Ponderosa Gives House Of Blues A Mouthful

Rocks Off is usually ambivalent, at best, about restaurant shows. One of the few times we're not interested in live music at all is when we're eating, and we imagine we're hardly the only person who feels that way. Strolling violinists and mariachi groups especially get under our skin

That's right, no one ever called us a romantic.

Ponderosa's early-evening set downstairs at House of Blues Tuesday, part of KPFT program Lone Star Jukebox's "Troubador Tuesday" series, was a happy exception. The Athens, Ga., five-piece played for a solid hour and a half, and in the process made us quite a bit less anxious about My Morning Jacket bypassing Houston when they come down for Austin City Limits in September.

Owing partially to their surroundings, no doubt, Ponderosa sounded quite a bit different from the last time Rocks Off saw them, a bare-knuckled, hair-flipping Black Crowes 2.0 affair that bulldozed New West Records' SXSW day party at Austin's Belmont. This time the sound was more melodic, drawn-out and relaxed, with pockets of reggae and a steady pulse from the bass and electric piano.

It made sense once New West president George Fontaine told us that the band was about to head to upstate New York to record the follow-up to last year's Moonlight Revival with Flaming Lips, MGMT and Mercury Rev engineering wizard Dave Fridmann. From what we heard Tuesday, Ponderosa should fit in just fine with Fridmann's more ambient aesthetic - they even closed with a sprawling instrumental number reminiscent of Explosions In the Sky.

But Ponderosa has hardly gone soft, lobbing a few grenades of swampy Creedence goodness among the silverware and crockery, plus scattered bits of Buffalo Springfield and a scorching blues-rocker or two. Power-pop stomper "Old Gin Road" is pure gold.

The floor area in front of House of Blues' restaurant stage was packed, and it was encouraging to see so many people come out to see a band that, happily, seems determined to make Houston a permanent part of their touring regimen - even if it means playing restaurants once in a while. But Ponderosa sure didn't put anyone off their dinner Tuesday.

Troubador Tuesdays resume in September.

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