Counting Crows at Bayou Music Center, 7/29/2014

Photos by Francisco Montes
Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket
Bayou Music Center
July 29, 2014

It would be easy to assume that a Counting Crows concert featuring Toad the Wet Sprocket would be a nostalgia-laden '90s throwback showcase, but that would be highly inaccurate. There certainly was some pre-millennial love in the air Tuesday night, but the Crows did not come to remind Houstonians that they were a great band two decades ago. They came to remind us that they are a great band, period.

Back in 1993, when his dreadlocks and fame were both considerably smaller, Crows lead singer Adam Duritz told the world (and his pal Mr. Jones) that he wanted to be Bob Dylan. That statement was seemingly based on the desire to write deeply meaningful lyrics that connect with audiences; in this case, Duritz and the Crows have succeeded.

Dylan rarely plays his best-known songs in concert, and the Crows did not play "Mr. Jones" Tuesday. They simply didn't have to, as Bayou Music Center's audience was completely invested in the band's performance, top to bottom.

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The Five Biggest Reasons '80s Music Gets a Bad Rap

Categories: Retro Active

Sorry to disappoint Kajagoogoo, but there was a lot more than this going on in '80s music.
The 1980s get picked on a lot, and to a degree that's understandable. Every decade starts looking goofy and dated in hindsight, and the fashions and pop culture milestones of each are often made fun of by later generations.

The '80s had plenty of excesses and fads we can all laugh at now, but unlike the preceding decades, it's often criticized as being a terrible period for music. Frankly, that is ridiculously untrue.

The 1980s were a "totally awesome" time for rock music in particular, despite what many people apparently believe. So why are those people mistaken, and on what do I base my defense of the musical contributions from the decade of shoulder pads and big hair?

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Gary Numan's Life Beyond the "Long Shadow" of "Cars"

While his latest record, the dark and evocative Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) is giving him some of the best reviews of his 35-plus-year career, Gary Numan knows that many people associate him with one song: 1980's synth-heavy Top 10 hit "Cars."

The memorable song, and its equally memorable video, is like an instant time capsule, and is likely to be Numan's defining legacy in song. Which is both a blessing...and a curse.

"The blessing is that it's just gone from strength to strength," Numan writes via email while on a plane from London to L.A. "I don't think I'm being big-headed when I say it's probably one of the best-known songs in the world."

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Gary Numan: the Dark Genius Behind a Broken Mind

BB Gun Press
Gary Numan's own dark days inspired the creation of new album "Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)."
"There are still people trying to work out what a genius Gary Numan is"
-- Prince

In the U.S., Gary Numan is mostly viewed a one-hit wonder. His 1980 Top 10 hit "Cars" (and its accompanying iconic video) remains a perfect little time capsule of synthy New Wave keyboards and a contagious melody guided along by Numan's robotic vocals.

But in much of the rest of the world, Numan is seen in an entirely different light, as a pioneer of EDM, synthesizer-based and industrial music, and an artist who is forever seeking to expand the technological frontiers of music with a deep discography. He's just released his 20th record and first full length studio effort since 2006, Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) to overwhelmingly positive notice. Combining elements of New Wave, industrial, goth, scuzz-rock and the occasional dreamy ballad, it's a dark work of foreboding and walls-closing-in doom. Not surprising, since it's mainly about Numan's fight with depression, with which he was diagnosed in 2008.

"I went through a fairly rough time and was on medication for three years and didn't write a song for four," he types in an email interview while on a plane from London to his current home in Los Angeles.

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Coachella Before Coachella: The 1983 US Festival

US Festival 1983: Days 1-3
Directed by Glen Aveni
MVD Visuals, 135 minutes, $19.95

In 1982, flush with cash, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak wanted to throw "a big party" and create an '80s version of Woodstock that would combine a music festival with displays and demonstrations about emerging technologies, with a not-surprising emphasis on computers. The first US Festival did well enough that Wozniak went for a repeat on Memorial Day weekend the next year -- single-handedly dumping $10 million of his own cash to fund it.

This new DVD features highlights from that weekend, 23 songs from 14 acts booked on "New Wave Day" (Divinyls, INXS, The English Beat, Stray Cats, Men at Work, the Clash), "Metal Day" (Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions), and "Rock Day" (Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, Stevie Nicks).

And while the relationship of some acts to their ascribed description is sometimes tenuous, it's interesting that Wozniak sought to include so many genres into one festival. (A "Country Day" was held a week later.)

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Houston Music, Back in the Day: Same as It Ever Was?

Satellite view of Houston at night
Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest city in the United States, with a population that is increasingly culturally diverse yet maintains a strong social identity.

It's not especially well-known for its various music scenes (save rap, arguably) due to a combination of layout and luck. But clinically speaking, rejoicings and complaints about those scenes have varied and diversified throughout the years alongside Houston's population. What was once considered dissonant and rude may be seen as tame and harmonious now, just as some things may look boring today next to what they used to be. Things evolve with time.

The evolution of public communication and expression has guided the changes in our scenes, steering local tastes from a few variants of folk music to just about anything after the advent of the World Wide Web. In other words, now all kinds of music can be accessed and produced according to your personal taste. But this applies anywhere. Regardless of today's choice overload, and whether or not Houston itself has ever offered the grandest spectacles, there has always been something to see, whether popular or alternative.

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The Dead Links Are a Real Live Band, and a Good One

Photo courtesy of the Dead Links
Imagine you're a new band all but starting from scratch: struggling to book gigs, pay for studio time, and get your music out to potential fans. Now imagine you're middle-aged, and there are dozens of bands in town jockeying for those same things, except with the advantage of being about ten to 20 years younger than you are.

In a nutshell, that's the dilemma facing the Dead Links, the striking and relatively recent musical partnership between Ken Sheppard and Scott Ayers. Working in their favor are a pedigree that includes some of Houston's best-remembered alternative bands (those who do remember them, that is), a mysterious modern-rock sound quite unlike any other group in town, and an album Sheppard believes is good enough to win over any skeptics, if only he could figure out the best way for people to hear it.

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Michael Buble' at Toyota Center, 10/20/2013

Photos by Groovehouse
Michael Buble', Naturally 7
Toyota Center
October 20, 2013

As far as I can tell, there really is no good reason to skip a Michael Buble' concert if you have the opportunity to see one. Sunday night's show at Toyota Center was packed-full of energy, performance and more importantly, top-quality music. Those who were there left feeling good.

Toyota Center was packed with Buble' fans who all started screaming like teenagers when he took the stage, opening with the classic "Fever." His dramatic opening -- with banging drums, fire, and a full slide down the stage -- was ridiculously sensational, which is what Buble' fans want. He takes the audience back to the days of Vegas sensuality and "cool," and he does it with effortless panache.

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Black Flag at Walters, 8/26/2013

Photos by Jim Bricker.
Black Flag and Good for You
Walters Downtown
August 26, 2013

News that hardcore punk legends Black Flag were heading through Walters on their current tour of the U.S. and Australia inspired no small amount of excitement around these parts. After all, the band hasn't played Houston (or much of anywhere, really) since at least the mid-'80s. But it inspired a lot of questions, too.

Namely, why now? Was guitarist Greg Ginn getting the band back together (or some new-fangled version of it, anyway) just to show up Keith Morris' competing troupe, FLAG? Where, exactly, did he dig up long-lost singer Ron Reyes, and who were the new guys in the rhythm section? Were they in any condition to do proper justice to the angst-riddled anthems that once caused audiences to degenerate into violent mayhem?

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people wanted to see those questions answered live and in person on Monday night. Weeknight or no, Walters was as crowded as it's perhaps ever been, with several generations of punkers showing up ready to see if this new Black Flag was worthy of name.

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Meeting of the Minds: Morrissey and Charlie Brown

Morrissey always seemed like a rather gloomy chap, on that we can all agree. But how does he stack up against the all-time glum heavyweight, Charlie Brown?

In case you never wondered that before, go ahead and kick yourself just like we did. That's the germ of an idea behind This Charming Charlie, an inspired new Tumblr currently making your favorite music-tracking Web sites drool. (And now this one, it appears.)

The site superimposes dozens of Smiths lyrics onto panels from the old Peanuts strip, and that's about it: Snoopy lazing on his doghouse pondering "Does the body rule the mind or the mind rule the body? I don't know...", Charlie Brown contemplating the sidewalk as he wonders "Is it wrong not to always be glad," Lucy perched on her front step sulking "Now I know how Joan of Arc felt," Marcy informing Peppermint Patty "I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice." That sort of brilliance.

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