Danny (Defleshed) Ramirez, with new vocal ripper Andrew Perez adding more of a black metal influence to HD's death metal underpinnings. You won't be able to catch the band playing out much this summer now that it has turned its attention to production of a third CD, which is expected to carry on the tradition of its melodic/epic decimate-small-mammals-at-100-yards soundscape. -- G.B.
Barcode, 7 p.m.
Brutal lyrics and punishing rhythms imbue the original modern hard rock of these Northside noisemakers with up-and-comer status. New singer Jim Finley spits out brimstone and fire in songs about addiction, wasted relationships, suicide and even autoerotic asphyxiation (masturbation -- it can kill!). But don't get them confused with mope rockers liked Staind -- the Fracus boys also throw a rip-roaring, substance-snorting party more along the lines of Pantera or Stone Temple Pilots. HF appeals to stoners, headbangers, grease monkeys and mulletheads alike. -- B.R.
Barcode, 9 p.m.
Best Blues, Best Guitarist
He's a big draw on European stages, where his original, scorching Texas blues rock and covers of acts such as Albert Collins, Freddie King and Johnny Winter have garnered kudos. However, former teen prodigy Jay Hooks is still a bit underappreciated in his hometown. And though his vocal skills are limited and often unemotive, his six-string shredding has few peers -- Hooks treats the neck of his guitar like an extension of his own body. And like a forked lightning bolt, his solos often veer into interesting tributaries. His recent release, Red Line, has more ringing tones than a phone sex business, with a fine mixture of electric blues and white-boy boogie-rock. -- B.R.
Suede, 9 p.m.
Best Keyboardist (Thomas Wilson)
This has certainly been a year of transition for Houston music-scene vets the Hunger, who have a slew of dusty Press Music Award trophies on display at their studio. The band has some great new material to shop around, but has parted ways with longtime drummer Max Schuldberg. The band's hard-core fans still swear allegiance to the group's distinctive sound, though -- and just when it seemed that keyboards weren't cool anymore, along came a band like Hot Hot Heat to remind us all that the Hunger had already aced that sound before it became a trend. -- G.B.
Verizon Wireless Theater, 9 p.m.
Imagine George Jones harnessed to a country boogie band like Hank Jr.'s and you're in the heart of Davin James country. Not only can James growl and moan like the Possum, he can seriously shred his Les Paul when he feels rowdy. James, whose "Magnolia" was 2002 Song of the Year, swaps songs with the state's top Texicana musical poets at his regular Wednesday-night acoustic gig in Old Town Spring. He has a new album recorded and several Nashville showcases lined up where label execs will have a shot at signing one of Houston's most legit triple-threat country talents. -- W.M.S.
Mercury Room, 8 p.m.
Jimmy's Pawn Shop
Best Drummer (Leesa Harrington-Squyres)
There's kind of a shortage of plain ol' ass-kicking rock bands. The kind that might be more than a little offended by the term "garage." The kind whose expertise and style fall more in line with the Faces' and the Stones'. Jimmy's Pawn Shop fits that description. The band plays straightforward guitar-rock and is known for venturing into long jams through which bassist-keyboardist Jimmy Dundon, guitarist Eric Dane and drummer Leesa Harrington-Squyres execute textbook blues-infused rock and roll. Dane (who also doubles as a guitarist for Greg Wood) still sports his trademark shag haircut with qualified pride. He had one way before those guys in the John Sparrow. -- T.S.
M Bar, 7 p.m.
The John Sparrow
Best Indie Rock
They may describe their sound as "Southern soul meets AC/DC," but that could be just another way to say "maximum R&B." At any rate, the John Sparrow is Houston's prime purveyor of Who-infused, Paul Weller-style mod rock. Guitarist Trey Barnette and singer-guitarist Kevin Richardson front the bass of Steve Longoria and Michael DeLeon's Keith Moon-style drums in this fairly new Houston quartet. The band recently signed with L.A. label Bomp!, with whom they will soon release an album produced by the Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Alfred Newcombe. Johnny-come-latelies to their shag haircuts or no (see above), the John Sparrow has just about as good a chance as any local band to break out in 2004. -- J.N.L.
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, 7 p.m.
Best Lounge DJ
Ethan Klein may have a surprise for those who check out his late-afternoon set at the showcase this Sunday. The first spinner out of the performing gate, he wants to show off his skills to folks who think he's the lounge DJ those who nominated him believe him to be. "I hate being categorized," he once exclaimed, and rightfully so. The best spinners are the ones who can weave together different styles of music into one eclectic, energetic flow, and Klein is a cat who takes exceptional pride in that. He's a decknician-for-hire, but a decknician-for-hire who plays by his own rules. He's kinda like Toshiro Mifune in those Kurosawa samurai movies, bouncing from party to party, scratching his goatee, surveying the scene and, eventually, just ripping shit up. -- C.D.L.
Boaka Bar, 5 p.m.
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly
These rockabilly cats are another band that goes back to the once thriving scene at the Blue Iguana. Their look and music is '50s hepcat, and the cuffs-rolled-up, pompadours-piled-high swagger comes with the requisite tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Titles like "Pomade and Hand Grenades," "Hot Rod Nissan" and "Cattiwampus" make their three albums worth returning to and their gigs more fun than boppin' at the high school hop. Dry-clean the hoop skirts, iron the bowling shirts, and don't forget to put on your best rockin' shoes, 'cause wherever the Luxurious Panthers are, there's a party goin' on. -- W.M.S.
Lady D & The Zydeco Tornadoes
Female bandleaders in zydeco are rare. Louisiana's Rosie Ledet is one prominent exception, as is Houston's own Lady D, the "Diva of Zydeco." As befits a zydeco diva, leopard-skin-print coats and cowboy hats are de rigueur, as they say in St. Martinville, as is the good-timin' button accordion. The Diva's excellent band is more complex than most -- male choruses back her, as do organ and sax in addition to the usual squeezebox/frottoir/rhythm section mix. Like Ledet, who once promised listeners "You Can Eat My Poussière," Lady D doesn't shy from the spicy double entendre, as evidenced by her "Squeeze My Box." -- J.N.L.
Dean's Credit Clothing, 5 p.m.
Best New Act
Droningly hypnotic post-punk/power pop is this new quartet's stock-in-trade, a sound that can remind you of the Foo Fighters at times and Hüsker Dü at others. Lest you think them a gloomy lot, let it be known that some of the band members also perform as KISS tribute band Rip and Destroy. Stickman-singer Frank Bullington has another interesting part-time job: He's one of the drummers at the Rockets home games. But in this band he shares vocals with the freewheelin' Lani Ordone. -- J.N.L.
Live Sports Cafe, 5 p.m.
Best Rock en Español
Recently these rockeros bested several other locals in a battle of the bands and won a deal with BMG records. Not as rootsy as Los Skarnales, nor as experimental as Chango Jackson, Libby's Dream is the most straight-ahead rock of the rock en español bunch. -- J.N.L.
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, 5 p.m.
Forget about bright, upbeat, see-only-the-good ditties or terminally banal odes to saving the environment. While Lise Liddell's vibe is airily New Age, literate and even demure, lyrics like "you've seen what meets the eye, but there's a lot more lying there / and when you see me naked, you may not wish to stare" can be as unblinkingly black-heart-dark as Leonard Cohen's. And what's a nice Houston girl doing singing about being thrown on a funeral pyre, anyway? -- W.M.S.
Suede, 6 p.m.
Little Brother Project
Best Guitarist (Marc Reczek)
Recent lineup shuffles have made it difficult to predict how the current incarnation of Little Brother Project will sound. When we caught up with them in January, though, their narcotic jazz-funk jam music had us pretty hypnotized at their still-running residency at Dean's Credit Clothing. -- J.N.L.
M Bar, 4 p.m.
Lonestar Bluegrass Band
Around in one form or another since 1982, the Lonestar Bluegrass Band is full of top-rung pickers. Leader Chris Hirsch is three-time (and current) Texas State Banjo Champion, and fiddler Adam Cutts won his first fiddle contest in Crockett, Texas, at the age of ten. With a lineup rounded out by guitarist/harmonica blower and high tenor Don Hayes and well-traveled bassist James Hicks, these winners of the 2002 Best Bluegrass award have spent more than 100 years cumulatively playing bluegrass, and their latest album, The Best of Times, covers everything from Bill Monroe to Lynyrd Skynyrd to "Route 66." -- W.M.S.
Brewery Tap, 7 p.m.
Songwriter of the Year
Another band from the dreaded "we kind of sound like Radiohead/Jeff Buckley" vein, Michael separates from the pack by being better at it than most and occasionally doing it in Spanish. The band's namesake is Michael Flores, a former member of Christian band Three Crosses, who has that high tenor so much in vogue and a band that provides him with hooks o' plenty. -- J.N.L.
BAR Houston, 5 p.m.
Best Dance DJ
This year, hard house-head Mister Spacely learned an important thing about being a DJ: You don't have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Last year on his Web site he posted a bunch of nasty-ass Webcam shots of ladies posing rather uninhibitedly while clasping his mix CDs. They were some jaw-dropping shots, but ultimately, it didn't win him any big votes for Best Dance/DJ. His site has now been sanitized, with more emphasis placed on the music he plays. Besides, why do you have to go all sleazy when you already have a hook: You're the dude who spins with a friggin' gas mask on, man! -- C.D.L.
Boaka Bar, 8 p.m.
Molly & The Ringwalds
Best Cover Band
Considering the deluge of retro nights dotting the club calendar, it's obvious that Houston refuses to forget (or outgrow) the music of the '80s. While not overtly profound, its ditsy charm still makes an ideal soundtrack to booze-fueled weekend escapism. Surely the Continental Club had this in mind when it recently offered its Friday happy-hour residency to these Reagan-era preservationists. "Jessie's Girl" and "Jane Says" are replicated with equal reverence, if not concise faithfulness, and the fun can't help but spill from the stage onto the dance floor. -- J.T.
Dean's Credit Clothing, 8 p.m.
Taking their name from a catchphrase from the Adam Sandler flick Billy Madison, this self-described "happy dork band" has had to slow the touring a little bit as one of its founding members was recently on a Mormon mission. (Quick -- name another band with Mormons in it. If you said Bachman Turner Overdrive, give yourself a gold star.) O'Doyle's brand of punk is melodic and toe-tapping, its lyrics not altogether serious, or at least they aren't on the band's ode to a much-loved wino "My Favorite Bum." -- J.N.L.
TOC Bar, 7 p.m.
Best Drummer (Mike Potter)
Bolstered by a hard-core following of fans -- many of whom grew up with the band and have seen it dozens of times -- Paris Green is a rock-n-scratch quintet whose intense live shows feature vocalist Matt Pattin's eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-the-head exorcisms and mane-flipping madness. Paris Green brings to mind the bombast of Creed and the multilayered textures of Incubus. A self-titled EP by the group (all in their very early twenties) places them squarely between the stage of the Warped Tour and Ozzfest. -- B.R.
Verizon Wireless Theater, 5 p.m.
Best Drummer (Austen Hook)
Another member of the Solar Flare Records stable, Pilot Radio has been honing its touchy-feely pop rock sound on the road of late, sculpting a harder edge to the material on its 2002 CD, Antiques. The well-orchestrated hooks in the band's Oasis-like "World Without You" and the nod to Coldplay "Good Thing You're Young" make vocalist Ricky Young's yearnings seem downright authentic compared to straight-up emo rockers we know. Now back home, the Katy quartet is preparing a follow-up disc. -- G.B.
BAR Houston, 8 p.m.
Signed to Houstonian Frank Liddell's Nashville publishing house Carnival Music as a songwriter a few months back, Mando Saenz has taken that giant first step toward a viable music career: kissing his day job good-bye. Whether rocking with his twangy band at Rudz or swapping songs solo with high-profile artists at the Mucky Duck, Saenz seems to earn soft-spoken respect, with his intelligent lyrics and pitch-perfect vocals, from audiences and other performers alike. With his debut album, Watertown, set for release and Nashville pros in his corner, Saenz could be on the verge of getting some deserved recognition. -- W.M.S.
Suede, 7 p.m.
Guy Schwartz & The New Jack Hippies
Local Musician of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Song of the Year ("The House Is Burning Down")
Bon vivant guitarist-producer Guy Schwartz has been an integral part of our music scene so long he should be called the Godfather. Unapologetically hippie, the Jerry Garcia look-alike's community approach to music finds him playing with street poet Kool B, hepcat Heath Spencer Phillip, soul diva Gloria Edwards and blues legend Little Joe Washington. He also produced 2002's Homegrown Collective, a compilation benefiting NORML that featured 13 Houston bands doing original songs on their favorite controlled substance. When Schwartz's amp is on he usually has tape rolling, and his recent output has been prolific. -- W.M.S.
Live Sports Cafe, 8 p.m.
Best New Act
Out of the ashes of Sevenfold and 24 Count comes Silverleaf, a modern rock band with a bunch of momentum. Although the group is less than a year old, its singles "Reach Me" and a remake of the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" have cracked the rotation at the Buzz, and the band has a sponsorship deal with Budweiser. Release of the band's debut CD, which was recorded at Sugar Hill Studios, is imminent. -- J.N.L.
M Bar, 5 p.m.
Hilary Sloan & Aunt Erma's Fillin' Station
Drop the "alt" from "country" around Hilary Sloan. The daughter of bluegrasser Jimmy Sloan, Hilary is as country as musical ladies get here in Space City. She is a first-class old-time country fiddler and has a truly rural vocal tone like Iris Dement. She's played with Greg Wood, Opie Hendrix and the Good Luck Band, but lately has been working hard pushing her own country band, Aunt Erma's Fillin' Station. Whether belting out a Lefty Frizzell classic or harmonizing on the fly behind Reckless Kelly at a Blanco's open-mike night, Sloan is as genuinely country as blackstrap molasses. -- W.M.S.
Suede, 5 p.m.
Slop Jar Junior
They're Houston's own Rage/Soundgarden/Audioslave story: Lead singer leaves band for solo career, remaining members recruit equally known former singer from equally known band, new band takes on new name and new sound. SJJ's sound is much harder and more wildly diverse than that of their former outfits (Soular Slide and Global Village) could ever dream of being, as seen on their recently released debut, Anti-Everything. The majority of their sound is a mixture of hard rock and stone-cold funk, and they believe in putting on a show. Singer Chad Strader's onstage antics combine equal parts Spinal Tap, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Muppet Show. You'll never think of "Eleanor Rigby" in quite the same way again... -- B.R.
M Bar, 6 p.m.
Best Rock en Español, Best Male Vocalist (Felipe Galvan), Best Bassist (Nick Gaitan)
Who says two-tone ska has to be a black-and-white affair? A typical Los Skarnales show often involves not just two tones, but three: black, white and lots of brown. Ska is also a bit of a misnomer -- the band has been toning down the Jamaican style little by little over the years and cranking up the surf, rockabilly and punk. They even foray into Tejano occasionally -- a guest accordionist joins them on a rockin' border mota ditty "Juana." Flat cap-wearing vocalist Felipe Galvan is one of the best live performers in town, regardless of genre, and the quintet's concerts are as enervating as a double shot of Hornitos with a habanero chaser. -- J.N.L.
BAR Houston, 9 p.m.
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly
From their early days as rocka-punkabilly nuts at Blue Iguana through their 2002 soft-porn eroto-rock statement The Formula, guitarist-singer Hank Schyma and bassist Myke Foster have pledged allegiance to the school that says licks are great, but licks and stage presence are greater. These local rock warriors don't just look like rock stars (and believe us, they know how to dress the part), they are one of the most energetic three-pieces in town. The addition of drummer Mike Blattel has given the Backtones a solid man in the middle. Smoking, big-beat sets are a Backtones trademark. -- W.M.S.
Hard Rock Cafe, 7 p.m.
Last time this hip-hop/performance art/band of non-brothas graced an HPMA stage, co-front man Rapsputin and his five-year-old son stood side-by-side and mooned the crowd. Dunno if Junior's gonna drop trou again, but expect something weird to happen. As if rap renditions of Kenny Rogers tunes, odes to puberty manuals, songs about crapping -- and not unrelatedly, James Coney Island -- weren't enough. If I may make bold enough to get my Jesse Jackson on, Southern Lights shows are always exhibitions of exhilaration, humiliation and discombobulation. -- J.N.L.
Brewery Tap, 5 p.m.
One of the newest duos to jump onto the Houston rap scene, Studemont Project has made more noise in its short existence than just about any underground hip-hop act plugging away today. Comprising MCs Caption and Article C, this group is taking the sound of the streets to a whole nother level. Maybe because those streets run through the Heights, which are pretty much uncharted territory in the realm of hip-hop. The beats are creative, yet fairly hard-core, even if they are a bit abstract for the typical H-town rap fanatic, and the rhymes are top-notch. -- M.S.
Barcode, 6 p.m.
Best Drummer (Stefanie Friedman)
It's a goddamn shame that these decade-plus veterans don't play live much anymore, especially since their brand of fuzzy, no-frills, three-minutes-is-stretching-it garage rock is riding a new wave of popularity nationally. Last year's record, Spinning Wheels, was also their best effort yet. But the band members all have real lives and day jobs and treat music as a hobby, albeit a serious one. They play for their own pleasure, when and where they want, pure and simple. But the Shackers are also clearly a case study in the benefits of what can happen on stage with all that pent-up energy, letting loose with ferocious, manic performances when they do play. An underrated institution. -- B.R.
Live Sports Cafe, 7 p.m.
Swarm of Angels
Best Indie Rock
Seemingly less a grounded unit than a blurry snapshot in transit, SoA collects erstwhile members of such past glories as Japanic, Pain Teens and Rusted Shut for a simultaneously loose and anxious rock experience. The kinetic debut EP, Plessure, reflects both its creators' track records and present itineraries. On the extracurricular tip, "feather axeman" Domokos Benczedi marks time with (as?) A Pink Cloud, while fellow Angels Nikki Texas and Erika Thrasher's recent self-released Pain Reliever/Titanium seven-inch packs a Plessure-compatible crunch. Should the Swarm ever suffer implosion in the tradition of its root projects, complacency won't be the trigger. -- J.T.
Brewery Tap, 6 p.m.
Recently celebrating their tenth anniversary, these veteran punk rockers (oops, I mean Houston rockers; they don't like the limiting "punk" label...) show no signs of complacency live or in the studio. Last year's Doppler Effect was something of a watershed for the band's non-nihilistic form of aggressive music. Butch (vocals), Delron and Jason (guitars), Rubio (bass) and a revolving lineup of drummers cover topics ranging from vegans and heroin to deforestation and sk8er bois. They've also named a song after the catalog number for a mail-order crack pipe, which leads one to wonder if John Ashcroft has launched an investigation of the group under the Patriot Act. -- B.R.
Verizon Wireless Theater, 6 p.m.
The line between hard rock raucousness and heavy metal histrionics is thin, but Tin Henry is planted firmly in the former. It isn't subtle and it sure ain't pretty, but that's perfect for the band's rough-hewn, blue-collar, riff-fueled tales of cacophony and cosmic musings. Lyrics -- not a strong point -- are often simply dressing for the pounding instruments and howling vocals. The band also knows pacing: slow, draggy riffs often building into an apocalyptic fury by song's end. Not for the faint of heart, but deliciously brutal nonetheless. -- B.R.
Slainte Irish Pub, 7 p.m.
Best Latin, Best World
Mark Towns, who has been playing guitar since he was ten and is an occasional Press contributor, has come to be recognized as one of a handful of full-blown guitar maestros in town. In 2000 critics flipped over Towns's debut, Flamenco Jazz Latino. Currently working in Latin jazz and world beat styles, Towns has ridden his lifetime guitar odyssey from Jimi Hendrix to John McGlaughlin to a level where even local jazz greats like Kirk Whalum recognize his style as being at a musical place entirely his own. His music is smart, fun and mesmerizing. -- W.M.S.
Brewery Tap, 8 p.m.
Paul Wall & Chamillionaire
Two of the most talented young lyricists to come out of Houston since Scarface and the Geto Boys first grabbed the mike, these two wordsmiths play off each other like they came straight from hip-hop's heyday, back when chemistry, lyricism and braggadocio meant something beyond how much platinum one can accumulate. Don't get it twisted -- Paul and Cham certainly have platinum chains, and they'll surely let you know about them, but they do it in a much wittier way than any rapper you could name on the scene. -- M.S.
Verizon Wireless Theater, 7 p.m.
Song of the Year ("37 Years"), Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly
Greg Wood has been officially "back" for about a year. The former Horseshoe leader recovered from a near-fatal illness, and he continues to reap the success of his acclaimed 2002 album, Ash Wednesday. Wood's live band includes Eric Dane (of Jimmy's Pawn Shop) and Ken Jones on guitars, bassist Greg Mausser and Bill Myers behind the kit. Contemporary country music and roots-rock rarely deliver the lyrical fist-to-the-gut punch that Wood inflicts, and from the new material he's been debuting live, Wood is still swinging and scoring direct hits. -- T.S.
Mercury Room, 7 p.m.
Nicaraguan-born Yelba plays both sides of the Latin ballad/salsa street. Working with jazz guitarist Mark Towns on her debut CD, Recuerdos, Yelba favors the "Bésame Mucho"-type boleros but easily swings into a salsafied version of "Hotel California" or a Peruvian-tinged "Tamalito." She comes by the stylistic range naturally. Her musical background is a mixed bag that includes Nicaraguan and Peruvian traditional music, Mexican ballads, merengue, light jazz, salsa, classic rock and even a little country-western thrown in for good measure. The result is kind of like Vikki Carr meets Eydie Gorme and Karen Carpenter over at Loretta Lynn's house. Purists cringe, but her fans love her. -- O.F.A.
Mercury Room, 5 p.m.
Local Musician of the Year, Best Male Vocalist, Songwriter of the Year
"If you stay with me / I'll make it poetry," vows Yoria in the title opener to his third release. Another hungry promise to a potential lover? Or a plea to puzzled fans to allow his evolution? For I'll Be Here Awake (eligible for Album of the Year contention in 2004), Houston's alterna-pop laureate overhauled his backing band and launched a new imprint, 12 Records (with former Rocket/longtime music enthusiast Matt Maloney). Yoria's renewed edginess may startle longtime listeners at first, but that delicious vocal ache and those signature velvet-knuckle lyrics anchor the program as always. Long live the poetry. -- J.T.
Live Sports Cafe, 9 p.m.
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Norma Zenteno Band
Could this be the year that Zenteno is deposed from her decade-plus reign as Houston's Queen of Salsa? After all, she did make those Casa Olé commercials, and we all know what happened next to José Lima, that restaurante's previous, ahem, "pitch"- man. So will Zenteno succumb to the Casa Olé jinx? Don't bet on it. We'd just as soon let Nolan Ryan get away from us as not vote Zenteno tops in town. Oh, wait, we did that, too... -- J.N.L.
M Bar, 9 p.m.
Just call Mark Zeus Mister Everywhere. Besides fronting his revolving-cast band Thunderboltz, the Chicago transplant tirelessly runs open-mike nights, works as a harmonizing mandolin slinger sideman with Melinda Mones and Lisa Novak on their acoustic gigs, collaborates with country-billy chanteuse Kim Carson, takes on studio work, and writes letters to the editor of the Press in his spare time. While most of Zeus's live work these days is in the alt-country and folk genres, his Thunderboltz albums are filled with an eclectic mix of edgy rock, jazzy blues and even some swampy bayou funk he's picked up in H-town. -- W.M.S.
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, 6 p.m.
Best Funk/Soul/R&B, Best Female Vocals (Jessica Zweback)
It's not often that you find the Bulgarian Women's Chorus, Donny Hathaway and Daryl Hall in one band's list of influences, but Zwee is that band. While it's difficult to isolate a Balkan feel in their soul-funk jam band stew, the band members -- which include brother and sister Frank and Jessica Zweback -- do know a thing or two about a groove. Their name might remind you of crackers, but their sound doesn't. -- J.N.L.
Hard Rock Cafe, 8 p.m.
Another year, another nomination for this Creole music combo that defines "mainstay." The Dots have won every year that there has been a zydeco category in the Press Music Awards. In a town full of touring zydeco acts such as Step Rideau, Lil' Brian & the Zydeco Travelers and J. Paul Jr., it seems a little odd that these mostly homebound guys should win every year, but if you think about it, that's the very reason for their success. They're at every festival, every wedding, every corporate shindig in town -- in fact, they're downright godlike in their H-town zydeco omnipresence. -- J.N.L.
Slainte Irish Pub, 9 p.m.