Kings of Leon at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 4/10/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
Kings of Leon, Local Natives
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
April 10, 2014

Welcome back, Kings of Leon. We had missed you since you skipped out on our last show. While you might've been touring pretty relentlessly since your return last year, it was nice to see you back at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, in seemingly good health, and with a re-established vigor.

We weren't sure if you had the ability to give us your all last night, but that was soon disproven in the first minutes of your performance. You showed us that, despite all your brotherly quarrels in the past, you really do like playing with each other the songs you've cleverly crafted in the past decade.

You have good songs, and you certainly know how to rock, but how long is that going to last? When are you going to fall into that same situation that caused a ruckus in Dallas a few years ago and made you cancel your Houston performance the next night? I mean, I guess you are (mostly) brothers, so those arguments are deep-seated in years of alcohol-fueled love and hate, but how long can it last?

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Mobb Deep & Nosaprise at Fitzgerald's, 4/9/2014

Photos by Marco Torres
Mobb Deep, Nosaprise
April 9, 2014

A hip-hop show on a Wednesday night is as good as a rap show on any other night, except maybe better. Everyone who claims to be a hip-hop fan but is really just a whats-new-on-the-radio rap fan stays home to watch Basketball Wives or whatever nonsense is on cable these days. There is no twerking at a real hip-hop show, no shouts of "truuu" or hashtag rhyme structures. Just the real. Hip-Hop.

Wednesday, I arrived at Fitz already disappointed because I knew I'm too late to catch Walter Mallone's set, the new-ish project by my homies the Zamora brothers and an MC named Raymond Auzenne. But here's a quick listen to one of their tracks:

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Arcade Fire at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 4/9/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
Who is that masked man?
Arcade Fire
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
April 9, 2014

I may not be the first person to say it, but then Arcade Fire is not the first group to counter the "most important band in the world" tag by breaking out the costumes and mirrors. U2 is the obvious model, with their Joshua Tree-Achtung Baby-Zooropa cycle, but the tradition is at least as old as their fellow Irishman Oscar Wilde, and no doubt a lot older. "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person," the 19th-century wit famously said. "Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."

Arcade Fire's latest album, Reflektor, is clouded with suspicion and anxiety. It's the kind of record a band who has conquered the world and is wondering both who they can trust and what to do next might make, but it's so full of shiny surfaces, synthesizer-spawned smoke and mirrors, and a relentless Studio 54 beat that you'd almost never notice. The camera never lies, and there is always redemption on the dance floor. Not their best record, maybe, but maybe the one that translates best to the stage.

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Grouplove at House of Blues, 4/7/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
Grouplove, MS MR
House of Blues
April 7, 2014

Damn the iPod. Really. It's truly ruined the way we ingest music. Long gone are the days of sitting down to a full album, taking in all of its little intricacies from front to back, allowing a band to tell their story on two full sides.

We may never have another White Album or Dark Side of the Moon, and can only hope to see another Quadrophenia or Thriller, but the chances of that seem slim. And because of that, bands have now changed their approach to how they release music.

Now we are force-fed a band three and a half minutes at a time, which can't possibly give us a full picture of what they can really do. It's almost a step back to the days of the 45, where people would fall in love with a band based solely on an A-side and (if the band is lucky) a B-side. Today, given music listeners' love of the shuffle, it's rare for anyone to know what a band truly sounds like.

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Sleigh Bells at Warehouse Live, 4/6/2014

Photos by Jack Gorman
Sleigh Bells
Warehouse Live
April 6, 2014

One might be forgiven for being a little surprised that Sleigh Bells are still selling tickets in 2014. The duo reached maximum buzz years ago, riding the hype all the way to a slate of plum festival gigs and late-night TV appearances. Like so many indie darlings before them, though, Sleigh Bells never quite seemed built to last. Really, how many ways could they twist heavy-metal riffs around electronic hip-hop beats without growing a little stale? Aren't we on to the next thing, yet?

Well, they might not be the hottest thing out of Brooklyn anymore, but Sleigh Bells has grown an audience the right way over the past few years: on the strength of their live show. The crowd that showed up at Warehouse Live Sunday night arrived didn't come to hear the hottest new buzz band; they came to see Sleigh Bells. And they fully expected the band to deliver.

Deliver they did. After three albums, the Sleigh Bells formula remains relatively simple, but massively effective. After an ear-splitting drumline intro, it was all strobe lights and cymbal crashes from there, with a huge cheer erupting at first sight of leather-clad front woman Alexis Krauss.

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Chromeo at House of Blues, 4/6/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
House of Blues
April 6, 2014

For someone to dance means he or she feels something deep down in his or her bones that moves not only the muscles but the spirit. Not everyone was given the gift of rhythm, but everyone has the ability to dance. It might not be with skill, nor with care, but given the right sound or beat everyone will eventually find themselves moving their bodies to music.

Some factors heighten this ability, such as a performance from the Canadian duo Chromeo. If you've ever been enlightened by a performance from the group, you know what I'm talking about. If you happened to be at House of Blues Sunday night, then you most certainly know what I'm talking about.

Chromeo is the catalyst. They'll make even the most stubborn folk get past that traditional head-bob and do that fancy footwork.

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

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

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

Photos by Nathan Smith
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

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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