Weird Karma... Anyone looking for a reason why so many out-of-state bands view Texas as a flaky touring market need look no further than Pete Droge's May 13 show at Instant Karma. Sure, midweek gigs can be a risk in any city, and to compound the problem, Droge's was a last-minute booking. It also didn't help matters any that the Portland-based singer/songwriter -- who currently records with Epic subsidiary 57 Records -- hasn't had anything resembling a hit since 1994's "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself)."

Still, Droge and his backup outfit, the Sinners, seemed resigned to the possibility that nothing short of teaming up with ex-members of Jackopierce is apt to endear them to Texans (though they will take another shot at Houston sometime in July, opening for former ski-lodge crooner Edwin McCain, who does quite well in Houston). Sinners bassist Dave Hull confided before the show that even their Austin date was poorly attended: what a letdown after that city's South by Southwest, where they played to a packed house just two months ago.

But nothing could have prepared them for the freak show in Houston. Urban honky-tonk poet Gerald Collier -- he of weak voice and strong lyrics -- opened the performance, which was enough to bring out local celeb Jesse Dayton and his band, who had met the Seattle musician via their mutual friends the Supersuckers. But when Dayton's entourage left, at the start of Droge's set, all sanity seemed to fly out the door with them.

Immediately, a soused, buttoned-down lug -- the end of his balled-up tie hanging from the pocket of his Hagar slacks -- took to the floor with his tipsy date. While the two made a spectacle of themselves, just a few feet away, the Sinners lit into the title track of Droge's latest release, Spacey and Shakin. The band played on with admirable precision, seemingly oblivious to the pickled twosome as they lurched around the dance floor, careening into each other and the Sinners' monitors, which teetered on their makeshift pedestals in front of the stage with every body-slam.

Predictably, "If You Don't Love Me" -- delivered in a riveting, self-mocking style -- was the only tune that seemed to rouse the mostly uninterested onlookers, whose numbers had hovered at around 50 at one point but thinned considerably by set's end. Perhaps most disturbing was their inability to get off on a great rock and roll band, which the Sinners most certainly are. Instead, the audience mingled and applauded politely.

There was no encore, of course; why prolong the agony? And anyhow, the real encore had already come and gone five songs before the end of the set, when a leggy blond danced in front of the stage like a stripper. She buttoned up her vest, then reached beneath it and extracted the glittery green halter top that had been covering her chest. She then placed it on her boyfriend's head and snapped a photograph. Looking up from his mike, Droge caught a glimpse of the action and laughed. One can only guess what he was thinking -- other than, of course, how fast he could get the hell on the road.

Princely past... Back in 1988, Houston's Rick Marcel was performing with the gospel/pop group the Steele Singers in Minneapolis when he caught the attention of his future employer, the Man Who Once Was Prince. Apparently, Sir Hieroglyph was so taken by Marcel's dexterity with the Steeles that he hired the musician on the spot to work as a jack-of-all-trades at his Paisley Park studio. "He came to me through his body guards," Marcel says. "A week later, I was at Paisley Park. It was a beautiful experience."

By 1992, however, Marcel had outgrown his usefulness at Paisley Park and he moved on. Eventually, he married and relocated to Houston, the home base of his wife, Nicole, a talented singer/performer. While serving under the Artist has to be a tough gig to top, Marcel says he's doing just fine here in Houston working as an arranger and session player, most notably for the Rap-A-Lot label.

A few nights a month, you can catch his show with the Radiance Band at Cody's, where he tackles everything from Motown and funk classics to his own soul and R&B originals. He also plays the occasional gig at Billy Blues, where he'll front a streamlined quartet Thursday.


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