Rogue Bosoms, Bouncing Booties and Pac-Man Raps
So that auld acquaintances won't be forgot, let's go into auld lang syne mode, whatever that means
For rock and roll, at least, 2004 was another big year for Karen Berg. And who is Karen Berg, you might ask? Good question. I just found out about her myself. As it turns out, she was the mid-'70s Elektra talent scout who signed Television, the Cars and the B-52s, three bands that, along with Television's CBGB compatriots Blondie and Talking Heads, pretty much defined the sound of cool rock all these years later. (The Ramones -- another CBGB band -- are the forefathers of both the punk and garage scenes. So if you hung out at CBGB in 1975, you saw just about every rock band that would be relevant 29 years later.)
Today, you can still hear plenty of "Rock Lobster" guitars in Franz Ferdinand and a surfeit of Greg Hawkes's warm synths in the Strokes sound, and just about every rock vocalist who's not trying to be either Johnny Rotten, Joey Ramone or Eddie Vedder sounds like David Byrne. (Except for the Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic, who sounds like Elton John and, as my wife noted, prances exactly like Mick Jagger.) And as the cliché goes, almost all the guitars in all the cool rock are "angular," just as they were in Television and XTC.
Meanwhile, everybody -- rappers and rockers alike -- sang or rhymed about going out and scoring. For every "Take Me Out" or "Somebody Told Me" on the rock side, there was a "Yeah!" or a "Freak-A-Leak" on the hip-hop/R&B tip. In short, urrrbody was in da club gettin' tipsy, all year long, and then going home and doing it missionary with their toes crammed against the headboard.
The rock and hip-hop approaches toward this end were as different as night and day. Here's Petey Pablo describing his ideal night out and his dream girl in "Freak-A-Leak": "Sniff a little coke, take a little x, smoke a little weed, and drink a little bit / I need a girl that I can freak wit, and wanna try shit, and ain't scared of a big dick." To hear a certain song of Franz Ferdinand's, you'd get the impression that FF front man Alex Kapranos would fill that bill, as long as that big dick belonged to "Michael." And murky sexual politics was also a hallmark of "Somebody Told Me," with all those boyfriends who looked like girlfriends, etc. So while hip-hoppers forged ahead musically, they stayed pretty square sexually. Rockers, on the other hand, did their exploring in beds, if not in recording studios.
The year 2004 was also when crunk jumped the shark. Once "Yeah!" hit big, the shit had hit the fan. I heard it blaring at rural lake houses. I saw the video on VH1 all year. And when I heard it played at my son's elementary school carnival a couple of months ago, I just suddenly realized that this music had strayed way too far from the thug-ridden Atlanta clubs where it was codified. Although the kids at Poe school are pretty crunk.
Still, Lil Jon again dominated the year -- you can't go 15 minutes on the Box or the Party or even Mega 101 without hearing one of his nihilistically elemental productions. (His music also furnished one of the impromptu musical highlights of my year. Late one night during the Super Bowl festivities downtown, a DJ had set up shop in a deli on a seedy side street, where he was serenading a group of festive, beer-drinking people with "Get Low" while they waited for Fifth Ward-bound Metro buses. A couple of them -- two extremely fat ladies -- were booty-dancing in the street. Everybody was embarrassed and tittering at them for some reason, so I nudged the guy next to me and asked what was up. "They both mens," he said. Coulda fooled me.) Coming up right behind Lil Jon is Kanye West, an absolute musical genius, a worthy successor to jazzmen like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Yes, his beats really are that tight.
Houston, led by Lil' Flip's Pac-Man rap, made some more baby steps toward catching Atlanta as the hub of Dirty South rap. To finish the job, we need a local producer to break through with a definitive and distinctive local sound -- one that doesn't rely on chug-a-lugging copious codeine to be truly appreciated. With or without a local producer, next year local rapper Slim Thug will break big nationally, big things will come out of the Swisha House posse, and the city's hip-hop scene will have its best year ever. (After hearing it once, I feel safe in saying that Thug's new Neptunes-produced single "Like a Boss" sounds like Evander Holyfield working a cornered opponent's rib cage and that it is a 100 percent-certain smash hit.)
Signs are also encouraging on the local rock scene. This month, for the first time in ages, a great local indie rock compilation crossed my desk. (It's called I Hate It Here, I Never Want to Leave -- watch for a review in these pages soon.) And bands like Clouseaux, 8Track Charade, the John Evans Band and Michael Haaga released killer records that have inspired me to write the "poetry" you can find below. It was also a good year for Houston musicians who have picked up stakes and left -- especially those who moved to San Francisco. Greg Ashley (a.k.a. the Gris Gris) and Jolie Holland each released fantastic albums and put on stellar homecoming shows at Rudyard's, and Graham Lebron's return home with Rogue Wave was equally triumphant.
Houstonians who moved to Nashville long ago did pretty well, too. Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell each garnered two Grammy nominations. Speaking of country, Jesse Dayton and Sean Reefer and the Resin Valley Boys also had a hand in inspiring some doggerel from me.
Nowhere was the local music scene more dynamic this year than it was on the radio. To my way of thinking, it was one step forward and two steps back for the local dial. We lost a golden oldies channel and gained another sports talk station. We lost a classical station and gained another regional Mexican outlet. And then we lost tired old mullet-headed warhorse KLOL and gained an exciting new format that you really should listen to before you haul off and dismiss it as "another goddamn Tejano station." Expect more turmoil on the box next year -- I predict that the Point will be the next major station to flip formats, but I don't have a clue what the new one would be. Best-case scenario, beyond the classic rap/hip rock hybrid I've harped on all year that no one has the balls to try, would have it be something like "the Bob" in Austin, a free-form pop-rock station that segues from Ohio Players to Talking Heads to Queen to Prince. Worst-case scenarios, and they are many and all seem more likely than the best-case, include another regional Mexican station, "the new KLOL" or another hip-hop station.
It was a strange year on the live music scene. After years of having too few mid-size venues, we now probably have too many. Expect one or two of a group including the Engine Room, Numbers, the Meridian and Fitzgerald's to have a tough '05, especially if 2401 San Jacinto enters the rock fray. "A tough '05" is an understatement when it comes to the Houston International Festival. Last year, Houston's signature world music/food extravaganza scaled back the music bookings and migrated away from downtown's charm to Reliant Park's vapid sterility. It was a hugely unpopular move, and then it rained for three days of the festival's four-day run. This year, in which iFest salutes India, is make-or-break.
And will you look at that, I've written virtually all of this whole action-packed year-ender, and I have yet to even mention the fact that Houston played host to an event that I can brand without the slightest hint of hyperbole as the most earth-shattering incident in the entire history of the world, nay, the universe. I speak, of course, of the baring of Janet Jackson's titanium-encrusted cyber-nipple at halftime of the Super Bowl. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that New York state has had its Woodstocks, California its Monterey Pops, Nevada its Burning Men and Austin its ACL Fests. None of them comes even close to H-town Tittygate I, the rogue bosom that tipped world history by re-electing a conservative president.
In memoriam: Kim Yvette, Julie De Rossi, Lloyd Gibson, Bill "Boneman" Gonce, Stefan Schultz, Oscar Perry, Cal Green and Illinois Jacquet all passed away this year. Also, the Bill Mraz Dance Hall burned down.
Top ten local CDs. For reasons I can't even explain or rationalize to myself, this year's top ten local CD rundown will be written in haiku form. So without further ado:
Michael Haaga, The Plus and Minus Show
Death metal maven
softens to heavy mellow,
Jesse Dayton, Country Soul Brother
Beaumont AM jams
of Jimmy Carter vintage
from this Son of Sahm
Devin the Dude, To tha X-Treme
He likes his blunts fat
and all his bitches pretty.
These rhymes are so real
Jolie Holland, Escondida
Homegirl in Frisco
plays blue cabaret torch songs.
Tom Waits adores it
The Gris Gris, Self-Titled EP
he's dark, psychedelic
as that Goat's Head Soup
John Evans, Circling the Drain
Toning down country,
tall rocker waxes Cramp-like --
Cowpunk still lives on!
Kahuna heads paddling
on great Kon Tiki canoes --
8Track Charade, Self-Titled EP
over warm '70s rock;
Spain-colored orange glow.
Sean Reefer and the Resin Valley Boys, Texas Hill Country
steel, twang and grime a-plenty.
Yep, Hank done 'em this way.
Earl Gilliam, Texas Doghouse Blues
Piano man smokes
on these old-school Tomball blues
with I.J. Gosey
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