Hot Summer Nights Reviews: Choux Choux, Norman Ba$e, El Combo Oscuro, Billy Glitter

Free music fest cools out record hot summer

Hot Summer Nights Reviews: Choux Choux, Norman Ba$e, El Combo Oscuro, Billy Glitter

Billy Glitter at Chess Club

Thursday, 9pm, 94 degrees

Ah, Chess Club. In contrast to the tiny room's dank and damp days as Plush, the venue was literally one of the coolest havens during Thursday's kickoff of Hot Summer Nights. As Billy Glitter (led by William Grover) and his backing quartet leaned into their first cut – an instrumental laden with Sixties psych-jazz grooves similar to the standards of Grover's recently dissolved ensemble, Nolan Potter's Nightmare Band – the A/C was hitting so hard that it was borderline uncomfortable.

Billy Glitter (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

That didn't last long. The temperature rose steadily as bodies packed the place in tandem with the music's rising intensity. Intermittent flurries of instantly memorable riffs – evocative of Grover's other current outfit, Magic Rockers of Texas – are BG's M.O., and they permeated 2020 singles "Blind Eye" and "Class Act," hinting at the band's wide-ranging influences. Following tunes still relied on some spectacularly psychedelic organs, but likewise took on Stooges-esque punk ("Texas Tollway Authority"), Black Sabbath-borne heaviness ("Holds No Weight"), Zappa-faithful freakouts ("Tomb Mold"), and … classic rock?

Yep, the undeniable influence was celebrated fully with a mid-set cover of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" – a sly nod to this HSN's namesake, and a compass pointing to the crux of Billy Glitter: blending familiar yet sonically diverse earworms. – D.B.H.

Mai Wells of Choux Choux (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Choux Choux at Chess Club

Thursday, 10pm, 91 degrees

No one will forget the name of the band they saw Thursday at Chess Club, as interactive vocalist Mai Wells offered learning clues. "Look down at your feet; what do you see?" asked the Choux Choux bandleader, later informing the stuffed audience that "chou" is French for cabbage, ahead of post-punky track "DayQuil." With only the one recorded single and live shows launched last year, the convergence of guitarist Emily Kolb (Sun Machine), drummer Gaby Rodriguez (Hey Cowboy!), and bassist Carol Gonzalez (Manifest Destiny's Child) drew enough interest to hit capacity.

Though those peering through the sidewalk windows may have missed the finer points of Wells' generally alien-humanitarian introductions ("This is about being the entire universe in a weird human shell"), the message conveyed via abstract face makeup, pasties, and white leather fringe. Swerves between spoken word, chatty group vocals, and sharp punk sneer smoothed out under the quartet's instrumentals. Disco strums and Western psychedelia-dusted grooves fell in step under a relentless beat, granted extra intrigue by Gonzalez's krautrock-leaning basslines.

Mid-set, an unexpected cover of chaotic comedy rocker Liam Lynch's 2002 "United States of Whatever" fit the Austin group's surf rock tones and snarky delivery, complete with an exaggerated New York accent. Among the evening's instrumental swapping – including Wells on bass and drummer Rodriguez on guitar – shared triple vocals up front provided the most powerful blast. If all members can fit on the narrow stage, Choux Choux proved a triangle formation hits hard at the corner of Seventh and Red River. – R.R.

Norman Ba$e (Photo by John Anderson)

Norman Ba$e at Valhalla

Friday, 11:40pm, 85 degrees

Norman Ba$e carries not giving a fuck to the nth degree. Twenty minutes 'til midnight, in the cleanest designer socks on Red River, he occupies the floor in front of the stage, blazed and talkin' shit.

"This ain't no commercial shit! This ain't no Mama Duke shit," Ba$e prefaces, presumably referencing the fellow Austin wordsmith being on the cover of the Chronicle. "This is real shit."

Over a grimy bassline, the Harlem-cultivated lyricist drops into "Big Daddy Kane, Vol. 1," riding the hook: "Gitchi-gitchi ya-ya/ Bitch I'm selling powder/ If you got that chicken then come and get your flour." The track lays out Ba$e's calling cards: slanged-out street themes laced with pop-culture wordplay, including referring to himself as the "Black Elmer Fudd" and threatening to "Leg drop your throat like Hulk Hogan."

Interspersing his live band cuts (drums, bass, and a supplementary MC) with a capellas, Ba$e's vocal tone and prosody are reminiscent of late genius MF DOOM. Rolling into "ODB," which blew up after being featured on a Thrasher skate video, the closing bar – "Flip more stones than that dog named Dino" – makes the crowd at KUTX personality Fresh Knight's HSN showcase get loud.

Scour YouTube or SoundCloud to find Ba$e's best tracks, like December's "Heavy D," which he stumbles to start – blaming being blunted – then salvages into the show's peak moment of Black poetics before hitting a hustle-ballad hanging on the line, "I don't want to live no more/ Sometimes I hear death knocking on my front door."

That brings the set – as engaging as it was rough around the edges, yet undeniably likable – to a close. Total duration: 12 minutes. – K.C.

John Dell of El Combo Oscuro (Photo by John Anderson)

El Combo Oscuro at Flamingo Cantina

Friday, midnight, 84 degrees

Heat? What heat? Eighty-four degrees 'round midnight felt like no weather at all Friday night of HSN, and that El Combo Oscuro both filled Sixth Street sanctuary the Flamingo Cantina then sustained its perpetual motion through an hourlong set demonstrated music's immutable E=mc² formula in real time on a fine ATX summer night: entertainment equals music-coupling squared.

Any arts scene grows in concentric circles – of eras, groupings, genres. Those rings in the capital's south-of-the-border music scene count El Tule toward the center of the local alt-Latin universe. Acts from Northern Mexico rarely penetrate Austin's westside media, but homegrown Hispanic bands making the rounds of local rock clubs increase in numbers quarterly. On one mano, count Grupo Fantasma, Como Las Movies, Money Chicha, Superfónicos, Nemegata.

And, of course, El Tule affiliates El Combo Oscuro.

Frontman for both, John Dell's Spanish pierces high and tart, and in the latter sextet – three pieces percussive (congas, timbales, drums), except keyboards also count in that category, as does the singer when he picks up hand percussion – the cumbias under him sizzle and zap in equal electric current. From the instant that ECO's psych-tinged razzle-dazzle rumbled on, all bodies in the double-decker dance hall began grooving. Movement attracts women, women attract everyone, and presto, instant ecosystem.

Dell's spidery guitar, Peter Fuller's brick-house bass, Mauro Lopez's lysergic detailing, and Sevylla del Mazzo's conga click track animated instrumentals and chanters indiscriminately, most notably El Tule's "El Sonámbulo." No sleepwalking here. – R.H.

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Hot Summer Nights, Choux Choux, Norman Ba$e, El Combo Oscuro, Billy Glitter, Flamingo Cantina, Valhalla, Chess Club

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