What? I'm posting a report on the Free Press Houston Westheimer Block Party this damn late, more than a week after? Hell, yes. That's just how I roll, yo. (Come on; it's not like anybody out there was actually eagerly waiting for this, right? Nah...)
Okay, actually, it's just been a crazy couple of weeks, and I wanted to do it right, so it's dragged on a bit, unfortunately... At any rate, I spent way too long wandering up and down Westheimer for somebody who doesn't (typically, anyway) do this crap for a living, hanging out in the sun and blessedly cold breezes from 1PM or so to 8PM or so. After my late entry at last fall's Block Party, I was bound & determined to get the fullest BP Experience I possibly could this time, and I lived to tell the tale, but damn, I was still feeling it nearly 24 full hours after leaving. I'm old, y'all. Sadly, pathetically, un-hip-ly old.
In the end, though, it feels like it was well worth the back pain & sunburn & exhaustion. Unfortunately, I missed the two bands I was most looking forward to checking out, thelastplaceyoulook and American Fangs, but I got to see a bunch of folks I'd wanted to see again or see live for the first time, and it was good.
I hate to say it, but the Free Press's little party has surpassed the venerable Houston Press Music Awards this time out -- sorry, HP, but the Block Party gets better & bigger each and every time out, it's a lot easier to run from stage to stage to catch 10 minutes of Band X and then another 10 of Band Y, there's a lot more of a "community" feel to it with all the artists & "guerilla" performances, and possibly best of all, it ain't scheduled (not always, anyway) in the soul-broiling Houston summer. There was so much awesomely good music to hear, I'm still kicking myself for having to choose between bands; I love the HPMAs, don't get me wrong, but the Block Party feels a lot closer to what I originally loved about the long-dead, much-missed Westheimer Street Festival, all wild and loud and dirty and freewheeling. (And cheap. Did I mention cheap? More on that later on, though...)
Here's what I can remember from the whole mess, with pics where I can fit 'em in. I think I got some decent ones this time out (unlike last time), thanks to the magicalness of the relatively-new Canon PowerShot A1000IS I got a couple months back -- check here for the full set on Flickr, should you be interested:
TAMBERSAURO: Having over-scheduled myself as usual, I ended up racing from the house (and lunch w/the fam) up to the Montrose so I could finally catch Tambersauro's set. I'd sworn up & down to Lance Higdon that I'd come see 'em sometime soon, and besides that, I really enjoyed the hell out of 2008's Theories of Delusional Origin, so this one was pretty much a must-see. And I can't remember the last time I drove from the SW side to the old 'hood that fast...
Happily, I made it in perfect time -- the Block Party being on Festival Time, things were naturally running late, but hell, I didn't mind so long as I could finally get to see these guys. And they delivered quite nicely, even with some serious technical difficulties (which included bassist/vocalist Jeff Price yelling, "can you hear me?" to the crowd & getting a "no!"). Lance played facing away from the crowd, all flailing arms & rattling kit, Jeff stomped and glared quasi-menacingly out over the crowd in between sung/shouted vocals, and guitarist Mike Blackshear played with clinical precision, at times doing shit I absolutely could not figure out how it worked. Well worth running halfway across town to catch.
SEARCHING FOR SIGNAL: It was a good thing I re-checked the (updated?) schedule at the next stage I stopped by, because otherwise I would've sworn these guys were The Pons. Which would've been a shame, because no offense to the Pons folks, but I really liked the gentle, languid, halfway dreampop-y noise these guys were making. I only caught them briefly as I passed by on my way to the outside-Numbers stage, but I'm going to have to check 'em out again soon -- the songs up on their MySpace are pretty damn cool.
THE WESTERN CIVILIZATION: It's been a long time since I'd seen The Western Civ, a band I dearly, dearly love, so I went into this thing dead-set on catching them live, even if I caught nobody else. They're good folks, to begin with, but at the end of the day, it's the awesomely-crafted songs that are the best part. Reggie O'Farrell & Rachel Hansbro looked a bit tired and/or frustrated by the end of the set, but they sounded as incredible as ever. I dunno what it is, but there's something to the interplay of their voices (and the voice of fellow member Gretchen Schmaltz) that really gets to me.
It helped, btw, that the folks running sound at the KTRU/outside-Numbers stage really seemed to be on the ball. Rather than have a "real" sound tent/table as in years past, they were set up literally in the back of a pristine-looking El Camino (I think? I know jack about cars, y'all), which looked really hysterical. I saw Ian Wells of KTRU's Revelry Report & Local Show up there doing sound at one point & complimented him on how great the mix was -- honestly, it sounded better outside Numbers than it did in, which is both a credit to the outside folks and really sad.
Ran into David Cobb of Houston Calling (and this site, too) at the Western Civ set & was happy to be able to hang for a while. Also finally got to meet Dryvetyme Onlyne's Adam Newton, which was cool -- good writers/people, both.
CADDYWHOMPUS: Ah, the Caddywhompus boys. I had a fair inkling that I wouldn't be able to make the Riff Tiffs set in the evening (and didn't, although after hearing the band only played two songs, I'm a bit relieved I didn't try to make it 'til then), so I was happy to be able to catch some of that band's heavier/quirkier side-project duo, instead. The crowd was utterly nuts, totally into it and seemingly knowing every song they played -- apparently the band dragged a bunch of its Big Easy-dwelling friends westward specifically for the Block Party, which is/was very cool.
As for the band themselves, they seemed to be plagued by technical problems but took it in stride, playing what looked to be a fairly lengthy set. I'm sad to say I don't recall most of the songs they played, but it made my day to hear "Absinthesizer" live; Chris Rehm's guitar sounded as absolutely badass as in the recorded version. Sweet.
Oh, and while ducking in & out of Mango's to see both Caddywhompus & The Last Starfighter, I got introduced to Houston Press writer Craig Hlavaty, who was a very nice guy -- hope the arm's healing up, man.
THE LAST STARFIGHTER: One of the bands I was most curious to see at the Block Party, having heard & been impressed by bits and pieces of their music over the past few years, but unfortunately, it seems I was a bit late to the party. By the time I got inside, Mango's was packed wall-to-wall with fans (many making the trek in from the 'burbs where all the screamo kids seem to live, I'm guessing?), so many that I could only catch brief glimpses of the band over the sea of bobbing heads.
It was a weird scene, really -- right in the middle of a nicely-decorated Mexican restaurant, somewhere between Tapatia & Ninfa's, with light blue walls and whatnot, except there's raw-yet-melodic screamo going off the whole time, and I can occasionally see body parts belonging to the various band members sticking up over the crowd. Oh, and there's a circle pit going, too, with beefy guys bouncing off of one another and the pillars in-between. And then I see singer Roman Molina climb up over the crowd to exhort everybody to go totally fucking crazy, and I think, "holy crap...I'm watching a screamo band fronted by Zac Efron, only with tattoos and a ton of insane energy."
(And yes, I'm well aware that the line above may get my ass beat by a bunch of suburbanite screamo kids, but eh, if they can't take the humor... The band was good, seriously.)
THE SWEATERS: Happened to catch these folks accidentally while walking down to a cheaper ATM a few blocks down -- I thought they were supposed to be playing on an actual stage, but when I saw 'em the cheery, jangly-sounding crew was playing in the non-festival doorway of Numbers. I had no real clue who they were at first (couldn't see the t-shirts 'til later), but once I realized the songs they were playing were upbeat, acoustic, almost tent-revival-sounding covers of Weezer songs. It was a little weird to hear a smiling guy with an acoustic guitar singing "My Name Is Jonas" like it was "This Little Light of Mine," but hey, it worked.
STADIUM: I've been dying to see these guys for a couple of years now, mostly on the strength of their one & only release so far, change of plans, we're coming home, but I'd never made it to a show, and then the band went silent for a long while. Hell, I was afraid they'd called it quits already, which would've been a fucking tragedy.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case -- instead, they lost drummer Clay Jasper, replaced him with new guy Karl, and have gotten things back together to start playing out again. And true to the sound on the EP, they were freaking perfect during their Block Party set, short though it was. While I was bummed I either missed or the band didn't play "Coming Clean," they cranked through several other of the EP songs (nothing new yet, y'all?) like they were more at home playing giganto-arena stages than a makeshift setup in the back of a Mexican restaurant. Very, very pro; reminded me how much I love the band, definitely.
MERIWETHER: Only caught these Baton Rouge-ites briefly while hanging around the Numbers parking lot, trying to figure out what to do next. They weren't bad, really, but just kind of "eh" to me -- no real feeling one way or the other, I'm afraid, just kind of generic alternarock. I ended up moving on over towards Numbers proper to meet back up with David C. & check out Mechanical Boy...
MECHANICAL BOY: I really feel like an idiot on this one. David raved about Mechanical Boy to me at length, and I just shrugged it off, for the most part -- I'd heard their most recent album, and while it was decent, it didn't blow me away like a lot of other H-town releases have lately. But he was persistent, so I figured, "what the heck, I'll go check 'em out." Except that, as it turns out, I've seen 'em before. Twice, and both at previous Block Parties. In fact, I've probably seen this damn band more times than any of the others I saw that day (with the possible exception of Buxton). Mind keeps slippin'...
Anyway, the good part is that like the previous times, I enjoyed the heck out of the band's live show. Their albums may not do all that much for me, no, but their revved-up retro-Killers thing works astoundingly well live, and the crowd (me included) ate it up. It was a little odd, actually -- as David pointed out, if you'd been watching the audience from the outside, you'd have thought these guys were headlining some big-name arena show or something. People (women, in particular) were going crazy. Kudos to the band for A) playing like they were rocking Wembley and B) actually pulling it off w/o looking like wannabes.
THE WILD MOCCASINS: These kids can do no wrong in my eyes, at this point. I can't even really explain it -- they're just so, well, happy. Always smiling, always chipper, always singing those candy-sweet songs like they just discovered the joy of music yesterday and have yet to get past the wonderment and become jaded and disillusioned (and no, I hope to God they never do). What I saw of their set -- I had to divide my time between them and The McKenzies, below -- was absolutely great, with Zahira and Cody's vocals sounding utterly beautiful, the rest of the band grinning serenely as they played along, and the crowd all head-bobs and smiles. Damn. More people need to love this band.
THE MCKENZIES: And then there's The McKenzies, who're like the Mocs' snarky, sexy sibling; I dunno why, but these two bands always, always, always go together in my head, like two sides of the same coin. Where the Moccasins are sweet and innocent, the McKenzies are all sarcastic sexuality and passion, with the guitars cranked just a wee bit more than their slightly-poppier cousins. Despite their relative youth, Jodie & Miguel rule the stage, coming off like veterans who've done this for years and trading sharp-yet-friendly barbs while blazing through their just-distorted-enough pop-rock songs. And hey, any band that can pull off a song about booty-dancing deserve points for that alone...
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stick around for the band's whole set, having bought myself a buffalo burger for dinner & needing a place to sit & rest my sore ass, so I once again missed out on snagging a copy of the band's newest album. Argh.
LINUS PAULING QUARTET: Yes, most of what I caught of the Linus Pauling Quartet's set involved staring -- unintentionally -- at Ramon's backside. I couldn't help it; I wanted to see/hear the band, but my legs hurt & I just wanted to plunk down somewhere and finish my burger, so I found an abandoned curb by the car "giveaway" booth and sat. Staring upwards, pretty much, at the rear of Ramon as he thrashed around the stage, attacked the speakers with his guitar, and flopped on his back (well, okay, not at his rear right then).
The LP4 sounded good from my side-stage spot, guitars on full and the band doing their usual sludge-psych-rock thing (and btw, I have to say that it was a bit weird to see Clinton minus the long hair), but I'm not sure the Block Party crowd really knew what to make of 'em. I fully enjoyed the Rusted Shut(?) song they closed with, but there was some serious head-scratching going on out in the audience. Eh -- per Ramon, at least one gang of stoners came up afterwards & told the band how much they loooooved the set, maaaaaan, so I'd call that a win, myself.
LIMB/NARREME: Stumbled onto this one accidentally, although Lance had warned me beforehand that it would happen -- two intense, bearded guys hunched over a pile of laptops and samplers, hunching up and down in unison as these bassy beats and continually-evolving sounds erupted from the speakers behind 'em. This was a collaborative performance of sorts, with Tambersauro/Golden Cities drummer Lance's Narreme (or is it Wall With One Side? sorry if I'm getting it confused, man) project playing alongside Limb, the solo deal of one of the ex-members of By the End of Tonight (James? not sure which one, I'm afraid...). They drew a fairly big crowd, although I'm not sure how many of the kids were impressed by the sound and how many just wanted to crack up at the very odd Asian guy & high school kid dancing separately, strangely, and possibly post-ironically to the music.
FEMALE DEMAND: Honestly, I'm not sure what the deal was with these folks -- the crowd was so thick around 'em, and they were playing so low to the ground, that I couldn't see a damn thing (partly because I was blocked out by somebody's SUV parked in front of the Austin Layne Hotel; St. Vincent's, maybe?). What I could make out was weirdly tribal-sounding and rhythmic, but not real dynamic; not exactly my thing, personally, but whether I was into it or not, the huge-ass crowd of onlookers certainly seemed to be.
GUITARS/LENNY BRISCOE?: I caught just the start of this set before running off, I'm afraid, and I'm not entirely clear which band was actually playing -- it was supposed to be Lenny Briscoe, but the lineup looked more like local quasi-supergroup Guitars. I've never seen either before, so I've got no idea which it really was, but eh, didn't really matter. I liked what I was able to hear, but was dying to catch Phillip Foshée, so I wandered off around the Austin Layne Hotel, trying to find the entrance to the inside stage.
As it turns out, I should've stuck around -- core band members J.D. and Stacey (also of Lenny Briscoe and the truly wonderful Secret Saturday Shows deal) have sold their house here in H-town and are moving off to Alabama(?), leaving the future of Guitars somewhat in doubt. Fuck. As they go, though, they've left behind a just-released LP, White Night White Night (which I keep wanting to type as White Light, White Heat), and are about to embark on a tour of the South, East, and Midwest. I've got no clue if the band'll regroup, minus J.D. & Stacey, once they get back into town, but it sounds like this is the last show in a while, at least.
(If you look closely at the photo, btw, you can see the beams of light streaming down from Heaven to envelop the band and bring them Home. Or maybe I need more sleep.)
CHASE HAMBLIN: Okay, so I went looking for Phillip Foshée, and I got...Chase Hamblin. (Seems the only two stages actually running on-time were the indoor Mango's & Austin Layne Hotel stages...) It took me a few minutes to figure it out, actually, because I've never actually seen Phillip or Chase in person, and had only heard bits & pieces of either one in the past. Once I got who it was I was seeing/hearing, it made a bit more sense -- Chase's voice is considerably higher and somewhat more "twee" (for want of a better word, sorry) than Phillip's, to my ears. I'll admit that my first reaction wasn't all that positive, but after a few minutes I started to warm to Hamblin's earnest, kinda-warbly, hippie-ish delivery. I'm guessing where he really shines, though, is with some kind of Beatles-/Cotton Mather-/Jellyfish-esque band rocking away behind him.
COP WARMTH: The hell? I'd never before witnessed the spectacle that is Cop Warmth, and I really, truly didn't know what to make of it. From what I could see of the band through the crowd, they were pounding on their instruments as hard as possible in a patch of dirt/mud right next to the bike shop, screaming occasionally into a mic, setting off foul-smelling smoke bombs & jamming 'em into their guitars to set them on "fire," Hendrix-style, handing off instruments at random to audience members (I'm pretty sure one woman attacking a snare drum wasn't in the band, although I could be wrong), thrashing around & into people, and throwing a beach ball out into the crowd. Something to experience, that's for damn sure.
THE SMALL SOUNDS: One of the best, most genuinely great surprises of the Block Party for me, I just happened to catch The Small Sounds while meandering around & waiting for thelastplaceyoulook to show up over at the Avant Garden, and I'm totally glad I did. Nice, not-too-countryish roots rock, played by a bunch of guys who obviously know what they're doing; I was mesmerized when guitarist Craig Feazel sat down and started playing the pedal steel, in particular. A beautiful, beautiful sound, understated and melancholy but still confident as hell. Wow. I need to hear more...
BOLT: Confession time -- when I wandered back up to the Avant Garden's 2nd floor, I was not looking for Bolt. I'd seen previous band The Manichean setting up but had run back out to catch a few more bands before thelastplaceyoulook were slated to go on, and I made my way back upstairs figuring the Manichean guys would be taking their stuff down & thelastplaceyoulook would be setting up. I head to the drum kit, though, and there's Jeoaf from Bolt, getting ready to rock out. Um. Wha? He didn't know how or why, but TLPYL ended up not playing the Block Party -- Bolt were supposed to be on after, but somebody came & found 'em and said, "you're on now -- go get set up!"
Damn, damn, damn. I'd been planning on trying to catch Bolt, too, before I passed out, but I'd really, really been hoping to see TLPYL -- been listening to their new album nearly nonstop for the past couple of weeks, and it's doing bad, dangerous things to my brain, seriously. But no dice.
As consolation prizes go, though, Bolt is nothing to sneeze at; I've also had "The Man Who Couldn't Save the World" and "Hot Saturday Night" both stuck in my head these past weeks, so I was totally game to check 'em out again. They're like the distillation of what it means to be a party band on the one hand, but with a weirdly glam-rock edge on the other and a totally '70s-retro vibe running throughout. Think Foghat, think T. Rex, and most of all, think Bowie. And best of all, they're good at it, playing like they really, truly mean it and aren't just A) being a goofy cover band or B) taking the piss. I respect the hell out of 'em for that.
B L A C K I E: Back downstairs, again, and once more over to the Austin Layne Hotel, determined to get in a couple more sets before I pack my tired ass off back home. Missed The Mathletes, sadly, and totally blanked on The Eastern Sea, but coming 'round the corner I ran smack into destructo-rapper B L A C K I E crowd-surfing and spitting venom right at the mouth of the alleyway leading to the Austin Layne courtyard. And I swear, every time I see the guy, it's a spectacle, made more so this time out because everybody seemed to know the fucking songs. Holy crap. As awesome as he is, I never pictured him doing his raw and brutal and messy thing surrounded by a five-man-deep crush of kids and bobbing their heads & fists in time.
LISTENLISTEN: Escaped the crowd in time to catch the end of listenlisten's set, happily -- those guys get spookier and more haunting every single time I see 'em, I swear. What I heard were mostly tracks off the soon-to-be-released Hymns From Rhodesia (review coming soon, I swear!), all nautical references and mournful group vocals; seeing the three of 'em lined up at the front of the stage in the early evening half-light, singing their hearts out about ships making it back home from the sea hit this weird place in my heart that music rarely finds. They really are like stepping backwards in time.
BUXTON: My final few moments of music for the night, I'm afraid. I briefly thought about spending the $$$ to get into Mango's for American Fangs, but dammit, I just couldn't. I was dead on my feet, with a tired/grumpy wife waiting at home and a nearly empty wallet, so I headed back over to the Austin Layne to catch the start of Buxton's set. From what I saw, things were a bit looser & noisier this time than the last couple of shows I've seen, but it worked pretty well, besides, even with a bit less of the countrified feel to it. No country-dancing kids this year, although they may've come out later -- reports I've read say that once the band broke out the sparklers, it morphed into a bona fide Epic Time. And I missed it. Ah, well...
He ended up roaming, table and drawing implements in hand, and setting up in different places throughout the day/evening. I had a hard time tracking him down, actually -- when I first caught him, I had no cash & had to go find an ATM -- but when I finally did, he was set up in the Austin Layne courtyard, with a young protegé named Emma happily doing her own index-card drawings right beside him. For the princely sum of $5 between 'em, I got two super-cool little souvenirs for the munchkin -- see here and here. Awesome.
I'll skip the full rant about people moving into a "hip" neighborhood and then complaining when they realize the hipness makes noise, but I have to say that it seems utterly ridiculous that the Avant Garden folks had to go to those lengths to appease the neighbors. When I first went to the place, back in the Mausoleum days, those townhomes didn't even exist. It was a goddamn dirt lot show-goers used for parking (well, until some scumball got 'em towed like they once did me, anyway). How on earth is it possible that somebody can move into a house that wasn't even built when a bar/club/etc. started functioning, then kick up so much of a fuss that the bar is the one forced to spend $$$ to fix the "problem"? There's something seriously wrong with that, y'all. If you don't want to live near noisy people, don't buy a townhouse situated directly behind a bar, moron. You do like what the wife & I did, instead, and move to a quieter 'hood. Period.
phew. That's it for this time...
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