Houston Press Music Awards Disorganzied but Fun

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I went to the Houston Press Music Awards showcases downtown last night and got to see a bunch of cool bands and hang out with friends. There weren’t as many people as I expected. Something about a showcase on a Sunday afternoon/evening that just doens’t draw the crowds.

I’m guessing that the clubs were afraid to do a Saturday and risk losing money, but it sure would’ve been easier and brought out more people.

A few other suggestions/observations before going into details.

1. List the club addresses. Many of these places had no name on the outside. The Speakeasy Lounge had no sign or anything. You just had to know it was at 110 Main to find it. I missed a couple other bands because I couldn’t find the venue, especially if it wasn’t right on Main Street.

2. Have food and drink options on the street. Yes, bars serve alcohol, but it was freakin’ hot outside and a water/soda vendor would’ve been a hit. And speaking of heat…

3. Consider doing this in the fall when it isn’t 90+ degrees outside, especially if you start the events at 4pm.

4. Make sure that venues can actually hold live bands. The 306 Lounge, while seemingly a cool place, was the euqivalent of a hallway with bands facing a wall and their profiles to the audience. It also makes it nearly impossible to get a good sound mix.

5. Have better signage around showing where to buy wristbands, which clubs are having bands, a list of the bands at the venue so you know who is playing and at what time.

6. Overall, the organization of the bands was very good. They stayed on time from what I could tell.

7. There was a distinctly retro vibe in the air. I felt like, at times, I was back in the late 80’s or early 90’s at Power Tools with the variety of hair colors, bands in matching black suits and punk t-shirts. Odd.

Ok, enough of that, on to the details.

I pulled up and easily got a free metered space on Franklin just before 4pm. My first show was Modulator at the Speakeasy Lounge. I have a couple of friends who play with the band and, like with all the other shows, I wanted to get some pictures.

The Speakeasy was set up well enough though it got REALLY crowded later and difficult to navigate. Modulator was very good and probably my highlight of the entire night was their cover of Xanadu. Excellent. Modulator definitely has that retro 80’s vibe down and great hooks. It was a very solid performance.

I exchanged hello’s with my friends and made my way down the street to see if there were other bands I wanted to see and to get a piece of pizza from Frank’s Pizza on Travis. Mmmmm…excellent cheese pizza.

I ran into my friend, Dave Hartung, who manages and produces The Phlegmatics, a band I shot earlier this year at the Engine Room. They were going to play at 306, so I made my way over to catch their set after my dinner break.

That place is simply not built for bands at all. The band was essentially facing the wall and nothing but vocals were mic’ed. The sound was subpar at best, but the band was excellent. These guys are in the vein of many of the popular pop/punk bands out today (hence the nomination for Best Pop/Punk). They have great hooks and their frontman, Jonas, has a great persona for the style of music.

After the Phlegmatics, I headed back to the Speakeasy to catch the Southern Backtones. My friend, Dan Workman produced them, and Josh Applebee, the guy who is engineering the new orange is in CD at Sugar Hill Studios, runs sound for them.

They were not what I was expecting. With that name and even the look of the band, I was expecting a sort of rootsy hard rock thing somewhere between the Black Crowes, Sun Volt and Guns n Roses. Actually, they were decidedly more 80’s in the vein of early Cult and very good. They really had their act together and it showed. Their songs had memorable hooks and they were full of energy. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, trying to stand in the Speakeasy was like trying to navigate a sardine can, so I spent most of the show outside sitting on the sidewalk and enjoying the sound.

When the Backtones finsihed, I went to look for the Lisa Novak show, where my friend, Larry Cooper, was playing. I bumped into him on the street, but couldn’t find the damn club! Again with the signage and addresses.

So, I made my way back to the 306 to catch some of Arthur Yoria. Arthur is a great guy and a fine songwriter. His set (the half I saw) was outstanding. He is a very polished performer and his band compliments him perfectly. He’s playing this Thursday at Rudyard’s. It would be a good show to catch.

I still wanted to try and catch Drop Trio over at the Hard Rock. Unfortunately, I got there to see Ian handing out Red Bull after they finished. We chatted and I found out they were doing a set at Fat Cats later. More on that in a moment.

Who I did see at the Hard Rock was the Tony Vega Band. I have been wanting to see them for a while. Tony’s wife, August, is a former client and I’d been promising to go see them.

Let me just say that Tony is an outstanding blues guitarist. Wow! He and his band just tore through songs and his guitar tone was classic Texas electric blues. I was extremely impressed. That is one of the better new local bands I’ve seen in a while. Nicely done.

By this time, it was closing in on 9pm and I wanted to get home, download my pictures and get over to Fat Cats on Washington to see Drop Trio’s set. On the way back to the truck, I dropped into Sambuca and saw a few minutes of the Blue Monks. What a cool jazz trio – very traditional bop stuff.

I was really surprised at how many people I ran into on the street that I knew. Granted, there were a lot of younger people there, but virtually everywhere I turned was someone I knew, some fairly well.

The organization of the shows was very good. I think it would benefit the Press to look more closely at venues next time and try to plan for a different day. The idea was very good. The execution could use some fine tuning.

After a trip by the house, I went over to Fat Cats and caught a band called The Dizzy Pilots before Drop Trio. They were a very good alt.rock band, but DAMN were they loud! Holy crap! I haven’t heard anything that loud in YEARS! I wound up standing outside with the guys from Drop Trio and we heard the band perfectly from there.

Drop Trio is a really fun band to see live and Ian is a friend, so this was worth the trip. Hell, I even got a jam named after me – the Jeff Rocks Jam. LOL! In typical fashion, they blew through 3 or 4 songs that were all 8 or 9 minutes long and none of them felt like it. Excellent musicianship all the way around and a bunch of nice guys to boot.

My camera battery died during the last song – appropriate given the more than 350 pictures I took over 6 hours. But, I got some great one’s of Drop Trio and tons more of many of the other bands I saw. Those will be posted sometime today.

I missed some bands I wanted to see – Tody Castillo, Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies, Los Skarnales, John Evans Band and others, but there is only so much you can see. No worries. More to see later.

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