Unfinished spectacle... Damned if the people pulling the strings at Pace Concerts were going to let a little dust, debris and other heavy-construction fallout put a damper on last weekend's unveiling of Aerial Theater at Bayou Place. While they were at it, damned if they'd allow some young and hungry rock and roll band to put on an awe-inspiring performance that might somehow divert attention away from the real star of the evening -- Houston's newest live venue itself.
So it must have pleased everyone involved when Little Feat's November 14 show delivered nothing that wasn't boringly predictable. Aerial Theater's debut event was, at best, a mildly entertaining, yawningly proficient affair. As such, one couldn't help but pause repeatedly to soak in the sparkling sur-roundings. The pronounced odor of fresh paint, the cool feel of virgin restroom porcelain, the spectacular look of gleaming, beaming stage apparatus devoid of dust: It all provided a welcome respite from Feat's creaky nostalgia show.
Still, as inconsequential as Little Feat '97 are, they'll always be remembered as the band that popped Aerial's cherry. The Theater at Bayou Place recently acquired its corporate title when Aerial Communications purchased ten-year sponsorship rights. The wireless phone company plopped down a tidy sum for naming privileges, so it appears I have no choice but to humor them in their desire to see their corporate identity endlessly plugged in the local media. (Aerial, Aerial, Aerial, Aerial ... there, how's that?) In the near future, the company will be stringing telephones from the ceiling of the venue. Local calls will be free to theater patrons -- the ultimate act of generosity, it would seem, from a business driven by usage fees.
For those who've somehow escaped the hype, Aerial Theater anchors Bayou Place, the much anticipated transformation of the old Albert Thomas Convention Center. The spiffy handiwork of Baltimore developer David Cordish, the new entertainment mall is set for completion sometime in December, with a grand-opening blowout, featuring national acts such as the Wallflowers and Matchbox 20, scheduled for New Year's Eve. When finished, the Bayou Place complex will include a handful of restaurants, a Slick Willie's pool hall and the Angelika Movie Theater, an eight-screen facility that will focus on art-house flicks.
Meanwhile, Pace Concerts, which holds a 20-year lease on the new Aerial Theater, sank an estimated $4 million into its venue -- and, at the risk of tooting Pace's horn, it was money well spent. Houston has been hurting for a midlevel concert facility of this quality and versatility. With varying floor and balcony layouts that can accommodate anywhere from 1,900 to 2,900 people in cabaret, theater and general-admission configurations, it ought to be a huge factor in drawing a greater variety of national talent to Houston, which is routinely passed over on tour itineraries in favor of extra dates in Dallas and Austin.
Contrary to what may have been insinuated by the unfinished state of the theater's immediate surroundings, Friday's show went off without a hitch. Once past the still-under-construction lobby area, Feat fans were greeted by an impressive visual barrage: high, warehouse-style ceilings; a wide-open, roomy stage flanked above by hanging speaker stacks and two large screens (the last feature almost unheard of in a venue this small); a neatly arranged sea of tables and chairs; and a plethora of smiling staffers eager to be of assistance. Indeed, what the theater lacked in soul, it more than made up for in user-friendliness.
Not so impressive, however, was the rambling, interminable opening set from jammy local Doors disciples the Fondue Monks, who proved thrice-over that technical agility is no substitute for quality songwriting. Next up was Little Feat, who these days are filling the hole left by long-dead leader Lowell George with a shrill-voiced female and a slide guitarist who'd also do best to keep his singing to himself. Thoroughly depressing. Still, the 1,800-plus enthusiastic Feat followers didn't seem put off by the sorry display, so hey, what do I know?
Fortunately, there are better things to come for Aerial Theater. Widespread Panic performs Saturday with Todd Snider and the Nervous Wrecks, followed by regional faves Cowboy Mouth Wednesday -- assuming, that is, the rowdy fans at this Monday's Jane's Addiction show didn't disassemble the place.
U.A.B.'s troubles continue... Perhaps I was a bit hasty in my assumption that the Urban Art Bar was on its way back from financial disaster. Sadly, Gary Tyson, who owns the U.A.B. building at 112 Milam, has put the space up for lease, citing the club's inability to subsist on a diet of well-received national shows and poorly attended local performances.
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"People just won't support it as a bar," Tyson says. "They'll come for the occasional show, but they won't come for the steady, day-in/day-out thing."
Tyson is fielding a few offers from potential tenants, but as of now, there are no definite takers. He holds out hope that whoever does lease the place will continue it as a live music venue -- or that, perhaps, the early December opening of a new dance club across the street on Travis might liven up the area enough for him to reconsider his strategy. "I've just run out of money," Tyson says flatly.
Etc.... Regional road warrior Hadden Sayers plays a two-night stand at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge Friday and Saturday under the pretense of recording the shows for an upcoming live release -- as if he ever needed a reason to come home. Sayers's latest return to the Satellite, however, will be without drummer John Hamilton, who recently parted amicably with the group to pursue a more stable, non-touring lifestyle. After some brief fluctuation behind the set, the Hadden Sayers Band has settled on Eric Hanson, a Stillwater, Oklahoma, native formerly with Jimmy LaFave. Let's hope the guy's got stamina.
-- Hobart Rowland