The Tontons at Fitzgerald's, 10/24/2014

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The Tontons, Ume, Buckamore, -Us. Fitzgerald's October 24, 2014

The Tontons are no longer Houston's little secret, and haven't been for a minute. The local indie darlings have spent the last couple of years crisscrossing the country, playing to some of the hippest crowds in the hippest cities. This summer, they performed at Brooklyn's Afropunk Fest alongside the likes of Trash Talk and D'Angelo. This weekend, they'll be onstage at the venerable Voodoo Fest in New Orleans. Their new album has been featured by Rolling Stone and Spin. They're doin' thangs.

Which makes it all the sweeter that they're still the same terminally cute, ingratiatingly fun Houston band that they've always been. They haven't grown too cool for our muddy little hole on the Ship Channel. By staying on their grind, they've simply made Houston a little cooler.

And make no mistake, Fitzgerald's was the cool place to be on Friday night. Many in the crowd that filled up the club's creaky old wooden floor were putting on a pretty comprehensive hipster fashion show. Sharp ankle boots and coiffed facial hair were definitely the order of the day. But the Tontons' fans aren't so neatly pigeonholed as all that, and neither was the music that night.

The first performer to appear on the bill was -Us., the one-man electronics project of local dude Avery Davis. A dreamy mixture of synth, sequencers and guitar, his music reminded a bit of Tears for Fears' more melancholy stuff. Unfortunately, his set was marred somewhat by an inaudible vocal mix and some technical difficulties, but with a new EP out, titled V.XXVII.IX, it's a good bet that Friday won't be his last appearance upstairs at Fitz.

Up next was Buckamore, the indie rapper whose jazzy samples benefited greatly from an assist by Tontons front woman Asli Omar on a couple of tunes. The young people near me didn't seem entirely sure what to make of his slick and gentle hip-hop, but they were patient and receptive nonetheless. His pillow-soft bedroom beats certainly set a mood.

Much harder were Ume, the Houston-born power trio from Austin who have toured with the likes of Circa Survive and ...Trail of Dead in recent months. As usual, front woman Lauren Larson was a force of nature, wielding her sapphire Statocaster like a lightsaber as she whipped her hair furiously on cuts like "Black Stone." With a dynamic voice that goes from a soft lilt to a grungy yowl in a blink, she's the kind of rock and roll hero that girls and boys alike wish they could grow up to be.

Story continues on the next page.

When they arrived onstage at last, the Tontons paid tribute to a hero of their own -- Pam Robinson, the Walters Downtown owner and Houston scene fixture who passed away last week.

"She was one of the most inspiring, amazing people that I ever had the pleasure of meeting," said Omar, to a rapturous round of applause from a large crowd of people whom Robinson had invariably touched over the years.

It was a more muscular sound from the Tontons than I'd heard before on Friday, thanks to guitarist Andrew Lee of Wild Moccasins sitting in for the night. Keyboardist David Lascoe of Poor Pilate was also on hand for a number of tunes, beefing up familiar songs even further. The band sounded more powerful than ever before on several familiar songs, and even reached back to pull out some of their oldest ones, like the whimsical, little-played "1860" from their first record.

Omar, for her part, was as cute and captivating as ever, and brimming with confidence. It was a very chilled-out atmosphere inside Fitz, what with so many longtime fans, friends and family in attendance. After the band closed its set with their best song, "Golden," they returned for what Asli promised would be one more, but Adam Martinez just kept starting up more and more tunes until it felt like the band had played every song they knew.

And the crowd let them. Nobody headed for the exits. This was the Tontons in Houston, man. There was no place else to be.

Personal Bias: Houstonian.

The Crowd: Hipsters, scenesters and those who are simply aspiring.

Overheard in the Crowd: "That beard is so serious."

Random Notebook Dump: It was almost a surprise that Bun B didn't make an appearance.


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