[When last we left Nick Hall, he was dodging "mandannas" after some surprise Louvin Brothers from Robert Ellis and friends.]
Stepping out into the heat just long enough to see that Runaway Sun hasn't started up at the main stage, Aftermath dashes across Washington, dodging jitneys, for a funk bath courtesy of Plump. The air is electrified, and the packed house is clearly impressed.
It's no wonder. Like one long, bluesy rave-up, guitar and sax trade scorching licks while bass and drums lock it down. It's so tight, all the air seems squeezed out of the room. The resulting vacuum seems to have sucked Fedora over from The Drake; he's now shuffle- stepping appreciatively as the band lays it on thick. If this set is any indication of Plump's M.O., count us in.
Keeping with the one-and-done theme that tends to dominate Aftermath's HPMA Showcase experience, we head, yet again, out into the heat, intent on catching a few from Runaway Sun. The band is in full swing as we arrive, sounding great.
If the outdoor stage, sans shade, was a bad idea in general, the lineup so far is about as brilliant as you could get. Runaway Sun's gritty stomp matches the blistering sun in intensity, and has drawn a scattered but appreciative crowd. Some huddle under umbrellas, others cluster around the scattering of café tables, Budweiser beverages clasped in sweaty hands.
Sun front man Andrew Karnavas sweats right along with them, stomping across the stage and thrashing his guitar as the band churns. Lead guitarist Daniel de Luna is an absolute demon.
Into The Drake again for Two Star Symphony, whose show really makes us wish The Drake would do us a solid, and give these guys a weekly residency. Two Star sounds fantastic. The acoustics are perfect, taking the band's already full sound and allowing it to resonate into every corner of the cavernous space.
The group's darkly romantic style is a perfect fit for the bar's vaguely gothic styling. The two seem almost made for each-other. We're not the only one feeling it; this is one of the most obviously attentive crowds we've seen.
We stand transfixed through one original composition, then violist Debra Brown (we think) knocked our socks off with the announcement that the group would play a rare cover. Ministry's "Just One Fix." A Christmas present for Al Jourgensen, commissioned by his wife, naturally.
Sinewy, slinky, jarringly percussive, and totally perfect; when the song charges in like a stringed stampede, it makes you wonder if Jourgensen didn't actually write the song after hearing a time-traveling Two Star play it in defiance of all the spatial-temporal paradoxes you'll raise in objection to that notion. Also, that must be the most sinister damn marimba ever. Hands down, the best thing we've heard all day.
Going from the restrained furor of Two Star to the unhinged frenzy of Sideshow Tramps, cranking up on the outdoor stage, is about as jarring as the transition from dim AC to blinding summer heat. As the band wobbles through "Won't Get Drunk No More," Robert Ellis hobbles by, bottle of Hornitos in hand, and is beckoned onstage to take a turn behind the kit.
If there's a band in Houston right now capable of creating a party in a parking lot on a sweltering August day, it's the Sideshow Tramps. The biggest crowd yet to brave the heat has gathered in the shadow of the Bud Light stage, and there's dancing. Sloppy, drunken dancing, of course. The singing saw comes out, drawing its requisite oohs and aahs, and deserving them.
Back across the street at Sugarcane, Spain Colored Orange is playing to a near capacity crowd. Their bright, polished, eclectic but approachable pop fits the space and the eager audience. Sounds like summer.
The Octanes cap things off for us, showcase-wise. Back in The Drake, now all but emptied, the spot-on rockabilly groove pulls what few audience members remain out onto the floor. Granted, the most - how shall we put this? - demonstrative dancer seems a bit loopy in her clogs and fannypack, but nobody could doubt her enthusiasm. The Octanes balance their walking basslines with plenty of straightforward rock muscle.
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A shout-out to Texas rockabilly legend Ronnie Dawson, the Satellite Lounge, and an elegy for Washington Avenue's halcyon days as the live music capital of Houston cap the set as the bar begins to fill up again. This time, it must be the regulars. Lots of man-glitter, popped-collar polos, backward caps and graphic tees.
If only they'd arrived a few minutes earlier, they might have been swayed by Adam Burchfield's fervent hope that this might mark the return of live music to the Avenue. They can be swayed, right?
We walk away, sun setting on our HPMA Showcase experience, as Trae Tha Truth begins proclaiming from the main stage, hoping the throngs didn't come out of the woodwork just for him, but have been here all along, scattered up and down Washington, drinking in as much of this beautiful mess as possible.
We know we did. As per showcase usual, we revisited old loves, found new ones, and left with a sense that, all things considered, this thing went pretty damn well. Sure, it seemed like an odd fit, but perhaps that's kind of the point. After all, Washington Avenue once belonged to folks like us. Maybe, just maybe, we're taking it back.