Buxton, the Tontons Discovery Green May 24, 2012
I was pretty proud of myself Thursday night: I managed to kill three birds with one stone. I'd never seen local darlings Buxton or the Tontons live before, and I'd never been to a concert at Discovery Green, either. Thanks to UH-Downtown's Thursday Concerts series at the park, I was able to scratch all three at once off of the lengthy to-do list that I've been etching into my steering wheel at red lights.
Conveniently, it couldn't have been a more gorgeous evening for free live music outdoors. There was a strong, persistent breeze howling through downtown that seemed to threaten thunderstorms, but the fast-moving clouds overhead didn't do anything but provide some picturesque matting behind the skyscrapers.
The Tontons' set had just begun as I was walking up. They're a tricky band to review because their style is so hard to pin down. It's kind of a jazzy take on acid rock with indie sensibilities. The first song I heard was "Sea and Stars" from the band's 2008 EP of the same name. Adam Martinez's languid guitar line and singer Asli Omar's breathy vocals recalled a lot of good old music, none of which it was possible to put my finger on. It was an intriguing introduction, to say the least.
I wasn't alone in making the Tontons' acquaintance for the first time. The crowd on the hill, mostly young parents with small kids and middle-aged couple on date night, showed few flickers of recognition as the band pleasantly chugged its way through "Bones 1."
Still, everyone appeared to be impressed enough by what they were seeing and hearing. It was a little hard not to be --The Tontons were flanked by tall, gleaming buildings as the sun began to set. It was as if all downtown had become a stage. The wind patterns across the park created strange ripples in the soundwaves coming out of the PA, adding an extra layer of shimmering psychedelia.
The strongest portion of the Tontons' set was a three-song suite from the group's Golden EP. That record's title track was my favorite of the evening, with Justin Martinez's hi-hat powering the song along at a fun, upbeat pace. "So Young" was possibly the Tontons' jazziest selection, and "Never Never" sounded like an oldies ballad infused with a little Motown soul.
As the band played, the crowd continued to fill in. One concert-goer who was tough to miss was a hulking white man with a Morrissey haircut wearing a gigantic green recycling-symbol t-shirt. None of these elements made sense together. Thanks to Twitter, I discovered that this smiling gentleman was Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin. Cool.
The Tontons debuted a new song for the rest of us Texans that featured a nice, echoing guitar solo from Adam Martinez and some slithering dance moves from Omar.
"All these girls drive you mad!" she cooed. At least, I think she did.
Before closing with "Leon," Omar promised more new songs at Free Press Summer Fest. Righteous.
As Buxton set up their gear, I lay down on the Discovery Green grass and watched the clouds drift past the roof of One Park Place while Two Tons of Steel played over the PA. This is a fine way to spend a Thursday evening, folks. Did I mention that it was free? The UH-D Thursday Concerts run through June 28. Bring chairs and a cooler.
It was just getting dark when Buxton began. They opened with "Mary Frances," a quiet, old-timey acoustic folk song featuring vocal harmonies from bandleader Sergio Trevino and keyboardist Haley Barnes.
As the song drew to a close, the rest of the band came cranked up the volume, sounding something like an outer-space orchestra tuning up before a performance. Pow! Right into an upbeat rock tune draped in spacey guitar sounds. Meet Buxton!
It was kind of a weird scene on the Green. The UH-D Gator mascot tossed out beach balls and danced with kids for "Blown a Fuse." In a corner of the park behind the stage, a Hispanic couple snapped wedding photos. It was hard to hear Trevino's guitar over the relaxed chit-chat everywhere on the hill during soft acoustic passages like the one in "Each Horse with a Name." That seemed to be a problem onstage, as well, so perhaps the instrument just wasn't miked up properly.
Slowly but surely, a throng of hipsters in jorts and other happy people made their way to the front of the stage. Maybe they were drawn in by the encroaching darkness, or maybe they were emboldened by the Tontons' Asli Omar parking herself front and center, but by the time Buxton lit into "Boy of Nine," a brave few were up and dancing.
A sliver moon hung in the air as the band stomped through that tune, accordion and all. It was my favorite of the set.
The multi-instrumental talents of Buxton's six members allow the band to expand and contract its sound dramatically. Folk songs like "The Leaves" were simply vocal harmonies accompanied on acoustic guitar, while "Oh My Boy" blew things up big with massive Pink Floyd organ sounds.
It all sounded great because it was such a perfect evening. The glorious conditions did not go unnoticed by the bands, either, with Trevino praising the outstanding weather.
"This reminds me of why I love living in Houston, Texas," he said, "what I believe to be the most underappreciated music city in the United States."
The crowd gave that sentiment a token clap, but honestly, it was hard to argue with him on a night like Thursday. Gorgeous spring weather and quality live music, enjoyed free of charge at a handy park in downtown Houston? These are things we like.
Besides, these two groups are getting harder to catch in H-Town, now that they're constantly touring and recording. It was nice to see them back home, together again, nestled under that familiar skyline.
Personal Bias: Relentlessly pro-Houston attitude.
The Crowd: White people. Empty-nesters, young parents, and hipster twentysomethings.
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Overheard In the Crowd: Chatter. Chit-chat. People talked right over the quietest bits of the show, leading me to finally realize what people have been bitching about in Rocks Off comment sections.
Random Notebook Dump: There was a pervasive whiff of Off! in the crowd, but no mosquitos appeared. I was kinda worried, what with the concrete pond and all, but apparently those dudes at the Parks Dept. know what they're doing.