A Day At Play In The HPMA Showcase Sandbox

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You know how when you were a little kid and you came home from school after playing all day in the sandbox, and then your mom told you to go take a bath and you're like, "okay mom" and then you do and when you're done you decide that you want to play outside again, and then you go and get your totally wicked grimy Converse and you can't find them, so you're all, "Mom, where are my shoes?"

And then she says, "They're right here, honey"; then you say, "These are not my shoes," and she tells you that she washed them, and now they're sparkly clean - your friends are going to be so jealous. And finally you think to yourself, "Well, this is just great." Washington Avenue = soap.

The HPMA showcase certainly had a different feel this year - sort of a come for the music, stay for the free condoms on the Washington Wave sort of thing - almost unrecognizable to those used to the debauched sweat-drip feeling of the downtown venues that used to house the festivities. From a logistical standpoint, the day was a nightmare; venues were miles apart and the almost impossible-to-catch shuttles made the 100-plus heat index feel more oppressive than it probably was.

Most concertgoers, Aftermath discovered, ended up staying in one of the three pockets of venues in order to heighten their chances of seeing as many bands as possible; and not, as some sadly discovered, be forced to negotiate the rubber-band ball corridor of road that led one from one end of the showcase to the other and was tight with traffic and drunk people. It's expected that a first-time switch of venues and location has some glitches, but for someone who wanted to see a litany of different types of acts and artists at this year's showcase, it was almost literally impossible.

Luckily, Aftermath decided to stay in the Walter's pocket comprised of Salt Bar, Pearl Bar, Walter's on Washington, Kobain and Washington Avenue Drinkery, assuring us the chance to see at least a few of those "guaranteed to win one or multiple awards" kind of bands. Even with all the hiccups with this year's showcase, from start to finish and up and down the schedule, the choice of who to see at any hour was difficult given the huge amount of talent choking the Houston air these days.

It's always a hard thing to make sense of a band when you're supposed to be eating a sandwich, i.e. lunchtime). It's even harder when they're beating the shit out of their guitars and screaming as loud as their screams will let them in front of four, yes four, suspiciously young-looking girls in a venue that on most nights acts as a place where white kids come to drink and dance to white-kid music while ignoring the smell of hops-flavored vomit emanating from its charming walls.

But that's what we were up against when we walked in to Walter's to see Tax the Wolf. They've described their music as "experimental-rock-alt-rock progressive surreal chill," but really, they just play guitars and beat on drums and yell and have good hair. And they're really, really good at it.

Tax the Wolf are a little punky and sometimes jammy, but for the most part they're one of those bands that play scream-rock without sounding like they're screaming all that much. It's a shame that more people weren't there to see them, and it's also a shame that those people who were there seemed more invested in their beers or Blackberrys than they were in the music. Mid-afternoon audiences are perplexing that way.

Skipping along next door to the Washington Avenue Drinkery, Aftermath got to thinking: What exactly is Latin Contemporary music? Say your only point of reference is early Enrique Iglesias or those Corona commercials - is there any way to know? With that in mind, we stepped in to see Yoko Mono, the band with an abundantly confusing name given the type of music they play.

They swayed and they smiled, they sang and they endeared, they bonged on bongos and they strummed on adult guitars; all the while treating the small-to-medium, then medium-to-large crowd of dozens to a version of music that sounds a little like Spanish Kenny Loggins. As bizarre as that may seem, it's actually quite interesting.

After leaving the Drinkery full up of Latin Contemporary zim-zim, we decided to dodge the cars (mostly Volkswagons or Audis, probably) on Washington and see our way over to Pearl (proper pronunciation: Bro) Bar to catch some of the forever entertaining Chango Man. For all the times Aftermath has seen and covered them, we never tire of these HPMA regulars. Clearly, neither does Houston.

Well over 100 people affixed their joyful eyes on the stage while Chango Man delivered their singular form of Latin-Jazz-Grind-Soul-Power-Pop-"Jump with me, I'm jumping, see?"-type song, and enjoying every second of it. It was the proper way to get the late afternoon started, and everyone in the room seemed full of anxiety for what was yet to come.

That was the inestimable B L A C K I E, playing next door at Salt (proper pronunciation: Pearl) Bar. One of the Houston music scene's transcendent stars, B L A C K I E has given us all something to brag about these past few years. Since he plays regularly all over the city, or at least Montrose - in other words, seemingly every second of every day - it just wouldn't be contextually correct if his show weren't the highlight of the day.

He sings and he hip-hops to a Benetton audience with no regard for the rules of the game, humanistically galvanizing the room in a way that makes frat guys mosh and the rest of us not even laugh. Dude has mad talent. There's barely a way to describe a B L A C K I E show, because every show is different than the one before it; but every show we've ever seen is the best show we've ever seen. Saturday at the showcase, B L A C K I E again made the case that he's the most important and relevant act to come out of Houston in decades.

And if that wasn't a good enough way to end the day, along comes Buxton after some trifling with a cymbal or two, the band that everyone seems to compare to Wilco even though Buxton is so totally better than Wilco ever was, so please stop with that.

Presently working on, or let's say fine-tuning to perfection, new material, Buxton left the stunned audience at Kobain (silliest name for a venue ever) with their jaws dropped and minds blown after a way-too-short set of songs that will undoubtedly turn Buxton from ours alone to ours and theirs. Meaning they're just about set to be the coolest band in the world.

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