Best of San Antonio > Staff Pick
The brutal circumstances surrounding Ayala’s death merely drove home the point that the local music scene could never go back, could never again have the kind of nurturing environment that Taco Land provided. The only recourse was for musicians to fend for themselves, and as Smith argues, to work a bit harder to connect.
In SA’s second post-Taco-Land year, we saw evidence of such resourcefulness in a variety of places. Delphine Gunning, owner of singer-songwriter haven the Red Room, moved her establishment to North Broadway’s Taco Garage, and proceeded to create a San Antonio answer to SXSW with the seven-day SA Indie Fest. The event brought 150 under-the-radar performers to three locations and provided echoes of SXSW circa 1987, before it became a cold, efficient, tourist-attracting, money-making machine.
Limelight built on its promising beginning to become the venue of choice for local underground-rock bands and White Rabbit stepped up its game by booking the likes of Spoon, Of Montreal, and Gym Class Heroes. During a month-long stretch last fall, SA hosted Kings of Leon, Spoon, and Wilco, with the last show attracting a major Austin contingent. And wasn’t that a nice switch on the established pattern.
Best of all, San Antonio artists such as Sexto Sol, Marcus Rubio, Druggist, Question, Buttercup, Snowbyrd, DJ Jester the Filipino Fist, Fin Del Mar, and José Rubén De León released outstanding new music in the last year, with the Blackheart Records debut from Girl in a Coma an imminent attraction.
There were setbacks to be sure — the closing of The Davenport and TABC hassles for The Sanctuary — but the last year felt like a period when SA music truly began to explore the full range of its potential.
— Gilbert Garcia
When James Brown passed away last Christmas, Suzy Bravo knew someone had to organize a proper San Antonio send-off for the Godfather of Soul. After a few days passed, she realized that she was that person.
Bravo, a singer with roots in both classic soul (it’s the music her mother played for her when she was a child) and the Taco Land punk scene, rightly viewed Brown as a monumental innovator whose fingerprints can be found on practically every note of contemporary pop music (with the possible exception of that last Jessica Simpson album). She assembled her Soul Revue (a local supergroup with a Tuesday night residency at The Mix), added some special guests, recruited the mood-setting DJ skills of JJ Lopez, and brought in Shek and Robert Tatum to curate a collection of local art. The resulting tribute show at Limelight was a raucous celebration of Brown’s eternal groove, performed with just the right touch of punk irreverence.
— Gilbert Garcia
Buttercup’s Hot Love
Some bands work better under pressure. For San Antonio’s brainy pop quartet Buttercup, the pressure is all self-imposed. The band has publicly promised that if they ever fail to adhere to the highest standards of music-making, they will wear their clothes inside-out for a full year. For my money, that’s a ballsier bet than Muhammad Ali promising to crawl across the ring if Joe Frazier beat him (a promise that Ali conveniently forgot after losing the fight).
Buttercup won’t have to be inverting their garments anytime soon, based on the song-rich wonder that is their 2006 album, Big Love. Every bit as smart and eccentric as their debut release, Sick Yellow Flower, Big Love added loads of time-tested pop candy: lush harmonies, bossa-nova flutes, and chiming guitar overdubs. It captured the group’s deadpan sense of humor and made even its darkest ruminations feel inviting.
Hot Love’s title song was chosen as NPR’s Song of the Day last June, and NPR contributing writer David Brown nailed the band’s artistic intent when he observed that “Buttercup is out to tickle the left side of listeners’ brains.” With Hot Love, they consistently succeeded.
— Gilbert Garcia
When it comes to buskers, San Antonio can hardly compare with the London Underground or Boston’s Government Center. But however deficient we are in quantity, Russell Hoke more than compensates with sheer originality, commitment, and creative spirit.
The 42-year-old Hoke faithfully blows bagpipes in downtown’s Convention Plaza, in a manner that he compares to the sound of “one hand clapping,” “rain on train tracks,” and “scissors on carpet.” Hoke’s willingness to serenade tourists with a loud, piercing instrument beloved in Scotland and reviled in most of the rest of the world simply demonstrates that commercial inclinations don’t interfere with his love of music.
A folk musician (the banjo was his first musical obsession), poet, and earnest bagpipe historian, Hoke and his pipe cohort Michael Santos add a touch of joyful surrealism to the downtown walking experience, and probably make a few tourists briefly wonder if they’ve landed in the right city.
— Gilbert Garcia
When I was in college, the one enjoyable part about end-of-the-semester reading periods was knowing that our campus radio station would devote those weeks to long “orgies” celebrating the work of a particular artist: everyone from Frank Zappa to the Velvet Underground to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Listening to Aaron Prado’s “Lunch Feature” on KRTU every weekday provides a similar high, without the specter of all-night cramming sessions. Prado, KRTU’s brilliant music director, has designed “Lunch Feature” as a week-long tribute (in two-hour daily installments) to the greats of jazz, and the results are like highly entertaining undergraduate courses. Whether the week’s subject is Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, Joe Zawinul, or another jazz titan, Prado unearths obscure gems from their catalogs, and spikes the listening-party punch with fascinating anecdotes about each artist’s creative process. If you’re stuck in traffic on the way to your favorite restaurant, “Lunch Feature” guarantees that at least you’ll have good company.
— Gilbert Garcia
Krazy Kat Music
3020 N. St. Mary’s, 737-0523
If you measure music stores by the quantity of their inventory or the sleekness of their presentation, Krazy Kat couldn’t hope to compete with the chain-store likes of Sam Ash and Guitar Center. But Krazy Kat has the feel of a real local, indie music shop, where shopping is much like rummaging through an antique store for a timeworn gem.
At Krazy Kat, you can find Flying V ukuleles, lutes, double basses, Cry Baby guitar pedals, and a peerless selection of wondrous tube amplifiers. Just as importantly, at Krazy Kat you consistently encounter a helpful, relaxed staff. If they can’t help you with a problem, they’ll recommend someone who can, even if it’s someone at a competing store. That’s a mindset you don’t get from the chains.
— Gilbert Garcia
Located in a gated, residential community in North San Antonio, Salmon Peak Recording Studio offers the casual, comfortable ambience of home recording, but with considerably more technological firepower than any home-studio Pro Tools setup could hope to muster.
The studio’s sonic architect, RB Blackstone, is known for having the best ears in Bexar County, and in addition to his engineering acumen, he’s also a skilled keyboard player who brings a musician’s sensitivity to his engineering work. (Full disclosure: I had some mixing and mastering work done last year at Salmon Peak.) Salmon Peak has a grand piano, superlative tracking room, five isolation booths, a vintage 24-track Neve console, and a vaunted Elvis Presley vocal mic that Buttercup used during its Hot Love sessions.
Blue Cat Studios has demonstrated a remarkable versatility over the years, building its name on high-profile Tejano projects, but also recording heavy metal, blues, pop, and various forms of alternative rock. The studio, run by Grammy-winning producer Joe Trevino, is also appealing because it meets so many needs of fledgling bands, including analog-digital transfers, polishing of home demos, and CD pressing, duplication, and manufacturing. Among the recent projects to emerge from Blue Cat was Augie Meyers’s Tex-Mex collaboration with The Texmaniacs, My Freeholies Ain’t Free Anymore.
— Gilbert Garcia
If I told you there was a more pheromone-inducing song than “SexyBack,” sung by a mere child, that was about gorillas dancing and grunting in their heavy-knuckled way (“uh-uh-uh-uh”), would you think I was a trembling pervert of the Texas Youth Commission variety?
Because the one song that spoke to my ovaries with its calls to dance “como las gorilas” was “El Baile Del Gorila” — played to damn near gonadial death in San Antonio last year. Which is notable, because the “Gorilla Dance” was originally a rumba sung in 2000 by a 10-year-old Spanish pop squeak named Melody. In 2001 it was made into a Mexican cumbia by the Lone Star’s Grupo Massore, whose singer is an 11-or-so-year-old boy.
Other than being an insta-heat maker, I have no idea why Massore’s version was resurrected and played at the Halloween party off Broadway hosted by David Van Os’s daughter, in Traxx’s bar on Hildebrand (OK, I requested it), at a fall wedding at Lackland for my ex’s family, and at Ciro Rodriguez’s congressional victory party December 12 at the Harlandale Civic Center. (Where a four-person “more cowbell” contingent accompanied the CD with arrhythmic percussive fervor to celebrate the end of District 23 Republican Henry Bonilla. Which reminds me: Bonilla played Pat Benatar’s taunting “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” at his November 7 election event, which set him up for an eventual runoff loss. Who’s got the notch in his lipstick case now, Henry?)
My favorite “Gorilla Dance” last year came courtesy of Grupo Geno (Myspace.com/grupogeno), who performed it live at Rosario’s one First Friday. The lead singer, a grown-ass woman, brings a Deep Purple “Child in Time” feel to gritas meant to get us dancing like primates.
It’s tough to pick against perennial powerhouse DJ Donnie D in this category. His skills and song selections are always improving, and this year Donnie has been educating the local masses with his weekday, old-school lunch set on Power 106.7. Still, this year’s nod has to go to DJ Tech-Neek, who orchestrated, executed, and followed through on his plan to release the free mix-tape Lord Meems: Episode 1 and keep his name on your mind.
Tech-Neek started off the year rocking the underground (and First Friday crowds) with his infectious blend of soulful hip-hop. He followed that up with the solid Lord Meems disc, which is still being distributed at gigs and record shops across the city. An appearance on 98.5 The Beat opened Tech-Neek up to even more listeners, and these days you are just as likely to catch him opening up for a national touring act as spinning at a South Side sports bar. Regardless of the venue, Tech-Neek keeps it right.
— M. Solis
Seven years had passed between Spoon shows in San Antonio, and Britt Daniel decided to put his foot down. The band’s frontman adamantly told his reps that he wanted to include an SA stop on Spoon’s short fall, 2006 tour. The resulting, jam-packed gig at White Rabbit on Friday, September 29, had a euphoric feeling even before the group hit the stage.
Local heroes the Sons of Hercules (one of Daniel’s all-time favorite Texas bands) opened the show by creating a proper sense of mayhem, and Spoon tore through highlights from its last three masterworks, with tantalizing samples of their forthcoming release. With new bassist Rob Pope locking into Spoon’s off-kilter rhythms, Daniel looked positively giddy to be back in SA. And the feeling was clearly mutual.
— Gilbert Garcia