La Catrin walked down the stairs at Etro, strobe lights and the refraction of a Hammer horror film her only spotlight. Nonetheless, all eyes turned to her as if she were haloed.
It made this writer think of all the great, shocking entrances that have delighted us over the years. Not shocking because of cheap explosions or through the primal fear of fire, but electrifying, because of the live current that serves as blood for the gods. It was like watching Dr. Frank-n-Furter, or Darkness from Legend...uh, let's see. Someone not played by Tim Curry...Brian Slade! The Undertaker!
Watching La Catrin walk to Etro's tiny stage was like those entrances. It was anticipation fulfilled to the nth decimal place.
For a Wednesday night, at a club not known for its live performances, the place was pretty packed. La Catrin's honor guard of masked attendants kept the Houston Press at a safe distance, back with the other mortals. The stage was festooned with black flowers, and the fragrance rising through the miasma of spilt alcohol and midnight rut left no doubt that the flowers had been plucked from the soil rather than crafted in a plastics plant.
La Catrin stood before a hierophant, who lifted her veil and gave her vows to take. She solemnly married us, the audience, before she turned around to begin her performance. The music that struggled through Etro's substandard PA suffered not at all for its technological failings; it was the long-sought-after meeting of modern pop and classic goth.
They say that to make a deal with the devil, you must meet him at the crossroads. La Catrin is that crossroads. Goods from many provinces pay their toll at her nexus.
Remember the first time you realized that Britney Spears was more than a little girl, and instead was a woman with a physical identity like any other? La Catrin is that moment. Remember the hopeful despair you felt the first time you heard Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours"? She mates those emotions on the bed of her voice.
The theatricality of Lady Gaga, the poise of David Bowie, the gaiety of a Simpson and the unashamed living pain of Wendy O. Williams are all part of the process that unfolded when she performed. Personally, it felt like it was all for us.
This is what has become of the girl who was once called Bianca Montalvo and was a member of Houston's foremost prog-rock band, Heist at Hand. The only thing she seems to carry over from her previous identity is some kind of fairy charm cast over her career.
Heist at Hand effortlessly wormed its way onto the Warped Tour, sold out of its debut EP with only a little more work and frankly was just plain able to lift whatever was wanted from life on a silver tray through the dexterity of its talent.
But Montalvo tired of the endless wankery that makes up the majority of an average seven-minute prog song, and struck out on her own with Arizona producer Bob Hoag. A flute player by training, she has cobbled together some incredible pop tunes through her own admittedly amateur piano skills and undeniably incredible vocal talents.
One of her songs, "Break You," has already found a home in the movie Hated. Others, such as the dancetastic rockfest "Reverse Citizens" and the beautifully Opheliac pop-trash tune "Fall in Love and Kill Myself," have made their way into the public consciousness through Montalvo's MySpace page or through her live performances.
What she is doing as La Catrin is pop music, and cannot in good conscience be called anything else. However, it does have the darkness inherent in an up-and-coming underground sensation.
"I made a record inspired by my favorite horror movies, like giallo films from Italy," said Montalvo, pausing for a second to steal our vodka cranberry for a quick sip. Her assumption of her right to do so, and subsequent quick apology with downcast, heavily lined eyes, was oddly endearing.
"I wanted it to sound like a castle, and a black-draped chandelier, but pop," she added. "Maybe in a past life I was a vampire... I guess I might still be."
Vampires' legendary hypnotic charms may be as good an explanation as any for Montalvo's success as Houston's latest goth act and pop princess. The night of her Etro performance, she had just returned from a multi-day festival in New York City, and opens for Theophilus London Friday at Fitzgerald's.
As we mentioned before, she packed a club on a Wednesday, and has already achieved an ungodly number of hits on her Myspace page. Montalvo has, in short, really come from nowhere and has, somehow, in less than two years, built a draw that stretches far beyond the city limits. Supernatural forces might be as likely an explanation as her stage presence and unique talent.
What puzzled us was why she would, so callously it seemed, cast aside the name she built with Heist at Hand for her new project. So we asked her why.
"Why be Bianca?" she replied, "I have to give myself free rein to be someone else. La Catrin is my way of being chola and being a weirdo."
To hear her music is to want to own it, but even she doesn't know when her debut album might be released.
"I may possibly be getting married, and I want to set some terms on how I'm going to be as an artist," she explained.
In the meantime, she quietly continues to rack up gigs of impressive lineage, build a following and pull stunts like her previously mentioned marriage to the audience. Post-interview, she left us nursing our depleted drink to commingle with the horde of fans who waited patiently through our talk in order to meet their new hero.
We watched her walk away, tasting black lipstick on the edge of our glass, and knew that Houston — or, more likely, Montalvo/La Catrin herself — had birthed something pretty special.
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