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Prince

"Clap your hands, all you sexy people!" Prince told the audience.

And people, we were not sexy. We were geeks through and through, slapping high fives and dancing with the finesse of tipsy five-year-olds, whooping with every familiar riff. And yet, the beautiful thing about Prince was that it didn't matter. Just like every snowflake is unique, everyone is sexy to Prince.

"I don't care what you looked like when you came in here, I'm gonna shake that do loose!" he warned the audience. Yes, Prince was funny. And charismatic. And better than ever. His show earlier this summer at the American Airlines Center, his second stop in Big D on his Musicology tour, showcased an unparalleled performer at the top of his craft. It was as if he'd never been gone, as if he'd never been weird, never gotten "experimental" and "difficult," never painted "slave" across his forehead. It was as if we'd never lost touch. More than a quarter-century after he hit the scene, Prince still ruled.

He started with a bang -- literally, a poof of white confetti -- launching into "Let's Go Crazy" as latecomers hustled through security and practically elbowed the elderly out of the way to get inside on time. Prince strutted and slinked across the cross-shaped stage in a red bowler hat and natty red suit, looking like 20 years had been nothing but a mere suggestion. Is it possible that Prince is not aging? He looks the same, and sounds the same, which is to say he looks and sounds terrific. He kept slamming us with Purple Rain-era hits: "I Would Die 4 U," a tease of a lick from "When Doves Cry" and then "Baby I'm a Star." It wasn't until he briefly left the stage 15 minutes into the set that people dared to sit down.

Later, when he took the stage solo with only an acoustic guitar, the stadium show seemed to shrink a little, get warmer and more intimate. Without his band to play with and off of, Prince seemed to need the crowd a bit more, nudging us to scoot closer and sing along to "Little Red Corvette" and "Raspberry Beret." Whenever we faltered -- like, what are the lyrics to "Cream" anyway? -- he shot back a one-liner.

"Don't lip-sync up in here," he said, a wry smile on his lips. "I know that's what you're used to, but it ain't gonna work tonight."

Age and love seemed to have mellowed him. (Before his late-night performance at Erykah Badu's afterparty, Prince nuzzled with his wife, Manuela Testolini, for hours.) He didn't need so much of the flash and pretense that have often obscured his best asset: his talent. Songs from his latest, Musicology, sat confidently beside the classics. When I heard "On the Couch," I couldn't help but laugh at his romantic entreaty, delivered in that pleading Prince falsetto: "Don't make me sleep on the couch / Love Jones is on the TV again / I wanna go down south."

When the crowd roared at the euphemism, he stopped mid-song. "What y'all hollerin' for? I mean down south to Texas."

Later, he got even more playful with his music, mixing up his own songs with a stirring rendition of the old Negro spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and cutting up with Beyoncé's "Bootylicious" and Alicia Keys's "Fallin'." The crowd welcomed him back for an encore that included "Purple Rain" and "Nothing Compares 2 U," which was a fitting sentiment. Nothing could compare. -- Sarah Hepola

Friday and Saturday, August 6 and 7, at the Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, 1-866-4HOUTIX.

Atreyu, with Unearth, Every Time I Die and Lamb of God

As neo-screamers Atreyu were finishing up their second album, The Curse, vocalist Alex Varkatzas was promising evolution. "We're trying to make a different record," he said. "They didn't want to do the same shit recycled." The most pleasant revelations from the SoCal quintet's new disc are awe-inspiring slabs of metalcore -- apeshit vocal jawing ("Right Side of the Bed"), jackhammer riffs ("You Eclipsed By Me") and ribbons of melodic delicacy ("The Crimson"). -- Annie Zaleski

Sunday, August 8, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.

Starlite Desperation

Starlite Desperation resides in sun-kissed Los Angeles. But the band has also done time in tough cities like Detroit, which undoubtedly contributed to the white-knuckled riffs and dark jams on albums such as Go Kill Mice and Show You What a Baby Won't. Residue from other rough environs (Salinas, California) also explains the quartet's feral sound on its latest EP, Violate a Sundae. Songs like "The Thing" resemble Iggy Pop fronting a napalm wall of sound, as much fuzzed-out swagger as come-hither swing. In fact, on the band's spring tour, Starlite Desperation's opening sets outgrooved the Rapture and sleazed more than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The bane's hipster-defeating secret? Hip-swiveling beats, taut riffs and even tighter pants -- the classic hallmarks of garage-rock seduction. -- Annie Zaleski

Thursday, August 5, at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

Lacuna Coil and Superjoint Ritual, with Devildriver

To hell with Frank Sinatra. Suck a fat one, Luciano Pavarotti. Do the waiters at the Olive Garden look lovelorn, starstruck or even happy to you? Enter Lacuna Coil, a band for every Italian who hears "Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey" and is provoked to put on black eyeliner and smash something with a crowbar. And not Pauly Walnuts' kneecaps, either. (Enter other Italian stereotypes here.) The Milan sextet bucks the traditions of the homeland in favor of good old American, epic, hard rock, complete with soaring female vocals and grinding guitars. Kind of like the italiano version of Evanescence, only we'll give Lacuna Coil the benefit of the doubt. The band members could charge admission for their Web bios alone. They not only give their height and weight in meters and kilograms (fucking metric system) but also offer some of their favorite things, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Abba and Whoopi Goldberg. Something has been horribly, irrecoverably lost in the translation.

When your logo is a pentagram with a pot leaf in the center, and your vocalist is "God of metal" Phil Anselmo (Pantera), you've got all the symbolism needed to pull off a skin-peeling speed-metal record. And that's exactly what Superjoint Ritual did, creating 13 blistering tracks and christening them A Lethal Dose of American Hatred. The band's music is the quintessential metal menagerie: screeching about Satan, demonic group-growl overdubs, breakneck-speed guitars (do they even change chords?) and more double bass drumming than an old Sepultura record. As if Superjoint Ritual didn't have enough hardcore credibility, the band recently played the main stage at Ozzfest. "The SJR (crowd, fans, martyrs...!) are insane," Anselmo wrote in his tour diary. "Every show has been unfucking believable!" This week, the band will bring the insanity to the illustrious and recently reopened I-Ball. -- Nathan Dinsdale and Niki D'Andrea

Friday, August 6, at the International Ballroom, 14035 South Main, 713-728-9175.

Clutch

After nearly 13 years of almost nonstop rocking and touring, Clutch has yet to repeat itself. The Maryland-based outfit continues to put out creative, unpredictable music pulling from influences such as Led Zeppelin, the Who, John Coltrane and Chuck D. From the aggro-hop of Transnational Speedway Leagueto the spacey, polyrhythmic and category-defying compositions on 2001's Pure Rock Fury, the quartet has successfully melded disparate styles into a unique, powerful sound that never forsakes subtlety. With each release, the group's compositions have simultaneously become more complex and more urgent. Vocalist Neil Fallon spouts inscrutable lyrics with the passion and perversity of a Southern Baptist satanist, driven to speaking in tongues by the gut-punching guitar work of Tim Sult. Meanwhile, Dan Maines delivers intestine-rattling bass lines, and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster manages to maintain a killer groove while following along in a whole different hymnal. The band's live shows are legendary for their seemingly boundless energy, and dates on the current tour, supporting this year's DRT release, Blast Tyrant, promise at least two hours of music that will span the years and punish the ears. -- Eric Eyl

Saturday, August 7, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.

Don Williams

Don Williams, he of the head-to-toe denim garb, white beard and hair, battered hat and gentle, avuncular brand of country, had 17 No. 1 country hits between 1974 and 1986, including such chestnuts as "Good Ole Boys Like Me," "'Til the Rivers All Run Dry" and, most notable, "I Believe in You." He also recorded Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You" as a duet with Emmylou Harris, appeared in Smokey & The Bandit II and was named the 1970s Country Music Star of the Decade in England. Which is not really much of a surprise, since the baritone crooner has always seemed like the successor to Jim Reeves, who's still regarded by the typical English country music fan (and there are more of them than you think) as a sort of god.

Likewise for both Reeves and Williams in, of all places, the English-speaking countries of sub-Saharan Africa. There, what we call country is known as sentimental music, and country doesn't come much more sentimental than that of Williams and Reeves. Whatever you call it, Williams's status as a giant of music in such countries as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda and Malawi rivals that of Bob Marley. Nigerian King Sunny Ade has said he is a huge influence. A desperate soon-to-be-ex-President of Malawi once broke off a phone call to Williams, and some believe the candidate's radio broadcast of that chat helped him win re-election. And if you think I'm pulling your leg, you can get proof: In 1997 Williams became the first country star to tour Africa, and his trip to Zimbabwe is now available on the Into Africa DVD. -- John Nova Lomax

Friday, August 6, at the Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West, 281-807-8700.

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