Coheed and Cambria at House of Blues, 9/17/2014

Photos by Jack Gorman
Coheed and Cambria, Thank You Scientist
House of Blues
September 17, 2014

Concerts are rarely a communal experience, even though they should be.

The reality is that we all get our tickets for different reasons; someone's favorite band may just be "those guys who have that one song" to someone else. Some people really love the new album and some people really miss the band they used to be. Some people go to the show because they would hate to miss it and others because they'd hate to not be seen at it.

Different people, different agendas, all sharing the same space. And this lack of community is often what makes shows a bummer. It's what leads to rampant talking until the band plays "the song" or people shouting out random bullshit to get themselves over.

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Growing Crowds Can't Spoil UtopiaFest's Blissful Vibe

Photos by Jim Bricker
During Aaron Behrens & the Midnight Stroll's Friday-evening set, while the dancing crowd was surrounded by the darkened hillsides that surround UtopiaFest, the singer said, "I don't feel like we're a part of any continent or country, I just feel like we're floating in space." That sentiment wasn't too far off from the truth, and seemed to be shared by the multitudes of new faces who took roost in scattered campsites throughout the festival grounds.

That seemed to be the theme of the weekend, too. While all those who had experienced UtopiaFest before were there, this time they seemed to had brought their friends. And their friend's friends. And their parents and kids, too. UtopiaFest was a noticeably larger animal this year, which became evident before the festival reached capacity Saturday afternoon.

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The Best Acts at Yes, Indeed! Fest 2014

Photos by Violeta Alvarez
By Matthew Keever and Angelica Leicht

Six months after the release of their debut album, Shiny Eyes, Catch Fever's pop rock continues to please longtime fans and grab the attention of new listeners as well. The power trio rocked the Continental Club Saturday night at 8pm, with vocalist/guitarist Taylor Huffman crooning above bass and keyboard, incorporating harmonies and backing vocals perfectly above tight percussion.

The night was still young when Catch Fever was onstage, and the crowd hadn't quite formed yet, but the club was still filled with applause and good tunes for the duration of the group's set. M.K.

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Lyle Lovett & Robert Earl Keen at The Woodlands, 9/11/2014

Photos by Jason Wolter
Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, Robert Earl Keen
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
September 11, 2014

Between Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, it's a miracle there was any room left in the Woodlands Pavilion for paying customers Thursday. Both men's extensive roots in the Houston area were reflected in their considerable guest lists, which in turn made the lengthy evening pass a little quicker than it otherwise might have. Lovett thanked his family, 10th-grade English teacher, a Texas A&M history professor he shared with Keen, a couple of Aggie football players, and the guys at Bellaire's Cycle Shack, where he worked for a while in high school.

For Keen, his guests included a passel of fans in our section wearing backstage passes, plus the man he said inspired him to write "Merry Christmas From the Family" -- his uncle Joe, who showed up in a T-shirt sporting the phrase "I may be old, but at least I got to see all the cool bands." Doing his best not to sweat through his dark three-piece suit (he failed), the 58-year-old Sharpstown native walked out and introduced himself a few minutes after 7 p.m., pawing the opening chords of "Corpus Christi Bay" out of his acoustic guitar. There would be a lot of territory to cover before an all-in version of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freight Liner Blues" brought the curtain down almost four hours later.

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One-Eyed Doll & Vanilla Sugar at Scout Bar, 9/10/2014

Photos by Jack Gorman
One-Eyed Doll, Vanilla Sugar
Scout Bar
September 10, 2014

A solid but small crowd that gathered at Scout Bar Wednesday night to view the greatest Texas goth-punk band in the world, Austin's One-Eyed Doll. Earlier, around 8 p.m., a line of about 20 or 30 people had waited to meet front woman Kimberly Freeman, who Revolver named one of its "Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock" at the merch table.

The tall, slender brunette wore a trucker hat atop her Crystal Gale-like mane that flowed past her mid-thigh. She hugged each fan and chatted them up as she signed memorabilia and took photographs, before disappearing for a bit and returning to catch opening band Vanilla Sugar right up front.

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NEEDTOBREATHE at Bayou Music Center, 9/5/2014

Photos by Jack Gorman
Bayou Music Center
September 5, 2014

The divide between Christian and secular rock might be one of the most overblown distinctions within pop music there is. It's real, but sometimes it all seems so unnecessary. People of faith do just fine in many if not most professions (even journalist!), but those who pick up electric guitars are often judged on how Christian their music is rather than how much it rocks. And readers accustomed to coverage of heathen artists may tune out a review the second someone drops that C-word. Too bad.

NEEDTOBREATHE is probably used to that. Even the South Carolina trio's own label -- a big one, Atlantic -- downplays their faith in its publicity materials. But the chorus of "Wasteland," the opener on this year's Rivers In the Wasteland album, is a pretty straightforward paraphrase of Romans 8:31: "If God is on my side, who can be against me?" So it's not like they're hiding anything under a bushel.

But in today's world, few bands indeed last three records on one of the biggest labels in the game without capturing the hearts (and dollars) of fans who may be lucky to go to church on Christmas and Easter, if at all. They've done well enough at it that Rivers entered the Billboard 200 at No. 3 this past April, and drew a near-capacity crowd to Bayou Music Center Friday. NEEDTOBREATHE seem to be of the mind that 75 minutes of soaring anthems, hook-filled singalongs and classic-rock power is the best testimony they can give, thank you very much.

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KISS & Def Leppard at The Woodlands, 8/31/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
KISS, Def Leppard
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 31, 2014

"Everybody's got a front row seat tonight," said KISS lead vocalist and guitarist Paul Stanley after recognizing fans on the distant lawn, "and just in case you didn't realize it, you're looking at a band onstage that's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!"

The crowd erupted with cheers, but Stanley barely let the applause sink in before moving on. After all, he was confined by a looming city-imposed curfew, and this was a KISS performance. There was much to be done.

Houston wanted the best, and it got the best. Sunday night, KISS concluded its 40th anniversary tour at a sold-out Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, where new and old fans alike basked in the glory that is "the greatest show on earth."

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Wiz Khalifa, Jeezy & More at The Woodlands, 8/15/2014

Photos by Francisco Montes
Wiz Khalifa
Under The Influence of Music Tour
Feat. Wiz Khalifa, Jeezy, Rich Homie Quan, Ty Dolla $ign, IAMSU! & Sage the Gemini, Mack Wilds

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 15, 2014

Either I've gotten older or Wiz Khalifa doesn't exactly do it for me anymore.

That's not a slight to Khalifa, as far as charting of his evolution from stoner kid who used to rap with a spitfire energy and rasp to arena-rocker. It's more an overall assessment of where my fandom with him has lain over the years. It was at its apex maybe three years ago, right as his Kush & OJ mixtape became a late-night soundtrack and "Black And Yellow" became an inescapable hit record.

Ever since then, it's lowered and watching him live -- for the third time this year, no less -- it's clearly evident he's more in a rocker kind of mood than a rap star.

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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Fitzgerald's, 8/12/14

Photos by Jim Bricker
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
August 12, 2014

It's hard to say that this show was perfect, but that was the only adjective coursing through my mind as I walked down the stairs and out of the door of Fitzgerald's after a performance from storied indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Sure, the performance had a whole lot going against it. Being a Tuesday night, possibly the least social night of the week, definitely hurt ticket and bar sales, but in the end I think worked out for this show. People that were there were there for one reason and one reason only -- to see a great band put on an even better performance.

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The 10 Best Acts at Houston Whatever Fest

Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Andrew W.K. was a revelation. He came out, trademark grin firmly in place, and immediately told the crowd he was "not a musician." He's a known party inducer and he was exactly what Whatever Fest needed the moment he was booked. He ran through the hits in a frenetic set that featured audience stage-dives and mosh pits. "Ready to Die," "I Love NYC," "We Want Fun," "Party Hard," "I Get Wet"...he played them all while his hype man extraordinaire, Blakey Boy, revved up the crowd.

The energy and good vibes were contagious. It seemed everyone in the crowd was smiling just as widely as the man himself. I was impressed by his piano playing skills as attacked the keys like a modern-day Jerry Lee Lewis and played the craziest version of "Rhapsody in Blue" I've ever heard. Andrew W.K. is a lot of things -- quick-start-party-starter, motivational speaker and Village Voice writer among them. He is also definitely a musician. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

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