Warehouse Live
Canned Acoustica didn't start out as a concert series. Photographer and local music junkie Mark C. Austin planned last November's inaugural Acoustica as a way to see several of his favorite artists in the same place and help out the Houston Food Bank for the holidays. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that several acts who didn't play begged him to do another one; there have since been three more, with May's installment collecting donations for the Japanese Red Cross Society. With shades of Houston's storied singer-songwriter tradition born at places like Anderson Fair and the Old Quarter, each Acoustica brings together about a dozen of Houston's most talented (and altruistic) artists for an electricity-free evening, and has already spawned some unique collaborations, like rapper Fat Tony fronting artsy classical ensemble Two Star Symphony. Who knows what future Acousticas will bring, but Austin's brainchild has already proved that the local music scene's heart is as big as its talent.
Shannon Emerick recently played two iconic characters who bookend the 20th century, and she played both of them to perfection. This year, she played George Bernard Shaw's ideal woman, the eponymous heroine in Candida (1898). As Shaw's "new woman" — Candida is cool and regally elegant, always in control and much smarter than the two men who love her and make her choose between them — Emerick was the apex and driving force of Classical Theatre's definitive, humorous, visually stunning production. Last year, for Main Street Theater, Emerick hauntingly illuminated the cool, intellectual Hannah, the linchpin of the contemporary scenes in Tom Stoppard's time-tripping Arcadia (1993), perhaps the most satisfying — and romantic — play by English theater's resident genius. As both the ultimate Victorian wife and the smart but icy, mod English female, Emerick clarified the very essence of both plays and yet remained her own self. She has that rare gift of illumination, discovery and adventurous fun that some actors say they have but never quite manage. Emerick delivers gloriously.
Truth be told, you had us at "stark naked," but we were happy to find that there was much more to this start-up theater company than just a great name. Husband-and-wife team Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl, who also had a hand in the Brave Dog Theatre, founded Stark Naked with the intention of slowly building a strong, bold company that would mount courageous, if not outright audacious, productions. And they've done just that. The first show for the new company was Debt Collectors, a modern adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's 1888 drama Creditors. Alley Theatre company member David Rainey joined Lehl and Tobin-Lehl onstage for that production, which Lehl adapted. It was daring choice, one that proved to be right on the money given the glowing reviews it earned last May.
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.

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