Friday night in Houston, Texas and ELK Records threw a bash at one of Houston’s oldest and most respected live music venues, Fitzgerald’s.  But not just any bash.  Oh no sir-eeee… They threw Women Who Rock and let me tell you something… ROCK they did.

ELK is known in town to focus heavily on Latin Rock acts (or English rock bands with Latin American members in them) and last night was no exception.  The evening was peppered with the sounds of jazz, R&B and blues mingled in with Latin sounds and in some songs even the Spanish language.

The evening was kicked off by Tipsy Kitten.  A local Houston quartet that focused mainly on creating a cool, soft vibe in the house.  The vocal harmonies of this band (mainly the two front women) are spot on and the chord progressions of their songs will take you places where you can imagine butterflies and rainbows as you lay in a field of grass that is just the right combination of comfortable and scratchy. This scratchy edge to their music can be felt in the powerful vocals of the lead singer as she tears through groove after groove with ease and confidence.  Curiously enough, the venue was quite full for their performance which is uncommon for an act starting their show at 8:00 pm in Houston (or anywhere else for that matter) which leads me to believe that they have already created a rather large following.  I know I am new convert.

Following Tipsy Kitten was Paty Loarti and The Cakes.  A very fun band with a strong rhythm section that you could feel pounding in your chest.  Paty is  Guatemalan singer-songwriter who was classically trained as a singer in Mexico.  She has a long resume of achievements which include a degree in Opera from the Escuela Nacional de Musica at the UNAM in Mexico.  This woman is no newcomer to the stage and you can discern this from her performance and her well trained voice.  Her musical style ranges broadly from Caribbean island music to classic 1970’s disco (which was a trip, by the way).  For some (me included) such style variety in one show from one artist can be a bit much.  I personally prefer to see more consistency in style from an artist or band in these types of shows.  Perhaps at a wedding or some other kind of event I can appreciate the variety so that everybody is pleased by at least one song but on a stage where people have come to see a band… again… this could just be me.

Regardless of this, Paty Loarti and The Cakes did not shy away from the stage and neither did the crowd.  People danced along and had a fantastic time as the band played song after song of catchy tunes and great melodies.

The stage then cleared out for the next act, Texture: Yellow.  This band, lead by front-woman and guitarist, Alyssia Dieringer has a lot of promise.  Their style incorporates a lot of jazz and R&B and you can see they know what they’re doing.  Alyssia animates the crowd easily with her chaotic nature on stage as she appears to stagger back and forth on her feet while strumming complex riffs and chords on the guitar.  The rest of the band, incredibly, follows her lead as she appears to improvise at times in what seems like random outbursts of creativity.  Her voice was not at its best last night so many of the higher notes escaped her but you could tell she knew where the notes needed to go.  They just didn’t get there.

One highlight of their performance was a sudden appearance by the lead singer of Mind Shrine (more about her in a bit) who danced along the stage as Texture: Yellow jammed to an R&B groove that could have been taken out of a late 60’s Otis Redding vibe.  She swayed to the music as if lost in it and the crowd loved it.  Another highlight was the lead singer’s mother coming up on stage and singing along to one of their songs.  This was done with a sense of humor and at the same time strong familiar pride that reached people as intended.  It was clear that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

This is a band that I will be paying attention to in the future.  It is evident that the potential for greatness is there and I know that when the lead singer finds a way to channel her chaos into a more cohesive and clean performance they will knock it out of the park.

Next on the bill was Mind Shrine.  Ok… this band… THIS band!

I had seen them performing before at smaller venues and although I was intrigued and liked what they were doing, last night they blew me and the rest of Fitzgerald’s away.

To start, the average age of the members of this band cannot exceed 19 years of age which gives credence to the old adage, “age has got NOTHING to do with it, man”.  This quartet plays a style of music that unapologetically takes whatever the hell it wants from 70’s soul while finding a way to remind me of Portishead.  They define it as a combination of psych, jazz, soul, rock and let me tell you, dear reader… they are right on the money.

The singer, Krystina takes to the stage like she was born on it.  She has a very natural star quality about her that shines through in her performance as she connects with the audience.  Her movements are graceful and her voice can change from soft as a breeze and heavy as a bulldozer in a split second.  Her performance reminded me of acts like Sade, Lauren Hill and Erykah Badu all rolled into one.  The band played tune after tune of smooth jams with outstanding precision and talent and the crowd ate it up like candy.  This band is young so don’t expect them to be doing any hardcore tours just yet but believe me, when they do, they will make a name for themselves that will long be remembered.  If you hear of them playing anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and see this band.  You will thank me for it.

Finally, the act that everyone was waiting for, Nina Diaz took the stage.  Wait… let me rephrase that…

Nina Diaz TOOK the stage.

This San Antonio, Texas native is also the singer/guitarist for Girl in a Coma alongside members of indie punk band FEA. She is releasing her solo debut album this coming October 28, 2016 and came to town to promote it.  She is by far, one of the strongest female live performers in Texas and when she takes the stage she doesn’t just take it, she commands it.

Her music is a blend of powerful rock songs with background dance tracks to which she sways her hips in a sensual, hipnotic way as she pounds the hell out of your ears with heavy guitar riffs and giant vocal melodies from a solid voice made for live performance.  There is a Joan Jett vibe about her that screams “this is what I do and you’re gonna like it, dammit” but with a much more melodic voice that captures your attention and makes you actually FEEL what she is singing about.  It’s probably no coincidence that she was signed to Joan Jett’s Black Heart record label.  This was not my first Nina Diaz experience but I can definitely say it was my best so far.

She started the night with her Telecaster guitar slung low and blasted out what was to be the mood for the rest of the evening.  She took immediate control of the crowd and kept us all there captivated like moths to a flame.  Her band kept up with her explosive energy song after song as they all integrated into the performance like a well oiled machine.

Nearing the end of her show the rest of the band walked offstage and Nina was left alone with her Telecaster to sing on her own.  Here she demonstrated her virtuosity as a vocalist as she displayed unlimited tonal range and a wide variety of dynamics.  All of Fitzgerald’s went silent as Nina made her way through the song and through all of us.  Where most artists in bands would look small after the other members leave them alone on stage, Nina Diaz seemed to grow larger as the stage appeared to become smaller and smaller.  Such was the level of her performance.

Finally, the band came out and they belted out an authoritative tribute to the late-great Freddie Mercury by playing “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen.  A fitting song for a performer who let us know that she had to be on a plane at 6 am the next morning for a gig in New York City but was pulling no punches this evening.  Her brilliant smile shinning loud as she sang the words “I’m having a good time” over and over.

Last night was an evening of wows, oohs and ahhs for sure.  All the bands that played kept the energy levels high and entertained their audience with precision and vigor.  This city produces some fantastic artists and when guest artists from other cities come, Houston artists show that they can take the stage with the best of them.

Once again ELK Records puts on a solid and entertaining show with last night’s Women Who Rock show at Fitzgerald’s.  I cannot wait to see what they do next.