I’m not going to waste too much time here with an introduction because I have a lot of bands to cover here so let’s get right to it shall we?
Kicking things off was Llorna. They came, they played, I found myself checking my watch. They weren’t bad but there was nothing really unique enough to grab onto and hold my interest. Next.
As if in sharp contrast to the openers, J. W. Americana came in and showed people how it’s done. Sure you could argue that J. W. American isn’t breaking any new ground but they take those cliches, cheerfully thumb their noses at the audience, and do the whole thing with a shit load of energy and wit that makes a song about Hot Dogs sound like some fucked-up version of the E-Street Band or a song about Beltway 8 sound like early Butthole Surfers. In other words, J. W. Americana knows how to take what could be old tired cliches and make them seem fresh and fun. That’s no small compliment.
If you want a band that plays it with intelligence and never underestimates its audience, then ListenListen is your band. This is easily one of Houston’s best bands and they blow me away every time I see them. It’s music with nuance and dynamics. It’s music that is emotive and powerful. It’s music that has as much respect for the silence between the notes as the notes themselves. The result is powerful music and it does so not by volume or theatre but with a quiet thoughtfulness.
TAX THE WOLF
Going from the quiet introspection of ListenListen to the jazzy party of Tax The Wolf is kind of sick but fun. TTW are just a flurry of ideas that blur by you. It would be unfair to call them Prog in the traditional sense but their use of complex chords and melodic guitar lines that have a jazzy feel makes them unique in Houston’s indie scene. Yet, unlike their Prog cousins, TTW doesn’t compromise fun for technical skills so guitar nerds can enjoy the technical aspects of the performance while everyone else (those people who could care less what a diminished 9th is) can just dance their asses off.
I know this is going to sound weird but I have to admit, the best set of the evening had to go to sIngs. If there was a set that took risks, challenged the audience, and kept surprising you with the unexpected, it was this one. Brett Taylor led his players like some kind or stoner wizard who was creating this odd strange little world. The songs at times veered toward the noisy and off kilter yet there was something in Taylor’s compositions that kept the whole thing together in a very human way that seemed earnest, real, and alive at that moment. Well done, sir.
Unfortunately, I came down stairs to catch Young Girls only to hear the last five bars of Six Pack Stab. I will say this much. It sounded awesome and if any band had the ladies dancing (and dancing well I might add), it was Young Girls. If you are in another Houston band, that right there should make you jealous.
ROKY MOON AND BOLT
Finally, we get to the headliner – Roky Moon and Bolt – and from the get-go it looked like the band was up to something. Stagehands came out and unveiled banners and a giant lightning backdrop. After a self-promoting introduction by Zen Hill’s Ross Wells, the lights dimmed and Edith Piaf greeted the crowd as the band slowly made its way out in full glam rock makeup and costume. After the long long long intro, Mike Hardin finally came out in a white suit and the band kicked in full force. Stobe lights, flashing lights, costumes…it was a huge spectacle and the band was playing more broadly than ever. You just couldn’t pull this off in a smaller club and sure enough the balcony seemed to give a better perspective than front stage.
Now here is my personal bias and you guys can disagree with me all you want but to me what makes Roky Moon and Bolt special is that they play music that is big but the frills were never there; the music and the performers were big enough personalities that none of that was needed. Yeah, I get it – this was supposed to be a fun lark and they played with no less heart than any other time I’ve seen them but, to me, all the frills were just a distraction and I felt that, because of those frills, this performance lost a lot of what makes RMAB special for me. Thankfully, it appeared I the only one who felt this way.