Even without the confetti and streamers they are fond of sometimes, Wild Moccasins easily put on Houston's best stage show gig after gig. They even baked cupcakes for their fans once. Simply put, no other band in town that we can think of has so much fun playing together. The Moccasins, whose 2010 LP Skin Collision Past and 2009 EP Microscopic Metronomes were released by New West Records earlier this year (a proper New West debut is in the works), always look like they're having a ball, delivering their bubbly indie-pop tunes with the kind of obvious chemistry that only comes to bands who are best friends on and off stage. The Moccasins turn every show into a party, and everyone's invited.
Box 13 ArtSpace
There's a reason why the 2011 Texas Biennial chose Box 13 as Houston's only space for the month-long art showcase. The East End gallery and co-op, for three-plus years, has boasted a wing-dinger of a reputation for contemporary artists showcasing left-of-field works. The Harrisburg Boulevard warehouse, which used to house a sewing-machine factory, is one of the city's best artist-run non-profits and features creative types such as Elaine Bradford, Dennis Nance and Jenny Schlief showcasing traditional wall pieces, avant-garde installations and experimental performance art. Along with the Biennial gig, Box 13 was the Bayou City's only venue to be chosen for "Low Lives 3 — International Festival of Live Networked Performance."
Tropicana Nite Club
Salsa hot spots come and go, but Tropicana will always be there when you need to dance away the night. Inside an unassuming strip mall storefront on Fondren, you'll find a Casablanca-esque nightclub of dark reds and deep mahogany. The hardwood dance floor is spacious, and the salseros who wear it down are the city's best. Weekends are a blast at Tropicana, when you can groove to the bachata, meringue, salsa and chacha of live Latin bands. We love Tropicana for its mindblowingly diverse crowd. In a single night, you can twirl your way through the arms of a United Nations league of salseros, all brought together by the desire to dance.
Houston is a hip-hop city through and through. We birthed the Geto Boys, UGK, Slim Thug and Paul Wall, just to name a select few. But in the past two or three years, the scene has seen an influx of new blood, raised not just on hip-hop and R&B but also on punk rock and metal. That intermingling has given us new superstars in the making like Fat Tony, B L A C K I E and Ill Liad, who add a tint of spikiness and an old-school thrash sensibility to their beats and verses. The one to make the biggest splash so far has been the jet-setting Fat Tony, who began playing smallish shows upstairs at Boondocks and graduated to opening for the Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg in the past year. Meanwhile, B L A C K I E keeps digging into more and more industrial sounds, becoming more of a noise act in the grand tradition of Houston legends like Rusted Shut, and Ill Liad is back after a personal and spiritual detour with new album Dope 6ic.
Opening with "Stomp and Holler," Woodlands native Hayes Carll's KMAG YOYO is one of the most ass-shaking and gut-wrenching albums to come from a Texan's brain-casing this year. The follow-up to 2008's critically adored Trouble in Mind, February's KMAG YOYO (soldier slang for "kiss my ass guys, you're on your own") pulls no punches when it comes to politics or romance. The title song details a crooked enlisted man's government-funded LSD trips, and "Another Like You" is an Urban Cowboy tale for the 21st century, complete with references to The View and spray-on tans. The second-to-last track, "Grateful for Christmas," is destined to become the go-to fractured holiday anthem for the foreseeable future, or until Robert Ellis writes his own.
Obsidian Art Space
Founders Tom Stell and Leighza Walker started the nonprofit Obsidian Art Space as a way to promote original work, and they've done just that. Obsidian Art Space already has hosted such performances as the world premiere of Selkie, A Sea Tale by Divergence Vocal Theater. The space also played host to August in August (a presentation of work by August Strindberg), The Great Storm (new plays based on Hurricane Ike) and, most recently, A Midsummer Night's Dream — The Unhatched Project by Unhinged Productions (a gender-bending take on the Shakespeare classic).
Anvil Bar & Refuge
Alex Gregg is the epitome of the classic bartender archetype: rolled-up sleeves, a broad and genuine smile and a can-do attitude. Gregg will mix up absolutely any drink you can fathom, and a few more of his own creation. The ultra-creative cocktail menu at Anvil is peppered with his inventions, but that doesn't mean the man can't also put together a soulful and straightforward Manhattan. There's no pretense here, either; Gregg is as friendly and open as they come. So put yourself in his hands and let this Renaissance man (did we mention he's a talented photographer, too?) captain your cocktail ship.
For a journal that focuses on works of 300 words or less — that's the "nano" in the name — it's a shame we have to wait half a year between issues. Luckily, Houston-based NANO Fiction keeps us tided over with a regular reading series, a summer reading list, plus a contest that comes with a $500 prize and your name in print. What makes the journal better than most is its laid-back, self-deprecating and altogether un-snooty personality. In a word, accessible. But not altogether plebeian.
The Dutchman
Some of the interesting eye candy drinkers will find at this Wakefield strip locale: Wooden nickels as tender, pieces of whittled beige carpet as buckets-of-beer coasters and a cash register propped up with an upside down Smirnoff Ice cardboard box. And that's just the start of the no-frills offerings — such as cheap Lone Star bottles and women in their mid-forties regaling unprompted tales of lost virginity — that The Dutchman offers. If you're lucky, you may even get to tip back a few with the Lone Star Saloon owner, who sometimes posts up at the cozy joint.
Fonde Recreation Center
The area near downtown has more than its share of U.S. Presidents rendered in artistic medium, from David Addicks's Mount Rushmore to the oddly short but all-seeing George Bush Monument looking over Buffalo Bayou. But our favorite is the collage of images on the north side of the famed Fonde Rec Center, once the hangout of Moses Malone and Clyde Drexler. The mishmash of images include George W. Bush front-and-center next to a phalanx of missiles, wrecking balls, what appear to be the Blue Angels in formation, half of the White House, a tiny George H.W. Bush being sworn in, and a child reading a book. We're not sure what it all means, but it's reminiscent of North Korean propaganda posters in its artistic glory.

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