Nick Cooper, drummer for famed Houston genre-fusionists Free Radicals, may be the most entertaining near-motionless performer you've ever seen.
By default, you'd expect the guy with the gigantic saxophone (Pete Sullivan) to be the sonic leader of the band, but after about eight seconds it's clear that it's Cooper. Oddly, though, when Cooper performs, as he and the Rads are now doing at Westheimer music venue/vegetarian restaurant Mango's (403 Westheimer), he doesn't appear to be doing much.
Behind his rickety kit (snare, bass drum, high-hat), Cooper just sorta sits there, shoulders raised almost to his ears, occasionally looking up from underneath his eyes, flicking his wrists in a way that makes the word "flicking" seem hyperbolic.
Afterwards, Cooper makes very sincere-sounding statements about how the Radicals are a collective effort, but that doesn't change his subtle, charismatic sound. The contradiction it creates is mesmerizing, like watching Dustin Hoffman count cards in Rain Man. The whole thing seems to suit this former Guatemalan restaurant and crusty-punk venue — anybody else remember The Oven? — just fine.
"The building looks a little rough around the edges," says firefighter Nick Lamott, not blind to the fact that Mango's is barely three weeks old. "But it has potential. I do like that the waitstaff are not pretentious douche bags that are all, 'I'm super-cool, I'm an elitist, therefore my clients must be elitists too.' It's a good time."
Mango's is located among the remnants of old, bohemian Westheimer, next to Avant Garden (411 Westheimer) and just up the street from Numbers (300 Westheimer). As such, its crowd appears to already be trending toward your average gathering of hipsters: guys who listen to Arcade Fire but probably tell everyone they hate that band, girls cut from an American Apparel ad — but minus the lusty look — and the occasional outlier.
But the non-smarmy vibe is less surprising when you find out Mango's owners include Omar Afra, head honcho of Free Press Houston and all-around nifty fellow, and his wife Andrea. That said, the venue is cool enough to stand on its own merit.
The building's interior screams former (and current) eatery: low ceilings — save a skylight/tower-type thing in the center of the room — tiled floors, structural pillars throughout and both front and rear patios. It's just quirky enough to be charming without being hokey.
The clear draw of Mango's, however, is the music, which has made the venue relevant about as quickly as anywhere in recent local history. The first week alone, more than 1,200 people stopped by to check it out.
Mango's has even upped the ante with a selection of shots named after various local bands. Named after the burgeoning indie-rock darlings, the Wild Moccasins shot, for example, is considerably fruity. The Fat Tony shot, named after the poppy hip-hopper, naturally has a Courvoisier base. The Devin the Dude shot, meanwhile, is simply a bag of pot stuffed into a glass alongside a handwritten limerick about boo-booin'.
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That last one is a joke, of course, but this isn't: It's hard to imagine Mango's doing anything but becoming a hub of the local music scene — which, according to Omar Afra, is exactly what lower Westheimer has been missing.
"Music venues in the area are like a relic of the past," he says. "Artists and musicians need a place to go. That's what we're hoping Mango's can become."
We'd be remiss if we did not mention the efforts of recent Mango's performer Chase Hamblin, a New Age pop rocker with a sound tilting toward '60s Brit-rock. Hamblin sports an enjoyable version of today's canned-in voice that can sound either really, really fun (Panic at the Disco) or really, really unpleasant (Cobra Starship). Plus, he takes good pictures wearing a top hat, and that kind of thing is important in the music business. His forthcoming EP, A Fine Time, should be out later this spring. To read a little more about him, hear some of his music or see those top-hat pictures, check out www.chasehamblin.com.