Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Any theater that can produce the cornball lovefest Steel Magnolias in the upstairs auditorium while running David Mamet's darkly profane Glengarry Glen Ross downstairs in the basement deserves a huge round of applause. But that bit of artistic (and marketing) genius was just what came at the end of the Alley Theatre's fabulous year. The rest of the season included unforgettable performances in shows such as The Exonerated, a deeply disturbing play about the death penalty; and The Crucible, a classic by the late Arthur Miller that paid wonderful tribute to one of America's greatest playwrights. There was also a loopy script by Steve Martin called The Underpants, of all things, and a hilarious import from a group of California Latino iconoclasts called Culture Clash in AmeriCCa. Season ticket holders had to be thrilled at their good luck.
Bar hoppers and pub crawlers alike still reminisce about the talent the Ale House's kitchen had for sating the drunken munchies. We find the Stag's Head does more than come close to matching the old classic's mad skillz. It tops them. No need for a late-night Taco Cabana run when the Stag's Head makes stuffed jalapenos, fajita nachos, burgers and Jamaican jerk chicken tenders. Not only that, the pub serves up fresh pizza from a wood-burning oven. And if you still feel something Britter is better, there's also fish 'n' chips, cottage pie, and bangers and mash with Heinz baked beans on the side. We dare you to get Britter than that.
Readers' choice: Rudyard's
Friday nights at Zake are the place to be for raw fish consumption. That's when Elaina "Lushus" Brown, a staple in the local sushi nightlife scene -- yes, there is such a thing -- hits the restaurant's DJ booth to provide musical accompaniment to your evening of Japanese cuisine. We're not giving Brown a shout-out just because she's a gorgeous dame who makes the atmosphere of this swank Montrose sushi spot that much more beautiful. We also think that listening to sweet house grooves while chomping down on uncooked fish is the most exotic way to spend a Friday night.
It's been said that the family that shoots stick together stays together. Of course, Ted Nugent said the same thing about hunting elk, but that's neither here nor there. We suggest visiting Slick Willie's "Family" Pool Hall during the waking hours, before the downtowners get too knackered and the place gets all smoky. The joint has tons of games, both on the table and off: 14 eight-foot pool tables (with one on the outside balcony for nonsmokers), tons of video games (from the classic Galaga to Golden Tee), air hockey and darts. There are even a few TVs for those who prefer to remain spectators. This is no dingy dive full of sharks and hawkers, but it does have a certain authenticity. Patrons down cold buckets of beer, stiff bar drinks and your typical bar fare -- pizza, fried cheese, popcorn, etc. Mosey on over for a few games, but remember: Watch out for the hustlers.
Readers' choice: Slick Willie's Family Pool Hall
Every summer dozens of graff kids hit the streets, wielding cans with skills so lame their scribbles wouldn't look out of place knifed on a park bench. Someone even tagged the Art League Houston's Inversion house, messing up a highly original work. Whoever that hack is, he should take a lesson from YAR!, who's been plastering the Montrose with dope shit all year long. It's YAR! who's been painting all those pictographic faces on walls and Dumpsters, and it's YAR! who's been putting up those bad-ass black-and-white posters on fences and metal boxes. While other graffers seem resigned to crappy scribbles -- hell, even the GRAVEYARD crew is guilty of that, especially around West Gray -- YAR! has taken it to the next level.
"Hip-hop" club Coco Loco's main audience has always been a progressive, young Latin crowd whose collective ear stays planted firmly to the street. From the beginning, the club has featured Latin nights mixed in with more urban fare, but in recent months, Coco Loco has begun to lean more toward the new sounds coming from across Latin America, mainly reggaeton, the salsafied version of reggae that started breaking stateside during the past couple of years. The club's sound system is top-notch, built to rattle your ears and make your chest palpitate. There's plenty of space for VIPs above the main dance floor, not to mention a special second room for getting freaky. (Or so they say.) The whole place is filled with good folks getting down to the latest Latin sounds mixed with hip-hop, much of which comes from our own barrios. This ain't your grandma's cantina -- this is one of Houston's hottest places to party.
Reader's choice: Elvia's
True, there's not much competition in this tight niche -- in fact, there's so little, one might wonder how a watering hole like this could even survive. Yet owner Mela Contreras has kept her bar running in this little edge-of-Midtown nook for more than two decades. Tied into and proud of her community, Contreras was the female Pride Parade grand marshal in 2002. While mostly lesbians patronize her cozy bar, some straights -- solo and in couples -- also frequent the place for great Tejano and country music, pool and cheap prices on cold beer and spicy micheladas (beer mixed with hot sauce -- an authentic Tejano favorite).
Brian McManus -- also known as Brian McGuilloteen, the rowdy guitarist for the Fatal Flying Guilloteens, and as Filthy McNasty, the rambunctious, R&B-singing front man for Filthy McNasty and the Rhinestone Life (not to mention the Press's former Nightfly) -- has picked up and moved to Philadelphia. Anyone who's ever seen the paunchy, punchy, Gary Busey-looking fool perform knows how unfortunate it is that he isn't part of the Houston music scene anymore. After the musician, chef and nightlife menace moved away, he promptly went on tour with the Guilloteens. People all over this land are now experiencing what we have sadly lost: a crazy-ass white boy who truly, sincerely, brilliantly doesn't give a fuck.
He's got that Ron Sexsmith-Neil Finn-Jeff Buckley melancholy singer-songwriter thing going for him. He's got a great band, featuring hypercerebral drummer Paul "Falcon" Valdez and dreamlike pedal steel player Matt Rhodes. His CD was perched at or near the top of the sales chart at Cactus Music & Video all summer long. And while Castillo may not be tall, he is dark and handsome. (In fact, he looks a lot like Townes Van Zandt did before the vodka took its toll.) So why is this guy unsigned? Beats us. Meanwhile, you should catch him out anywhere from cozy pubs like the Stag's Head to roomy showcase venues like the Meridian. We think bigger rooms are in his future soon.
Named after a pygmy who was brought to the United States in the early 1900s and placed in a zoo, Otabenga Jones & Associates consists of Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans, Robert Pruitt and, of course, the spirit of the eponymous martyr, who eventually committed suicide after being released from captivity. His associates offer us heavy reminders of the oppression he underwent, creating works that are both socially provocative and visually interesting. For We Did It for Love at the Contemporary Arts Museum's "Amalgama" show, the guys flipped a cop car in the middle of the space, leaving the viewer with crushed metal, broken glass and a question: How the hell did they get that car in here? This inquiry is key, since it brings to mind the rage required to flip an official vehicle. But we especially dug the collective's protest, We are blacker than your white box, staged at the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's "African Art Now" exhibition. Pruitt and Cyrus held up signs, urging the museum to consider why it had let the taste of one Swiss man, Jean Pigozzi, dictate the canon of contemporary African art. Hmm, good question.
Though the name conjures up a utopia where families are created, God's Temple of Family Deliverance is not a pro-life Christian rock band. In fact, it's quite the opposite, the antithesis of both rock and roll and fundamentalism. What's delivered by this brooding foursome is monolithic, 15-minute-plus songs of sheer cacophony. The temple for which they're named is built with stacks of Marshall amplifiers, loud and powerful enough to raise the dead. Though they play hard and loud, they often bring the tempo down to a suffocating pace, like a Screw tape for heshers. Comparisons to the Melvins come to mind, as drummer Chris Ryan plays with the same dynamic fervor as Dale Crover, and guitarist Eric Faucette's caterwauling fretwork matches that of King Buzzo.
Sure, there are plenty of DJs who are well known in and around the city, but it seems few branch out and explore the world, let alone the state. Not so for West Columbia, Texas, native DJ Jester the Filipino Fist, a.k.a. Mikey Pendon, who left his tiny hometown to travel the globe in 2003, when fellow Filipino Kid Koala asked him to be a part of his interactive turntable band and took him across North America, the United Kingdom and Europe. In late 2004, DJ Jester took off for San Francisco. This year, he went down to New Zealand with Lederhosen Lucil, to Australia with Kid Koala, and to Norway with both. After hearing one of Jester's mixes, you'll understand why he was named one of Urb magazine's Next 100 to Watch. He mashes all types of genres (even some Willie Nelson) into one flawless and danceable mix.