Machine Head Powers Through 20 Years of Metal at Fitz

Photos by Jack Gorman
The hair says it all.
Machine Head
January 22, 2015

The line stretching around the block outside of Fitzgerald's on Thursday night was the kind that makes you wonder how the heck everyone is going to fit into the creaky, old place. It was a truly intimidating mass of people, shivering in black, and if anyone driving past wondered just who this lip-ringed throng had assembled to hear, they didn't have to wonder long.

"Machine Head!" screamed somebody, as he stared at his own breath. "Machine fuckin' Head!" hollered another. "Lincoln Durham!" yelled a third guy, pimping the night's downstairs act. But that chant didn't catch on.

After eight albums and 20 years touring the world's heavy-metal strongholds, Machine Head is just a little too big in Houston to be playing Fitzgerald's, even on a weeknight. The club was about to become uncomfortably full. As the long line slowly shuffled up the stairs, they were greeted by hellish red stage lights and the sobering realization that crammed-full crowd would offer no escape from the wild pit certain to erupt greeted fans.

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Malevolent Force Slams Into Fitz Saturday Night

Photos by Nathan Smith
Houston's Malevolent Force stirred up plenty of hair-whipping Saturday night.
Malevolent Force, Legion, Annihilist, Thraxis
January 3, 2015

For some folks, cold and rainy weather is just another convenient excuse to skip out on a local show -- even a free local show. For true heavy-metal disciples, though, the cold and the wet of a Saturday night in January is merely an opportunity to dig more and more leather out of the closet and cinch it tight with an ammo belt or two.

It was the latter sort of people who took over the upstairs portion of Fitzgerald's two nights ago when local power-thrash maniacs Malevolent Force assembled a sturdy lineup of like-minded longhairs to help celebrate the release of their debut full-length, Descent Into the Abyss. A great many beers were consumed, and a few thrown, as Houston's lively crop of thrash-meisters convened to get gnarly together.

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Lights All Night Is Worth Driving to Dallas to Dance All Night

Photos by Cory Garcia
Big room, big stage, big crowds at Lights All Night 2014.
"Huge" is the first thing that comes to mind when you walk into the ballroom holding the main stage (dubbed Mothership 2.0) of Lights All Night. While it's almost certainly -- sorry, I forgot my measuring tools at home -- not the biggest festival stage in Texas, it looks the part; open space has a way of making the massive look less so because it lacks a frame of reference.

It's hard not to be impressed by what Lights All Night has managed to build over the last five years. From El Paso to Houston and many points in between, Texas has a lot of EDM festivals; and Something Wicked is certainly right on its heels, but every year Lights All Night shows up on the final weekend to remind everyone who rules the Texas EDM festival scene.

This year the trek for those heading up to Dallas was not easy, rain and traffic being what they are, but that's the price you pay sometimes. As is custom, here's a recap of what two days of following the lights entails.

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Cheap Trick Are Classic in the Best Possible Way

Photos by Jack Gorman
Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander, shrugging off another snub by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cheap Trick
House of Blues
December 17, 2014

In rock and roll, as in most genres of popular music, there are benefits that come with youth. You have more energy, odds are good you haven't hit your creative peak yet and, if you're lucky, you haven't been in the world long enough to become completely cynical. There's something to be said about writing, recording and performing knowing you still have most of your life ahead of you.

But there's also something to be said for our rock and roll survivors, the road dogs who have put in decades doing this whole music thing we all know and love. Yeah, it's easy to pick on those bands limping through playing the Scout Bar/Concert Pub circuit, but if you can play and you've got the songs, why not do what you love?

And so we come to Cheap Trick, who can still play and who do have the songs and have been doing this whole rock and roll thing for four decades now. And somehow still have the energy to go out and put on a hell of a show.

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Opeth and In Flames Storm Warehouse Live, Swedish-Style

Photos by Francisco Montes
In Flames has long since ditched the death growls, but Friday's rabid Houston fan base didn't seem to care.
Opeth, In Flames, Red Fang
Warehouse Live
December 12, 2014

A Houston winter must be a strange thing for a Swede to behold. The only real discernible change from autumn is that the mosquitoes fly south every year. The air outside of Warehouse Live on Friday was a good 40 degrees or so warmer than the weather in Stockholm right now, and it was a hell of a lot warmer inside, where fans crowded in to catch a couple of Scandinavia's longest-running international metal acts.

Though Opeth and In Flames might hail from a region that is fiercely proud of its contributions to the uglier, more extreme end of the metal spectrum, both groups have largely eschewed the brutal trappings of death metal in recent years, pursuing instead an interest in their homeland's popular and pleasant strains of pop and folk. The audience that showed up to see them last week didn't always resemble a death-metal crowd, but it certainly looked big, with people crammed into the big ballroom from the stage to the doors.

If there's been a larger heavy-metal show at Warehouse all year, I didn't see it, and I saw quite a few.

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RL Grime and Lunice Prove to Be Monsters of Bass

Photos by Julian Bajsel
Behold, the hivemind.
RL Grime, Lunice
Warehouse Live
December 10, 2014

From recognizable forms such as trap and dubstep to the (potentially made up) more nebulous genres like deathstep and heaven trap, bass music is on the rise. While it may not have its hooks into popular culture the way that more established genres like house and trance do, if you've spent any time at dance shows over the past few years, you'll have noticed more and more bass music.

Teens and young adults love the stuff. This is no surprise, as the current generation is one of the first that has known rap music their entire life. Rap isn't edgy or foreign anymore; if it's good enough for Tim McGraw, it's good enough for Middle America.

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Music Trends That Should Stay In 2014

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records
Will we hear even a little less about Taylor in 2015? One can only hope...
Despite what the editors of Rolling Stone want you to believe, 2014 was not, in fact, "another great year for music." In all honesty, it was one of the worst on record for new creations that innovated or inspired. Sure, there were some highlights: Jack White, FKA Twigs, Schoolboy Q, St Vincent. But overall, the year was somewhat of a bust.

The good news is that there is no need to abandon hope for popular music. All that needs to happen is that these dreadful pieces of 2014 need to stay on this side of the calendar when the clock hits midnight on December 31. Here's to 2015!

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D.R.I. Stokes a Thirsty Crowd of Thrash Maniacs

Photos by Nathan Smith
Watch Your Head: Veterans D.R.I. presided over a raucous bill of vintage thrash-punk Friday night.
D.R.I., Owl Witch, Thraxis, Gallion, Legion
Scout Bar
December 5, 2014

While some of Texas' latest and greatest hardcore bands whipped up sweaty mayhem downtown at Fallcore on Friday, a couple of Houston's earliest and most crucial practitioners of the style were proving they can still rip it up with the best of them. D.R.I., those salty, speedy veterans of bygone Houston haunts like the OMNI and the Island, turned Scout Bar into their own personal thrash zone, replete with all of the circle pits, stage dives and domestic beers that that implies.

A small army of local speed freaks were on hand to help pay tribute to the local legends from the long-haired side of the punk/metal divide. Legion, Gallion and Thraxis had heads banging early and often on the evening as the crowd continued to file in off the foggy streets of Clear Lake. Visibility inside Scout Bar wasn't a heck of a lot better, with Owl Witch's powerful smoke machines turning the stage into a smoggy and mysterious realm for their blistering set.

All the smoke and skulls proved a good fit for Owl Witch's classic thrash sound. During a nimble shred solo by guitarist/vocalist Venom on his angular BC Rich, I found myself flattened by some metal maniac up front. Knocked the wind right out of me, and the Newcastle out of my hand. If you're going to thrash with the big boys, folks, remember to keep your head on a swivel.

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Usher's Spot-On Parade of Party-Rockers and Panty-Droppers

Categories: Aftermath

Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Unlike at Art Basel, Usher kept his smartphone to himself Friday at Toyota Center.
Usher, August Alsina
Toyota Center
December 5, 2014

You can have an epiphany about R&B at 26 right? Like, you can glance over all the mix CDs you made with the intent to woo a girl and then immediately wonder where it all went to hell, right? Right.

Usher, for all intents and purposes, is the last of a dying breed.

He'll forever be the first singer -- or maybe second, give or take your opinion of R. Kelly musically at this very second -- in my lifetime that girls gush over. Damn the B2K era that followed him, Usher's My Way and 8701 albums taught me plenty, namely how you're never supposed to tell a woman, "Hey, you're sort of like this girl I used to like but then she turned out crazy...wait, where are you going?"

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Common & Jay Electronica Show Some Love at Warehouse Live

Categories: Aftermath

Photos by Marco Torres
Common and Jay Electronica weren't shy about their mutual love for the late J. Dilla Tuesday night.
Common, Jay Electronica
Warehouse Live
December 2, 2014

The mystery behind Jay Electronica is that he's a supreme talent, a nomad who for reasons only known to himself is holding fans at bay with an album he promised to deliver five years ago. When you see him flash a gold-tooth grin carrying plates of food backstage at Warehouse Live, there's zero pressure from label executives and fans to deliver Act II: Patents of Nobility. Instead it's just him, appearing like a conduit for higher thought and good old-fashioned Southern-boy charm.

Electronica is the pride of New Orleans; much like Common is one of the prides of Chicago. Both of them on a bill equates to tracks devoid of gimmicks and saccharine. The two of them together on any bill may be a dream for anyone driving a car that spells out "LYRICS SHOULD DOMINATE RAP DISCUSSIONS," and on a damp Tuesday night in Houston, fans got their wish.

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