Freak Flags Fly At Art Car Ball

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The best thing about Art Car Weekend is it's the one weekend in Houston where everybody can let their freak flag fly. Last night at the Art Car Ball, Rocks Off saw a woman wearing nothing but Koosh Balls on her tatas and a dude who was way more excited than necessary to be wearing a cape and unitard. We saw crazy dancers, a guy dressed like Magritte's bowler-hatted man juggling a crystal ball and a moped covered in 3,000 pennies.

At a festival where seeing odd things and being seen seems like the goal, it's no surprise that nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the bands. Only the outside stage, which featured Kozmic Pearl and Herschel Berry and the Natives, seemed to draw much of a crowd for most of the show.

In terms of tribute bands, Kozmic Pearl is one of the better ones. Singer Myrna Sanders doesn't look so much like Janis Joplin, but she sure has the voice down, and at times her backing band is tighter than the Holding Company itself.

The entire block of Munger was closed to car traffic, and on the far west end, outside the art-car warehouse, a large fenced-off lawn featured the half-dozen or so pyrotechnic cars, along with a troupe of fire jugglers, belly dancers and other Flipsiders. That area of the ball was decidedly less crowded than the Art Car parking area, and the beer line was thankfully shorter. Two guys were steaming hot dog wieners in the corner free of charge. They actually turned out better than our overcooked flautas from Pico's, but by then the night was nearly over, so surely they'd been sitting out a while.

The Flaming Hellcats, 2008 winner of the Houston Press' Best Rockabilly Band award, had almost no crowd inside the warehouse, but they didn't seem to mind. The band's blend of surf and Southern rock might not be exactly the Art Car crowd's thing, but it's always fitting for a rockin' good time, especially when punctuated by the chest-sucking whoooosh of the fireball-shooting car outside, which scared the living shit out of Aftermath every time it went exploded.

Back on the outside stage, we caught the tail end of the costume contest, and were weirded out by the latex-like skin of a guy dressed as one of the Blue Men, his face the color of ultramarine and his goatee, eyebrows and buzz-cut painted orange. Rocks Off is ashamed that we've never caught locals the Southern Backtones before. Last night they were joined by Will Van Overbeek of Robert Ellis & the Boys on bass, who was learning songs on the fly.

Because the Orange Show is located in a neighborhood, the Ball ended at an early 11 p.m., but after each song Backtones singer Hank Schyma would look to the organizers and ask "One more?" as people trickled in from the winding-down party outside. At one point the band covered Britney Spears' "Womanizer," and a few women clamored on stage for what looked like Covergirls' Amateur Night.

Singer Hank Schyma won us over so quickly with his Nick Cave looks and Ian Astbury voice that at the end of the night we decided to buy a CD. Then this Okie bonded with him over tornados - he's a he's a professional storm chaser. We overheard a guy in the audience opine, "He's fucking good!"

And we weren't the only ones. More and more people took to the floor to dance like no one was watching them, including one guy with the silliest moves ever, who was wearing a hat made out of long, floppy pool noodles. His carefree dance and canary-eating grin made our night.

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