Rakim and EPMD Take the Arena Theatre to Church

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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KONGOS Bring South African Flair to Warehouse Live

Categories: Last Night

Photos by Jack Gorman
Warehouse Live
January 31, 2015

Headlining their first-ever North American tour, KONGOS nearly sold out Warehouse Live this past Saturday. The band is currently on tour in support of their debut album, Lunatics, which was re-released last year when the band signed a deal with Epic Records (read: Sony), though it has been available in the band's homeland of South Africa since 2012.

Comprised of four brothers whose last name is used as the band's name, KONGOS are riding the wave of success brought on by their radio singles "Come With Me Now" and "I'm Only Joking." The latter better showcases the band's ambition, talent and potential, while the former appeals to the back of the crowd.

While excessive hype could have undermined the group and set fans up for disappointment, KONGOS instead used their newfound success to bring North American audiences an immensely entertaining live performance.

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Cannibal Corpse & Behemoth Defile House of Blues

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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TV Girl Tops a Bacchanalia of Overstimulation at Fitz

Susan Wyatt
Children of Pop's Chase DeMaster reinforces Jam Master Jay's Notion that a DJ can be a one-man band.
If Greek Bacchanalian festivals existed today, delirious dancing would be performed by stark raving madmen and women filled with MDMA instead of wine, listening to the clanging of beats and displaced rhythms, replacing the terrifying ancient custom of uprooting large trees with celebratory joy. Today's partakers of Dionysian worship display their reverence passively, clapping their hands and bobbing their heads.

Moments of overstimulation and elements of gaudiness coupled with pure unadulterated joy lined Thursday night's show at Fitzgerald's, featuring Austin's scintillating Sphynx, Houston musical auteurs Children of Pop, and L.A.'s TV Girl. Madness ensued, in a good way, generating joy felt by all those who welcomed it.

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

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

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.


"Who's that?"

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Something for Everyone at Houston Record Convention

Categories: Last Night

Photos by David Sackllah
Even in the early afternoon, the Houston Record Convention saw healthy foot traffic.
As I walked into the Houston Hilton Southwest to go to the first Houston Record Convention of the year, I saw a man walking beside me in an Iron Maiden shirt and a couple in matching Led Zeppelin shirts, leaving with a bag of records and excitedly talking about the new Madonna records they just bought. I knew I had come to the right place.

For a record collector, or just anyone with an interest in vinyl who happens to own an old turntable, walking into a record store must be a similar feeling for when a ten-year old walks into a Lego store. Crates of records stood everywhere, with thousands of vinyl discs surrounding you.

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The Suffers Celebrate New EP With Sold-Out Party

Categories: Last Night

Photos by Greg Noire
Suffers singer Kam Franklin had no trouble being heard over Saturday's sold-out crowd.
The Suffers
January 24, 2015

Saturday night at Fitzgerald's was a celebratory event for the Suffers, the local soul band who has spent the last week promoting the release of their debut EP, Make Some Room. The band, who played a Red Bull Sound Select show at Warehouse Live last month, sold out the upstairs room at the historic venue, and the excitement was palpable.

Most bands who play there don't get big introductions before taking the stage, but the Suffers had two notable Houstonians take the microphone to express their admiration. First up was esteemed rapper and advice columnist Willie D, who was giddy as he led the
crowd in singing along the theme songs of '80s sitcoms like Cheers and Good Times. He referred to the Suffers as one of his favorite bands of all time, and gave a warm shoutout to FPSF before bringing out Pegstar and Fitzgerald's owner Jagi Kaital to introduce the band. Kaital proceeded to give an impassioned speech about the evening and what it meant to him.

"I want you to realize what we're celebrating tonight," Kaital said. "When was the last time a Houston band sold out Fitzgerald's without putting an EP out? When was the last time an Austin band did that? This band is going to be huge. One day we'll be wearing shirts that say 'Keep Austin where it belongs, 186 miles away.'"

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John Doe Makes It Easy to Root for the Underdog

Photos by David Ensminger
L-R: Cindy Wasserman and John Doe tore it up at the Duck Thursday night.
John Doe, Jesse Dayton
McGonigel's Mucky Duck
January 22, 2015

With his rich baritone quiver and chiseled American looks, John Doe has been an uber-indie songwriter who survived the swells of his bands X and Knitters while honing a singular style all his own. As co-helmsman and titanic presence in X, he became a gutsy, savvy working-class songster effortlessly channeling Bukowski and the Beats in the ragged glory years of L.A. nights at the Masque and Whisky a Go-Go, where plentiful sweat, scrawled manic graffiti, and mangled three-chord wonders held sway in 1978.

As a gripping poet at heart and fluid-fingered bass player, he remains an unparalleled force that made formerly 'unheard music,' lurid punk with doses of rockabilly and country twang, go viral in the days of watered down college-rock. In the middle of hardcore's buzz-cut scorn and Hollywood Boulevard's leotarded cock-rock, X held their ground as ductile anchors as both the bile and glam swirled.

Decades later, as beards and skinny pants reign, Doe's authentic underdog spirit keeps aglow in the digital landscape of fakery and fuss. He is the grain of salt in the knowledge economy.

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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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