It started with tapping: a snare drum repeating itself, over and over again. An electric guitar followed, fighting to be heard over the incessant gnashing of drumstick against bass drum. A cymbal clashed with a piano's keys.
The caterers, setting up in another room, clinked glasses together, while above them, a looped video projected images of luxury onto the stucco walls.
"Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep," yodeled a production engineer into a microphone, a strange, we thought, way of testing its sound. (Whatever happened to good ol' "Testing: 1, 2, 3?")
We had arrived very early to The Bell Tower on 34th Street (normally a wedding chapel), getting ourselves a sneak peek to what would later be "Verses & Flow," a traveling music and spoken-word showcase presented by Lexus. Seeing how the luxury car maker's insignia was posted into every nook and cranny of the venue, that fact was not forgotten.
This disharmonic clanging went on for nearly an hour. Right before the noise became completely maddening, though, a pretty-sounding strand of piano chords took over, and sanity was restored.
While the band continued to warm up, we got a chance to talk with Topper Overton, media representative, about what was to happen later that night.
"'Verses & Flow' is an eight-episode miniseries shown on TV One," Overton explained to us. "It focuses on the resurgence of spoken word and neo-soul."
According to Overton, "Verses & Flow" show is in its third season. This is its first stop in Houston. Previous cities have included Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta.
"The point is to reach out to communities where poetry is large," she said.
With an art and music scene that is practically bubbling over, the series definitely came to the right place.
Hours later, "Verses and Flow" went off without a hitch. With the neutral decor of the building transformed into a sensual purple hue courtesy of the plum furniture and lighting, the way was made for a night of spoken word and song, hosted by famed poet Omari Hardwick, who started things with a poem cypher with Jovan Johnson. Johnson, who has been featured in seasons one and two of "Verses and Flow," followed with his own duet of poems, the first a humorous ode to women ("10 Reasons Women Are Like Religion"), and the other a touching story about his four-year-old nephew.
Between cocktail hour and the start of the show, we enjoyed the impromptu Soul Train line, Electric Slide and danceoff performed by a quartet of drunken revelers. Others may have looked with disapproving eyes, but to us, their abandon was refreshing -- and honestly, surprising.
"We got another treat for you," Hardwick announced.
Each leg of the "Verses & Flow" tour also features a musical performance by a well-known neo-soul artist. Elle Varner, Carl Thomas, Macy Gray and Luke James have all previously been featured -- but tonight was just for Tank.
Without those imposing barricades that usually bar fans from getting too close to the artists, this mini-concert was a lot more intimate, even with the singer starting fast and hot with a lineup of tunes from his album, Now or Never.
Tank even took personal requests from front-row fans; the dialogue nearly caused one female fan to pass out. The singer saved the best for last, performing a quick but effectively panty-dropping sequence of his big hits: "Please Don't Go," a slower version of his current single, "Next Breath" and arguably the biggest, "Maybe I Deserve."
How fitting that Tank's love lyrics would prelude Valentine's Day.
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Visit luxuryawaits.com/versesandflow to learn more about the soulful series.