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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Justin Timberlake Stakes His Claim as Pop's Top Dog

Photos by Greg Noire
None More Smooth: Justin's show Monday was free of wardrobe malfunctions.
Justin Timberlake
Toyota Center
December 1, 2014

Ten years ago, Justin Timberlake played a show in Houston that shocked the world. It was the halftime show for Super Bowl 38 headlined by JT's longtime friend Janet Jackson. He popped in at the end to sing "Rock Your Body," and that's when her breast popped out. And thus, we will never forget the line "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song."

Timberlake's concert Monday night at Toyota Center was nowhere near that controversial, but it was a grand spectacle of lights, dancing and music. A super-show, if you will. With a massive stage that included a video board that extended from one side of the arena to the other, Justin and his band the Tennessee Kids provided one of the most spectacular sets I've ever seen in Houston.

With the band elevating onto the stage, Justin appeared in the center of the platform lit by a single spotlight above. He was dressed in a black suit (no tie) and white sneakers, and opened with "Pusher Love Girl." The screams in the arena were piercing; I definitely picked the wrong show to forget my ear plugs.

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Trombone Shorty Brings Pure New Orleans Swagger to House of Blues

photos by Marco Torres
Trombone Shorty @ House of Blues - Houston.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Soul Rebels Brass Band
House of Blues
November 30, 2014

On Episode 6 of Dave Grohl's new HBO series Sonic Highways, a four-year-old Troy Andrews is shown onstage with the legendary Bo Diddley at New Orleans' annual Jazz Fest. From busking for tips in Jackson Square to now headlining his hometown's signature music festival as well as ACL and Voodoo Fest, the horn player known as Trombone Shorty has been involved in music at a high level for a very long time. Right away you can see and feel that he doesn't play for the money or fame...he plays due to a basic need to express himself and represent his hometown to the fullest.

With that tradition and mystique on hand, Sunday night Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue hit the stage at House of Blues with a furious swagger and mighty loud boom. Shorty performs as though he is part James Brown and part Jimi Hendrix, a virtuoso on the trombone and trumpet, with an unrivaled ability to get on up and get on the good foot.

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Point Blank at Numbers, 11/22/2014

Photos by Derrek Barlow
SPC stalwart Point Blank celebrated his birthday with a release party for his new double album Saturday.
Point Blank
November 22, 2014

The weather was ugly in Houston on Saturday night, with rolling thunderstorms dumping buckets of rain on the city and keeping a lot of folks indoors for the evening. But if the South Park Coalition could be stopped by a little rain, they never would have made it nearly 30 years as the foundation of this city's underground rap scene. One of the SPC's own, Point Blank, was celebrating the release of a new double album on Saturday, and the show happened to be his official birthday party as well.

Accordingly, a nice crowd of friends, family and fans (the lines between them tend to blur with the SPC) turned up with umbrellas in tow to hang out, hear the new songs and maybe even bust a move or two.

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Method Man & Redman at House of Blues, 11/17/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
World Wide Rollers: Method Man (left) and Redman
Method Man & Redman, B-Real, Berner, Mick Jenkins
House of Blues
November 17, 2014

Fans had every excuse in the book to skip last night's stop on the Smokers' Club "World Wide Rollers" tour. It fell on a Monday, for one thing, and at the venue with the strictest anti-smoking policy in town...not exactly an ideal fit for a package tour that's all about the stickiest of the icky. And on a night when smokers were forced to keep the blunt cherried just to keep warm, too!

So, maybe it was only ever going to be the hardcore fans -- the real, no-hope stoner types -- who turned up at House of Blues last night, and even they wouldn't be in much of a mood to scream and shout. Getting this party to rock was going to be a job for professionals.

Luckily, a few showed up. After more than 20 years in the game, decorated East Coast veterans Method Man and Redman have refined the hip-hop live experience to a clean-burning science, and they had Cypress Hill's B-Real along for the road trip -- possibly because he rolls the best joints. If this crew couldn't get a few hoodies unzipped inside House of Blues, we were in for a long night.

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