Houston Calling

Free Press Block Party wrap-up: it’s all about the music… and perception

April 13th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Yesterday’s Westheimer Block Party, sponsored by Free Press, was a great day of music and sun (well, maybe a bit too much sun). After hooking up with a friend just before noon and visiting new skate shop/art gallery A Front (located next to Darkhorse Tavern on Washington Ave.) and getting me some much-needed Catalina coffee, we headed to Numbers for the fest. One of the things I love most about this festival is the light atmosphere–it doesn’t have the shady or dangerous quality that I remember from the old street fest during the 90s and seems to be a spot for people to reconnect and take in music that they’ve most likely never heard and/or or seen live before.

Right off the bat, we ran into Dan Sharber, who it’s always good to see, and got some veggie burgers to start off the day.

We arrived in time to see SkyBlue72‘s set outside Numbers. The trio was tight, as always, but my friend commented that he’d like to see them maybe add a drummer and let Jessica take on the role of singer instead of doing both. Could be interesting, but not likely to happen. I love watching the guitarist go off…

The first true highlight of the day was the The Skyline Network-recommended The Literary Greats inside at Numbers, who reminded my friend and me of Cracker. They were a big surprise for me and I am looking forward to seeing them again in the near future. The second highlight was Antarctica Starts Here upstairs at AvantGarden. Despite the cramped room, the band played a stellar set (much better than the first time I saw them). Their shoegazey walls of sound were ripping our ears out and both of us thought the band would have been much more suited to the dark (and larger) confines of inside at Numbers–just selfish, wishful thinking on our parts. See a video of ASH’s set here. We ran into the newly-shorn Stephen Anderson from Flowers to Hide at the ASH show and left AvantGarden on a high to go to Numbers to watch his brother Tim’s band, Mechanical Boy.

To me, a true test for a band that has the potential to break out nationally is (naturally) a legion of fans–which Mechanical Boy had, filling Numbers about halfway full at 2:15 on a Saturday afternoon. It was cool to see the girls dancing and singing along to the band’s pop-inspired emo-esque songs. I get hints of Duran Duran at times in their songs, but probably the best recent comparison is OK Go. My friend told me that their set made him want to give them part of his savings to go make a new record. Enough said, but you can judge for yourself by watching this YouTube video.

After their set, we blew off going back to AvantGarden for Buxton and instead watched bands inside Numbers and in the parking lot while getting sunburned and talking to friends (good to see Geoff and Matt from Mansion and writer Chris Gray out and about).

Southern Backtones‘ Hank Schyma told the audience inside Numbers that the band wasn’t aware they were supposed to play the fest and that the other two band members were in New York and unable to make the show. Instead, he invited his violin teacher (who was lovely, by the way) to join him onstage for a set that included the band’s “Forever” and “Fallen Angel” (video here) along with covers of The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” (video here), Pulp’s “Common People,” and The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus” (video here).

Here’s where the perception comes into play. Any regular reader of Houston Calling knows that I am a fan of Southern Backtones’ music. I think Hank Schyma is an underrated guitarist and a talented musician who seems pretty much fearless when it comes to songwriting and performing. So, when I read writer Joey Guerra’s review of yesterday’s set on the Chronicle‘s Handstamp this morning, it made me laugh:

Twinges of heat exhaustion were settling in, and a trip back to Numbers seemed due. Inside, a moody Hank Schyma brandished a guitar and a blonde violinist in a cocktail dress. It was billed as a Southern Backtones set, but Schyma confessed half the band was unable to make the show.

He ran through everything from I Am the Walrus to a tango, but the small crowd seemed mostly uninterested. Maybe it was his lounge-singer collar and blazer. Not sure. It was a strange vibe.

From what I could tell, the crowd was enjoying it, people were dancing, and I thought they pulled it off–as did the people I was hanging out with at the time (one of which had never heard of the Backtones). Strange vibe? Uninterested? Hardly. In fact, there’s video of Schyma and her performing together on TV so it’s not like it was the first time they had done this setup.

Then, a bit later we decided–on my recommendation and because we were cooking in the sun–to believe the hype and watch Karina Nistal inside Numbers (see some video here). Her backing band was great but it’s definitely not my style of music, which leads back to the perception issue. In his review on Handstamp, Guerra stated about her set:

Things picked up, however, with the appearance of Karina Nistal, whose sizzling, truly spectacular set convinced me even more that she deserves to — and eventually will — be a huge star.

I agree that Nistal is a talented, attractive performer who deserves–and will probably get–national exposure if she works it right. And the crowd was mostly into her set. Thing is, everyone I was with chose to bail out during the third song. Maybe it was the language barrier, maybe it was that we’re not Latin music fans. But “sizzling” and “spectacular” are definitely in the ears of the beholder. Nothing against Guerra–we just have different tastes.

We caught some songs by Thee Armada (the kids love it), the last few seconds of Cop Warmth, Bases Loaded (interesting), and also waited forever to see Electric Touch, who lost us after only one song. This was my third time to see them play this year but it was after 6pm and I was expected to bring home the bacon (well, Pronto anyway), so we left. I would have loved to see Young Mammals, etc. open for …Trail of Dead, but starting out before noon doesn’t leave open that possibility. I know my limitations.

A good time overall. Thanks Free Press — well done.

Tags: Miscellaneous · Music · Reviews

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