The Tontons, Ishi Fitzgerald's July 26, 2013
One of the bigger local acts playing the Houston stages these days, The Tontons headlined a Friday-night gig at Fitzgerald's before a who's who of Houston music scenesters at the near-capacity showcase.
Upon arrival, I realized that Austinites The Couch had already finished their opening set, but from what I heard around the room, they were a pretty good band. Sorry, guys. Catch you next time. Ishi ended up being a nice surprise, though.
Heading into the show, I had no idea what to expect of their music. Upon the first notes of the set, the Dallas duo's infectious sound brought life to the dance floor. JT Mudd and Brad Dale have been experimenting with their sound since 2006, creating some seriously fun and danceable pop tracks out of many different influences.
I couldn't help but be reminded of Ghostland Observatory throughout the set, specifically Mudd's Native American heritage and animated yet powerful stage presence, but their music was more on the indie side of dance rather than the ever-popular EDM.
It was a very smart idea for The Tontons to bring along such a fun act to warm up the crowd, and thanks to them, Ishi is now on many people's radars that love live music in Houston. I have a feeling it won't be long until they are back in town headlining a gig of their own.
The last time I had the chance to catch The Tontons, they were performing right before Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at Gulf Shores, Alabama's Hangout Festival back in May. After seeing them so many times in Houston over the years, it was really cool to catch them out of their element at such a large-scale festival. It also said a whole bunch about how well they're moving forward as a band. They deserve everything that's being thrown their way, and are doing an excellent job of serving as ambassadors of our great city while laying it down across the country.
Friday night, it was noticeable how far they have come here as well. I'm not sure the last time I've seen a local band sell 600-plus tickets to a show. Hell, some distinguished touring acts don't even come close to those type of sales in the same room. Thanks to an ever-expanding catalog of unique and inspired songs, it's no wonder why they are pulling such large numbers every time they play.
The Tontons feel comfortable on a Houston stage and enjoy sweating it out more than everyone in the room -- well, except maybe those die-hards consistently jumping around at singer Asli Omar's feet. The band has polished their live set to a tee, which was immediately evident during an opening stretch that included "Bones 1," the A-side to their recently released Bones EP, and "Sea and Stars," from their first recorded effort.
I can always appreciate a good cover song, but only a by a band that doesn't overdo it with their choices. The Tontons have always done a good job a choosing songs by artists that fit their general sound, adapting the song to each member's given talents. They've been covering Mazzy Star's dreamy "Fade Into You" for a little while now, but it's always a welcome addition to any of their sets. Omar almost takes a step back with her vocal part due to the sultriness of the original, and comes off perfect over Adam Martinez's gentle guitar work.
Later in the set, they busted out a first-time cover of Paul McCartney's "Let Me Roll It," that Tontons aficionado/manager Mark Austin had described earlier as "mind-blowing" with a passing whisper. It wasn't necessarily mind-blowing, but it was a great cover choice. They nailed it, and bassist Tom Nguyen had no problem holding down McCartney's famed low end with support from drummer Justin Martinez's never-ending rhythm.
The set surrounding the covers was an impressive run-through of the tunes that have made the Tontons the band they are today. "Golden," "Never Never," "Bones 2," "So Young," "Kaleidoscope" and probably their best-known tune, "Leon," were peppered in among a slab of new material, keeping their swelling audience captivated from beginning to end.
I'm impressed with what The Tontons have been able to accomplish in the short time they've been a band. I remember seeing them at the last couple Westheimer Block Parties five or six years ago playing tiny little stages, never realizing that one day I'd catch them basically opening up for Tom Petty in another state or that they'd be filling the upstairs room at Fitz to near-max capacity. Then again, things change -- back then I would've never thought I'd be going to Fitzgerald's all the damn time, either.
The Tontons have made it to the upper echelon of the Houston music scene, where they'll undoubtedly remain for many years to come. Now they just need to write and release that one megahit that opens them up to the masses all over the United States. I have a feeling it won't be too long until that day comes.
Personal Bias: Been enjoying them for years, and will continue to enjoy them for years to come.
The Crowd: So many people that I've been seeing at Tontons shows for years, and double the amount of new faces.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Can anyone help me find my ring? It's zebra-striped," said the singer of Ishi after they finished their set. Someone promptly found and returned it.
Random Notebook Dump: This one dude, while waiting at the bar, said "I smell weed" 15 times. Giddy as fuck.
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Wild Kind Bones 1 Pony Sea and Stars So Young Lonely Fade Into You (Mazzy Star cover) Golden Never Never Kidd Bones 2 Let Me Roll It (Paul McCartney cover) Magic Hour Leon Kaleidoscope Syrup