Madness on Main Eases Houston Into Festival Season

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Madness on Main
Midtown Superblock
7, 2016

The ACL lineup has been announced; Coachella is already in the books. Hell, check off another Buzzfest, too. At home and around the country, music festival season feels well and truly upon us. Here in Houston, Madness on Main served as something of a 2016 music-fest starter course over the weekend, easing us into the action. It was a manageable fest: only four stages, only one day. It featured a slew of variously talented local acts. And it just so happened to be held on one of the coolest blocks in the city.

You might not know it unless you’ve visited on a special occasion like Saturday, but Main Street neighbors the Continental Club and Shoeshine Charlie’s Big Top Lounge are actually connected out back by the large yard containing the Pachinko Hut bar. All three music-friendly watering holes had stages going from 5 p.m. until well past midnight, along with the mural-heavy empty lot across the street that more often plays host to regular art and craft fairs. Madness on Main was large enough that there was plenty to see and hear, but small enough that no one had to work up a sweat hustling between stages.

No matter how large or how small the fest, it should take you a few minutes to get your bearings walking in. When I arrived at the Continental Club, Knights of the Fire Kingdom were bashing out some high-octane rock from the club’s richly appointed stage. Outside, a crowd of hipsters swilled beers and grooved to the DJ’s selection of “Jump Around.” So far, so good.

By the time I’d made the rounds and paid for my first drink, the Linus Pauling Quartet was setting up their gear inside the Continental. Guitarist/vocalist Charlie Horshack stood out immediately in his bloody butcher’s apron and wild beard. Nothing like a little heaviness to get me started off right! LP4 promised us some big, dumb guitar rock going into the fest, and they delivered, dropping some crunchy new cuts like “Ampalanche” and “Brisket” in among some of their hardest material from 2012's Bag of Hammers, including the weird psych-doom-pop of “Victory Gin” and the face-smashing riff-slab “Stonebringer.”

During the monster metal breakdown of “C is for Cthulhu,” I watched people wander in and out of the club, checking out the general vibe. No one seemed settled, and why would they? No matter how good the band in front of you was, something better might be going on at the next stage. And they were so close together that there was no reason not to bounce back and forth all night. I decided to spend the rest of the night as a vagabond, too — tossing out the schedule and wandering around, checking out as much as I could.

Things were an awful lot quieter outside for Say Girl Say, where the audience had to cluster in close to the stage to hear the trio’s dueling front women entwine their voices and strings. Wearing headdresses made of Christmas lights, Brigette Yawn and Suzan Zaghmouth maintained some pretty intense eye contact as they sang and strummed their ukuleles over Luke Odom’s primitive hand-drumming. As for our eyes, most were on belly dancer Y.E. Torres, who was wearing little more than a sword as she slithered and slid across the deck. The performance had a distinctly RenFest vibe to it, probably owing much to its outdoor locale. The ladies’ vocal harmonies were entrancing, to be sure, but I couldn’t let myself become totally ensnared. There was too much more to see.

Back inside, it didn’t take Sphynx long to blow my mind out the back of my skull. When I walked in, the freaky Austin trio was covering Haddaway’s “What is Love,” and doing it in perfect falsetto — turning the Continental Club, if only briefly, into a night at the Roxbury. Wearing what I can only imagine to be the lowest-rise pants available to men, keyboardist Cory Dennis led the group through synchronized hair-coptering during their next cover tune, the Outfield’s “Your Love,” which again featured impressive falsetto vocals and even a sweet talkbox solo from guitarist Aaron Miller. Few of us assembled had bargained for any of that, making Sphynx’s practiced hip-swishing all the more eye-popping.

Next door at Big Top, Camera Cult was entertaining a small crowd of people with their altogether pleasant guitar pop — too small a crowd, really. I wondered what was up until the guitarist said, “Thank you to everyone who’s not watching Skarnales right now.” Ah, shit — legendary local rudos Los Skarnales were playing the same time slot across the street. I waited politely for Camera Cult to finish a couple more tunes and clapped and cheered louder than I could have to salve my conscience. Skarnales would have to take priority.

Predictably, it was a wild scene in the empty lot for Felipe Galvan’s gang. As an orgy of horns blared, old fans and new ones did their best to keep dancing through one high-energy tune after another. Nobody does Latin-inflected ska punk better than Los Skarnales. I’m not sure anyone’s even tried. Back near the beer tents, folks stood on tables and bopped around in what space they could, just trying to get a decent view of the action down front.

It ain’t an easy thing to try to follow Los Skarnales in Houston, but inside the Continental, Another Run was making a pretty strong go at it. Arriving somewhere on the rock spectrum between Glassjaw and Fall Out Boy, the local quintet was led by bassist Bob Lane’s mustache through a hugely energetic set, highlighted by the joyous pounding of drummer Andy Martinez. With the outdoor stuff mostly wrapped up, there was a full crowd in there to see them, and between songs, fans sounded pretty darn impressed.

We were nearing the six-hour mark by that point of the fest, and a nice lullaby would have been a most welcome capper. We got some kind of psychedelic nightmare instead, courtesy of Quintron and Miss Pussycat. The familiar New Orleans duo tore the black sheet off a black-light puppet-show stage to open, presenting the trippy tale of a puppet princess priced out of the home-buying marketplace in her beloved Goblinburg. It wasn’t the strongest narrative in the world, but the bizarre DIY puppetry and lighting effects were stranger than can be imagined, eliciting polite rounds of applause from confused fest-goers. Those who remained at its end were treated to the styling of Quintron’s light-activated, oscillating drum machine and some mean maracas from Miss Pussycat. I can’t be the only one who wondered if maybe somebody had spiked my drink.

Doeman was still scheduled to rock the mike next door, but as the clock approached 1 a.m., I was done — satisfied that I’d seen plenty, and wondering how the hell I could survive the bigger festivals to come.

Personal Bias: Within walking distance.

The Crowd: A strange mishmash of music fans from no scene in particular.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Apparently, it’s a box that you go inside, and everyone makes fun of you. That’s what happened to me, anyway.” – On the mirrored “Tripatorium” installation.

Random Notebook Dump: Why doesn’t the Superblock do this EVERY weekend? 

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