The music that gets played in clubs has to have been recorded somewhere. This high-energy downtown watering hole and dance spot simply chops out the middleman. Boasting a 32-track recording console, a state-of-the-art speaker system and a narrow but friendly dance floor, Clark's is unlike any other club, downtown or anywhere else, and it keeps the hip, well-dressed crowd coming back for more, night after night. An eclectic mix of both music and people helps to keep things appropriately unpredictable, whether you're in the market for slammin' beats or just good old-fashioned ogling -- um, "people-watching."
Shadowy, dark and brutally haunting, the Alley Theatre's mesmerizing production of The Exonerated was everything live theater should be. Deeply political and heartbreakingly moving, the stories told in Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's script -- about a group of wrongly accused death-row inmates -- were mesmerizing. But without the fine Alley cast directed by Rob Bundy with gorgeous and lyrical rage, these stories, about the terrible injustices hidden in the dark corners of our legal system, wouldn't have been nearly so provocative. The cast included K. Todd Freeman, David Rainey, Philip Lehl, Alex Allen Morris, Jeffrey Bean, Annalee Jefferies, James Belcher, Elizabeth Heflin, Alice Gatling and Todd Waite -- a group of Houston's finest actors. They came together to tell the true stories of victims of a flawed judicial system that has put people to death for crimes they did not commit.
Who is Mike Jones? Who cares? Devin the Dude's the rapper who matters most round these parts, a vintage-Cadillac-drivin', blunt-smokin', Bud-drinkin', bitch-runnin' fool who also happens to be a hilarious, stone-cold genius. Devin's the rare rapper who never boasts in his rhymes -- instead, he just lays out his life and those of the alter egos he inhabits, which run the gamut from the perpetually smashed Cooter Brown to the weed-fiending space alien Zeldar to the well-meaning but ignorant redneck in "R&B." A true hip-hop artist in a town brimming with aspiring corporate rappers, Devin is this city's John Coltrane, and they're nothing but a bunch of Kenny Gs.
When you walk in this joint, the last thing you expect is a killer jukebox. If you come in early, there's a few old codgers watching Jurassic Park or Seinfeld, and the hip-o-meter registers zilch. You expect to find the juke stocked with plenty of Journey, Stevie Ray and Steve Miller, with a little Buffett thrown in for that -- cue Hank Hill voice -- "fun in the sun" vibe. And the G.R.A.B.'s box has all that. But then what's this? Fifty-odd tunes by the Ramones sprawled across two CDs? A UGK full-length? A Violent Femmes retrospective? Classics of old-school hip-hop by Run-DMC, LL Cool J and Eric B & Rakim? And it's not all oldies, either -- there's also the latest from Gorillaz, Bloc Party and a mess of other fresh new hits. What gives? Well, there's a sign posted on the juke that says the owners will put your favorite CD on their box if you ask 'em nicely. And then there's the fact that DJs Ceeplus and the Dum Dum Crue have been making this place a regular haunt for a few months now, and one would suspect they have a hand in the juke. Anyway, it's a welcome surprise.
Readers' choice: Mezzanine Lounge
Every music scene should have a show like this weekly local hip-hop feast. Really, the rockers here need the equivalent: a show co-hosted by two guys -- club spinner DJ Chill and radio DJ/journalist/lore repository Matt Sonzala -- who know everybody and everything about the scene (note: Sonzala is an occasional Press contributor and the editor of this Best of Houston issue). They have a willingness to play records by anybody who brings 'em by, and the clout to score interviews with those who've broken big from the scene. The show is also on the Web, and it has interested listeners from all over the world. In the past year or so, Bun B has dropped in or called in regularly, Dizzee Rascal freestyled with the G.R.i.T. boys for a full half-hour live in the studio, scribes from The New York Times and London's Guardian have given the show ink, and Dennis Kucinich even dropped in for a campaign stop. Now, if only KPFT's higher-ups would give them back that extra hour they used to have.
The Houston offshoot of the fabled Austin Continental Club joins the ranks of The Godfather II and Superman II -- all are that rare breed, sequels that live up to the originals. Patrons hear local and national blues, country, soul and rockabilly acts at the funky bar, which offers old-school video games, kitschy neon signs and posters and, of course, Pabst, Schlitz and RC Cola in a can at the bar. Molly & the Ringwalds have turned Friday nights into a habit with their '80s covers, but regulars wonder if we'll ever see the return of Monday Night Bingo hosted by the El Orbits. If Kinky Friedman is elected governor, maybe the Texas Lottery Commission will have a change of heart.
Jennifer Wood, the choreographic engine behind Suchu Dance, has been toiling away crafting dance after dance for the past 11 years. It's been said that Wood doesn't make dances -- instead, she creates worlds where dance happens. She has directed ten full-length works and seems remarkably comfortable in the form. Her vivid imagination, combined with a natural sense of theatricality, makes for consistently compelling adventures. This past year, Wood's richly textured Roseburn took us to an imaginary tableau contest, and Maximal Schnapper conjured waves, gulls and all things beachy. Suchu's dancers are unique as well: full of personality, impish charm and organic verve. This past spring, Wood stretched her choreographic chops to collaborate with Infernal Bridegroom Productions on Medea. It was, without a doubt, a great match.
Okay, so Houston has some kick-ass museums. We've got the Menil, Contemporary Arts, Natural History, you name it. We're not hurting for good -- even great -- traditional museums. But only Houston has the NMFH, where the motto is "Any day above ground is a good one." From "fantasy coffins" to old-timey hearses, this homage to the dead-body business is rife with stuff you just aren't gonna find anywhere else. It's inexpensive, too, so why not pack the kiddos in the family truckster and spend a Saturday checking out creepy shit? Afterward, visit the gift shop, where, among other items, you can buy Undertakers Spring Water and a book of celebrity death certificates.
Readers' choice: Houston Museum of Natural Science
We define Museum District as being that area between Almeda to the east, West Alabama to the north, Rice Boulevard to the south, and Shepherd to the west, so if you think about it, there's a fair bit of competition for this sporty yet intelligent nightspot. Here's why we like it best: It's less of a meat market than the nearby Tavern; it's less cramped than T.K. Bitterman's; it has a better jukebox than the Harp; and it offers liquor, unlike the West Alabama Ice House. And it's both closer to all the major museums and a better place to watch a game than anywhere this side of PJ's on West Gray.
Burt Bacharach will forever be associated with the '60s. Tunes like "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," made famous by the velvet-voiced Dionne Warwick, defined urbane cool. They also do quite well in today's world of musical comedy, as Main Street Theater's production of Bacharach's Promises, Promises made clear. Spun by director Rob Babbitt into a lively froth, the musical, about corporate life in the '60s, featured a charming Joel Sandel as the much put-upon C.C. Baxter. There were also four stoogelike executives (is there any other kind?), played by David R. Wald, Mike Lovell, Robert Leeds and Terry Jones, who made life miserable for Baxter as he tried to get ahead in the dog-eat-dog world of corporate America. The goofy musical, about bad behavior in the high-rise world of big business, was just the sort of medicine our city of major corporations needed.

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