Yes, Indeed! Festival
Continental Club/Big Top Lounge/Alley Kat/Pachinko Hut
September 19, 2015
Someone once posited “familiarity breeds contempt.” but that person was not a Houstonian. Here, we never lose the taste for our favorite tacos. We watched Marvin Zindler talk about rat droppings while wearing the same white suit for decades and still loved him, God rest his soul. Does this sentiment apply to Houston’s best-loved music acts? The ones you can see once, twice, three times a week if you really care to? If you were among the hordes milling about Mid-Main Saturday night, your answer is a resounding Yes, Indeed!
In its fourth year, the festival's 2015 edition brought more than two dozen local acts together for an afternoon and evening of music made primarily by Houstonians. The love we showed as an audience proved we feel that music was made for Houstonians, too.
We got there early, before a proper dinnertime, to catch The Working Girls at Pachinko Hut. Self-described as “old-timey” and “slowgrass,” the band’s set-a-spell set of Tin Pan Alley classics like “Hello! Ma Baby” and songs dating back nearly a century. Eugene Giffords’ “Smoke Rings” was perfect for day-drinking under blue skies, going from a prettily sung shuffler to a twangy jaunt thanks to a kazoo solo. The evening ahead would feature soul, funk, disco, electronica, rap and one of the most intriguing takes on classic rock today, but the Working Girls eased us into the event perfectly.
Inside the Continental Club, Tightn’ Up wanted an answer to its running question, “Just what are the ramifications of shaking one’s ass?” They pressed for a response with Billy Preston’s “Outa-Space,” one of the funkiest jams ever recorded. Vocalist Ashlei Mayadia came onstage and delivered some sanctified soul singing, the kind that makes listeners instant fans, especially in this city and at a time when Houston soul is being rejuvenated. What are the ramifications of shaking one’s ass? We’ll wanna shake it more. If you can catch Tightn’ Up, do it and — spoiler alert — get prepared to be floored by the sexiest version of The Runaways “Cherry Bomb” you’re likely to hear.
“We got T-shirts. We got panties,” said Handsomebeast’s striking front man, Nick Serena, pointing towards the merch table. “No, not yet. But, we will soon.”
If or when that happens, the progenitors of the “Space City bump-n-grind” outfit may have some panties thrown their way, a la Tom Jones. He may not be too enthused by this admission, but I’d lay some drawers down at the feet of HB’s Peewee Ruiz, whose guitar histrionics were in full effect. The band delivered a solid set, much earlier than they’re used to, at Big Top Lounge.
Having rushed to Midtown to catch the fest’s opening acts, we had to leave the premises (and a primo parking space) to find sustenance; we would need it, too. We missed a couple of acts we penciled into a crowded agenda, specifically HPMA 2015 nominees Moji and Austin’s Bee Caves, one of the few acts from outside the city.
We did get back in time for Son of Bitch, the Americana group from Houston by way of Pennsylvania. They played after dark in Pachinko’s beer garden-esque atmosphere and got us ready for some good-timin’ by putting their stamp on Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know,” slowing it down for Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die” and ramping back up with a rollicking ditty called “Southside, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” that actually got some of the outdoor crowd swing-dancing.
Alley Kat’s hidden gem of a showroom was hosting Guilla at roughly the same time, so we wound our ways past the front bar, through the narrow alleyway between its front-of-house and back bar, then ran up the stairs just in time to catch his last song. We were a little disappointed by the scarce crowd, particularly since Guilla is a fast-rising Houston rap talent, a festival favorite and one of the only rap artists on Saturday’s bill. But he didn’t care about crowd size, apparently, and implored the crowd that had assembled to throw its middle fingers up while he brought his set home strong through a cloud of theatrical smoke and laser lights.
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The Houston band that truly embodied the “to know them is to love them” vibe of Yes, Indeed! was Black Kite. The electronic act rolls deep, with a legion of fans that’s growing with each performance. Vocalist Vicki Lynn is mesmerizing; watching her live at Big Top was interesting. On record, she sounds distant and reflective. Live, she walked right up to the faces of listeners, as if being in the same room with them would help bridge some gap. Producer Birdmagic’s uncommon soundscapes have recently been added to the band’s mix, and no matter how they permeate the building, they still seem layered beneath James Templeton’s unabashed assault on his drum kit. The combination is arresting. It’s easy to see why Black Kite is flying high these days,
We stayed on for the Wheel Workers' set at Big Top and eavesdropped on a couple of music fans singing to mid-set recorded music: “Without You." (Nilsson’s version, naturally.) They sounded great. We bought a Lone Star for Omar, who was running sound for the diverse acts that played Big Top. It was almost midnight and he still had a smile on his face, in spite of the hard work he and his cohorts put in at their respective venues. Kudos to those guys. As the crowd filtered in for Wheel Workers, I wondered if I’d had too many 8th Wonder Rocket Fuels or if the band's crowd is going out of its way to purposely resemble front man Steven Higginbotham.
It was the last Wheel Workers show for Allison Wilkins MacPhail, the band’s keyboardist and vocalist. The band went through its paces, passionately pouring its heart and soul into undeniable rockers like “Yodel,” which had Black Kite’s Vicki Lynn and Sugar Hill Studio’s Casey Waldner at the foot of the stage rocking out. It says here the last song MacPhail played with the band was “Starve the Beast” from Past to Present. Higginbotham acknowledged her departure with a few heartfelt words, then launched into the song to close a great set.
How tired must a person be to be nodding off to a 10-piece band featuring a horn section, two guitarists trying to outduel each other and an outrageously energetic front man there to deliver only Black Sabbath songs? That’s how tired my running buddy was by the time Austin’s Brownout came out to perform “Brown Sabbath,” its Ozzy-approved Black Sabbath set. You can’t call this a cover or tribute set because it’s nothing of the sort, really. It’s songs like “N.I.B” and “Sweet Leaf” and “Iron Man” all under new arrangements suited to the truly stellar, experienced musicians in the band. We threw up our devil horns while Brownout melted our faces with the least-expected face melting instruments, like trombones and congas. It was a 180 degree turn from hearing the Working Girls pluck out ragtime tunes. In between, we got more familiar with a lot of bands we already really love here.