Canned Acoustica III

The past couple of years have seen a lot of development in the Houston music scene: Fitzgerald’s got a much needed facelift, we have our own Summer Fest that is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, and New West Records has picked up a set of Houston sweetheart bands – Wild Moccasins, Buxton, and now Robert Ellis. With all the big big things that are happening here in the music world, it’s sometimes easy to miss the small things that are just as – if not more – special.

Thursday night at Canned Acoustica was just such a thing. The Green Room of Warehouse Live was a cozy setting for the event, which featured eight Houston musicians in (mostly) acoustic sets. The house was packed with a pretty diverse crowd – plenty of the usual local bands coming to support their homies, arts-events folks, teenage show-goers, and many who just came to folk out. The two things that united everyone there, though, were a love of music and a desire to do good.

The “do good’ part is because of Canned Acoustica host Mark Austin‘s vision for the concert series. The cover charge of each CA show goes directly to charity, and the artists volunteer to play. For the first two concerts in the series, the entrance fee of two cans of food went to the Houston Food Bank – and the resulting donation was quite amazing, according to Houston Press. This time around, the cover charge of $5 – a totally nominal price for eight bands – went to the Japanese Red Cross Society’s efforts to aid those affected by the tsunami in March. By the end of the night, almost $700 was raised.

So basically, we all got to donate to a good cause, listen to some of the best and most original music in H-town in an intimate setting, and go out with our friends on a Thursday night. So, please allow me to simplify and say that Canned Acoustica III was fucking awesome.

To break it down for you, the line-up looked a little something like this:

The Handshake

Alicia Gianni

Hilary Sloan

Jeff Crowder

Holy Fiction

Two Star Symphony + Fat Tony

Tax the Wolf

The Manichean

Unfortunately, I was only able to catch four of the eight bands because of a nasty sore throat. But let me tell you guys, walking in to hear Hilary Sloan just belting it out during her fiddle + spoons duet – that made my week right there. I mean, that lady has a set of pipes on her.

After Hilary, Jeff Crowder and his band took the stage. Jeff’s band Deep Ella usually plays a slightly folksy brand of dancey pop, but with the acoustic set up, his performance was decidedly more mellow. The cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star” they did definitely hit a sweet spot for some dudes in the audience.

The rock-n’-folk band Holy Fiction – a group I’ve heard a lot of good things about but never seen play – went on then. The first thing I learned about them is that Evan Lecker has the voice of a very, very Southern angel, and he uses it with a vengeance. You could practically see all the girls’ knees go weak when that guy started his crooning. The six-piece then proceeded to rock it all the way through. They even threw in a cover of Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” at the end, which I sang along to shamelessly.

Then came the act that I had come to see – Two Star Symphony + Fat Tony. I started getting excited about this collaboration when word of it reached my little ears about a month ago, and – big surprise – they did not disappoint. While Two Star played acoustic versions of songs from Fat Tony’s album RABDARGAB, Tony spat in his smooth and rambling flow with DJ iPod Ammo backing him up. When everyone in the audience chimed in on the chorus of the Montrose anthem “Home”, the whole place suddenly felt like some kind of late-night drunken family barbecue, where everyone was friends with everyone and nothing hurt anymore. Am I being too sentimental for you? Sorry. Local supergroups just do that to me, I guess.

Although I had to shuffle on home after that, I can vouch that Tax the Wolf and The Manichean both put on great sets – as they are wont to do. I left Warehouse Live feeling good about myself and about Houston, thinking about the implications of an event like this. Although it’s not uncommon for artists to do “unplugged” sessions at smaller venues, the potential for artist development that events like Canned Acoustica and the Caroline Sessions (who also did a benefit for the Red Cross’ efforts in Japan) offer is something special. The casual, intimate settings of these concert series lets bands feel comfortable trying some of their more “in the works” pieces, and the convenience of playing acoustic in such venues forces some adaptation that could potentially lead to something entirely new and interesting (i.e., Two Star + Fat Tony). Like I said – my sentimentality may be running away with me. But I have a distinct feeling that these concert series could do some great things for Houston music.

I intend to keep some tabs on the development of both Canned Acoustica and the Sessions, and I suggest you do too.

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