The War On Drugs at House of Blues, 9/27/2014

Photos by Jason Wolter
The War On Drugs
House of Blues
September 27, 2014

There was a certain point in time when I thought truly simple and original music was a thing of the past. These days, if you don't have a certain niche or unique twist to your sound, there's a good chance your band will get passed by like most of them.

Gone are the days of the simple, straightforward rock and roll band. Since Alan Freed coined the term in the early 1950s, every decade has seen its own version of the genre come and go, leaving a stamp on its venerable history. But these days, if you say rock and roll music to a kid, he or she might not know what that means.

Of course you have your radio-friendly Buzz-rock songs, but it's just sad to relate that cookie-cutter product to the music once mastered by Zeppelin, Sabbath and the Stones. Now you have to dig much deeper to find even a taste of what was once a noble genre.

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The Felice Brothers at Fitzgerald's, 9/25/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
The Felice Brothers
September 25, 2014

Without a doubt, the best shows to come through town are those that basically go unnoticed. Whether they don't get enough advertising or another big-name event or two in town is taking the crowds away, there is nothing better than a non-packed show at a smaller venue such as Fitzgerald's downstairs.

The Felice Brothers played said venue last night, and with so many things going on around town Thursday night, such as FPH's Sammy Awards and the mega-Tom Petty gig at Toyota Center, attendance at this show seemed much lighter than it could have been.

Which is not a bad thing -- for the fans, at least. It's already tough enough sweating through a show in the storied venue when it's half full, but the lack of the extra bodies in the room only brought a light dew on the brow rather than the full-on back sweat it sometimes does. Well, until the dancing began. Fitz, please fix your air conditioner.

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Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at Toyota Center, 9/25/2014

Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Steve Winwood
Toyota Center
September 25, 2014

Anyone curious what might motivate Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to continue making records could do worse than starting with "Shadow People," a song from the band's new album Hypnotic Eye. Like its neighbor "American Dream Plan B," the song itself carries a vague political charge, exactly the sort of curmudgeonly tone a 63-year-old man might adopt, shaking his head as he mutters under his breath. These kids today.

In some ways Petty is like Hank Hill, the exasperated but fundamentally decent hero of Mike Judge's late, great animated Fox series King of the Hill. Petty appeared in the show as Lucky, the good-ole-boy love interest of Hank's niece Luanne, but in the Heartbreakers he is the man whose dismay at society's general direction is tempered by his deep bond with the people dear to him. Even among his closest peers, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, Petty comes off more regular guy than man of the people.

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Conor Oberst at House of Blues, 9/19/2014

Photos by Jim Bricker
Conor Oberst
House of Blues
September 19, 2014

I was never sad enough to be a Bright Eyes fan. Growing up in Nebraska, I was always aware of the band, as Oberst is also from there, but I was too busy enjoying the good life to get into them. Not until later on, when I gave his music more of a chance, did I slowly become a fan. More specifically, though, I became a fan of Conor Oberst.

Undeniably a great songwriter, and proving himself quite the showman as well at a moderately busy House of Blues, Oberst has brightened up his world and, to my surprise Friday night, his performance. Supported by a crack band dotting the stage around him, the mop-topped and denim-clad Oberst gave his deep catalog -- from Bright Eyes to Monsters of Folk to Desaparecidos to the Mystic Valley Band -- a new set of legs over the course of the evening.

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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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