Jamey Johnson at House of Blues, 4/3/2014

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Photos by Groovehouse
Jamey Johnson
House of Blues
April 3, 2014

Can you sing along to "The Yellow Rose of Texas"?

Don't be silly; of course you can. Right? But try it, and it's tougher than you think.

Jamey Johnson knows the words, as well as those "O Susannah," which is of similar vintage and perhaps even closer to the Alabama-born singer's heart. But Thursday's show at House of Blues, which spanned 25 songs over more than two hours, was no history lesson. It could have been louder at first and was a little slow to get going, but soon enough it became raw, potent and vital, a welcome reminder of just how restorative country music can be at times, even if the song happens to be Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."


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Merle Haggard at Stafford Centre, 4/1/2014

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Photos by Jim Bricker
Merle Haggard
Stafford Centre
April 1, 2014

Bet you 20 bucks that Keith Richards really digs Merle Haggard. He is one cool cat.

The Hag doesn't say much onstage at first, and barely moves apart from gesturing to one band member or another when it's time for a solo. His low-key style has been both profoundly influential -- witness the star-stuffed new Workingman's Poet tribute album, not to mention the big Hag salute scheduled for this Sunday's ACM awards -- and almost completely ignored, at least when it comes to what makes a country-music "star" these days.

For the Hag, who also happens to turn 77 years old on Sunday, that means a precision-tuned road band that still plays hundreds of gigs a year and songwriting as simple and intricate as a Swiss watch. Tuesday night at Stafford Centre, he and longtime band the Strangers played 20 songs to a rowdy but respectful crowed that loudly acknowledged almost every instrumental solo, and was otherwise unshy about expressing general approval. It was that show where people around you sang along softly and "woo-hoo"-ed liberally instead of talking to their friends. Imagine that.


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J-Dawg and Propain at Warehouse Live, 3/30/2014

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Photos by Nathan Smith
Propain
J-Dawg, Propain
Warehouse Live
March 30, 2014

Dallas can be a nice place to visit sometimes, especially in the springtime. The air is a little fresher up north, and the allergens a little less intense. After a few days spent relaxing and grilling outdoors with a few friends and family in Big D, though, I found myself missing the smog and the street construction just a tad. For someone raised on Houston's creole blend of cultures and poisons, the street flavor of Dallas will probably always be found thin and lacking by comparison.

Luckily enough for a rap fan coming off the long trip down I-45, Warehouse Live provided the perfect palate cleanser on Sunday night: a double-dose of Houston hip-hop featuring two contrasting yet complimentary performance styles. Boss Hogg Outlawz capo J-Dawg and New Houston mixtape star Propain might be separated by a few years and face tattoos, but they're both now increasingly storied fixtures in the Texas rap scene. And more importantly, they both sound like only Houston can.


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Schoolboy Q at Warehouse Live, 3/25/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Schoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, Vince Staples, Audio Push, DJ Mr. Rogers
Warehouse Live
March 25, 2014

Tuesday night, Warehouse Live rapidly swelled to shoulder-to-shoulder tightness as the seemingly infinite line wrapping the exterior of the building began to file inside, as Schoolboy Q's "Oxymoron" tour made landfall here in Houston.

Audio Push, a relatively new duo hailing from Inland Empire, Calif., set the tone for the evening. Members Oktane and Pricetag drew an energetic response for their single "Shine," and afterward encouraged the sizable audience to raise their arms to sky for an all-inclusive Instagram photo.

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Tool at Toyota Center, 3/25/2014

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Photos by Jim Bricker
Tool, Failure
Toyota Center
March 25, 2014

Among perhaps the shyest Grammy winners in history, Tool has a history of avoiding the spotlight for as long as possible, even onstage. It's been eight years since the band released its last heavy, psychedelic opus, 10,000 Days, and a solid Olympiad since they last darkened the doors of Toyota Center.

As the band strolled leisurely back into town on Tuesday night -- lasers and video screens in tow -- fans packed the arena to the rafters, eager to take part in the rare and transformative rite of rock and roll passage that is the Tool concert.


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Cher at Toyota Center, 3/24/2014

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Photos by Groovehouse
Cher, Pat Benatar & Neil Geraldo
Toyota Center
March 24, 2014

"All right, well, this is the beginning of the magical mystery circus..."

Monday night, Cher took the stage at Toyota Center on her second stop on the "Dressed to Kill" final farewell tour. It really will be a shame if this is her goodbye to the stage, because at age 67, she absolutely kicked the shit out of it.

But first up, the inimitable Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, who freakin' opened for Cher.


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Ellie Goulding at Bayou Music Center, 3/24/2014

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Photos by Jack Gorman
Ellie Goulding, Conway
Bayou Music Center
March 24, 2014

When it comes to musical artists, labels are a tricky thing. Critics and fans like them because they help slot performers into easily recognizable tropes, shorthand we can use to explain someone without really explaining them. They're not necessarily lazy, but they're often silly.

There are those out there that love to link Ellie Goulding with the world of EDM; sometimes it's the Queen of EDM, sometimes it's the more humble Voice of EDM. This isn't unreasonable, mind you, but it is kind of silly. Yes, there is the awesome Bassnectar remix of "Lights" and, yes, she did do that song with Calvin Harris, but she's more than just a pretty voice that sounds good to a beat.

To slot her in one genre does a real disservice to her talents, especially once you've seen her live.


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Zac Brown Band at Reliant Stadium, 3/23/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Zac Brown Band
Reliant Stadium
March 22, 2014

This being their fourth performance at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Zac Brown Band's prowess onstage shouldn't have surprised anyone Sunday night. But, of course, that didn't make it any less impressive.

A fitting close to this year's Rodeo, ZBB pulled out all the stops Sunday. They brought fans out of their seats to dance; they paraded around the stage, performing a solid mix of fan-favorites and a few newer cuts; and they ever covered a few classics, most notably their signature interpretation of the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which continues to elate crowds no matter how many times it's heard.

If you've seen it once, you want to see it again.


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The Band Perry at Reliant Stadium, 3/22/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
The Band Perry
Reliant Stadium
March 22, 2014

Even in 2014, Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls" is not a song one normally expects to hear once in rodeo season, let alone twice. While Neil Perry, youngest member of the twentysomething Mobile-born sibling trio, couldn't bring quite the same lascivious smirk to the song as Kevin Fowler at the World's Championship Bar-B-Que cookoff a few weeks ago, he did reassert its value as a surefire crowd-pleaser whose ability to cause people both his age and a generation older titter and clap along simultaneously is almost eternal.

Saturday night at RodeoHouston, "Girls" also gave Neil's older sister Kimberly a chance to take a much-needed breather. Up to that point, about halfway through the band's hourlong set to an announced crowd of 73,943, she had hardly stopped moving for a second -- twisting, shouting, shaking, pumping her fists in the air, and generally doing the kinds of things singers do to hold a stadium full of people's attention. In the past the knock on the Band Perry in the past has been that they're a little green, a little too unsure of themselves to rank among country's elite acts, but that wasn't the group that showed up Saturday.


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Easton Corbin at Reliant Stadium, 3/21/2014

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Photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Easton Corbin
Reliant Stadium
March 21, 2014

Perhaps in the future the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo can line up one shameless throwback entertainer per season, not some old veteran whose days of heavy airplay are long behind him or her, but a commercially viable younger artist who demonstrates that country music is not completely dominated by wannabe outlaws or well-meaning buffoons. They do still exist, and some of them are even quite talented.

Maybe it can even sign up an appropriate company like Wrangler or Justin Boots to be a presenting sponsor; since "Throwback Thursday" is such a thing these days, why not do it then? The rodeo might as well, because that's what it got Friday when Easton Corbin made his debut to a Friday-night crowd that was smaller than it should have been at 58,784 announced, but young and female enough that hopefully the 31-year-old Floridian has wedged open the door for many appearances to come.


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