Houston's music scene is arguably experiencing one of its most sumptuous moments ever. Local acts showing great promise are as voluminous and interesting as our town's food trucks and, similarly, have whet Houstonians' growing appetites for live music. We're out there sampling more morsels of good stuff than a famished shopper at Central Market.
That thrilling hunger isn't just good for local musicians. It's attractive to out-of-towners, too. An informed music community makes Houston a destination for bands out there grinding it out to make a name for themselves. But don't take our word for it: this trio of acts who frequently visit the city will tell you why you rock, Houston music fans.
MARLA STRANGE Drummer Jason Pedigo and guitarist Logan Plankenhorn make up Marla Strange, an aggressive two-piece, post-punk/hardcore crossover band from Belton, Tex. Situated near Temple and Fort Hood, Belton has a population roughly equivalent to a sellout at Toyota Center. The reasons to pack the gear and travel south are pretty obvious, according to Plankenhorn.
"We make music to share with others," he says. "If we didn't play outside of our area that would not be possible. But, it also has to do with the perception of our band. We like hearing people that have never seen us before describe what our music is to them, rather than our friends and family who are somewhat forced to like us.
"The underground in Houston is huge," he adds. "Every show we meet new people and get new reactions."
Marla Strange is one of a dozen acts scheduled to appear at Fuzzy Fest VI, a benefit for the Wildlife Center of Houston, tomorrow at Mango's. Their first show in the area was in April 2013 at East Side Social Center.
"Yeah, it was our first time outside of the Austin area," Plankenhorn recalls. "The people at the show were surprisingly friendly to an unknown, out-of-town band. Typically when we play somewhere new, people see a two-piece band and say something like, 'What is this, a White Stripes cover band?' or 'Where's your bass player?'
"But at East Side Social Center they were intrigued by the fact we were a two-piece," he adds. "At the end of the night, what made us want to return were the people we met."
The band is now finishing work on its latest album, Arsonist. "That'll be done back home in Belton, where the scene may be small but the love is large.
"There's not really a scene in our hometown," Plankenhorn says. "But every other month or so, someone will rent this community center called The Armstrong, which used to be an old school. Exactly what you picture when you think of an old red-brick schoolhouse.
"All of the punks and delinquents from the area come out to mosh and hang out," he goes on. "After the second or third show here, we were surprised to hear people singing back our lyrics. These shows are intense as far as crowd response goes - lots of moshing, headbanging and occasional fireworks."
SOMEBODY'S DARLING Somebody's Darling's battle plan seems to be working. The blues/roots-rockers have conquered their home base of Dallas and have their eyes on distant locales, including Houston.
"We love our city and we like to think they love us," says Amber Farris, the snarlin' Darling who is the band's lead vocalist. "We've definitely been feeling it lately. KXT has been spinning our record a bunch, and our shows are getting bigger and crazier."
It's been a busy year for the band, its seventh overall. It plans to close 2014 strong and, at least in part, here in Houston with a December 13 date at Cottonwood. That venue is a favorite of the band, which has also performed at Continental Club, Dan Electro's, Firehouse Saloon and Rudyard's, where they last played in August with Houston's own Cavern Hymnal and Nashville's Margo and the Pricetags.
"Man, I think our first Houston gig may have been at the Mucky Duck," Farris recalls. "We were a young band so it was tough, but we knew we wanted to come back. "We've played a couple shows now with Cavern Hymnal; they always draw well. And the Suffers played at our album release party in Dallas in August."
They may have bumped into Kam and the fam earlier this month in New York for the CMJ marathon, where Farris says her band definitely hung with Featherface for a minute. Somebody's Darling was promoting its third album, Adult Roommates. Our sister paper Dallas Observer called it "a killer follow-up to 2012's soulful Jank City Shakedown," while proclaiming Somebody's Darling one of Dallas' most popular bands.
There are still worlds to conquer, though, according to Farris.
"We love Dallas, but we'd love for people all over to Texas to hear our songs and come out to our shows," she says, "and Houston is at the top of that list."
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"We are building a religion. We are building it bigger," says Collin McCabe, echoing the old Cake song but also sounding like a preacher at a tent revival.
That's what Bantam Foxes is, in a sense, a traveling show that converts empty souls with the holy trinity of garage rock, blues and '90s alt-rock. The New Orleans trio features McCabe on bass and vocals, his brother Sam on guitar and vocals, and drummer Jared Marcell.
Some people believe Austin is a music mecca, but McCabe reminds those new to this religion that New Orleans is still considered the holy land by true believers.
"We do well in New Orleans, but it's a very tough market," he says. "Living in a city with such a huge amount of music and such a rich musical history creates so much competition. It's hard to keep people's attention, and it's next to impossible to snag the interest of the tourists.
We get out of town a lot because of this, which is how we first started heading to Houston," notes McCabe.
In 2013, Bantam Foxes was named one of New Orleans' top seven artists to watch by New Orleans' alt-weekly, Gambit. Their debut album, Triumph, has earned stellar reviews from the Crescent City music followers. Their first Houston gig was at the first Yes, Indeed! fest in September 2012.
"We played with a lot of cool bands that day from around southeast Texas and had a pretty damn good time despite the weather," says McCabe. "We were also the only New Orleans band on the lineup and one of only a few non-Texan bands."
"We knew before our first time coming into Houston that we'd want to return. We tour very regularly throughout the south and Houston is the largest music market in vicinity to New Orleans," he continues. "That size is a blessing and a curse, though, because it's much more difficult to get the word out about shows in such a large market."
It's always good to have friends on the road, and Bantam Foxes' Houston comrades include some of the city's most exciting established acts. McCabe went to college with Nick Serena of Handsomebeast; Alkari's Jason Smith has helped the group get local gigs, as has The Manichean. They've played with Bang Bangz and Featherface, and count East Texans Hello Chief and Purple among their "greatest Texas buddies."
Bantam Foxes plan to touch down in Houston again on January 30 with Houma, La.'s Baby Bee and Austin's Berkshire Hounds. The venue is still TBD, McCabe notes, but the show will coincide with the release of the Foxes' newest EP.
"It's important to do shows out of your hometown because there are always so many more people out there that can be -- and will be -- fans of your music," he says. "You just have to go find them."
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