Saturday Night: Buxton at the Continental Club
Buxton's songs project an odd kind of innocence for a band that has been getting pretty seasoned the past couple of years. It's been five since they appeared out of the La Porte/Deer Park area with A Family Light, a mini-album that distinguished itself from not only anything in the local scene but also the alt-country world at large with songs of unusual fragility, dexterity and even grace.
In some respects, not much has changed. Buxton has grown into a weekend-night headliner at mid-level local venues like the Continental and Walters, and is now coming off 12 months of touring last year's New West debut Nothing Here Seems Strange. Saturday they sounded plenty road-tested, but struck the same balance of wide-eyed wonder and spooky melodies that was there at the start.
For a band to survive five years in this music scene without allowing more bitterness and cynicism to creep into its music is both admirable and a little perplexing. This is not an especially easy town for any emerging band to stick around, let alone one that can come off as mousy -- or at least in need of a little more grit -- at times. But Buxton continues to charm its existing fans and win over new ones.
Singer Sergio Trevino can sound tormented or clenched, but never angry and rarely heartbroken. The word I keep coming back to is one that hardly anybody uses anymore, but the way he sings, it fits: mooning, "to gaze dreamily and sentimentally at something or someone." Trevino does a lot of gazing in Buxton's songs, both into the future and the past.
But that's not all that's going on. Buxton's songs build slowly, and can take some time to unfold, but the payoff is usually satisfying. More than that, sometimes -- one single chord change, bridging one part of "Fingertips" to another, has since been rattling around my head all weekend. One of the handful of new songs the band trotted out Saturday, "Tarzana Jane" (I think), is about as close as they've ever come to a good ol' country song.
I know the band is hardly begging for career advice -- and in fact is even now on a lengthy tour of Hawaii and the West Coast with Los Lonely Boys -- but that one song left me wishing Buxton would make a real honky-tonk record sometime, or at least do a whole set of Merle Haggard or Johnny Paycheck the way they did Talking Heads last Halloween. They have it in them, for sure.
As musicians, Buxton has evolved into one of Houston's tightest units. But if anything, they can be a little hesitant to really cut loose with a good devil-in-the-woodpile jam that should be every alt-country band's birthright. Saturday it took them the whole set to do that, on the last song, "Feathers."
Once or twice Saturday, I caught myself wondering what would happen if Buxton ever got mean. But they're just not that kind of band. Not right now, at least, and it's hard to imagine them ever turning into that kind of band. But the kind of darkness that crept into one of the newer songs Saturday, the tentatively titled "Hole in the Back of Your Head," suggested that Buxton is about to turn some kind of corner.
Personal Bias: Watching Buxton develop into one of Houston's bigger-drawing local bands has been somewhat like watching some distant younger cousins grow up. Even though you don't know them all that well, you see a little bit of yourself in them and it's hard not to root for them.
The Crowd: Disheveled-looking dudes, scattered couples, the Cactus Music crew and Little Joe Washington.
Overheard in the Crowd: "It's a bar!" Yes, it was.
Random Notebook Dump: What was up with all the video cameras?