"I wanna be a billionaire, so frickin' bad..."
The heavy smoke hanging around Katy's sprawling Mo's Place (21940 Kingsland Blvd.) can't stop us from being mesmerized by the two men killing it on Bruno Mars' "Billionaire." Their performance is worth the cloud of carcinogens.
The guy in the cowboy boots nails every note of Mars' part, then takes a step back. He glances over at his counterpart patiently, waiting for him to spit Travie McCoy's lyrics. The cowboy's eyes twinkle knowingly as he watches the crowd, waiting for their reaction to those well-rehearsed rhymes. They roar in response, and we follow suit. We do not like "Billionaire" in its original form, but we have to give credit where it's due. Mo's karaoke is intense.
Now a girl in tight jeans and cowboy boots is clogging the air with the words to "Killing Me Softly." She doesn't resemble Lauryn Hill (or Roberta Flack) at all, but sings with a soulful, somewhat sad tone that's endearing her to the rowdy audience. The DJ takes note. He pulls in the McCoy stand-in toward the DJ booth for the backing vocals, "One time, time." It's a good judgment call; the Hill impersonator nods in approval.
Housed in a nondescript strip center off S. Mason Road, the suburban bar is hardly our kind of scene. Besides the smoke, the walls are lined with kitschy bits of nostalgia and mounted animal heads. There's little excuse to avoid dancing in some form or fashion, since Mo's is designed around its two dance floors: one an enormous, brightly-lit floor made for honky-tonk dancing and large concerts, and the other a dark and sticky space for customers to line-dance to their heart's content.
It's pretty packed for a Sunday night in Katy, but in fairness, you'd be hard-pressed to find an empty night at Mo's. It's been booking live country acts nearly every night of the week for 25 years now, the majority of them local heroes. But along with his son, Mo Jr., the bar's owner and namesake, Mo Jeloudar, has done an impressive job of booking some big-name talent as well: Legends like Merle Haggard and the late Ray Price, for instance, but also Texas Country studs Kevin Fowler, Roger Creager and Stony LaRue.
But on off nights such as these, Mo encourages amateurs to provide the music. It can be a risky and competitive business, though, and a threesome has now taken the stage and is dousing the crowd with an off-key but enthusiastic version of the Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Spaces." Given the evening's previous singers, these three tipsy "Chicks" are not quite cutting it. As they exit the stage to much less fanfare than they might hope for, the DJ makes the wise decision of putting on more line-dancing music.
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Despite its categorization as a country bar, the line-dancing selection at Mo's is hardly limited to "Cotton Eyed Joe." As good ol' boy as the place can be, DJs aren't shy about mixing things up with a healthy dose of dirty hip-hop. The utter lack of airs, even when it comes to the choice of music, makes it a diverse, well-rounded crowd.
So it's not unusual to jump from the stomping, synchronized moves of "Copperhead Road" to breaking it down during the "Wobble" with little transition. Watching a group of young country-music connoisseurs shake their way through one of Louisiana's more risque line dances is a pretty impressive sight.
Girls in cowboy boots and men in shorts and flip-flops all hit the floor, plus one cheeky little number in jeans slit right under the crease of her rear. As expected, she is a stand-out wobbler. By contrast, our confusion over all the jumping and butt-swinging is holding up our entire line. Luckily, the DJ shuts down the dancing right after the wobbling ceases and, much to our relief, the karaoke resumes.
A novice karaoke participant, Ashley, takes over the microphone for a baffling rendition of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake." We decide that perhaps shots are in order.
So goes another night at Mo's.
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