Live: Paste Untapped Festival Houston
DISCOVERY GREEN — 11/16/13: I should know to always leave a little extra time between getting to a show and actually expecting to get in, but as usual, I was running on time instead of early. That nearly made me late — there was quite a line forming at about 4:30 outside the Paste Untapped Festival.
Fortunately, I found a table that said “Media” and was able to get a lanyard and in the door with no problem. I had the feeling that if I wasn’t media, I would’ve been out there awhile. The line had that feeling of people starting to get frustrated; I hope they all got in quickly.
Once I got in, I rushed to catch some of Walker Lukens and The Side Arms. My only experience with this group was a time when my band was playing downstairs at Fitzgerald’s, and they were playing upstairs. I ran up there for a minute and was impressed with the large crowd. I had originally thought our show should have been upstairs, since it was a more national act (The Whigs, from Athens, GA), but sometimes Fitz works in mysterious ways. We had an amazing time. Being downstairs in a packed venue can be better than a halfway-full upstairs show.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them play that night, but I put them in my mental Rolodex. Nearly a year later, I got my chance. They play enjoyable, Tom Petty-influenced alt-country that fans of our local faves Buxton would probably enjoy, and being a Buxton fan, I did enjoy them.
One interesting unusual technique Walker Lukens uses is that he has a vocal processor to make onstage effects with his voice. I don’t know if it’s something he’s been doing awhile, as I don’t really hear it much on the album I’m listening to as I write this. I mostly enjoyed Walker Lukens because I knew I wouldn’t be hearing much more “new to me” music until the very end of the evening. The next few bands would be several of Houston’s best-known indie-rock groups.
I should mention the beer situation for the Untapped Festival. I’m sure this is a normal thing, but I don’t go to beer festivals, so it took me by surprise. We got these little shot glasses and paid $5 to get 12 samples. Each time we got a sample, they’d cross off one of the boxes. It was an interesting concept, but by the night I found Lagunitas IPA out of northern California. When I tried it, I said “I know this beer!”
Yes, with my wife being from near Oakland, I have had this beer several times, and it definitely won my choice for beer of the night; it was great to find them there. Lagunitas ended up giving me a large glass of beer and taking my little card away (though not before my friends in Featherface could give me their unused cards right before they left — thanks again, guys).
Up next on what the organizers considered the main stage — I was confused by this because, to me, the Discovery Green stage was the main stage; I guess it doesn’t matter, because in all the acts were pretty even — were The Suffers. It hasn’t taken long for them to become one of Houston’s top bands, and deservedly so, but they’re no overnight success story, either. They’re a supergroup of sorts, with members from other Houston bands, including Los Skarnales, Heptic Skeptic, The Handsomes, and others. Seems like they’re everywhere right now, but I think it’s just that they play good events like this one.
The Suffers hit that retro spot that’s in the same vein as Sharon Jones, but with a couple of shakes of The Specials thrown in. In fact, their spot-on cover of “Ghost Town” (played at the Pam Robinson benefit, not at Untapped) knocked me out. It could be one of the best covers I’ve heard performed in years. As usual, Kam Franklin and company entertained and left everyone wanting more. Of particular note, a man proposed to his future wife during the set. I guess we all know who should play their wedding…
The Wild Moccasins were next on the bill. I have a lot of respect for them, as they are helping put Houston on the indie-rock map like few others. Occasional songs of theirs hit me, and the occasions are starting to get more frequent now — to the point that I am very much looking forward to hearing their new album, 88 92. Early in the set, they played a song that owed a lot to Talking Heads with its soul-flavored bass groove. Mark my words — it’s a single.
Pardon the pun, but it feels like the Moccasins are starting to fit in the big 1980s shoes they’ve made for themselves. They’re also one of the most attractive Houston bands to photograph. As a musician, I never cared that much how bands dressed, but as a photographer, it makes a huge difference in how they come across. Wild Moccasins have never failed giving me a chance to take interesting photographs.
Speaking of photogenic people, The Tontons were up next. They just finished three months of touring the United States, with just a short respite at home (where they played the Pam Robinson benefit). In fact, The Tontons have spent much of 2013 in a tour van, building up their national fan base. Between songs, lead singer Asli Omar expressed that she was glad to be home, “except for the humidity” — a valid point, to be sure.
Asli has a spot in my top three most-photographed faces, along with Blake Shepherd from Electric Attitude and Cory Sinclair from The Manichean. That alone tells you I love the band. I know the Houston Press Music Awards are kind of a joke, but we need to make Asli Omar the Houston musician of the year next year. She’s that great. Oh, and look for their full-length album, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love, out last month.
That was it for Houston bands. I wasn’t familiar with Heartless Bastards before this show, but they definitely won me over. More than a few times as I watched them, I thought they’d be perfect for the Austin City Limits television show. Heartless Bastards write simple songs and play the hell out of them.
Their drummer was my favorite — he had a Ringo Starr feel going on a couple of songs and a Keith Moon solo that complimented the rest of the band nicely. The lead guitarist had a kind of Jimmy Page-gone-country look, so I tried to photograph him looking like Page. Funny what goes through your mind while you’re taking photos.
Right around the middle of Heartless Bastards’ set, I decided I needed to make the most of my beer card. That’s when I found Lagunitas IPA, but I should also mention the Leprechaun Cider was excellent, and I’ll always have a place at my table for Sierra Nevada ales. Thankfully, the taster size kept me from getting drunk and taking the same photo 500 times. I also had fun meeting all the beer servers and chatting with them about where their beer was from. Nothing matched my buddy Sean Spiller‘s Artisan Ales, though. I’m sticking with Spiller.
Finally came our headliner, The Walkmen. I was surprised at how much of their music I recognized. I only have their first album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. I saw them only once by chance, opening for Sharon Jones at SXSW a few years ago, but enough of their music has sunk into my psyche to keep my attention for awhile. Their folksy take on early 2000s NYC indie-rock (think a Pogues-y Strokes) was a fun way for me and all the other hipsters to end the evening.
As I walked out of the event, I texted my friend Matt Crow from Super Robot Party to ask to get on the guest list at Rudyard’s. I didn’t want to end the party just yet, so I headed over and caught sets by A Sundae Drive and Super Robot Party. Funny thing: as much as I love The Tontons, A Sundae Drive nearly stole the evening for me. Though their music feels a little melancholy, they are so dang joyful when they play it. Never end the night too early. Rock on, everyone! END
(Photos [top to bottom]: Kam Franklin (The Suffers); The Wild Moccasins; Asli Omar (The Tontons); Mark Nathan (Heartless Bastards). All photos by Jason Smith.)