The Houston Ballet The ensemble recycles a trio of music-powered crowd pleasers for its winter-repertory concert. "Second Before the Ground: The Exhilaration of Falling in Love" is set to Pieces of Africa by the Kronos Quartet (which visits Houston tomorrow; see below). The ballet's choreographic associate Trey McIntyre conceived the work, a flirtatious, rambunctious little number that made its Houston debut in late 1996 and played Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center to strong notices last fall. James Kudelka's "Musings," a paean to Canadian prima ballerina Karen Kain set to Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major, bowed here in '94. "Rooster," by the ballet's associate choreographer Christopher Bruce, is a Rolling Stones suite billed as an "evocation of the mating rituals of hip young Londoners during the 'Swinging Sixties' "; it features "Paint It Black," "Ruby Tuesday" and "Sympathy for the Devil." Popular HB trouper Carlos Acosta assumes the lead in this "Rooster" incarnation; the original version premiered in '95. Opening performances are at 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. More shows are scheduled March 6 through 8. The Brown Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $10-$84 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
The Derailers and Cheri Knight If you've ever wondered what a musical summit between Buck Owens and His Buckaroos, George Jones, and the Mavericks would sound like, check out the neotraditionalist bull's-eyes "Lies, Lies, Lies" and "Jackpot" by Austin's Derailers. Also like Florida's Mavericks, led by Cuban caballero Raul Malo, the Derailers are fronted by a talented vocalist/guitarist of Hispanic descent, Tony Villanueva, who teams with excellent electric guitarist Brian Hofeldt for a double-whammy of a songwriting tandem. Cheri Knight's an odd choice to open for such a boot-scootin' crew of temporally displaced cowpokes. The intense but low-key native of Hatfield, Massachusetts, runs a flower farm when she's not harvesting songs, and she displays the sort of back-door approach to Nashville country pioneered by Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris (the latter lends her voice to several tracks on Knight's finely rendered sophomore disc, The Northeast Kingdom). In her unorthodox way, Knight fuses the sounds of these barstool divas, incorporating Griffith's Gaelic-tinged folksiness, Carpenter's literate accessibility and Queen Emmy's technical purity and misleadingly easy way with a tune (Knight's lovely "All Blue" sounds like Elite Hotel-era Harris). The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL.
FotoFest 98 The worthy goal of this monthlong festival -- a kind of South by Southwest of the photographic arts -- is to "transform Houston into a citywide gallery featuring more than 75 exhibitions with work from 15 countries." Lens artists from the Czech Republic to the far reaches of the Republic of Texas converge on our burg beginning tonight for the free opening ceremony, centered on downtown's Market Square; it includes exhibit openings, the unveiling of a street-art-signage project designed by Yung Ngo and Keith Krumwiede of the Rice University School of Architecture, a gratis dance performance by the Sandra Organ Dance Company and massive projections of festival works on the outside of the Alley Theatre. A series of related openings/parties continues through March 7. The International Meeting Place -- where art, artists, art specialists and commerce collide -- opens Saturday and continues through March 7. The FotoFest fineprint auction is Wednesday. Various exhibitions featuring the FotoFest imprimatur continue at locations around the city through March 31. 529-9140; www.fotofest.org.
Link Wray Way-gone daddy and pioneering rock guitarist Link (real name: Frederick Lincoln Wray Jr.) set the standard for every string-bender in his wake with the 1958 hit "Rumble" -- whose distinctive distortion was achieved when Wray, in a fit of lo-fi experimentation, punched holes in his speaker cone with a pencil. Link followed up that influential gem with equally raw and classic sides like "Rawhide," "Comanche" and "Ace of Spades." By all accounts, the 68-year-old legend burned down the Bayou City last time through; those who missed that show should spray an extra coat of industrial-strength Scotchgard on those flame-retardant jump suits and get their bad selves in line. The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL.
Anthem "The legacy of the American on the road is largely male, from Lewis and Clark to Steinbeck and Kerouac. We felt it was time for some women to get behind the wheel and see what we could find." So say Anthem writers/producers/directors Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn. And what did these starry-eyed and occasionally starstruck first-time filmmakers find? Two-plus credit-card-bankrolled hours of ruminations on the condition the American condition is in from the likes of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, Robert Redford, Willie Nelson and former Clinton chief of staff George Stephanopoulos, plus a little Kuralt-style slumming with the common man (a fisherman, a gas-station attendant, etc.). In fact, out of 28 interviews that made it to film, only six were with women. What's up with that? Sounds to us as if the legacy of the American on the road remains largely male. Anthem makes its Houston debut with screenings at 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. More info: 639-7515. $5; $4 for students.
Kronos Quartet The daring new-music ensemble -- violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and violist Hank Dutt -- returns to perform a program that includes "Tragedy at the Opera" from Vietnamese composer P.Q. Phan's Memoirs of a Lost Soul, John Cage's "Totem Ancestor," Schnittke's "Collected Songs Where Every Verse Is Filled with Grief," Arvo Pärt's "Psalom," Terry Riley's "G Song" and Bartók's Quartet no. 3. 8 p.m. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. Tix (limited availability): Houston Ticket Center (227-ARTS); Ticketmaster (629-3700).
"The History of Underclothes" Don't expect a dry dissertation about the bloomers and bustles of yore; the only (under)thing this multimedia event has to do with the title subject is that its performers, presumably, wear them. Here's the plan: Dance troupes Fly and Mudslide present respective programs, followed by a performance piece about "stage fright, life, death and other consequential matters" by Laura Hope Steckler. Fly's segment features the pieces "Cookin'" (set to music by Claude Bolling) and "Cool Pop" (billed, rather ambitiously, as a "history of pop music and pop icons"). Mudslide hoofs the tango in choreographer Jennifer Wood's "A Toiling Tortoise's Attempt at Exodus" and performs to live accompaniment by the Georgian Rustavi Choir in Wood's "With: Rivets." Salon-style discussions follow each presentation. 8 tonight and Saturday; more shows are scheduled March 5 through 7. The Duplex, 1924 Brun, 521-4560. $8-$10.
Houston Symphony Gala: "A Date with the Devil" Darkly diabolical beau ideal Samuel Ramey, a basso profundo with a knack for landing opera's juiciest Mephistophelian roles, joins conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the orchestra for this musical dance with the devil. The program includes selections from Gounod's Faust, Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust and Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann. 7 p.m. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-3974. $20-$76 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS).
Save Ferris and Goldfinger On the heels of No Doubt's big bust-out, here comes Save Ferris, another rising nonpunk outfit from Punk Ground Zero (Orange County, California) that sports a ska-tinged sound and a strong female presence at center mike: operatically trained Monique Powell. Its big bust-out was that irrepressible slice of pop nirvana called "The World Is New" -- the "Walking on Sunshine" of ska/pop. Goldfinger's been roundly panned by purists, and not without cause, but for nonpurists who like their ska-informed punk raw, rude and catchy, it's hard to top John Feldman's 'finger. The bands open for Sugar Ray (see Critic's Choice on page 72). 7 p.m. (doors). Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 230-1600. $17.50 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Kelly Willis How is it that this Oklahoma-born, Austin-based singer/songwriter, with her honeydew melon of a voice and the freckled face of an angel, has managed to sidestep superstardom all these years? Blame it on the same part of her maverick personality that allows her to trumpet the incomparable Wanda Jackson as a prime influence, to cover commercially unlikely tracks such as Joe Ely's "Settle for Love" and the Kendalls' cornpone-pop confection "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" and to sever her relationship with A&M Records over the firing of her A&R rep. Who, besides her agent and accountant, cares if Willis lacks a mind for business? To use the parlance of her home state and her chosen field of endeavor -- progressive country -- this girl can sang. 8 and 10 p.m. (the early show is nonsmoking). McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 528-5999. $15.
Everclear See the story on page 70. Jimmie's Chicken Shack and Feeder open. 8 p.m. (doors). The Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue, 863-7173. $15 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
"Years Ending in Nine" Held in conjunction with FotoFest 98, this exhibit is, literally, a collection of photographs taken in years ending in nine, from 1899 to 1989. Drawn from the Museum of Fine Arts' permanent collection, the 140-plus images in the show include pieces by some of the greatest lens artists of the last century, including Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Irving Penn, Andre Kertesz, Carrie Mae Weems, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Eliot Porter and Arkady Shishkin, plus potential hall-of-famers like Michiko Kon, Lee Friedlander, Jerry N. Uelsmann and the late Tseng Kwong Chi. Anne Wilkes Tucker curated. The exhibit opens today -- viewing hours are 12:15 to 6 p.m. -- and continues through April 26 (see Thrills for more info). The MFA, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. $3; $1.50 for students, seniors and children ages six to 18; free for kids five and under.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Sergei Leiferkus and Shostakovich Dmitri Shostakovich, the recalcitrant Russian composer, based his Symphony no. 13, op. 113 ("Babi Yar") and "The Execution of Stepan Razin," op. 119, on works by his similarly outspoken countryman Yevtushenko. The poet returns the artistic homage with a reading of the original texts, and the Shostakovich pieces are performed by Russian baritone Leiferkus, the Moores School Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Franz Anton Krager) and a 200-voice chorus; the event's a fundraiser for the Moores School. 7:30 p.m. Moores Opera House, University of Houston entrance 16 (off Cullen Boulevard). Info: 743-3313. $15-$25 (general admission; limited availability).
"Kai-Olaf Hesse: AfterImages of America" Like many Americans -- especially Gen Xers -- this promising German visualist displays a torrid passion for our popular culture. Hesse gives us a "subjective and personal" outsider's view of our own "visual landscapes of politics, industry and movies" in this exhibit, presented in conjunction with FotoFest 98 and co-sponsored by the Houston Center for Photography. It opens with a reception at 7 tonight and continues through April 3. Goethe Institut Houston, 3120 Southwest Freeway, Suite 100, 528-2787.
Rent This shooting star from the Great White Way is the most decorated work to roll off the Broadway production line in decades, and the first musical since A Chorus Line to pocket both a Pulitzer Prize (for drama) and a Tony Award (for Best Musical of 1996). Written by the late Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm at age 35 just prior to the show's off-Broadway opening in '96, Rent is a rock-and-roll update of La Boheme, Puccini's opera about a group of cash- and love-strapped bohemians. Well, let's call it a loose adaptation; the mod band of singing rebels in Larson's tale sounds more like the latest cast from The Real World -- MTV's chemistry experiment in airheaded socialism -- filtered through the Village Voice classifieds. The starving artists trying to make the monthly nut include an indie filmmaker (Kirk McDonald), a performance artist (Leigh Hetherington), an exotic dancer (Julia Santana), a transvestite (Angel Senor), a musician (Christian Mena) and a "computer-age philosopher" (Mark Leroy Jackson). D'Monroe portrays the inevitable (and appropriately named) landlord, Benjamin Coffin III. The Houston premiere opens with a performance at 8 tonight; the run continues through March 15. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-3974. $35.50-$55 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).