Rudyard’s Rock Fest

Saturday Night’s Alright

Saturday 19 May 2007

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” -Rudyard Kipling

HOUSTON—Montrose is an artsy neighborhood on the southwestern flank of downtown Houston. It’s populated with eclectic architecture, famous museums, funky boutiques and colorful neighborhood joints. Rudyard’s, an English Pub on Waugh Drive is one of the true landmarks in this district, serving up “the best bar food in Houston,” several locally brewed beers on tap, darts in the back room, patio seating out front and live music in the upstairs room.

photo courtesy of Derek Slaton

Tonight a celebration of local voices is underway and the gathered crowd is as eclectic as can be. A lesbian couple dances close, beautiful people emerge from cabs and hipsters mingle. Local singer-songwriter Arthur Yoria is conducting a record release party for Handshake Smiles. Quiet Company is in town from Austin and local favorites Spain Colored Orange are headlining. Hank from Southern Backtones opens the show, burlesque troop Concrete Rose Caberet and ice carver Reverend Butter also perform. In short, there’s a constant stream of creation to hold one’s attention through the night.

Quiet Company is a relatively new group put together by Taylor Muse following his stints in Eisely and The Connotations. Musem who compsoes the bands material, says he’s inspired by The Beatles and The Smiths. During the band’s performance other influences leak out of the guitars, keys and tambourine. Quiet Company’s arrangements are grand in the style of Pink Floyd and The Polyphonic Spree. Yet, there’s also some indie power pop in the mix. Towards the end of their set, Muse and company bust into “Circumstance” off their Shine Honesty album.

Now tell me if you think I’m wasting time
On chasing some dolled up dream that will leave me jaded
Well, I’d trade my skin to be young again
And I’d bow out graciously

The song has Wilco-like progressions and Muse jumps around on stage, kicking out the jams.

Arthur Yoria is up next. He frequently plays solo, but tonight he’s with his four-piece band. Yoria and his compadres on the front line sport cowboy-style snap shirts and all three play Fender Guitars. Yoria looks a little like Mark Spitz with a beard, or as he says, “Pablo Escobar circa 1981.” Either way, he’s a handsome guy and the ladies are packed in up front to get a good glimpse of the man in the middle.

Towards the end of his set, Yoria plays “Clean For Free” off the new album that perfectly expresses the theme for the evening.

I do believe in listening
I do believe in listening when it’s interesting but
have you heard me lately? Have you baby?

At times Yoria sounds a bit like an upbeat Elliot Smith, although it’s difficult to compare him to others, as he is clearly an original. Even the label “singer-songwriter” fits him poorly. He says good-naturedly that he’s more of a “post-singer-songwriter.” He adds, “Not all of my songs sound like Nick Drake.” Speaking about his song craft, Yoria says, “The goal as a songwriter—I think at least one who has any roots in pop—is to say something universal in a very simple way that everyone can understand, but really hasn’t been said before in such a fashion.”

Yoria is fortunate in that he has the perfect place to showcase his originals. He runs his own label, 12 Records. It’s a project he started with his friend Matt Maloney, formerly of the Houston Rockets. As the label head, Yoria is intimately involved in promoting his own music. In fact, Yoria mans the merch table tonight where his new disc, Handshake Smiles, is selling briskly at ten bucks a pop. He also kindly takes the time before his performance to stand for an on-camera interview. And he has a personal greeting, sometimes a hug, for all his loyal fans in attendance tonight, and there are many. Houston is famous for producing acclaimed singer-songwriters like Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Lyle Lovett. In Arthur Yoria, this massive Gulf Coast city has yet another craftsman it can be proud to call its own.

The Art Of Angst

Sunday 20 May 2007

HOUSTON—Sunday night is arguably the most punk rock night of the week. While “normal people” are at home preparing for the workweek, hundreds of punks are instead gathered in a communal setting provided by Rudyard’s, the legendary bar and music venue in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood.

photo courtesy of Derek Slaton

The bar’s upstairs room is crowded with smokers gorging on the sounds of Houston’s own Hell City Kings. Between songs a fan brings the band a round of shots. Lead singer The GFN sniffs his suspiciously, then downs it. He says, “This one goes out to the women of Texas,” then launches into “Southern Belles” off the band’s 2006 7-inch of the same name. The GFN, clearly into it, belts out, “I love Southern Belles. I love the way that they smell.” Tonight they smell like smoke and sweat and nothing could be more punk rock than that.

Before the band’s next number The GFN says, “Speaking of Texas…” before the band takes on “Tush” by ZZ Top, a popular Texas band and an inspiration to many a rocker. The band’s guitar slinger, Christian Bakka positions his axe up and over his head and proceeds to play it Jimi Hendrix-style. As the band finishes their set, The GFN says, “Support you local music scene,” and from his tone, it sounds very much like he means it.

The next band in tonight’s lineup is The Kimonos, a unit fronted by Gina Miller on vocals and synth. Many of the Hell City Kings fans have left the upstairs room, which is a shame, since musically speaking The Kimonos have the most to offer of any of the acts on tonight’s bill. As stripped down as punk rock is–and The Kimonos clearly classify as a punk band–on stage we now have doses of theatre, comedy, sexuality and two strong vocalists capable of harmonizing together.

Miller holds a cig in one hand, plays her synth with the other. She sings, puffs, sings again then throws her head back in a moment of prolonged ecstasy. Miller is wearing a short dress. She dances playfully and she sounds like Cindy Wilson of The B-52s, which is a good thing. Yet it seems this crowd is hardcore to the core. At the end of one number, lead guitarist, Mr. Baby says, “Clap!” in repsonse to the relative quiet in front of the stage. A bearded punk says mockingly, “I don’t do what I’m told.” Nor should he. Obedience to any master, even a fellow punk, is the first step toward compromise and there’s no room for such things in this setting.

Next up is Crumb Bums, a punk band that likes their music hard, loud and fast. The band’s Mexican-American lead singer jumps around on stage like a gamecock, he rolls around on the floor, and makes every pose known to punk rock man. He’s entertaining to watch, and his serious intentions bring the punk princes and princesses to the dance floor for a closer look. The bass player in the band slam dances his lead singer, even though the crowd is not quite there yet. A raucous momentum is building and Crumb Bums is partly responsible. The other responsible party is up next–The Riverboat Gamblers from Austin via Denton.

Anticipation in the upstairs room is now palpable. Sara who recenly moved to Houston from Los Angeles says of tonight’s headliner, “The Riverboat Gamblers are a great band to see live.” She has a spike in her tongue. An informal survey of the room turns up many more examples of body modification. There are spikes protruding here and bullrings dangling there. As for the nearly universal use of black hair dye, the manufacturers can rest easy, for here is a rock solid niche market that can be relied upon for future sales.

The Riverboat Gamblers are fronted by Mike Wiebe–a lanky, pasty-faced, stringy-haired singer with a lot on his mind. Between songs he tells us his car was towed by the city of Austin, that his rent is due and that the women of Austin hate him. Apparently this is not too much information, for the place is now packed to the rafters, literally. One fan is actually up in the rafters watching the proceedings from the safety of his perch. The fans below him are actively engaged in a mosh.

Wiebe needs to feel the support of his fans tonight, so he stage dives into the pit time and again. He also hangs from the rafters by his hands and later by his legs. At one point, he dangles upside down like a bat while managing to continue singing. During another number he walks on tables tops until he reaches a table with three pretty women. He serenades them all and kisses one willing blonde on the hand at the end of the song. In other words, he makes a spectacle of himself and like any commited performer he leaves it all on stage. The Sunday night crowd is pleased. With memories of tonight’s show fresh in mind, work tomorrow won’t be all that bad.