The Five Best Concerts in Houston This Week: Leon Russell, Hell City Kings, The 1975, etc.

Photo by Marc Brubaker
Leon Russell at House of Blues, June 2013
Leon Russell
House of Blues, November 24

Though he's not quite a household name, Leon Russell's gospel-soaked style has infiltrated so much rock and pop of the past 40 years it's practically a genre of its own. The Lawton, Okla. native has been a go-to keyboardist, songwriter and partner in crime for almost too many stars to count -- Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Willie Nelson chief among them -- and his mellow honky-tonk keys made Russell a crucial player in the Tulsa scene that produced JJ Cale and Dwight Twilley.

Not so long ago Russell got to enjoy a little time in the limelight with The Union, his 2010 tandem album with Elton John that the Rocket Man admitted was his way of saying "thank you" to one of his main mentors. Russell's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame followed in 2011.

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The 10 Best Concerts in Houston This Weekend: From Indian Lakes, Bubble Puppy, etc.

SorokaIntern via Wikimedia Commons
From Indian Lakes: show up early and sing.
From Indian Lakes
House of Blues, November 21

With all apologies to Relient K and Blondfire, can we take a moment to talk about great the new From Indian Lakes record is? Absent Sounds is one of the best records to come out this year, and "Sleeping Limbs" is one of the best songs that no one is talking about. Yeah, they're indie-rock, and yeah, their singer does kinda sound like the dude from Death Cab, but give it a listen; these songs will worm their way in to your ears and make a permanent home. Then we can all show up early and sing. It'll be fun. With Relient K and Blondefire. CORY GARCIA

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Phillip Zimmerle Puts Down Love Knife, Adds Cello

Courtesy of Phillip Zimmerle
Phillip Alan Zimmerle doing his Mandroid thing at Jet Lounge
Former Love Knife guitarist Phillip Zimmerle has swerved again. A Baton Rouge native with a creative writing degree from L.S.U., Zimmerle has recently been working with his drummer and wife Mary Beth Zimmerle in a new duo called Black Lodge. But Friday night at Khon's, Zimmerle will fulfill a dream he's had since high school when he first began writing songs: playing acoustic versions of his songs accompanied by a cello.

Zimmerle will be joined by cellist Geneva Gordon. A UH art school graduate, Gordon is a former Rockets dancer as well as longtime bartender at Under the Volcano. This will be her first gig in some time.

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The Five Best Concerts in Houston This Week: Willie Nelson, Chrissie Hynde, etc.

Method Man & Redman
House of Blues, November 17

Although there are many to choose from, one of the best hip-hop duos of the past 20 years is the paring of Method Man and Redman. Between two successful albums and their cult-favorite movie How High, Meth and Red have proven quite possibly the most successful of the bunch outside of maybe Outkast. It's a rare treat to see them live, this being the first chance Houston will have in quite some time. JIM BRICKER

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Josh Abbott Band: The Merry Pranksters of Texas Country

Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/Shore Fire Media
Watch your backs around the Josh Abbott Band.
About the last place you might expect Josh Abbott to be doing a phone interview is...Nashville. His eponymous group is synonymous with Texas country, arguably the only act of its kind this decade to graduate to the very top tier occupied by the likes of the Randy Rogers Band and the Departed. That kind of drawing power gets them invited to events like tomorrow's Eli Young Band Block Party at Minute Maid Park, where Abbott's bunch will go on directly before the headliner.

His six-piece band can definitely crank with the best of 'em, but the songs that put him on the map can get downright sentimental. The band's breakthrough single and title track of 2010 debut album was the valentine "She's Like Texas," and 2012 followup Small Town Family Dream is centered around his tiny West Texas hometown of Idalou. Growing up on the South Plains, where the songs of native sons Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore set a high standard indeed, Abbott says he learned the value of writing his own music early on. Ironically, he wound up pulling a cover of legendary Lubbock maverick Terry Allen's "FFA" from Family Dream after the actual FFA objected to its depiction of farmers.

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The 10 Best Concerts in Houston This Weekend: Real Friends, Black Keys, Sturgill Simpson, etc.

Photo courtesy of Fearless Records
Let's have a singalong: Real Friends
Real Friends, Neck Deep
Scout Bar, November 14

Had they existed in the early '00s, it's likely a lot of people in their late twenties or early thirties would have Real Friends lyrics tattooed on their body. The Chicago group's new album, Maybe This Place Is the Same and We're Just Changing, is full of quotables that tug at the heartstrings and is basically a perfect pop-punk record -- sad, but not necessarily pessimistic, full of songs that are begging to be screamed out loud in concert.

Add to that Neck Deep and the perfection that is "Silver Lining," and you've got a night that's going to be all sorts of emotional. With Cruel Hand. Note: this show has been moved from Walters Downtown. CORY GARCIA

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Peter Case Still Practicing "Conscious Continual Compassion"

Photo by David Ensminger
Peter Case: "How can you have democracy when everything's secret?"
Thrice Grammy-nominated Peter Case (the Nerves/Plimsouls) is more than a pithy icon of the punk generation who helped foster the first wave of musical insurrection in both San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. He's also a deeply committed writer of songs, memoirs and poems, whose sinewy, spontaneous work draws upon deeply mined worlds ranging from Woody Guthrie and Beat Generation legends to progressive Latin writer Roberto Bolano, bluesman Big Joe Williams and visionary poet William Blake. He is like a sponge, effortlessly soaking up a diverse array of sources.

Road-testing his fresh-faced work for a new album, Hwy 62, Case is scouring the States this fall, stirring up potent bits of his catalog, too, while revealing his newest concerns. In addition, Case has just released Subterranean Hum, a collection of poetry co-written with yours truly. Rocks Off caught up with Case in San Francisco, where he resides near the ocean in a 100-year-old building surrounded by records galore.

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The Five Best Concerts in Houston This Week: Atmosphere, Rich Hopkins, Merle Haggard, etc.

Photo courtesy of Press Here Publicity
Atmosphere recently released Southsiders, the duo's first album in three years and seventh on the label Rhymesayers Entertainment.
House of Blues, November 10

Atmosphere's rather successful label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, has steadily churned out rappers from all around Minnesota and the surrounding Midwest including Aesop Rock, Freeway, MF Doom and many others -- basically a bunch of smart free-thinkers who have serious talent in the flowing department. DJ and producer Ant and rapper Slug have been doing their thing together since the end of the '80s and at this point have become somewhat of a classic act, one that's well worth catching at least once in your life. JIM BRICKER

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An Unfiltered Chat With Jello Biafra

Photo courtesy of Alternative Tentacles
Jello Biafra (second from left) and his fellow Guantanamo School of Medicine surgeons
For more than three decades, Jello Biafra has remained the brassy conscience of punk rock, willing to knock down the sacred cows of politics and rock and roll. First honing his diatribes in the Dead Kennedys, next dabbling in film and spoken word, and ultimately joining forces with DOA, NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Al Jourgensen for projects aplenty, he has remained ever-potent and enrapturing, a changeling that never quite sheds his skin.

As a news junkie, edgy showman, political reformist, and punk shaman, he has continued to curate fabled label Alternative Tentacles, survived a bitter feud with former bandmates, and kept retirement far away while firing up Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, his vociferous psych-punk band with ex-members of Victim's Family and Rollins Band.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger rang up Biafra before he hits the road for Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin and Houston's Continental Club this Sunday night. Here are some excerpts.

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JW-Jones Is No Blues Nazi

Photo courtesy of JW-Jones
Going out of -- hell, just trying to get out of -- the box in blues is hard. Purists, traditionalists, blues nazis, or whatever you want to call them built the box and they are proud of the box. The box has its advantages: it's comfortable and doesn't require much thinking or adjustment, the comfort zone is there to cocoon in.

So who knows what traditionalists will make of JW-Jones, a brash young Canadian with a mostly-Texas blues bone who refuses to play by the rules. He plays two gigs in Houston this weekend, tonight at Shakespeare Pub and tomorrow at the Big Easy.

Blues Revue calls Jones "a fluid amalgam of T-Bone Walker's big, bright chords, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's slashing leads, and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown's jazzy sting." That's high praise indeed. For his part, Jones says it's nice to have the accolades, but his influences are fairly wide.

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