Hozier Fights the Good Fight Against a Chatty Houston Crowd

Photos by Jack Gorman

Warehouse Live
March 19, 2k15

For about five songs it looked like Hozier's debut performance in Houston was going to be a triumph.

He hit the stage and from the start he and his bandmates sounded great. The songs early in the set were upbeat and catchy and just flat out good, the types of songs you long to hear at concerts sometimes. The crowd was loud in their approval, almost louder than the music on stage, and people seemed really in to singing along.

And then it happened. He slowed it down. He got quiet. He played a beautiful duet with cellist Alana Henderson. And it was at that moment that the dragon that is talkative Houston crowds reared its ugly head.

The show would recover, eventually, but this was probably not the dress rehearsal anyone was hoping for before he returns to town next month.

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Ariana Grande's Rodeo Debut Is Just Plain Weird

Photos by Marco Torres
Ariana Grande
NRG Stadium
March 17, 2015

Ariana Grande has a great voice. Add to that some well-produced pop songs with some talented collaborators, and it's not exactly a mystery as to why she's so popular. Judging by the crowd at NRG Stadium Tuesday night, people freaking love Ariana Grande.
Now that that is out of the way...

What's worse: a bad show or a mundane one? This is a hard question to answer, because there are arguments for both. And it's worth considering here, at the start, because Grande herself did not put on a bad show. There were things about how that show was put on that were bad, but she herself was, at worst, OK.

This is not an attempt to damn with faint praise. There was never a moment when Grande was onstage where you would think, "this sucks." But is that enough to make a show good?

And when you're this insanely popular, does a good or bad show even matter?

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Bush Fights Nostalgia-Act Tag as Hard as a Band Can

Photos by Eric Sauseda
Gavin Rossdale still does the little things to enhance fans' experience.
Bush, Theory of a Deadman
Bayou Music Center
March 13, 2015

Who among us knew that Bush released a new album last year? It's true: Man on the Run came out October and peaked at No. 33 on the charts. You probably didn't hear about it because it wasn't the type of album that gets a band press 20 years after their debut; simply put, it's neither a comeback album nor is it a return to form. It's simply a collection of songs most people will ignore.

This is not exactly a shame either. While certainly not a bad album, it's not particularly remarkable either. It's the type of album that might get a band a SXSW invitation if it was their debut release, but they'd end up playing at a showcase you'd never be caught dead at.

And yet, there's something respectable about Man on the Run existing. A lot of bands release albums two decades into their career as an excuse to get out on the road. They'll play a song from it to a mostly apathetic crowd somewhere in the middle of the show, and then it's back to the hits.

That's just not how Bush operates. And by living and performing in the present, everything just sort of works.

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Fall Out Boy Soars in Rodeo Debut

Photos by Marco Torres
Fall Out Boy
NRG Stadium
March 8, 2015

It was weird when the Rodeo released the genre calendar to tease this year's musical lineup and there was no mention of rock music on it. It's not that you can't have a rocking good time with country music, it just seemed odd. Were there really no rock bands they could come down to grace the revolving stage?

Then the lineup came out and there was Fall Out Boy, placed in one of the pop slots along with Pitbull and Ariana Grande. It's weird company to be in, but Fall Out Boy are no strangers to weird company. They are touring with Wiz Khalifa this summer, after all.

But credit to the rodeo for the booking; Fall Out Boy may not be for everyone, but it's good to see rock music of some kind getting a seat at the table, even if it's a seat that comes less from the band's pop-punk roots and more from their big pop hooks.

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Alan Jackson Right on Time for Huge Rodeo Crowd

Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Alan Jackson
NRG Stadium
March 8, 2015

I do not have a dog in the fight for the soul of country music. To be honest, I doubt the fight even really exists. Nashville is in the business of making money, and if they can squeeze out a few extra record sales by pitting the old guard versus the new, real country versus bro country, it's not a stretch to think that someone, somewhere is getting a little under the table to stoke the fires.

But I get it. You wait months for the Rodeo lineup to arrive only to learn that Florida Georgia Line is still a thing -- a Value Wednesday thing, but a thing all the same -- and then to make matters worse, Luke Bryan is the first Rodeo act to score a sellout. If you're a traditional country purist, it's enough to make you weep in your beer like your lady just ran off and your dog just died.

Luckily for those country-music fans who don't bump Lil' Wayne in their pickup trucks, Alan Jackson is still standing, still singing and still making trips down to Houston for rodeo season.

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Meghan Trainor Carried Herself Like a Superstar Bigger Than House of Blues

Photos by Jack Gorman
Meghan Trainor, Sheppard
House of Blues
February 25, 2015

It's easy to look at pop music from a conspiratorial mindset. If the industry wants an act to get big, it eventually will. Whether they take a gem and polish the edges into something marketable or create something in the lab, money is being invested somewhere to get someone into your ears.

Unless, of course, you're a one-hit wonder. Sometimes an artist lucks into a song so good that a label invests in it, the entire time knowing that they'll be tossing the artist aside as soon as they've squeezed all the blood out of the stone.

If you haven't seen Meghan Trainor in concert yet, it's easy to write her off as a one-hit wonder. Surely that "All About That Bass" girl isn't going to have a real career, right?

Time may eventually render this statement silly, but here goes: get ready to be stuck with Miss Trainor for at least a few more years, because she's not going away anytime soon.

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Vast Majority, MyDolls Bring Houston Punk History to Life

Photos by Nathan Smith
Vast Majority's blast from the past was more just a blast at Walters Friday.
Vast Majority, Pleasure 2, Killer Hearts, MyDolls
Walter's Downtown
February 20, 2015

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, we're all more or less used to the idea that our wacky teenage hijinks can be recorded for posterity and live on forever. But back in 1979, when Scott Telles and his Bellaire High School buds formed first-wave Houston punk act Vast Majority, analog immortality was probably the furthest thing from their minds. They were just trying to jam out like their safety-pinned heroes and get in on the political and cultural outrage of the day.

More than 35 years later, though, folks from around the world are still getting off to their teenaged outbursts. Case in point: Italian label Rave Up Records recently reissued the bulk of Vast Majority's recorded output, all of which fits on a single LP. To celebrate, Telles put the band back together -- or something like it, anyway -- and booked a gig at Walters on Friday to revel in the auditory nostalgia with some old pals and maybe sell a couple of records.

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Dada Life Took Houston to the Land of Champagne, Bananas & Pillow Fights

Photos by Jack Gorman
Dada Life always keep bananas handy.
After Action Report
Performers: Dada Life, Henry Fong, Bixel Boys
Location: The Dada Land Compound (Stereo Live)
Date: February 20, 2015

Country: Dada Land
Population: 2 (Permanent); Millions (Potentially)
Chief Imports: Bananas, Champagne
Chief Exports: Massive Beats

When I was tasked with the assignment of filing a report on a trip to Dada Land, I knew I was in for a long night. We've all heard the rumors of what goes on once you leave your home country behind and step in to their world of bananas, champagne and happy violence. Cultures that celebrate youth and hedonism are nothing new in the world, but Dada Land takes that celebration to its overly sugared extreme.

One cannot talk about Dada Land without talking about the dual dictators that run it: Dada Life. They travel the world, offering crowds a temporary glimpse in to the world they've created before pushing them back out in to the reality that makes up their day-to-day life. What are we to make of these performances? Is it over-the top-spectacle? Is it propaganda for the Dada Land? Is Dada Life trying to indoctrinate the world's youth to in hopes of making them the youth of Dada Land?

If these shows are for a nefarious purpose, we should all be concerned, because a trip, however temporary, to Dada Land is a fantastic time.

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The Blasters Show the Young'uns How It's Done

Photos by Jason Wolter
Phil Alvin looked lean and mean leading the Blasters Saturday night.
The Blasters
Continental Club
February 14, 2015

Old age and treachery will overcome youth and exuberance every time. No one who saw the Blasters, the everlasting kings of early-'80s roots-rock, at the Continental Valentine's night has much doubt about the truth of this old saw about the value of experience and perspective.

Take leader Phil Alvin, fresh off a 2015 Grammy nomination. Less than two years ago he suffered a heart incident that nearly killed him while on tour in Spain, but Saturday night he looked lean and mean and ready to whip somebody's ass for the slightest transgression. While Alvin evidenced a slight limp in his gait as he climbed the stairs to the stage, these days he projects the gravitas of the heads on Mt. Rushmore. He roared lines like "one bad stud" like the young lion of old.

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Enabler Turns Way Up at Walters

Photos by Nathan Smith
Tuesday night tinnitus: Enabler's Jeff Lohrber
Enabler, Call of the Void, Blasé, STRESS33
Walters Downtown
February 10, 2015

It's a rather small crowd that turns out to hear extreme sounds at Walters on a Tuesday night in February -- one that typically shows up with callouses on their cochleas. But even the saltier veterans of the hardcore haunt went home with their ears ringing like a tardy bell last night. The tinnitus would come courtesy of the Ohioans in Enabler, purveyors of a bitter fusion of hardcore and metal that somehow manages to sound angrier than either. There was no use wearing earplugs. Things were about to get rather loud.

The first act of the night was the local outfit STRESS33, who raked the early arrivals over the coals with a nasty blend of piercing noise and sloppy power-violence. At stage left, a guy in a colorful mask and shades manipulated some kind of digital controller that produced grating squeals over the band's thoughtfully destroyed guitar crunch. As sheer sonic assault, it was a terrific warmup.

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