A good way to kick off the HPMAs is to see a musician who makes you daydream about cheese grits on a holiday, preferably one that takes place in wintertime. Or reminds you of riding a horse at sunrise alongside your best friend John Denver. Glenna Bell, you made it happen. This longtime local favorite earned her due at Dean's, the paltry to not-so-paltry audience basking in the folky goo of a hootenanny. The folksters hummed and swayed with straight teeth and inside voices, making way for a songstress that lights campfires. Glenna, we raise our griddle-cakes to you. We're not really sure what to say about Beetle other than, well, the name is incredibly appropriate. Because they cover Beatles songs, get it? Not just the Beatles' Beatles, but the Beatles that sang songs that sounded like filtered air dipped in vanilla and glued to a beige wall. The catchy songs, like "Drive My Car," and that one about somebody's lovin'. Come on. What's happened to our lives when a Beatles cover band can so galvanize a room as to render it impassable? The white girls dance while the white guys gawk, dude in the corner booth eats fried cheese, we all sing along, water is still wet, here comes the sun. If nothing else, we got a healthy Hard Rock portion of obviousness. Good obviousness. This is not a negative review. There are a shitload of Free Radicals who play a shitload of instruments - horns, guitars, xylophones, keyboards, woods and winds. And occasionally someone sings. But to their credit, Free Radicals know how to own a room. They know how to induce a smile from you the jaded, and they are unabashedly confident in their ability to make you stand up and sh-sh-shake your ass. It's not quite jazz, it's not quite honky-tonk; it's a new genre entirely - something like halfway improvisational jazzky-tonk with a dash of folk-scuzz blues. Hey, can we play at your church next Sunday? No wonder Free Radicals own this the category of the ageless; we can only hope they keep on keepin' on. Take it home, guys. Setting aside the fact that merely entering the hideously opulent front doors of Rocbar ensures you nothing - including making it back out alive; the place is fucking terrifying - it's a decent enough place to see a show. Sure, the sound guy couldn't get his shit together in time to keep the place from becoming a breathing sonic blast of sound bombs (some guy's ears were bleeding, true story). And yeah, maybe there were just as many boom mics as there were people. After waiting nearly an hour for the sound to sound like sound, not torture-chamber thunder, Fat Tony took the stage and promptly doped the shit out of the rhythm. He's Houston's house band, we swear. Tony brings people together in a way no entertainer Aftermath has ever seen, and he's ours, Houston's, and thank God for that. Known for legendary freestyle battles with some of the city's most feared and respected MC's, Fat Tony shocked the shit out of rhyming alphabeticals. Sunday, there was no one even close to his level of brilliance. Jam jam jam jam, jelly jam jam jam. Flavor? Patchouli. Before Plump's showcase set Sunday night, Aftermath didn't think Houston had much of a jam-band ethos, but clearly we were wrong. All the beardos came together, packing Red Cat Jazz Café with their twirls and smiles, unafraid to answer the question "Who's more far out, man, Phish or Plump?" Turns out it's still Phish, but still, Plump does right by their fans, giving them reason to smile with 15-minute guitar riffs and whammy-bar blazin' solos that say "Bonnaroo? Fuck Bonnaroo." Got any mushrooms?
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