Showcase Showdown

Tontons singer Asli Omar likes to go ­barefoot.
Marco Torres

Saturday's Houston Press Music Awards Showcase was spread out, with 50 bands playing over five areas and some 11 stages, which meant most of our photographers and writers were stationed at one location for most of the day. Our team circled the venues with the help of a few shuttle vans, some bikes and their feet. Luckily, the weather was fair, and we didn't freeze or burn. That's hard to find at most music festivals.

Saturday was a day of discovery and a reiteration of what makes these showcase bands the best in the city. It's always thrilling to see new faces in the crowds finding new groups to get behind. As Houston music's stock price rises outside of the city limits, we hope the talent pool in our backyard only gets better and better. Craig Hlavaty

A Flash Mob, an Ice Cream Suit and a Barefoot Singer

One of the standout sets of the day was the one by The Mighty Orq right at sundown over at Lucky's, all blues, muscle and rumble. We'd only heard online snippets of the band previously, but we really enjoyed the Orq's set. Maybe our ears are changing, tuning to new-old frequencies.

Los Skarnales of course brought out a flash mob of fans for their mid-afternoon set on the studio stage at Warehouse Live. We've seen this before at Skarnales club and festival dates. A hungry crew comes in, about a hundred strong, for Felipe and the boys; they sweat and dance for an hour; and then they poof-vamoose for the rest of the day, scattering out. It's a lovely Houston phenomenon, and one that we can't imagine not seeing at least once a month.

Later in the evening, the stages at Warehouse were a veritable Best of Houston Mixtape. There were The Niceguys and Hollywood FLOSS gaining new fans left and right from the rock crowds, and everyone else discovering Roky Moon & BOLT! all over again to close out the studio stage at 8 p.m. The BOLTers were in their American Honey record release garb, with lead singer Moon in his wonderful ice cream suit and guitarist Aaron Echegaray in RenFest dress.

On the big ballroom stage, the amazing and brassy Kam Franklin reunited with her Umbrella Man friends for a few songs from their Continental residency days. Ryan Scroggins & the Trenchtown Texans came next, smoking out the crowd sonically with stuff from the band's two new discs, Move to the Country and Folk Devils.

Closing out the ballroom festivities were quickly rising modern rock quintet thelastplaceyoulook and the road-weary Tontons. We got to announce both bands from the stage and had the pleasure of telling the crowd about on-the-mend music editor Chris Gray's move to homier digs, which allowed us the honor of standing on the trademark metal box that LPYL's Justin Nava stands on during shows.

The Tontons arrived back in Houston on Saturday morning after a marathon tour through the Southwest and drove into town after 23 hours of van livin'. Lead singer Asli Omar dedicated their set to Chris Gray, who was one of the first local music journos to notice the band as they began their career. They mixed in newer road-tested songs with popular favorites like "Leon." It always makes us nervous when Omar goes barefoot on stages, especially the Warehouse stage, considering that's where Insane Clown Posse was standing just a few weeks ago. Rocks Off isn't sure how much tetanus shots run these days. Hlavaty

Little Boys and Anarchy

Josh Wolf, lead singer of rock and rollers Hell City Kings, is fantastic. And mesmerizing. And pasty.

During his set at the HPMAs (Warehouse Live, 6 p.m.), he stalked around the rostrum, teal light from the overhead stage lights glowing on his white, semi-doughy torso, "Rock and Roll Nightmare" tattooed across his sternum. At several points during the show he paused the ruckus, only to stand there in a Christlike pose, microphone dangling, soaking in the adulation offered by the then-sparse crowd.

HCK was blinding and visceral and my twin sons, age four, in attendance at the HPMAs for the first time, were entirely enthralled.

We'd actually arrived in the middle of the previous set (The Niceguys), during which the boys spent most of the time displaying the frosty shyness that comes with being In A New Place With A Lot Of People.

A pleasant woman in a questionable blouse approached and wordlessly attempted to engage them in dance. She was stonewalled, ignored completely. They were like Brittany Murphy at the beginning of that shitty Don't Say a Word movie.

After six minutes, though, they were everywhere; sprinting and rolling on the floor and dancing and snatching snacks from the VIP room like it was constructed solely for them (Brittany Murphy after she'd gotten a little famous, I guess).

There are lots of reasons to like the HPMAs — $10 for 50 bands is pretty impossible to beat; the way the schedule is set up, you're certain to be exposed to a few acts you weren't intending on seeing; there will always be at least one thing that you walk away from saying, "Holy Christ, that was extraordinary." (Best Unexpected Moment of 2011's Showcase: watching Robert Rodriquez, performing with Umbrella Man, and his gorgeously artistic cumbia set.)

But for me, this year it was watching two tiny versions of myself watching the malfeasant anarchy of Wolf and the Hell City Kings and trying to figure out why his daddy wasn't telling him to be quiet or stop jumping around or put his shirt back on.

This is far more interesting than practicing writing my name or listening to Mama explain the difference between "evince" and "evoke," their big brown eyes seemed to say.

After the show, they ate a Spider-Man ice cream and a Ninja Turtle ice cream.

Then they went home to sleep.

Music dads need music sons. Shea Serrano

Little Joe, Goosebumps and a Surprise B+

I spent most of my Houston Press Music Awards day circulating between five contiguous venues: Dirt Bar, Ben's Beans, Reserve 101, Pete's Dueling Piano Bar and the House of Blues Foundation Room. Some random notes:

Drifting toward House of Blues on foot, we saw Little Joe Washington flash past in the passenger seat of an antique car; game face on, he looked like a man on the way to his 10,000th gig.

Texas Johnny Brown at Ben's Beans: He still has fire in his fingers and butter in the low end of a voice that can go from Bobby Bland to Barry White. We could've given all the awards to Brown and called a halt.

Caught the last number by supper club singer Kristine Mills, basically sung to an empty room. I've been to funerals that were livelier.

The Octanes had some tech issues, but also the best line all day: "I tried and tried to be true / Until I just got sick of you."

Recently publicists have been insisting Clory Martin is "the next Norah Jones," so I drifted into the middle of her set. Note to Martin: Don't teach your band the song during your awards showcase. This ain't amateur hour.

Rivers, a young power trio, aren't there yet but they've got a good direction and show much promise.

Surprise treat of the day: soul shouter Diunna Greenleaf accompanied by Jonn Richardson. She left the microphone and walked to the middle of the empty dance floor, where she entranced the crowd with her vocal performance; goosebumps.

And then it all starts to run together. Finnegan: A, another very pleasant surprise we'll be seeing again. Lankford Folk Family Revival: B, nice but not great. D.R.U.M.: A, rocksteady year in, year out. Steve Krase and the In Crowd: A-, stout rocking blues, great players. Brant Lee Croucher: B-, by-the-numbers sorta country, sorta not, every song sounds the same. Steve Steele: C-, so many people hit the exits you had to wait in line to get the elevator by the third song. Kevin Taylor Kendrick: C-, Songwriter of the Year? Not even funny...

Two biggest surprises? The Beans: B+, I expected to hate this band based on YouTube, but they have a lot of promise and a great vibe. The Journey Agents: A-, lay down wicked funk and have fun doing it. William Michael Smith

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