Exquisite melancholy is a difficult emotion to capture on disc -- most bands that strive for it end up sounding either whiny or pretentious. Scattered Pages is not most bands. The newest of their three EPs -- 2006's This Is Where the Story Ends -- picks up where Neil Young's Harvest left off: gently strummed acoustic guitars awash in pedal steel atop brushed-snare hits and vocals softly sung. These guys are starting to get lots of comparisons to fellow Smiths/Morrissey devotees the Decemberists, but we would argue that the locals are better, and not just 'cause they're locals. Singer Brandon Hancock's voice isn't as grating as that of Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, and the Scattered Pages' arrangements retain your interest longer. Who knew Baytown -- all three members hail from there -- could produce such sigh-inducing beauty?
This op-art gem is crisp, it's bright, it catches the eye, and the picture of the grinning, gold-toothed chimp set in yellow-and-orange swirls references the English translation of the band's name. (Yes, yes, we know, chango means monkey, and chimps are primates, but still...) The whole thing is as bold and garishly beautiful as a box of Tide. We don't know the name of the guy who designed the thing, but we wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be Andres Warhol.
Just south of Loop 610 off State Highway 288 is the newest manifestation of Houston's inherent weirdness -- a fresh companion for other such exuberant folk-art outbursts as the Orange Show, the Beer Can House and the Flower Man House. In a huge green field just off Holmes Road, on land belonging to Texas Pipe and Supply Company, lies the Eclectic Menagerie Park, a slowly growing outdoor installation of sculptures. It began in 1999 with a lonely hippo bawling on a little purpose-built mound. Little by little, more beasts came to the party -- huge, rust-colored armadillos, a staid-looking rhino, a giant roadrunner, a trio of gaudy art cows, an enormous eagle with outstretched wings. And, oh yeah, a giant gorilla dangling from a crane, a dragon, and lots and lots of airplanes. If you have to ask why all that stuff is out there, you just don't understand Houston. "Why shouldn't it be there?" is the better question. That's just the way we roll around here.
Mega 101 doesn't have an entirely Spanish-language lineup; they play a Spanglish mix of hip-hop, rock, salsa and reggaetn. So what makes it so popular with Houston's Latinos? It's the music, combined with the "Latino and Proud" attitude, that have earned it legions of listeners. The morning show features the Mexicanz, a crew of irreverent, opinionated, gossipy DJs. And there's Carmen. Ay, Chihuahua, Carmen. An unidentified male comic does the voice of Carmen, who plays phone pranks on unsuspecting Houstonians every weekday morning. (She once called a delivery service and asked how much it would cost to deliver a package from Latin America -- with her cousin inside.) Everything ends up being very estoopid...and hilarious.
Step inside the Bellaire Broiler Burger dining room and you'll find yourself transported back to a time when burgers weren't fusion food, and a ten-spot could actually get you a satisfying dinner. The Happy Days malt-shop decor includes vinyl booths, knickknacks right out of Grandma's living room, faded plastic flowers and worn-down linoleum. It's all very clean, mind you, but it's all very, very old. Try the double meat burger with cheese, bacon and anything else you'd want -- for less than $6.50. We're talking a solid, Texas-size burger that you need both hands to lift. Add an order of hand-dipped onion rings or an old-fashioned malt, and you've got a great meal for less than $10.
Music -- way more so than movies, books or fashion -- has the power to put you in the Waybac Machine and plop you instantly into the past. Hearing the opening notes to "The Safety Dance," "Addicted to Love" or "Goodbye to You" will take more years off your visage than any beauty cream. For three years, Houston's premier (well...only) '80s cover band, Molly & the Ringwalds, has provided a live soundtrack to the Reagan years most Fridays at the Continental from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The show is always free, there's Ringwald Karaoke for the brave, totally bitchin' dancing, and sometimes manager Pete Gordon springs for free nachos. A totally gnarly time! Fer shure.
Ever wonder what it was like to see silent films in the old days, with an orchestra providing a dramatic soundtrack? Wonder no more. The film department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston regularly includes silent films along with offerings of classic and contemporary cinema. And some of those silent-film screenings feature live orchestral accompaniment. During the 2006-2007 season, the MFAH will present the 1919 German thriller The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with Two Star Symphony. In only its second season, the Silent-Film Concert Series is popular with film buffs and a great change of pace for folks tired of the mega-mall movie theaters.
Cezanne Jazz Club
Everyone has a front-row seat at Cezanne, since the bar holds only 150 people. Upscale without being stuffy, the club's intimate setting makes it the perfect place to take in local jazz favorites such as David Caceres and Sebastian Whittaker, as well as national acts. (Joshua Redman made his Houston debut at the club in 1993, though he's so big-time now that Cezanne might not see him again.) Performances usually sell out quickly for the bigger names, so plan to get your tickets early.
It's not only Houston fans who are getting to see LoneStar PornStar's stage antics: The group is now making regular appearances in Austin, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, as well. And antics -- loud antics -- is the correct term for these hard rockers. Singer Greg David Stegman commands the stage, stomping from one side to the other, jumping and screaming (on key, of course) during the entire show. If the group sometimes starts a little late, it's because they've had to tie up the sound engineer backstage. That's the only way they can set the speakers to make-everyone-deaf levels. But it's not just manic, and it's not just loud, it's fun. LoneStar PornStar takes their audience along for the ride every time they hit the stage.
Azteca's Margarita Bar and Grill
Robert Z. Easley
People go to Azteca's for dinner, but that's not the main draw. The main draw is the live music. Oh, and the $2 margaritas. And the jamming happy hour. And the crazy DJs. Located on the edge of Montrose, Azteca's is not for the faint-hearted. When it gets crowded (which is often), the service can get slow and the parking can get scarce. But don't let that deter you: If you're looking for Latin music in a fun atmosphere, you're looking for Azteca's.

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