With the Inner Loop getting all cosmopolitan and whatnot, it's often all too easy to forget that you're in Texas. Thank our lucky stars for the Armadillo Palace, Jim Goode's latest paean to all things Lone Star State. There's museum-quality lore on the walls, twangy sounds on the stage, lots of little Texas touches (pistol-grip door handles, saddles on the barstools), the clack of dominoes and plenty of Goode's wonderful Gulf Coast grub. It may not be subtle -- 15-foot, red-eyed, smoke-breathing armadillos like the one outside the saloon's front door never are -- but Houston needs more oases of Texan-ness like this one.
The cell-phone tower a pistol shot away is probably frying your brain. Horns are honking. But once you're inside Next Door Coffeehouse's garden labyrinth, that world starts to disappear. This secret spot features short, teenage shrubs clipped into a sort of labyrinth, a meditative path. Somehow, it encourages you to pay closer attention to your steps, and to what's happening right now. When you get close enough to the center, you'll spot a leaning live oak with a fanned-out canopy surrounded by a semicircle of plain wooden benches, perfect for sitting. And looking. Here, there is solitude. Under the shade and the imperfectly shaped oak that offers it, things are still. And quiet.
This is the last place on the commercial dial where the DJs still pick a lot of what they want to play. This is the last place on the commercial dial where virtually all of the DJs are natives of Houston and care about the city for its own sake -- Houston ain't some stint on a resume to these folks. This is the last place on the commercial dial that still knows how to mix talk and music effectively, and only the Box mixes in as much local music to the playlists. And what playlists they are: tremendous mixes of R&B, soul, funk, blues and zydeco. And then there's The Passion Zone, DJ Stevie Good Time T's nightly love power hour -- 60 minutes of luscious jams ideal for...Well, you know what's up.
Readers' choice: KPFT/90.1 FM
"Thought Crimes: The Art of Subversion" was a like a tent revival, a great awakening for subversive art in an America becoming increasingly more repressive. Curated by DiverseWorks visual arts director Diane Barber, the exhibition was rife with provocative art that dealt with everything from politics and social issues to pure, joyful brattiness. Preemptive Media asked us to subvert the evil empire of Wal-Mart using giant Madagascan hissing roaches. Tricksters the Yes Men masqueraded as corporate spokespersons to dupe the BBC and shame Dow Chemical. Joe Wezorek gave us a portrait of George W. Bush constructed from the faces of the dead. Then there were the Neistat Brothers, who showed us how to blow up a pickle. "Thought Crimes" gave the finger to the repressive powers that be.
They always bring the rocenrol, but you never what they'll be wearing when they do. Over the years, Chango Jackson has taken the stage in everything from dresses to gorilla suits to ruffled tuxes to cowboy duds to chemical suits and gas masks. They break stuff, throw tamales into the crowd, jump around, fall down...In one memorable rock and roll apocalypse, all of them except the drummer ended one song in a five-foot-tall pileup of tangled limbs, some of which were still flailing away at guitars. What's more, little of it seems calculated. It's like they put on their costumes and improvise based on what they're wearing.
Is that Rush Limbaugh in the corner? Probably not, but we figure if the neocon blowhard ever finds himself in Space City, it's a spot he'd frequent (well, it and Coco Loco, of course). Huge and luxurious mahogany tables with raised ashtrays dot the room around a statue of famed Brit Winston Churchill. Talk of all things England (10 Downing Street is the residence of the prime minister) can be heard over the inhaling of the finest stogies the city has to offer, kept in a state-of-the-art humidor. Ice tings in glasses of those sipping only the top-end 15-year-old Highland Scotch.
The Meridian
Though the Meridian has yet to hit its second birthday, it's become the tour-de-force venue for national and international touring acts. Everyone from punk laureate Patti Smith and industrial pioneers Ministry to sought-after DJs like RJD2 and Paul Oakenfold has graced the same gargantuan stage in the lofty Blue Room that can hold around a thousand live-music connoisseurs. When first entering the venue (which requires a little stair-climbing), you're greeted by the loungy Red Room, replete with comfortable and private booths for socializing, as well as a small stage where local bands and lesser-known national acts rock out from time to time. A centralized location, just across the freeway from Toyota Center, and the sound are the Meridian's best qualities. But what really makes the Meridian top-notch are the first-rate acts it continues to bring our way.
Forget the weekend. Houston's best dance night happens right smack-dab in the middle of the miserable workweek. Close to 400 kids in haute couture fill out 1415 Bar & Grille every hump day to sweat and stomp their feet to an eclectic mix spun by the Boys and Girls Club bunch: DJs Bobby, Damon and Fred. Expect to hear old-school rap mixed in with Joan Jett declaring her love for rock and roll. The latest, hottest mashups share speaker space as well. Look for special guest DJs (Keoki, Franz Ferdinand) to spin their favorites when in town. Wednesday is the new weekend.
He's the self-proclaimed No. 1 street DJ in the city, and no one will argue that fact. His club nights top out at over 1,000 people every Friday (Coco Loco), Saturday (Candy Shop at Max's) and Sunday (Club Konnections), partly because he's one of the few hip-hop DJs in town who really, deeply support the local scene. A force in Texas hip-hop since the early days of DJ Screw -- with whom he used to live and share equipment -- Chill caters to the underground Houston community that has suddenly, in the past year, gone mainstream. He toured with Lil' Flip and Tela in their formative days and now maintains a monthly residency in New York City as a part of the HoustonSoReal concert series. His radio show on KPFT's Damage Control has become the place to hear the newest sounds in Houston hip-hop before they break nationally.
Readers' choice: DJ Sun
Located on the campus of Rice University, Rice Gallery is off the beaten track of many gallerygoers. It shouldn't be. Under the directorship of Kim Davenport, Rice Gallery is "all installation art all the time," and it consistently brings in phenomenal shows from heavy hitters as well as newly emerging artists. Eve Sussman's high-definition video 89 Seconds at Alcazar used actors in period costume to create the moments before and after Goya's famous painting Las Meninas. It was one of the standouts of the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and Rice Gallery brought it to Houston. Meanwhile, thirtysomething artist Jacob Hashimoto's installation Superabundant Atmosphere filled the gallery with 9,000 tiny silk kites suspended from the ceiling. Hashimoto created an ethereal, cloudlike environment that swayed with visitors' movements. Rice Gallery's exhibition program is always varied, always fascinating.
Readers' choice: Menil Collection

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