Los Skarnales' 20-Year Bash a Show for the Ages

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Photos by Marco Torres
Los Skarnales
Fitzgerald's
June 20, 2014

It was hot, crowded, loud, and borderline dangerous. And it was damn near perfect. Friday night at Fitzgerald's, Los Skarnales showcased every ounce of heart and love their bodies and souls could disseminate, giving Houston a performance that will go down as one of the best the city has ever experienced.

The night began with the most player move of all, a mariachi band. It was only fitting as Mexican tradition dictates that most celebrations should include a mariachi band. And this...this was a celebration of 20 years, from a punk/ska trio called Desorden to the powerhouse band that fascinates crowds at music festivals. There was indeed much to be thankful for.


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Failure at House of Blues, 6/11/2014

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Photos by Jack Gorman
Failure
House of Blues
June 11, 2014

It's only been a few months since L.A.'s Failure last appeared in Houston, but it feels like much longer. For dedicated fans, the band's set opening for Tool at Toyota Center was little more than a tease: most of the crowd was still trying hard to find their seats or simply get inside the building by the time Failure was wrapping up.

As teases go, though, it was a pretty damn good one. The heavy, spacey trio sounded sharp, slick and even a bit hungry -- not bad for a band back on the road for the first time in 17 years. The performance made the prospect of a full-blown Failure tour irresistibly tantalizing, particularly for the growing number of fans who discovered the group after their breakup in 1997.

On Wednesday night at House of Blues, those fans finally got what they'd been waiting a very long time for: a reunited Failure on the top of its game, playing all of the old tunes that should have made them rich and famous the first time around.


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Making Magic on the Beach at Hangout Music Festival 2014

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photos by Marco Torres

"Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand. With an equal opportunity, for all to sing, dance and clap their hands."

-- Stevie Wonder

There is something absolutely incredible about music. The way it acts as a conduit of expression and celebration, attracting multitudes of people together in a united front of excitement and wonder, creating and releasing emotions from deep within the soul... it is nothing short of magical.

Those were the thoughts that I pondered as I walked along the white sandy beach of Gulf Shores, Alabama during the 2014 Hangout Music Festival this past weekend. With a cool breeze on my face and the sun at my back, there seemed to be a different vibe from what you normally find at a music festival.


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John Legend at Cullen Performance Hall, 5/4/14

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photos by Marco Torres

John Legend
All Of Me Tour
Cullen Performance Hall, University of Houston
May 4, 2014

"Gentlemen... I can't guarantee that you're gonna get lucky tonight, but I'm certainly setting you up good!" Those were the words of John Stephens, the singer-songwriter and pianist who has, in a relatively short amount of years, earned the right to personify his stage name: Legend. With a genuine smile, handsome but not overbearing good looks, and a litany of hits, John Legend is as true and real (trill) as anyone can be in today's modern music business. Who else plays his instrument with such intensity and mastery? Who else writes his own songs and produces his own arrangements? If we were to make a list, it would be surprisingly short. His talent is unmistakable, and his appeal unmatched.

Which is why it was such an honor to see his performance at Cullen Hall on the University of Houston campus. Every stop on the "All Of Me" tour was hand-selected to be, as my media pass read, "intimate, acoustic, and stripped down". By performing in venues that hold 3000 people or less, Legend makes the show feel more like a family gathering than a concert. Cullen holds about 1,100 in the lower level, and another 500 on the balcony. By the end of the night, we all felt like the most fortunate people in the entire city.


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Houston Celebrates Record Store Day in Grand Style

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Photos by Jim Bricker
Record Store Day fans waiting to get into Cactus Music
Frustrated. Nervous. Tired. Anxious. Wired. Those are pretty much the only words to describe the numerous Record Store Day lines throughout town Saturday. Nope, tax day was four days prior so these lines were certainly not at your local H&R Block. These were the emotions of a quickly growing group of collectors lining up around town at their favorite record stores.

Record Store Day is the equivalent to a vinyl lovers' Christmas. For hours and hours, people line up outside of their favorite record store in anticipation of getting one or several of a limited release of specialty records made for just the day.

Towards the front of the lines people had no worries about not getting a specific record, but they had earned their carefree ability with an unprecedented time of sitting and waiting, but as the lines grew the hope for those at the back of them started to diminish. And for good reason. If you're 50 people back in line, and your record store has only three copies of a specific album, then most likely you're not going to get it. If you're 500 people back, you're definitely not going to get it.


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Slick Rick at Warehouse Live, 4/11/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Slick Rick
Warehouse Live
April 11, 2014

Legends don't need a fancy stage, dazzling lighting or flamboyant dance routines. And they definitely do not need a 20-piece entourage to stand with them onstage doing absolutely nothing. All a legend needs is a little bit of your time and a platform on which to showcase his or her talent.

A legend of that caliber coolly strolled into Warehouse Live on Friday night, bringing with him 30 years of experience in the hip-hop game, with a handful of the most iconic rhymes and rhythms ever to be pressed on wax in his back pocket.

Slick Rick. Ricky Dee. The Ruler. The man with the eye patch who carries his own weight in gold around his neck. He's a shining example of what a storyteller is supposed to be: descriptive, enticing, understandable and relatable. No wonder so many rappers point to this man as an inspiration -- he simply has "it."


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Jay Z at Toyota Center, 12/19/2013

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Photos by Jim Bricker.
Jay Z
Toyota Center
December 19, 2013

Jay Z is the king. A few other rappers have enjoyed their time at the top throughout the years, but Hov's been perched upon the throne for the better part of a decade and a half. A handful of others have tried to climb that hill (I'm looking at you, Mr. West), but even if Jigga quit the game today he'd still be No. 1. He's become so much more than that young rapper filling our heads with stories about his Brooklyn youth; he's a true-blue, bona fide superstar. A hip-hop legend, if you will.

And he doesn't need any gimmicks to prove it. His performance at Toyota Center Thursday night proved that to the near-capacity crowd with a blistering set of his best. While Kanye is busy singing his auto-tuned R&B ballads and building mountains, Jay-Z is sticking to what he does best. His two hours onstage didn't feature any dancers or masks or crazy lights, it was just Mr. Knowles-Carter front and center with his words, a microphone and the energy of 20,000 people as his support.


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Buxton 10-Year Anniversary at Fitzgerald's, 11/30/2013

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Photos by Jim Bricker
Buxton, Papermoons, Deep Kvts
FItzgerald's
November 30, 2013

Ten years gone. How the hell did that happen? Long before the New West days, before the band had five members (or six or four or three), and definitely before they all had those adorable little beards, Buxton first started putting pen to paper and pick to strings.

They didn't have a drummer when the band first started, and could have easily been classified in the same category as Dashboard Confessional and other standard emo fare of the early 2000s, but the only thing that mattered was that those youngsters, sitting in their parents' homes in La Porte, decided to start a band with little hope they'd be playing to a packed room of their family, friends and fans a cool decade later.

These five guys have firmly planted themselves into our Houston music culture, and are some of the friendliest dudes you could ever possibly spark up a conversation with. I'm proud to call each and every one of them my good friends, and while that makes it a bit hard to write an unbiased review, there really is no need to worry about it. Even if I were a casual observer and didn't know them personally, I still would have left this show with a beaming smile upon my face.


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The Head and the Heart at Warehouse Live, 11/14/2013

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Photos by Jim Bricker
The Head and the Heart
Warehouse Live
November 14, 2013

I think Thursday is starting to be that night again where everyone decides not to worry about how they feel the next morning at work. When I was growing up, "thirsty" Thursdays were the thing, especially when I was first legally allowed to get a drink in a bar. It seemed to stop being a thing, with each day of the week taking over as that weekday that was socially acceptable to have a few cocktails.

Well, the past few weeks around town have been noticeably busier at bars, restaurants and concert venues, packing rooms with people looking to let loose. That was no different at Warehouse Live Thursday, where The Head and the Heart were headlined their first show in Houston since last summer's not-nearly-as-packed performance at Fitzgerald's.


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Bun B & the Houston Symphony's "Concert Against Hate" at Jones Hall, 11/14/2013

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photos by Marco Torres
"Concert Against Hate"
Houston Symphony feat. Bun B
Jones Hall
November 14, 2013

Thursday afternoon, Bernard Freeman paces nervously backstage at Jones Hall during rehearsals for the evening's program. "This isn't your normal House of Blues show," he proclaims.

The scope of this performance is indeed grand. Houston's Anti-Defamation League and the Houston Symphony are celebrating their respective 100-year anniversaries, and they have invited Freeman, a.k.a. Bun B, to be a special guest performer.

This will be the first time the orchestra has incorporated a hip-hop artist into a performance. Bridging the symphony with "the [hip-hop] culture," as Bun calls it, is a major step toward acceptance, both for him personally and that culture.

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