Ah yes, the 14th annual Houston Press Music Awards showcase. It was sublime. It was excellent. It was amazing. It was also, at times, utterly ridiculous.

More than 70 bands performed on 14 stages, and more than 9,000 people attended, making this the largest ever showcase in the number of both bands and attendees. Here's an hour-by-hour account.

4 p.m. : Racket caught Dubtex at St. Pete's. The dancehall/rap collective was lacking a bass player, and even though a reggae band playing without one is something akin to AC/DC with no guitars, they pretty much pulled it off by subbing in keys and congas. There was a relaxed, easy skankin' vibe as several singers and rappers took turns at the mike, and theirs was the most crowded and satisfied 4 p.m. set Racket has seen. "Good Weed" and "Dem Lost" stood out, but St. Pete's poor acoustics rendered the raps mostly unintelligible. Meanwhile, Press correspondent Bob Ruggiero took in the Allen Oldies Band at the Hard Rock. That show, Ruggiero says, held huge interest for males, thanks not to Allen Hill's trademark cavorting, but to two hot, braless blonds in tank tops and short shorts with no evidence of underwear dancing frenetically and occasionally erotically with a touch of girl-on-girl action through the entire set.

5 p.m. : Racket hied himself over to Slainte, where a mostly Hispanic crowd was treated to a deafening and excellent set from Chango Jackson. The cuatro hermanos Jackson took the tiny stage in their chemical suits, though guitarist Jaco peeled out of his about halfway through the set and slapped on some kind of weird yellow bird mask and treated us to some spasmodic interpretive dance. The tamales were flying again, as were snippets of classic rock. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" segued into their own "Frida," and a few licks from "Funk No. 49" could be heard in another number. Near the end of the set, someone in a gorilla mask appeared out of nowhere and took to the dance floor. Rock en español in an Irish pub and dancing gorillas -- only at the Music Awards.

Ruggiero reports that Southern Lights cleared the Brewery Tap of its clientele in short order. "They sucked ass, even if taken as satire," he says. "There was a mass exodus of audience members five minutes into their unintelligible bullshit. They should be crushed up the stanky assholes of the Fat Boys." Southern Light Jamie Sralla doesn't dispute that there was a mass exodus. "Not only did they leave but they were really pissed off, too," he said. But Sralla does deny the accusation that his band stole a case of Budweiser from Swarm of Angels.

After fleeing in disgust from Southern Lights, Ruggiero took in zydeco diva Lady D at Dean's, where certain lucky fans were treated to some very special attentions. "She writhed, dry-humped a chair by sitting on it backwards, and rubbed up and down some very happy middle-aged males," he reports. "She also unfavorably compared the size of a man's penis to her unfolded accordion before doing her signature number, 'Squeeze My Box.'"

6 p.m. : For Racket, things took a turn for the weird. After catching a few songs of Opie Hendrix's maximum C&W at Live Sports Bar, Racket and Mrs. Racket arrived at the Groceries show at Dean's. From behind, I could see that singer Matt Brownlie had some name scrawled across his belly. Then I could see that the first word was John.

Was it an homage to Johnny Rotten? Johnny Thunders? No, it was yours truly. But surely such an icon of irony as Matt Brownlie wouldn't be paying tribute to the music critic of the paper that had invited him to this event. Of course not. Turns out he was pissed that I didn't cover his Down With The Scene festival that was held the day before the HPMA showcase. (In it, Brownlie's band and a bunch of their friends played at Pamland Central.) So miffed was he that he composed a "song" in tribute to my "intrepid" music journalism. He hopped on the bar, sprayed a bunch of beer around and hollered a bunch of unintelligible gibberish. Grrr grrr, yap yap. It was like being attacked by a very hip Pekingese.

Well, jeez, Matt, it's an honor having my name at the very nexus of cool in Houston (I speak, of course, of the navel you so delight in gazing at), but last time I checked, you weren't such a publicity hound. Wasn't it you who didn't want Groceries to be played on Pam Kelly's Texas Buzz show on 94.5 FM because you thought that your band's indie cred might be tarnished by being in proximity to bands that didn't wear the very latest in thrift store threads?

7 p.m. : After taking leave of Brownlie's hissy fit, we went to the Mercury Room to catch Greg Wood's show. Racket had been dissuaded from going to see him at St. Pete's the night before by Infernal Bridegroom Productions' outgoing honcho Jason Nodler -- sadly, about two weeks prior to this event, Wood had his second heart attack and a small stroke. Nodler seriously doubted Wood would be playing anywhere for a long time. But not only did Wood make that gig at St. Pete's, he also showed up at this one.

We found him in the upstairs bar at the Mercury Room, for once nursing a Coke rather than knocking back beers with shots on the side. He looked terrified, and his voice was shredded from singing the night before. Thanks to the stroke, he could barely lift his right arm to his waist. He had already lost an eye to an infection after his first heart attack four years ago, and this lion of Houston music, one of Texas's greatest living songwriters, seemed tonight more like a lamb. Voice shattered, milky eye wandering, right arm out of whack, the ticker struggling to keep him going...I wished him well, though I told him he really didn't have to play, and probably shouldn't have come. But like he sings, he's got "a blind spot the size of Texas" where his "good sense used to be."

In the sort of foul-up typical of his star-crossed career, an oblivious woman introduced him as "Greg Woods," not once but twice. But as soon as he got rolling, he miraculously transformed into something like his old self. No, thank God, he didn't have a six-pack on stage with him, nor did anybody bring him any shots of whiskey. And he didn't take his clothes off or cavort with the crowd. He just stood there, mostly, and sang his astounding, punch-to-the-gut songs, which moved through "37 Years," "Sam Kinison" and on to his transcendental closer, "Better Days." Many of us were singing along and several couples danced.

"You only live once," he said from the stage. "If that much." And it's people like Wood who make you feel at least tolerably disposed about having to go through with it, day after day, year after year.

Seeing Wood after Groceries led Racket into philosophical speculations on the nature of punk. There are punks and people who are punk. Most times, the former would like you to think they are the latter, while the latter doesn't give a crap what you think about them. Punks calculate. People who are punk improvise. Playing gigs on back-to-back nights, against doctor's orders, two weeks after your second heart attack and first stroke, is punk to the nth degree, punk to the point of being foolhardy. Dissing yours truly at the Press showcase? Ho-hum.

Ruggiero reports that Tin Henry performed a ferocious set at Slainte, and that Sugar Shack's set started late and ended early. It was over at 7:31.

"We ran out of songs because we played them so fast," explained guitarist Andy Wright.

Clouseaux singer Thomas Escalante said that his ten-or-so-piece band enjoyed playing the tiny stage at Dean's. "Being that cramped brought us a kind of electricity," he said. Dean's couldn't contain the crowd of those who wanted to watch these detectives -- the overflow filled up Main Street for half a block.

8 p.m. : Davin James and Johnny Wolfe played an acoustic set at the Mercury Room. As ever, nothing suits boozin' better than James's bluesified honky-tonk. Ruggiero caught Drop Trio at M Bar and gave the show a rave. "Easily the coolest vibe of the night in the best venue," he says. "That sunken floor stage worked great. The large crowd was really groovin', and Ian Varley attacked his keys pretty ferociously."

9 p.m.: Multiethnic horn-heavy funksters Global Village continued Racket's run of good luck at the Mercury Room, and Ruggiero greatly enjoyed what portion of the Jay Hooks set at Suede he was able to catch. (He later explained that a Long Island tea-fueled dispute between his brother-in-law and Suede management resulted in the pair of them getting ejected from the club.)

10:15 p.m. : Sad to say, neither Racket nor Ruggiero made it to Blue October's record-setting headlining show, but well over 2,000 of you did. About the time they took the stage, Racket and Mrs. Racket were biting into fish and chips at Rudyard's, and Ruggiero was trying to calm down his brother-in-law.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax