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.

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. Muse, who composes the band’s 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 songcraft, 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.