Ozeal, Satin Hooks, Zydeco Dots, Kristine Mills Simmer On Showcase Saturday

2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, and nobody's home at The Drake. The place is a bit hidden, with its posh entrance tucked around back, hidden from the street by the abandoned industrial façade. The cool, dark interior provides a refuge from the heat outside, but the space still manages to feel uninviting.

Perhaps it's the fact that Ozeal is currently setting up to play for exactly Aftermath and three others. Perhaps it's the monosyllabic bartender. "Yeah?" offers the barback, then furnishes our drink with an equally welcoming "six," open hand proffered in conclusion of our encounter. Beer in hand, we settle in amongst the leather sofas, red walls and chandeliers. Where's our bottle service?

As Ozeal's band is warming up, the place begins to fill. Lots of girls in frilly dresses and heels, toting vibrantly colored drinks. Now that's more like it. The audience now seems split between flirtily attired young women, and comfortably attired older women. Oh, and the one guy in the graphic tee and fedora, intent on getting funky.

The crowd demographics are of no concern to Ozeal, who launches his band into a set of the funkiest smooth jazz ever, kind of like a cross between William DeVaughn, Parliament and Houston's late 95.7 The Wave. The acoustics, which are perfect for the band, seem to swallow Ozeal's flow a bit. He works the crowd like a pro, sparse though it is, weaving and bobbing to the beat, trying his damnedest to get people moving.

Kristine Mills maneuvers through the crowd, garnering a shout-out from Ozeal before he dashes up to the balcony, intent on getting even the shyest wallflower into the party. To be honest, his sultry vibe feels a bit strange at 2 p.m.; give us 12 hours and a nice buzz, though, and even our pensive rock-critic vibe would have melted right onto the dance floor, willing putty in the hands of Ozeal and his crack band.

Speaking of that crack band, Ozeal puts it on full display toward the end of his set, running a little bit of "hit me" R&B shtick, pushing and pulling the rhythm section like a well-oiled piston. James Brown, eat your heart out. The crowd finally shows Ozeal some love, lapping up the band hits and rave-up, vamping groove. Even Mills gets down when the band gets heavy.

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The rain shows up about halfway through Ozeal's set, keeping the crowd in and making us hesitate just enough to miss Footpie at Sugarcane, whose bright interior stands in stark contrast to the cave-like Drake. We bet some bright reggae bounce felt right at home, like sunshine breaking through the overcast sky.

Soon enough, though, Satin Hooks' clattering warm-up splits the sunny calm of Sugarcane right in half, spurring decision making time - stay and bleed from the ears, or venture into the rain-free but steamy day to see what else is to be heard.

Satin Hooks' set starts off with a smile, as a looped sample provides subtle hints to the M.C. that his job is done. The place feels crowded. Granted, it's a much smaller space, but still. As Satin Hooks leans into its first tune, the dynamics of the place shift.

The muscular, slightly dissonant jolt pushes some out the door, but seems to draw others in. The angry, slightly mathy, slightly Southern-tinged alt-rock plays well to the mostly young, mostly male audience. Satin Hooks is on; agile, exciting, and really, really loud.

Tinnitus setting in, we venture over to the outdoor stage to swelter appropriately with the Zydeco Dots, though they seem to be delayed - perhaps by the rain. The bluesy sound of the Dots' warmup mingles with the smell of smoking meat in the swampy, post-shower sauna of H-Town in August.

Impatient and sweaty, Aftermath's back into The Drake's beckoning darkness to check on Kristine Mills. Mills is tickling the ivories for a small and totally uninterested crowd. It's a shame, because her vocals are spot-on. She launches into the cool bossa nova of "Sweet Sorrow," the sophisticated swing fitting the space perfectly.

The indifferent crowd jabbers on, vodka tonics in hand. We head out as the mandanna crew heads in. We wonder what they're expecting...

The Zydeco Dots are just starting to shake as we meander back to the Bud Light stage. The lure of the smoker sets in, and we grab a tasty chopped-beef sandwich from the good folks from Toni's Café who have set up pits in the far corner. The Dots' swampy, funk-laced boogie goes perfectly.

We settle into the "Cool Space" to eat and listen in relative comfort. Not many are willing to brave the shroud of humidity around the stage. It's a shame, because the Dots' are killing it.

Back to The Drake for Robert Ellis. Never seen him before, but it looks like plenty of others have. The space has filled considerably in anticipation of a couple of V-neck tee shirted hipsters, enthusiastically harmonizing around an honest little country tune. A few Sideshow Tramps sidle through, nodding appreciatively.

The guitars are simple, providing texture to what is ultimately a vocal showcase, and a good one. Ellis and his cohort sound as if their voices were matched at birth as they croon their way through a beautiful "Tennessee Waltz" that gets rousing applause.

With a nod and a chuckle, but an even more notable undercurrent of sincerity, Ellis introduces The Louvin Brothers' "Satan is Real," then delivers as honest a rendering as we've heard. It feels like Tweedy and Farrar doing an impromptu sit-in circa 1992, and it's one of the best performances of the day.

As we head out, we spot Fedora from Ozeal's set bro'in it up on the balcony with one of the mandanna db's. Maybe they'll make it out to Fitzgerald's for one of Ellis' barn-dances next month.

To be continued...

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