How was your Saturday? We spent ours hopping from bar to bar, soaking in rays (inadvertently), and downing copious amounts of liquid refreshment. Oh yeah, and we managed to see eight bands in four hours.
Dive in for our take on the HPMA showcase: the good, the great, and the so-so.
Darragh, a little closer up.We made our first stop at Manor on Washington around 2 p.m. As soon as we stepped inside, a soothing jazz tune oozed from the speakers and washed over our ears. Ahhh, beautifully refreshing. We tried to tweet about the music but the sun cast a massive blanket of light on our phone and rendered it useless.
We should be paying attention to the Henry Darragh Quintet anyway. There's gorgeous music being wasted here. Whose idea was it to live-tweet every event and every TV? Doesn't that rob you of the actual experience? We don't condone violence, but we'd like to find out who came up with this idea and lock them up in a dark room with Ron Artest for two hours. Eh, where were we again? Oh yeah, beautiful string music. Gorgeous.
Ryan Scroggins and the Trenchtown Texans: The cool atmosphere at Rebel's Honky Tonk was a welcome relief from the blistering weather outside. Rebel's immediately struck us as a very Texan arena - Cowboy hats, Lone Star beer, and generously endowed women. It's like the Billy Bob's of Houston sans bull riding. Nice.
Ryan Scroggins and the Trenchtown Texans put on a solid show, banging out warm ditties that kept the crowd of about 40 people mildly interested. The only chink in their armor was that the lead vocalist was doing reggae in a very odd accent, the equivalent of eating udon noodles with a spoon. But we admit, we were mainly distracted by his perfectly-trimmed pornstache.
Free Radicals: The Free Radicals played the best instrumental music we witnessed all day. Hipsters in ridiculous outfits and messy hair were on hand to soak in the warm, breezy rendition. We couldn't help but notice that the oldest member of the band was assaulting a xylophone the whole time. He stole the show with his energy.
The Band V.I.P. Lounge: With the sun belting out high notes in the neighborhood of 108 degrees, cold drinks became a necessity. We found plenty at the V.I.P. lounge. We also found an inconceivable supply of pepperoni pizza, which we proceeded to devour. The best part? A gentlemen from another band mstook us for musicians and complemented us on our "nice performance out there."
D.R.U.M.: D.R.U.M. was our 4 p.m. choice at Rebels Honky Tonk. Prior to to the set, they formed a circle and said word of prayer. Their frontman, Baba Ifalade, offered a word of gratitude to the crowd. "Thank you for making us Best World Music for 14 years in a row." Talk about consistency. Houston Press should consider renaming the World Music category in their honor.
These guys take drums and the art of drumming very seriously. They cranked out hypnotic tunes that filled the floor within 10 minutes. Theirs is a rich musical gumbo of Afro-pop, rhythm, reggae, and everything in between. At some point, a 50-something year-old white dude in a print shirt zipped to the front and started dancing wildly off beat. We're pretty sure the "Macarena" song was playing in his head. A young lady in a shirt 5 times her size joined him and they both danced until the very last note.
That's old white dude, young lady and about 200 people all dancing to reggae and Afro-pop. Poetic moments like this remind us of what makes music a universal language.
Karina Nistal Band: We hopped over to Taps where we watched Karina Nistal and her 6-piece band deliver one of the evening's finest performances. Karina Nistal evinced the charm and charisma of a budding pop star, her wild energy in full display. Her genre-hopping band flipped everything from electro and blues to breakbeat and Latin hip-hop.
KNB's trumpet player, Mike, was on his second consecutive gig of the night, having just played with reggae outfit Idiginis. Mike is quite the hustler - after playing with Idiginis, he traded in his black tee for a red one, and it's back to work. On his birthday no less. Guitarist Monse later told us that their drummer also plays with Idiginis.
Karina sent us off with a lesson on the "Trabajolo" dance. "One step to the right," she instructed, "One step to the left. Another step to the right. Now drop it, now drop it."
Los Skarnales: Last year's winner in the Best Latin Contemporary category brought the most packed crowd we saw all day. Taps was overflowing with music-loving Latinos everywhere. We even spotted two other black people beaming with anticipation, ready to boogey.
Excitement filled the air and we understood why as soon as Los Skarnales started playing. They jammed out beguiling, energetic grooves and party jams that had everyone swaying their hips nonstop. We left this one with a spring in our steps.
Trae: We headed straight to the outdoor set to watch Trae tha Truth rock out with a live band for the first time. Ever since The Roots popularized the format, rappers seem to have realized that hip-hop and live music go together like Russell Simmons and oversized Yankee hats. Everyone from Big Daddy Kane and Scarface to Slim Thug and Bun B has played with a live band at some point.
We weren't sure how Trae's deep voice would fare atop live instrumentation. It turned out to be an asset, as his voice powered the music forward throughout the set. Trae kept reminding us that he was following the band's lead but no one seemed to notice. He gave the audience a whirlwind tour of his catalog, seamlessly moving from "Screwed Up" to "In tha Hood." Toward the end of the show, Trae motioned for his son to be brought onstage. "This is my son," he announced. "And to show how much I love this city, I named my son Houston."
For his closing cuts, he asked if anyone in the audience had ever lost somebody. He then launched into a spirited performance of "Swang," in which he reenacted the late Pimp C's verse with great expertise.
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We didn't encounter any remarkably weak performances at the venues we visited (Manor, Rebel's, and Taps). This was a showcase of the city's best artists, after all. While we avoided The Wave altogether, we gathered that it wasn't all that and a bowl of cherries.
The weather was the only awful part of this beautiful day. Nothing like sweltering Houston weather to distract you from good music. All in all, great fun was had; any of the attendees seemed genuinely delighted. The beaming faces we saw as we made our way back to the lot said it all.
Overheard: "You get the steak and cigars and come over to my house at 9 p.m. That's the game plan."