Gritty Local Bands Plug In For Superstorm Sandy Relief

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The Journey Agents, Knights of the Fire Kingdom, etc. Dean's and Notsuoh January 20, 2013

It's only been since October, but Hurricane Sandy already kind of feels like it happened forever ago. Hell, we've weathered a fiscal cliff, a school shooting and a Texans playoff loss since then. The news crews are long gone. For those of us blessed not to have been directly affected by the "superstorm," it's mostly been consigned to history at this point.

In the Northeast, of course, Sandy's effects linger on. The storm was the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history behind Katrina, and the rebuilding has only just begun. The American Red Cross has already spent more than $100 million on emergency relief in the region, with millions more to come.

That's a lot of dough, folks -- here's hoping it's all replaced by the time our fair city has to call upon the Red Cross once again. Luckily, not everybody in Houston has forgotten about Hurricane Sandy just yet. This weekend, an eclectic collection of Houston bands united for the cause, bum-rushing Notsuoh and Dean's downtown for an all-night Red Cross benefit.

Live local music is my kind of fundraiser, so I decided to drop in. I arrived right after dinner, but the show had already been going on for hours by then. The first band I caught was the Boulevard Nights onstage at Notsuoh. The group's rhythm section packed a nice punch, and the '60s psych organ gave their tunes a pleasant, spacey flair. When the whole band cranked up, its sound reminded me a bit of the White Stripes covering Radiohead songs.

With the stages at both bars staggered pretty effectively, it was a cinch to hear everything. When the Nights went dark, I crossed over to the adjoining Dean's, where Tim Qualls was setting up. The pop/soul singer-songwriter apologized for his lack of a backup band -- only the drummer showed. Apparently the flu epidemic had spread to the rest of his compadres.

Sounds like a job for the Red Cross! Qualls did his bit to help them out, deploying well-crafted, R&B-tinged pop-rock that had some toes tappin.' His sultry voice recalled Justin Timberlake and Adam Levine by turns, and his songs' diminished instrumentation seemed to work out nicely for him in a few spots. One of the verses in "Vain" became a pretty decent rap, thanks to the tight beat his drummer was laying down.

Next door, A Sundae Drive entertained rock fans with pop of the power variety while the Tyburn Jig set up at Dean's. Those in the know at the venue praised the Jiggers for their hard work in making the fundraiser happen, so if you see 'em around town, stop and shake their hands.

On Saturday night, of course, the band was aiming to shake a few asses; hands be damned. The group's jangly surf guitar rang out onto Main Street as Dean's began to grow crowded. A catchy mix of surf, punk, rockabilly and Texas honky-tonk music drew the people in, squeezing in front of the bar's tiny stage area.

To avoid the crunch, I sipped outside at watched the band through the venue's storefront windows. As I enjoyed some quality live music downtown, in one of the oldest parts of the city, only a few feet from a train whizzing by, I couldn't help but think how altogether appropriate it was to hold a Hurricane Sandy fundraiser in one of Houston's most Manhattan-esque locales.

The music, though, was pure H-Town. Back at Notsuoh, Black Queen Speaks drew a nice crowd for its set, which seemed to up the volume of the evening considerably. The band's rhythm section locked into deep grooves as they pumped out dirty Southern hard rock. Heavy as they were, the tunes were still danceable, as singer Mike Blas proved with his strange, serpentine moves on stage. It was pretty fun to watch.

Black Queen Speaks really opened up their Gibsons for the band's finale, an enthusiastic cover of Danzig's "Mother" that had quite a number of fists pumping in the audience. No one doesn't love that song. When it was over, I realized my ears were beginning to ring.

There was reprieve in the cards for my cochleae. At Dean's, Grizzly stomped out an appealingly hard honky-tonk sound that culminated in a nice, crunchy cover of "Folsom Prison Blues," complete with wailing guitar solo attached. Next door, Knights of the Fire Kingdom crammed themselves onto the small stage, performing with enough energy for a much larger hall. It was all squealing guitars and crashing cymbals, which everyone seemed to agree was pretty great.

Meanwhile -- back at the Deancave -- the Journey Agents were hard at work finagling all seven members on to the microstage. Somehow, they made it work, even with an electric piano, congas and trap percussion to find room for.

The dancefloor was just as crowded, with a throng of young, attractive folks jamming out to the JAs' funky R&B dance-rock. The band worked up a sweat on its wah pedals, and all of a sudden, the room started getting a little steamy. The weather was perfect outside, but indoors, it felt like hurricane season again.

Those of us who weren't into dancing eventually wandered next door, where the Dead Revolt were giving a small crowd a pummeling. A Texas power trio with the volume to suggest that they're proud of it, these three slammed out a hell of a racket in there. I enjoyed myself quite a bit sitting in one of the venue's comfy living room chairs, sipping a cocktail and watching them sprint through "Dazed and Confused."

"Dazed and Confused" is hard to top. I headed home, but the show continued. Not sure how much they raised, but from where I was sitting, it looked like a success. The American Red Cross is still collecting donations for disaster relief, naturally. When you're ready to punish yourself for not going out last weekend, head over to www.redcross.org/charitable-donations.

Personal Bias: Destroy all hurricanes.

The Crowd: The hip.

Overheard In the Crowd: "The bathroom's an adventure here."

Random Notebook Dump: The bathroom was an adventure there.

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