Madness on Main Street Arrives Saturday (Rundown, Pt. 1): Moji + BLSHS + Ganesha + Birds of Night + The Hue + Willy Collins Band + Def Perception + Us.
Yes, yes, yes. It’s May, just starting to edge into the warmer months here in H-town, and that means it’s time once again for the ever-awesome Madness on Main Street Music Fest.
Virtual high-five to both organizers Jason Smith and Phil “Bassman Pep” Peterson for pulling this thing together once again, damn near out of thin air — they’ve worked their asses off to put on one hell of a music festival this Saturday, May 2nd in the coolest part of Midtown, encompassing that stretch of Main St. sometimes referred to as Mid-Main that covers The Continental Club, The Big Top, The Alley Kat, and The Pachinko Hut (aka, the funky little quasi-tiki bar in the Continental Club’s backyard). It’s the same set of stages as last year’s Madness on Main and last fall’s Yes, Indeed! Fest, and using ’em was a freaking great decision, if you ask me.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed the hell out of every festival-type thing Jason & Pep have thrown. But having it in the Mid-Main area makes things very, very cool — there’s something awesome about being able to easily stroll between multiple stages and venues all in the same couple of blocks, and meander through the various shops and food-type places along the way, as well.
At Yes, Indeed! last year, I finally got a chance to dine at Tacos A Go Go (and yes, the tacos were as good as I’d hoped they’d be), did a little window-shopping at the craft stores along the way, and was even able to stick my head into an art gallery for a bit. It was an extremely nice feeling, kind of the same big-city-open-all-night feeling I’ve gotten in places like Vancouver or NYC, and yeah, Houston could seriously use more of that.
Anyway, moving on to the truly critical part, which is the music. This year’s MoM has a pretty widely-varied cast of musicians and bands playing, 30 or so in total, and a lot of ’em are ones I personally like a whole hell of a lot.
Check over here for the actual schedule, but over here at SCR, we’re going to do our best to introduce you to the folks playing at Madness of Main this weekend. Here go the first bunch out of our randomly-selected pile:
I’ve heard some truly great, promising things about Moji over the past year or so but hadn’t been able to devote serious attention to ’em ’til now…and yeah, now I’m wishing I’d done it sooner. They’re intriguing, the kind of band that it seems like could only really ever come from Houston, mashing together sultry soul, laid-back jazz, bluesy rock, and a hint of Tropicalia to craft a sound that’s gentle and warm and seductive that drifts between more upbeat music and music that’s far more grim. Lead single “Ceasefire” is moody and dark, full of intense soul but seemingly standing on the knife’s edge at the same time, but then, listening to “Paris,” you’d be forgiven for thinking the band’s about to break into “Girl From Ipanema”.
I can’t help but think of The Tontons at a few points, but that’s not really an accurate representation of the band — Moji are less psych-influenced and far more on the rootsy side of things (as evidenced by the down-home boogie of “Free”), and they’re really their own animal. It’s probably because singer Moji Abiola has one hell of a set of pipes, comparable to those of fellow locals Asli Omar and Kam Franklin; she’s a seriously powerful, powerful singer, the one you kind of have to witness to believe. Get a taste below.
[Moji plays at 8:40PM at The Pachinko Hut.]
I don’t get out of the house much these days; it’s a sad reality, I know, but I’m old and lame and have kids/job/commitments, and it gets more and more difficult to justify driving up to Montrose or Downtown to see a band play. Which explains, unfortunately, why I haven’t yet been able to catch synthpop trio BLSHS, despite being a fan from afar for a good year or two now; the timing just hasn’t ever worked out, y’know?
Now, though, I’m more determined than ever to catch ’em live. Because the three-piece outfit is absolutely one of the coolest things going right now around here, a welcome breath of chilled, metal-tinged, ozone-scented air into a scene that’s occasionally top-heavy with more “rootsy” bands. BLSHS take ’80s-style synthpop and drag it forwards to the current century, pairing old-school-sounding synths and beats with gleaming modern production and gorgeous, ethereal vocals from vocalist Michelle Miears. They’re kin to La Roux, for sure, and also to CHVRCHES (a band I also love, mind you), albeit with less of the latter band’s manic energy and more of a late-night, retro-futuristic feel, like it’s the soundtrack to a movie about stylized robots dancing in the neon rain (or, um, something; I may’ve had too much sugar today).
On the good news front, by the way, the band’s recently released a brand-new single “In And Out,” which I dearly hope means there’s a followup on the way to debut EP Abstract Desires. Fingers crossed, people.
[BLSHS plays at 12:30AM at The Alley Kat.]
Here’s one that you might know, even if the name isn’t familiar. It seems former local rock dudes “Downer” didn’t call it quits but instead just changed names, so now they’re known as Ganesha. Now, I can’t make any promises that their sound hasn’t changed, as well — no idea on that front, and I’ve only got the old “Downer” songs to use as a reference, so…well, that’s what I’m going by here.
And what’s there is pretty damn entertaining, in a quasi-sloppy, tongue-in-cheek, seat-of-their-pants kind of way. “Downer”/Ganesha plays gritty, grimy, grunge-y (and I mean that in all senses of the word) blues-rawk that stomps and crushes along like Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff EP was the last thing released before some mythic apocalypse destroyed all musical instruments and recording devices. It’s messy and loud and raw and full of noise and dirt, and hey, that’s just fine by me.
[Ganesha plays at 5:45PM at The Big Top.]
The Birds of Night
Next up is Denton band The Birds of Night, who I’ve been completely unaware of up until this point but who’ve impressed the shit out of me in a very short period of time. They’re rough-edged and rootsy, stomping and bumping along in a ’60s-colored retro-rock groove that brings to mind folks like Moonlight Towers and The Bright Light Social Hour but doesn’t come off as any kind of a copycat sound. Both 2013’s We’re A Family Now and this year’s new single “Dark” are stellar chunks of guitar-heavy, driving rock goodness, with fuzzed-out bass, thumping drums, and frontman Andrew Rothlisberger‘s sharply nasal vocals cutting through the squall.
The band’s heavy and gritty like PUJOL’s best moments, hazy like the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, and tight as hell, to boot, which makes me think that live these guys must be like a gargantuan Rock Machine up there on the stage. Plan to see ’em there, alright? Before you do, though, take a listen below.
[The Birds of Night play at 9PM at The Continental Club.]
Then there’s The Hue, which is the closest you’ll get to a Houston hip-hop supergroup that doesn’t convene a measly one time a year (but damn, that Welcome to Houston set is amazing). The members of the group started out in badass rap collective H.I.S.D. (Scottie Spitten, EQuality, and Savvi), who I managed to catch and be astounded by at FPSF a few years ago, and space-soul/hip-hop group Radio Galaxy (Spacebunny Jefferson, King Midas, and DJ Cozmos), and they combined forces a couple of years back as part of the whole Peace Uv Mine crew to morph their sound into something totally new, cool, and different.
What I love most about The Hue is that they hark backwards to the more thoughtful, soulful days of old-school hip-hop, reminiscent of folks like The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest; this is no Dirty South hip-hop, but rather a combination of sharp-edged lyrics and atmospheric, jazzy production, and Spacebunny’s soulful talking/singing. At their best, they come off like a space-obsessed Blackalicious, and hot damn that is a good place to be.
[The HUE plays at 10:30PM at The Alley Kat.]
The Willy Collins Band
Yeah, yeah — I know I dinged all those rootsy-ish bands just a few bands earlier in this same post. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re not deserving of love, and The Willy Collins Band is a pretty perfect example of why that happens to be. Collins and his crew roll their way through a set of gritty, rough-edged roots-rock tunes that owe as much to folk and blues as they do to country, while pledging allegiance to any of the three, and they do it with brutally honest lyrics that examine the scratches and dents on their own respective lives. And yeah, they do it very, very well, calling to mind folks like Steve Earle, David Ramirez, and fellow Houstonians The Small Sounds.
Plus, they’ve enlisted some decidedly non roots-music collaborators to help flesh out their sound; their first album apparently featured the likes of Paul Wall and Chase Hamblin, and most recent album Departures includes cameos by stellar songstresses Kam Franklin and Winter Wallace, who provide a nice counterpoint to Collins’ own scuffed-up, road-worn voice. Check ’em out.
[The Willy Collins Band plays at 8PM at The Continental Club.]
Another hip-hop outfit from right here in H-town, but this time one that’s a little more street-level than The Hue; Def Perception are less jazz and soul (although those influences do peek through a bit, even still) and more straight-up struggling and scuffling to make it to the top in The Rap Game. They flow smooth but aggressive, which is far from a bad thing, with some nice scratching and mellow beats that bring to mind California-style ’90s hip-hop like The Pharcyde or Anotha Level.
I’ll freely admit I hadn’t heard much from these guys ’til now, but damn, this is good — the more I listen to, the more I want to hear. Can’t argue with that feeling, right?
[Def Perception plays at 7PM at The Continental Club.]
And to close out the current pile, here’s another act I’ve wanted to experience live and in-person but hadn’t had the chance to just yet… Despite the plural pronoun, Us. is actually just one guy, Avery Davis, who uses synths, guitars, drums, and his voice to create these delicate, gorgeous little chunks of R&B-tinged electro-pop, a little bit like a less party-centric Reptar or like M83’s more ’80s-ish moments.
It’s beautiful and gleaming but somehow hazy and melancholy at the same time, with an undercurrent of bitterness and sorrow lurking beneath those chords and a seeming reach skywards, especially on gospel-tinged tracks like “Sing For Me”. Davis is yearning for something, even if he can’t quite explain what it is, and Us. is maybe his attempt to find out, to get to that place, wherever it may be. And after listening for a minute or two, you can’t help but want to follow.
[Us. plays at 7:30PM at The Alley Kat.]
Okay, y’all — that’s all for now. More coming soon, so keep an eye out…
(Photos [top to bottom]: Moji; BLSHS; Ganesha; The Birds of Night; The Hue; The Willy Collins Band; Def Perception; Us. BLSHS photo by Arturo Olmos Photography; Birds of Night photo by Bryan Barker/Pop Press International.)