This was the first year and no doubt the first of many for the Houston Press Music Awards Showcase to converge on Washington Avenue like a sweet-sounding pestilence made up of drums, mikes, a few steel guitars and a tanker truck full of music-scene pride.
Many people said that this thing would never work on Washington. The avenue has been called out numerous times for its supposed dearth of culture and sanity, but this year's HPMAs proved that anywhere Houston music drops anchor would be heaven for the duration.
No matter where you place such disparate sounds as Hell City Kings, YokoMono, Two Star Symphony or Fat Tony, good things will happen. Sorry, the feared "Washington Shore" has nothing in its repertoire that can repress that.
And don't think for a minute we weren't spying the avenue's venues on the avenue for future reference, when there is the inevitable fall back into its heady musical past from its stodgy, pressed-jeans present. Some of the venues were less than stellar for musical exposition - Sugarcane isn't built for a live band, but Rebels Honky Tonk sure the hell is.
Those tall industrial ceilings and brick walls at The Drake have some wicked acoustics. Just saying...
Our day started in what we prematurely saw as our safe zone, the area surrounding Walter's On Washington. To quote one of our mustachioed brethren, Walter's is the avenue's veritable Montrose embassy. When Pearl Bar or Salt has you feeling dizzy and irritable, the club across the street always offers up a slice of life only seen in the neighborhood a few miles down Shepherd.
Seeing the Hell City Kings' Josh Wolf writhe on the floor was worth busting the hatch at Salt Bar around 2 p.m., as was seeing the place populated with more neck tattoos than it had probably been seen since opening its doors a few months back. Meanwhile, Kemo For Emo was bouncing their pop-punk off Pearl Bar's concrete walls next door, making the place sound like a machine shop of chords and hooky fills.
Back at Walter's, we peeked in at Tax the Wolf, and the four-piece enthralled us with its snaky Mars Volta-esque vibe. Funnily enough, we saw those kids the whole rest of the day at most every venue we walked into, whether it was snagging free pizza at the band VIP party at Ei8ht, or walking into Manor On Washington to see Beetle later on that afternoon. We probably should have said hello instead of looking like a creepy stalker dude.
Two doors down we sat in and watched YokoMono for a few minutes at the Washington Avenue Drinkery. Their intricacy surprised us early on. Doing the listings for the paper, we must type their name into the musical schedule three times a week, but had never heard them live for ourselves. We especially enjoyed bassist Rozzano Zamorano's fusion bass, as all by himself he somehow managed to sound like three bass pickers at once.
We kept moving as much as we could, trying to fit in as many bands into four hours as aurally possible. The Washington Wave was our chariot all day, and provided comedic relief every few minutes, or the stray stomach-churning social clash of a handful of gals "whoo-ing" into the sun while sipping beers and salty margaritas.
We had a all-too-brief conversation with singer Kam Franklin about Houston indie hip-hop, while inadvertently straddling the buses pole like Lindsay Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me. We are sorry for any mental pain that caused to either Franklin or our nearby Rocks Off compadre Shea Serrano. It was a bumpy ride, not a mating dance, we assure you.
We made it to Rebels to see Chase Hamblin and his band closing out their set on the venue's dance floor. The last two songs had more twang in them than we remember him ever wielding. Hamblin has always reminded us of a lost Davies offspring, so maybe that Muswell Hillbillies imprint was a glimpse into where his musical mind is heading right now.
We also found out that Rebels makes a blue drink called an Adios, which almost put us to sleep halfway through the afternoon. Don't let the dainty color fool you. It was like making out with a slutty Smurf.
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Sadly we arrived at the Drake to hear Robert Ellis' news that we missed a whole set of Louvin Brothers. If anyone recorded it, please send it our way. Two Star Symphony had already started inside, and was holding a sizable audience captive with their mini-orchestra sounds. Like we said earlier, the Drake would be an excellent full-time music venue, or just a few days out of the week. Let the debutantes and valet-parking henchmen have it during the weekend.
Across the way at the showcase's outdoor stage, Runaway Sun's Andrew Karnavas was signing drumsticks for a young fan who had written a paper for school on his lyrics. The sweaty lead singer was humbled and baffled, still coming off his band's gritty performance. After hearing that, we would be frazzled too.
Heading west on Washington, we stopped in at Kobain to try to catch Buxton, who were on a mad dash for cymbals for their drum kit. Our pleadings on Twitter to be "iced" went horribly awry when a friend used a flask of Buffalo Trace whiskey. The band did a few songs and had the assembled crowd transfixed on Sergio Trevino and the boys. It was a whole new group of people, probably seeing our favorite Americana boys for the first time, and they loved every minute of it.
As the sun was getting ready to go down, we stopped to recharge for the evening's main acts, put on a dry shirt and wash our hands from meeting some many new friends and Houston music luminaries. Like how your favorite movie gets shorter each time you watch it, the previous four hours had gone by way too quickly.