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Split Lip Rayfield, with Beetle

On the surface, bluegrass seems to have little in common with punk. After all, the former is traditionally acoustic, not electric, and most lineups don't even include a drummer. Yet because both styles are built for speed, former rockers Jeff Eaton, Wayne Gottstine, Kirk Rundstrom and Eric Mardis sound extremely comfortable within the context of Split Lip Rayfield. Take "Redneck Tailgate Dream," a track from Should Have Seen It Coming, the band's latest Bloodshot Records release. The ditty races along like a Ford pickup on jet fuel, spewing sassy lyrics ("Susie Lynn, she's just thirteen / Lookin' trashy and wearin' my high school ring") like plumes of exhaust. Granted, even wisecracks as amusing as the ones on "A Little More Cocaine, Please" can wear thin after a while, but the music as a whole is tart and twangy enough to please just about any fan of countrified Americana. And as a bonus, numbers such as "Just Like a Gillian Welch Song" manage to be wry and affecting at the same time. Thanks to Split Lip Rayfield, bluegrass has been punk'd. -- Michael Roberts

Thursday, March 3, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.The Groovie Ghoulies, with the Briggs and 7 Seconds

Straight-ahead Ramonesy rockin' punk will never go out of style, but it's always a pleasure to see a band get the idea exactly right -- like San Francisco's Groovie Ghoulies. The Ghoulies know that it's not enough to be influenced just by the late New York foursome's fast songs and simple guitar riffs; to make the music mean anything, you have to absorb all the things that made the Ramones' sound what it was -- the AM radio girl-group grandeur, the Beach Boys' youthful joy, B-movie cartoon spookiness and irreverent celebration of pop culture -- and create something to call your own. For the Groovie Ghoulies (Kepi on vocals, Roach on guitar, B-Face on bass, Amy on drums), this means embracing the tongue-in-cheek, scary/silly imagery their name implies, and writing catchy songs punctuated with hand claps and Chuck Berryish pop hooks, then filtering it all through a sunny California disposition, to end up not so much sounding like the Ramones as evoking the same spirit. -- Matt Harnish

Saturday, March 5, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.

Steve Vai, with Eric Sardinas

While most rock fans appreciate a guitarist's style in, say, the way Clapton churns a blues riff or Hendrix rapidly fingers a fret board, a smaller but even more passionate group studies guitar virtuosi. Players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai took an almost classical music approach to their instrument in the '80s, melding the Mozart and the metal, shredding like muthafuckas, and pushing the instrument in a way that aficionados find thrilling and detractors find masturbatory. Count a diverse crew in the former category -- over the years, Vai has played with musical artists as disparate as Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth and Ralph Macchio. (OK, the last was in the movie Crossroads, where Vai played Satan's personal axe-slinger and inexplicably lost a guitar showdown to the Karate Kid.)

It's unlikely that Real Illusions: Reflections, Vai's newest record, will disappoint too many of his fans or win any converts. Concept record alert! This is the first in a planned series of four CDs in which Vai and his band, The Breed, explore humanity's purpose as seen through the eyes of a Captain Drake Mason, who has experienced a spiritual awakening. Yikes! The fact that the liner notes to this record begin with the story's ending and the songs (some with words, some instrumental) are not arranged in the order the story unfolds will leave the prog-rock geeks buzzing. -- Bob Ruggiero

Friday, March 4, at the Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas, 713-230-1600.The Comas, with Vietnam

As artistic inspirations go, nothing tops the exquisite bitterness and self-awareness that come from a painful breakup. When the Comas' Andy Herod parted ways with Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams, the result was the North Carolina band's masterpiece, 2004's delicately beautiful Conductor. On the opening track, Herod sets the tone with a coolly delivered kiss-off: "May your days be long and cold / May your mirror come back old / May your visions be too much / May you then think about us." Throughout the record, insight, humor and candor transform Herod's passion and pain into blissed-out pop and balls-out rock. Fuzzbox guitars and moments of warm-fuzzy wistfulness augment sonic-blast freak-outs and spiritualized space outs. They say that breaking up is hard to do, but Herod turns falling apart into higher art. -- Eryc Eyl

Sunday, March 6, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.Bile Box

In a recent episode of the insipid series Newlyweds, Nick and Jess hug and kiss and smile big toothy grins at one another per always. Nothing too exciting, until you look a bit closer and realize that deadbeat hubby Nick is, in a few scenes, wearing a Yes shirt. Tha ha-rah!

Now I don't know about you, but I for one can't think of too many things in the universe more diametrically opposed than Nick Lachey and the space-drenched, prog-obsessed, drug-soaked "mountains come out of the sky" excess of Yes' Fragile-era soundscape. With the exception of the watered-down, Wakeman-less Big 80s staple "Owner of a Lonely Heart," I'm willing to bet dollars to dick nuts he can't name a single tune. That's right. Dick nuts!

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