Sometimes knowing absolutely nothing about a band is the best way to see them perform for the first time. Judging them solely by their name, I figured I knew what to expect from Hell City Kings; going in, I’d have thought Something Fierce was a shoo-in for this year’s best punk band award. But when the Kings ended their set with a cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush,” it was most definitely up in the air.
Their loud, energetic, blistering set was a cross between the rawness of early Social D and mid-'70s garage rock - an excellent beginning to the afternoon. For sure, the band’s sound is a bit more metal than punk at times (Travis Barker-esque drummer notwithstanding) but the early crowd at Butterfly High ate it up. The band tore through their half-hour set, barely stopping for a breath, and thankfully shattered my preconceived notions about their name.
While longtime Houston staple Fondue Monks haven't had a new album in a decade - longer than most of this year's HPMA nominees have been bands - they still know how to get down. This year's appearance at Flying Saucer put the foursome squarely in their element: a bar full of midday drunken revelers looking for an excuse to dance. And the band certainly didn’t disappoint.
The Monks' funked-up, bluesy rock drew one of the day's largest crowds, which they left screaming for more. Frontman Denver Courtney's Jim-Morrison-meets-James-Brown routine still works, but longtime best-bassist nominee Rozz Zamorano garners most of the attention (guitarist Steve Olson and drummer Ronnie Zamorano are no slouches either). There's a reason Rozz, who slaps his bass like a man possessed, gets the best bassist nod every year; expect it to keep happening unless Flea or Les Claypool moves to town or Jaco Pastorius rises from the dead and shows up at SkyBar.
Three parts Muse, one part Radiohead, Pale is somewhat of an anomaly in Houston. The band makes no bones about its aggressive stance on breaking into the big-time, and it shows in each live performance. Sunday, Pale played to a receptive crowd at Venue and gave the audience a lesson on how to put the rock in rock band.
With a big, dramatic sound and catchy choruses, Pale took command of the stage from the start and never let up (the fog machine and strobes were a nice touch). The group played its “greatest hits,” of sorts, and also debuted two of its reportedly nearly 20 new song for Pale's in-progress new album. Lead singer/guitarist Calvin Stanley's soul-searching, lovelorn lyrics make him a viable candidate for best songwriter this year (check out 2007's Mandatory Ambulance EP), but it's the band as a whole that makes it all work.
As has been written before, Arthur Yoria is one of Houston's hardest-working musicians. Most performers of his caliber would have left long ago for a better shot at the limelight, but Yoria continues both to grace us with his presence and his creative, genre-bending music.
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On the heels of sitting in with Tom Petty impersonator Tody Castillo and friends as the Traveling Wilburys at Saturday night's Hootenanny, Yoria played songs from his stellar I'll Be Here Awake and more recent EPs, and sprinkled in new material he's working on for an upcoming release. His one-man band set, complete with harmonica, acoustic guitar, and a floor full of pedals, kept the packed crowd at Flying Saucer enthralled and even made a few converts among the passers-by.
Bring Back the Guns
Every year it seems like something happens that threatens at least one showcase. Thankfully, despite some unpaid bills and the group’s locked-up equipment, longtime indie darlings Bring Back The Guns (whose Erik Bogle is nominated for best guitarist) put the night’s rumors to rest and gave the packed crowd at Dean’s Credit Clothing an impressive show.
Frontman/spaz Matt Brownlie is always entertaining, and Bogle and the other Guns kept the momentum going throughout. Drummer Thomas Clemmons packed himself into Dean’s front window to give Brownlie room to twist and contort while playing tight versions of songs from last year’s Dry Futures (which you should own by now). Their amped-up set - “No More Good Songs” was a particular favorite - made the audience care just a little less about the heat inside Dean’s, which is truly an amazing feat. By itself, the fact that Dean’s was packed despite Sharks & Sailors playing next door and Young Mammals playing their last show for a while nearby is testament to the Guns' appeal. - David A. Cobb