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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Reel Big Fish & Less Than Jake Do It Their Way

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Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Reel Big FIsh: Well-executed, funny, and dependable.
Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Authority Zero
House of Blues
February 8, 2015

Maybe it's better that some bands never become uber-famous.

That's the selfish position of a music fan, a sign of our increasingly entitled culture for sure, but that doesn't mean it's wrong either. Consider this: the problem is not that Blink 182 is airing their dirty laundry for the world to see, it's that they're so popular their dirty laundry is news.

Perhaps I'm just mulling this over because Less Than Jake make a crack about who would be Mark and who would be Tom if they were to break up, and I'm selfishly glad that this is a moment I'm experiencing inside the House of Blues rather than a bigger alternative.

Then again, catching a ska show inside a venue as big as House of Blues is a bit wild itself. How many ska bands that formed in the '90s are popular enough not to be exiled to Clear Lake? (How many ska bands that formed in the '90s are still touring at all?) So yeah, to reference Reel Big Fish's "Trendy," not everyone is doing the fish, but enough of people are.


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Rakim and EPMD Take the Arena Theatre to Church

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Photos by Francisco Montes
Don't Sweat the Technique: Rakim took the Arena Theatre way, way back Saturday night.
Rakim, EPMD
Arena Theater
January 31, 2015

It is written in the Great Book of Hip-Hop that any faithful fan of rap music, if he or she is able, must make the Pilgrimage at least once to a Rakim concert. Practically since the dawn of rap, the God MC has been among the very best at it, reliably turning promising talents into suckers with his sharp-witted lyricism for more than three decades. Classic albums with his DJ partner Eric B. such as Paid in Full and Follow the Leader made him a legend of hip-hop's first epoch, and by popular consensus, he's pretty much a first-ballot hall-of-famer.

That doesn't mean he's one of hip-hop's biggest stars, of course. The game doesn't work like that. You aren't likely to hear a lot of Rakim on 97.9 The Box, and he isn't pulling in hordes of young rap fans on this winter's tour, either. But you will most certainly hear his tunes on Houston's new classic rap station Boom 92.1, which made Saturday night's concert at Arena Theater an ideal even for the station to promote. It was a crowd of mostly middle-aged, mostly black hip-hop heads who turned out, with a few fresher-faced folks in the mix ready to study the master.

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Cannibal Corpse & Behemoth Defile House of Blues

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Photos by Jack Gorman
The hair says it all: Cannibal Corpse's Corpsegrinder, mid-headbang
Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth
House of Blues
January 29, 2015

More than 25 years into their surprisingly rigor-resistant career, death-metal archetypes Cannibal Corpse still relish their status as outsiders. Thanks to their gore-soaked and gleefully offensive album covers and lyrics, the group has battled a long legacy of censorship around the globe, with bans on their work in Germany and Australia lifting only recently.

Even today, when Cannibal enjoys status as elder statesmen of a global death-metal scene that's as strong as ever, they're still rankling powerful gatekeepers. Just last year, the band had the plug pulled on them by the authorities at a gig in Russia and once again found their artwork and lyrics outlawed.

If that all seems like kind of a big fuss over a band that comes up with bonkers song titles like "I Cum Blood," you probably haven't seen the band live. The potency of the band's music and the sheer dexterity of their performances makes them easy to take seriously. As purveyors of death-metal spectacle go, they're pretty hard to top, and not just anybody is capable of sharing a stage with them.


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Mike Barfield's Funk Machine Was One for the Vice Squad

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Photos by Reginald Burns
Mike Barfield and his band got a little sideways at Under the Volcano
Mike Barfield
Under the Volcano
January 28, 2015

I missed the first song of Mike Barfield's set at Under the Volcano Wednesday night, but walking in midway through "Funky Popcorn," I immediately knew two things: The band was bringing the funk hard and dirty, and some pony-tailed blonde was into it enough to do a body-shake that would put many an exotic dancer to shame.

The attack was brutal. This was no Suffers with nine pieces to build a sound around; just three hungry Austin headhunters and one tacky, bodacious hillbilly soul man cut from Joe Tex/James Brown cloth. They were putting the sex factor in it, along with plenty of "we're just a bit over the redline" attitude. Guitarist Johnny Moeller (Fabulous Thunderbirds) locked into some deep, dark riffing and hips ground in the room again.


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Fred Eaglesmith's Traveling Circus Hits the Mucky Duck

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Photos by William Michael Smith
Fred Eaglesmith's tour bus is as rock and roll as he is.

Fred Eaglesmith
McGonigel's Mucky Duck
January 27, 2015

Nothing renews the faith in rock and roll like a Fred Eaglesmith show or a visit with the man himself. Just the sight of his beat-up Woodstock-ish, school-bus tour ride parked in front of the Mucky Duck is like seeing a big middle finger raised at the music business as it exists in 2015.

Eaglesmith is blissfully oblivious to industry trends. Mention Sturgill Simpson and he gives you that "Who?" look.

Shinyribs?

"Who's that?"

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