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Westheimer Block Party: The Aftermath [10/13/2008 03:59:00 PM]:
I didn't think I was going to make it at all, honestly; the wife was out of town all weekend, so it was just me & the midget on our own, which meant that during the day Saturday we spent our time at The Disney Store at the Galleria and watching Beverly Hills Chihuahua (no, really; and no, it's not as bad as you might think). After that it was drawing pictures of the new stuffed Dalmatian my daughter bought, dinner at Grandma & Grandpa's, and bike-riding down the block. By that point, I'd kinda resigned myself to the fact that this past weekend's Free Press Houston Westheimer Block Party was going to be a loss for me.

After that, though, the wee one demanded a sleepover at the grandparents' house, to which they happily agreed, and when I headed home and glanced at the Westfest schedule, I realized that -- holy crap! -- I still had time to see some bands, dammit. I had no idea which of the bands I'd wanted to see had yet to play, but I figured, hell, it's free (well, mostly), so why not give it a shot? (I also had a backup plan to run over to Rudz and catch mr. Gnome if Westfest didn't pan out, but alas, I ended up staying -- sorry, y'all!)

So, I got there late, around 6:30PM or so, and didn't get to see nearly as many bands as I'd hoped, but I did get to catch some folks I'd meant to see for freakin' years now (i.e., The Jonbenet, listenlisten), hear some incredible music, and hang out with friendly folk along the way. It was nice to put names to faces, esp. chatting w/Ben from listenlisten, Marcus from Esotype Recs, Chris from Buxton, Dusti from the Press, etc. Cool people, all. At any rate, here's what I was able to witness in my brief time at the shindig, with random observations/news tidbits to follow -- oh, and I took some dimly-lit, half-blurry pics, too, which are interspersed throughout (click here for the rest, if you're so inclined):

The fearlessly photo-taking Ramon (who, as always, seemed to be everywhere at once Saturday night; I swear I caught a glimpse of him front-and-center for every single band I saw, with the possible exception of Lisa's Sons) recommended these folks to the skies a while back, and he was so not wrong. They were pretty great, truly -- loud, sweetly melodic, kinda-fuzzy pop-rock that made me think of "blue album"-era Weezer if that band had had a female co-frontperson. The dance moves of some of the people they invited up on stage with 'em were downright terrifying (Guy in the Quasi-Paisley Disco Shirt & Pink Pants: your bump-and-grind scares me in ways I can't describe), but the sheer energy of their performance was amazing.

Plus, they get Bonus Punk Rock Points for continuing to play a song even after the power cut out, sans guitars & keys; they soldiered on, just thundering drums (watch out, y'all; your drummer sounds like he might be the only guy in town who could fill Iram Guerrero's shoes w/Young Mammals), dancing fans clapping along, and never-say-die vocals. It was fucking awesome. I laughed out loud, not at the band but at how they were bound & determined to not let the electrical difficulties stop The Rock. That determination alone puts them a cut above, in my book, never mind the fact that they pulled it off -- heck, if you didn't know the power had cut out (or noticed that their bassist was still playing away but not making a sound), you'd have thought it was intentional.

I desperately, desperately need to get a hold of these folks' CD, btw, and soon -- I had to run to catch listenlisten after the McKenzies crew finished, and when I came back later on, I couldn't find 'em anywhere. Damn...

It's taken me far, far too long to see these guys live -- hell, I've even interviewed 'em, but this was the first time I'd ever gotten to check 'em out in person. And it was very, very cool; I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it sounded, really, given that they were playing in what was basically an enclosed courtyard w/buildings on all sides. The band's quirky, turn-of-the-last-century instrumentation worked beautifully out under the clear black sky, and the bulk of the audience seemed to paying complete attention to the somber, often "old"-sounding music. The listenlisten guys didn't miss a step, either, as far as I could tell, and blended the new stuff (the only song of which I could place was "Safe At Home in Port," since that was on the SSS Fest comp CD-R) and the old favorites flawlessly. Overall, it was a great, great set, one of the best I saw/heard.

The "venue," by the way, is apparently going to be a new hotel, the Austin Layne Hotel, although it seems like an odd place to stick a hotel, back behind the bike shop on Taft. People were meandering in & out of the unfurnished rooms the whole time bands were playing -- I wasn't ever clear on whether they were supposed to be there or not (some looked like they might be the owners of the place), so hopefully no drunk morons did any damage.

Side Note: No, I have no idea what the hell the woman standing back behind the band is doing (semaphore, maybe?), but it cracks me up every time I look at it.

Okay, so I tried to catch some of The Hates' set, running back over from the hotel courtyard to the Numbers parking lot before Buxton got going, but unfortunately, they appeared to be hampered by the same electricity issues as The McKenzies -- meaning that right as I walked over, the guitars abruptly cut out, and they didn't come back. The band bantered a while, daring one another to tell funny stories from their multi-decade reign as H-town punk kings ("Hey, why don't you tell the one about the time Captain Sensible never showed up?" "Man, I thought we were supposed to be telling stories, not catastrophes..."), but in the end, I got nervous about missing Buxton and had to bail before the lights & sound came back on. Argh. Sorry, y'all. Apparently once things got rolling again, it was a darn good set...

I'd unintentionally primed myself a bit to see these guys, playing A Family Light in the car for my daughter earlier that day as we roamed the city in search of that one special stuffed 101 Dalmatians dog (in stock & on sale; woo-hoo! it's the little victories, y'know...), so it was very cool to be able to see the Buxton guys do their thing. I have to say that they have become, for me, one of the best bands around right now to catch live -- if I had friends come into town from other, non-Houston parts of the world, I'd drag them to see Buxton play any way I could, honest, even if it meant driving . They're wild, loud, and impassioned, all while keeping things distinctly country-ish somehow, and they make it work wonderfully. More than anything else, they remind me of Okkervil River (whom I love dearly), and not so much because of the whole "country"/"folk" thing the ORers have tried to shift away from, but because both bands really seem to throw themselves into the music.

Bassist Chris told me laughingly later on that, "yeah, we're pretty decent if we're drunk," but I don't buy that -- Buxton are just badasses, no two ways about it. They make me glad I'm not still in a band, or dammit, we'd have to break up in shame out of sheer inadequacy. (And yes, that's a word. I'm not going to check that it's actually in the dictionary or anything, mind you, but I hold a BA in English, and the one dubious benefit of that degree is that I have the power to declare some combinations of letters to be words and some not. Cower before me, all ye non-Humanities grads.)

Oh, and my jaw practically broke the concrete when I looked around halfway through the set and realized that all the hipsters near me were having a freakin' hoedown, mostly in a non-ironic, truly-loving-it kind of way...and all to what is, basically, a country band. I never thought I'd see the day, but glad I am that it's come. (The breakdancers who took the floor after the band shut down were damn talented, too.)

I waffled on going inside Numbers after the outdoor festivities died down, esp. since I had no idea what the schedule for the "big" acts indoors was at that point, but since things had been going well so far, I figured I'd go for it. And happily, I managed to time it so I got to see Bring Back The Guns do their thing, witnessing nearly a full set from the band for the first time in way too long. Singer/guitarist Matt seemed to be having some difficulties with his voice, but in spite of that, the guys played great -- they're one of the few bands in town that I sincerely believe need to be seen live to truly grasp what the hell it is they're trying to do. It can be hard to follow at times, what with all the shifting rhythms and quirky, repetitive lyrics and on/off-stage antics & all that, but it's worth it if you can persevere. The songs those guys come up with still boggle my mind, and I've heard/seen 'em for years now.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that judging from the arms-crossed, blank-stare stance of a lot of the crowd, some in the audience weren't really getting it. I figured maybe they were all Jonbenet fans waiting to see their heroes, but that didn't seem to be the case later on, so I dunno what the deal was. Where's the love, y'all? Hrm...

HPIM1809 B L A C K I E:
I'm assuming it was planned (since he was on the bill & all), but the quasi-impromptu B L A C K I E set down on the Numbers floor was pretty sweet, if not as ear-destroyingly loud as it was the last time I saw him throw down. The lyrics were a lot more audible this time, which was nice, and even though it was kind of an abbreviated set -- I didn't hear a lot of the tracks I like off Wilderness of North America -- it was pretty well-received. No clue how sincere they were, but there was a whole clique of gangsta handsign-throwing kids all arrayed around Mr. LaCour, bobbing their heads to every beat & with big grins on their faces. Some of the crowd just stayed away, to be sure, and then there was the doofus who grabbed the mic after B L A C K I E finished, who (along with his buddy, who for some reason had the same dumbfuck haircut as Zac Efron from High School Musical) spent about half the set sarcastically throwing a thumbs-down up in the air, but fuck 'em; those who got it, loved it, and those who didn't politely abstained, for the most part.

When I first got into Numbers, the door folks told me that The Jonbenét hadn't played yet (BBTG was just starting), so I was actually pretty psyched to finally be able to see this band. And it might be a product of the heightened expectations, but...well, I was somewhat underwhelmed. The band was definitely decent, blasting out some relatively straightforward midtempo thrash with screamo-esque vocals, but I guess I was expecting utter devastation or something, y'know? Maybe the band's sound just wasn't right for the venue, or the guitars weren't turned up like they were supposed to be, I dunno; it just felt like I was watching a half-decent metal band, rather than one of the leading lights of the city's post-hardcore scene.

sigh. I feel bad slamming the band -- and I'm not really trying to slam them, honestly, just saying they weren't what I'd expected -- but theirs was probably my least favorite set of the evening. I'm glad I finally got to see 'em, definitely, but I'm hopeful that next time, under different circumstances, they'll bowl me over the way the records do.

It wasn't B L A C K I E that was the true WTF? moment of the day for me, oddly enough. It was these guys, a mics-and-iPod duo of Stefan from By the End of Tonight and his buddy Jordan, who sing cheesy-ass pop songs over an almost J-Pop-esque sonic backdrop that would make Atom & His Package cringe a little bit, all synths and programmed drumbeats and melodies and ooh-oohs. The Sons even surpassed B L A C K I E in terms of alienating the audience -- the over-the-top candy-pop drove the Jonbenét fans off the dancefloor faster than you could say, "Hey, look -- aren't those the guys from Dillinger Escape Plan?"

For my part, I just stood there with my mouth open, at least at first, just taking in the spectacle. I wasn't sure if these guys and enthusiastic their cadre of mostly-male fans, who all jumped up on the stage to dance and sing along, were serious or totally taking the piss. I'm guessing it's the latter, but hell, maybe they don't even know, because once the sound got evened out and I started seriously listening to what was going on, damn, the songs weren't bad little pop songs, epitomes of cheeseball though they might be. And the harmonies were nicely done & seemingly effortless, which kinda says to me that if they're truly a joke band, they're spending far too much of their free time on it. So maybe they're sort of, kind of, halfway serious about this. In the end, I've got no clue.

I've got to hand it to the band on a couple of counts, btw -- they were the first band I saw inside Numbers to really get people dancing, audience-member plants or not, and the inclusion of Hurricane Bear to their stage show was a fucking magnificent move. Once I realized that it really was Jacob Calle up there in full costume, I could hardly stop laughing enough to take pictures. Hell, if only somebody'd told the networks, there might've even been TV cameras there, extending H.B.'s 15 minutes to a full half-hour of fame...who knows?


  • Got to meet the duly-elected (if unrecognized by the yahoos downtown) Mayor of Montrose, The Honorable Chris Hutto (I think that's the last name?) before he & good friend Toni packed up shop & adjourned to Catbirds to hold court. Damn. I know I've got about a million t-shirts already, but I'm kicking myself for not snagging a "City of Montrose" shirt, even still...

  • Holy fucking shit, there were a lot of people there. When I came around the corner from where I'd parked, a street or two from Westheimer & Taft, I did a double-take, seriously. The place was crawling with people; the street wasn't closed off like it was in the old Westfest days, but the sidewalks were packed, as was every inch of usable space surrounding Avant Garden, Mango's, and Numbers. It made me grin like a moron to see the turnout, honest. Congrats, Free Press crew -- y'all did a bang-up job.

  • One caveat, though. (Isn't there always one?) While I liked the overall organization of the whole deal, I have one plea/suggestion to throw out there to the good people who put on this show and just about every other festival-type show I've ever been to: could somebody please put the name of who's actually playing up on a sign somewhere? It doesn't have to be a full-on Rock Band Banner or anything; just a piece of cardboard with the words "RIFF TIFFS" on it would do. Because y'know, people are wandering in, out, & around at these things, and if you don't already know the band on stage or happen to hear the "Hi, we're The McKenzies; we've got CDs for sale" bit as you meander past, you might not have a clue who's playing. Based on the schedule, I thought The McKenzies were actually The Vettes -- my friend Toni, having seen The Vettes just finish their set & get off the stage, had to set me straight. Could've been easily, easily, easily avoided w/a big black marker & flat surface of some kind to write on. Heck, I still don't know who one of the bands I caught at the last one of these things was (I think they were out-of-towners).

  • Unexpected bonus to showing up late to a festival: when I asked one of the vendors if he had any water I could buy, he shrugged and told me just to take it. Sweet. Thanks, Water Guy, whoever you are/were!

  • Ran across the Mia Kat Empire and Esotype label folks at their (shared?) booth and got to talk with 'em for a while; the ultra-friendly Matt and Amanda of MKE both have more hair than they did the last time I saw 'em, so we all did the "hey, do I know...?" thing. Matt says MKE's still rolling, which is good news, and handed me copies of Framework's The Intellect of Apes (which is a solo project from one of the Hollywood Black guys) and The Faceless Orchestra's self-titled disc -- the former is the label's attempt to go a bit more lo-fi in its approach, with hand-screened CD covers & all that, while the latter isn't actually an MKE release but was originally put out by their friends at Broken Levee Records (which may or may not be toast); Matt & co. are just distributing it so it can get some exposure. More when I get a chance to listen to 'em. (And to Matt & Amanda: congrats, again! You guys'll do great, I promise...)

  • Also talked a bit to Marcus from Esotype, home to cool people like Meryll and Tambersauro. He's a nice, nice guy, and when I admitted I'd picked up the latter's CD a while back but hadn't gotten 'round to popping it in the CD player yet (sorry!), he pressed a copy of the band's new album, Theories of Delusional Origin, on me; gonna try to get it reviewed soon, I swear. Good to meet you, man!

  • Pestered Ben from listenlisten a bit after their set, and he assured me that while they didn't yet have copies of Hymns From Rhodesia in hand, it was off being mastered & will be released real soon. Hot damn...

  • Joe Mathlete is a swell guy, especially when I keep randomly coming up & talking to him at shows like this (I think this was the third time). He's good people.

  • Along kinda-similar lines, when I ran into Reggie from The Western Civilization, he was quick to reassure me that yes, the band does still exist, and they will put out more music, but it's apparently gonna be a little while yet, because they really want to take their time with it. He says he and cohorts Rachel and Gretchen have all been writing songs lately, so at least the wheels are in motion, and he's got some grand, awesome, totally over-the-top ideas for what they're going to do (hopefully) for the release party, when it happens. I'll keep mum on what he's wanting to do, at least 'til things get nearer, but if they can pull it off, it'll be freakin' cool. Oh, and he and Rachel are embarking on a stripped-down Western Civ fall tour as of this next weekend -- they're making their way northward, just the two of them and a boombox, due to the sky-high costs of transporting the full band, and will be playing at the Halifax Pop Explosion fest up in oh-Canada on 10/25/08 (for those who're gonna be up in Nova Scotia for the festival, they're playing at The Molson Music Room, which is an awesome place to be able to say you've played). Which, obviously, is very fucking cool to hear. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well on tour; break a leg, y'all.

  • I really, truly wish I could've seen some of the other bands who played, dangit. Dusti introduced me to Nick from The Wild Moccasins, who're a band I love quite a bit despite only ever having heard their songs in electronic form, and he was very nice, in spite of my embarrassment at not having caught his band's set that day. I swear, I had to take the munchkin to see the singing chihuahuas...

  • Best moment of comeuppance of the night: when the Numbers sound guy demanded that somebody take the mic from the moron "hey, I can rap, too!" fratboy who'd grabbed it after B L A C K I E left the room. I think he said something like, "remember your place, pal." And in a big, booming voice over the speakers. It was like he was being told off by God, I swear.

  • As I was leaving Numbers, partway through the Lisa's Sons set, I realized I could hear music coming from upstairs at Numbers, where, hell, I didn't even realize they had a stage. I stopped on my way out the door & asked the door guy who was playing, but he had no idea. Lamer that I am, I decided not to weasel my way back inside to check it out, but I've still got no clue who the heck was playing up there near the tail end of the whole thing -- anybody know? Was that where Something Fierce & Satin Hooks were lurking? Ah, fuck...

  • My ears are still ringing, a day-and-a-half later. Tinnitus sucks. Why, oh why, do I bring earplugs in my car but always, always, always forget to grab 'em when I head into the show? Stupid.

There it is. All in all, I'm extremely happy I didn't succumb to lethargy and plop my ass down in front of the box to watch yet another three godawful Sci-Fi Channel movies (really, how can you top Mansquito?) and dragged myself out to the Block Party, instead. Apologies to anybody I talked to if I inadvertently pulled the deer-in-headlights look; I'm trying to work on that, honest.

And kudos, once, again, to ringmaster Omar and the rest of the Free Press gang for pulling this all together and making it work, for the most part. Over the past few years, I've become insanely jealous (in a good way) of the burgeoning FP Empire and all you crazy kids do. Seriously, The Scene's lucky to have you, and the Block Party, to boot.

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