If you saw thunder and lightning over Catastrophic Theatre early last season, you witnessed the volcanic performance of Matt Kelly in Jason Nodler's whiplash adaptation of Bluefinger, The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood. This rock opera dissected the Dutch cult singer/artist/druggie/sex addict in the most theatrical way possible: with imagination, wicked wit, sonic boom and a performance of a lifetime. As wild man Brood, Kelly was a walking train wreck, seeming to get more dissipated as the show progressed.  While his life destructed, there wasn't a moment when your eyes left him. He was that mesmerizing, whether wailing heavy metal, getting a blow job and shooting up simultaneously — which deserves its own award — or melting down in the most spectacular fashion. Like a dream rush, tortured artist Brood came at us in oblique little scenes, with music the binding tie. With medical precision, Kelly's razor-sharp performance was overpoweringly physical and, without question, absolutely star-making and terrifying at the same time.
KTRU Lives. The beloved Rice University station may be gone from the FM airwaves — though those with HD radios can find it on KPFT's HD-2 channel — but Sam Foster's nifty little app puts Rice Radio as close as your touchscreen. (It's free, too.) The design is simple, just the locally famous yellow bumper sticker and the title, artist, album and label of the current song. As one of the very few outlets in town that relishes playing local artists, KTRU is an invaluable asset to the Houston music community, and although it still sucks how the university sold the FM frequency and license out from under the station, Foster's app does help ease some of the sting. Even better, you'll never have to worry about spotty reception again.
You may not have realized it yet, but Houston is in the middle of a genuine rap renaissance, with talented MCs and DJs dropping new tracks almost daily, and another must-have mixtape about once a week. We asked the Houston Press's main rap writer, Shea Serrano, for his choice of Houston's choicest lyricist, and he said it had to be Dante Higgins, who first appeared on our radar back in January with his School Boy Music tape. Higgins, says Serrano, "is among the fiercest talents in the New Houston rapper movement. Examined within themselves, his words are wonderfully nonsensical and bizarre ('I'm so used to my sofa!'; 'I ain't goin' nowhere! But if I go somewhere, it'll probably be Miami.'). Pieced together, though, when he webs them together into a single narrative, it is as close to watching a book as you're going to get."
No one tops the annual Dance Salad Festival for sheer star power. Curated by dance phenom Nancy Henderek, the festival runs three days, with each featuring a different lineup of performances by members of select world-class dance companies. Henderek travels the world, visiting companies that are presenting the most cutting-edge works in contemporary dance. She then hand-picks the groups to be featured in the festival, and it's always a stellar lineup. Last April's festival included exciting performances by China's Beijing Dance/LDTX, France's Ballet National de Marseille and Germany's Staatsballet Berlin. The National Ballet of Canada, Royal Ballet of Flanders (Belgium) and the Jasmin Vardimon Company of England also performed. While not onstage, the dancers — and this year, musicians (the Ahn Trio performed onstage with Korean choreographer Nai-Ni Chen) — filled the audience, as eager as the fans to see what marvel would be unveiled next.
You have to hand it to Commie Hilfiger. The four-piece group goes all out to help the proletariat among Houston's live music scene lose the shackles of oppression via Stolichnaya-flavored punk rock. The second half of their name is just as important, because these guys know their threads, too. It's not every day you see a band perform in full WWII-era Russian Army uniforms like they did at this year's Summer Fest, but the singer said they didn't mind the heat because "Moscow is fucking freezing!" From what we saw, even a czar could pogo along to their songs of solidarity, revolution and a hilarious ode to their beloved 1987 Yugo, "My Car Keeps Stalin."
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema-West Oaks
The Alamo Drafthouse at West Oaks Mall has been perfecting the art of the communal living room for years now. The movie theater, which has a full bar and menu, aims to pull people off their couches and their NetFlix queues to experience film and television events with other people. Along with the usual first-run feature fare, the Alamo also has been getting into more adventuresome offerings, like showing anime on the big screen and dishing out those hokey Lifetime movies that we all end up getting glued to while hungover. Just remember: You can't push Pause, take your pants off or fart during the movie.
National Museum of Funeral History
Yeah, we love Picasso and dinosaur bones and all the traditional museum fare, but there's something particularly awesome about a museum whose slogan is "Any Day Above Ground Is a Good One." Since 1992, the NMFH has given us a glimpse into a world that most of us who haven't crossed over into the Great Beyond are unfamiliar with. The museum is currently featuring exhibits on Civil War embalming, fantasy coffins, the Day of the Dead and other deathly delights. And the folks behind the museum know their stiffs: As the Web site points out, "We have professional advisers who are prominent leaders in the funeral, cemetery, cremation and funeral supply industry, all available to assist with your every need." These folks have consulted for Six Feet Under, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Gangs of New York, among others. You owe it to yourself to check out this unique Houston treasure.
The Petrol Station
The epicenter of the craft beer movement in Houston is here at Petrol Station, where beer nerds assemble nightly in their efforts to take beer to the next level. But whether you're a connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of beer, Petrol Station has something for you. Interesting and extraordinary kegs and casks are brought in daily, so you never know what you'll find. And if you drink something you just can't live without, Petrol Station will let you take a growler of the stuff home for later consumption.
If you have anything more than a passing interest in the history and/or soul of Houston, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book. Former Press staff writer (and occasional theater critic) David Theis has done yeoman's work in rounding up this anthology of writings about Houston, ranging from Cabeza de Vaca's accounts of miserable wanderings here through the first Anglo settlement and on down, to the boom/bust years of the late 20th century and Houston's inauspicious entry into the 21st, with an excerpt from Mimi Swartz and Sharron Watkins's account of the Enron meltdown. It's not all nonfiction, either: Theis also features fiction and poetry from natives like Donald Barthelme and Vassar Miller and temporary Houstonians such as Larry McMurtry and Mary Gaitskill. Until now, these writings have been as scattered as the city that inspired them. No more. Theis has slapped together much of the best into one 2.4-pound package.
F Bar
Freshly opened F Bar is the new favorite hangout of the fabulous, gay Montrose set. Crystal chandeliers preside over an elegant black interior dotted with white marble columns. Mirrored accents lend F Bar an upscale brasserie air. But with drag shows, karaoke nights and happy hours galore, this is still a place to let your hair down. When the dance floor reaches saturation, an outdoor patio with a fire pit and bar are a breath of fresh air. Though the F doesn't mean anything official, it certainly doesn't stand for "frumpy," so dress to impress.

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