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Big Head Todd & the Monsters, with Carbon Leaf

It’s pretty incredible that Big Head Todd & the Monsters are still around, considering that they emerged during the same H.O.R.D.E. era that gave the jam-rock world the Spin Doctors. But since their early-’90s heyday, they’ve become a reliable, sturdy three-piece, the kind of dependable live band that doesn’t warrant constant sellouts but rather the kind of “Yeah, I can dig this” vibe that long-term music careers are made of.

In the years since their initial hype ebbed, Big Head Todd & the Monsters have had ups (an appearance at last year’s Austin City Limits fest) and downs (one band member’s infamous hookup on an episode of MTV’s The Real World). Last year’s double-disc Live at the Fillmore finds them delivering a solid if perfunctory set of originals that display their roots in Southern rock, among them “Crazy Mary” (not the Victoria Williams song that Pearl Jam covers) and “Conquistador,” which flirts — albeit briefly — with a bit of melancholy. More than anything else, though, Live at the Fillmore proves that for Big Head Todd & the Monsters, diligence pays off — everything here sounds prouder, brighter and better than any studio album the group has recorded. Jeff Miller Thursday, March 10, at the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.

Big D and the Kids Table

Normally “ska-punk” and “pop-punk” give me the heebie-jeebies, but this horn-laden and huge (11-piece) Beantown ensemble won me over. Big D and the Kids Table can swing both fluid Specials-style ska — complete with killer keyboards, luxurious horns and ooh-aah female backing vocals — and anthemic, textured punk stompers. Their sprawling, 20-song, 80-minute opus How It Goes comes as close as close gets to a ska-punk symphony, an album that repegs the bar a few inches higher for all others in the field. Sure, the lyrics are hedonistic and insipid. Who gives a shit? This stuff is fun, pure and simple, and promises to be even more so on the big stage at Fitz’s. John Nova Lomax Thursday, March 10, at Fitzgerald’s, 2406 White Oak Drive, 713-862-3838.

Tom Russell

The latest CD from this Cali-reared former Brooklyn cowboy who now lives in El Paso is called Hotwalker, which refers to a person who walks racehorses to cool them off after a run. Despite its, ahem, interesting collage of spoken word, audio snippets and music that explores vanishing American bohemia, one wonders if Russell also needed a cool-down before he made it. As to how he’ll get such an overloaded steed to run in concert, who knows? But given Russell’s years on the club boards with six-string partner in crime Andrew Hardin, it’s a sure bet this country-folk vet won’t be able to help delivering a show well worth the ducats — especially when he transforms the Hotwalker trip into performance. Rob Patterson Thursday, March 10, at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.

Electric Eel Shock, with the Thieves and Ronin Kin

The Gearhead Records brass must’ve racked up some serious frequent-flyer miles while wintering in Japan, as Electric Eel Shock is one of two (and maybe more) rising sons signed by the label recently. It hardly matters that thousands of miles separate Electric Eel Shock from Gearhead’s West Coast hooch haunts; the label’s sonic earmarks abound: brutally lacerated MC5 riffage, frantic pacing and endless proclamations of rock and roll’s life-saving properties. And therein lies the main charm of Electric Eel Shock’s upcoming U.S. debut, Electric Eel Shock Go U.S.!: the hilariously broken English lyrics. “I’m sorry I can’t speak English well, but I wanna sing this song for you guys!” “My God is early Black Sabbath. Every day, every night, I like Ramones!” “I never gonna give it up. I gonna eat it up!” In-friggin’-deed!

While not quite the exploding fuzz-storm of Japanese punk demolitionists that is Guitar Wolf (themselves in town next week), Electric Eel Shock exhibits the universal attributes of seemingly all Japanese rock bands: an ocean-deep reservoir of energy, a healthy respect for leaving extraneous electrical noise in the mix and a ridiculously manic, wall-bouncing live show. It’s not the catchiest stuff in the world, and it even gets numbing by disc’s end, but it’s a welcome departure from Gearhead’s sometimes rote hot-rod punk.

The Thieves are a trio of Englishmen — purveyors of straight-ahead hard-rock jams tinged with Pink Floyd psychedelia and T. Rex glam flourishes — who have been marooned in Southern California the past few years. The band’s White Line EP transcends a blah opening tune to end with the right-left combo punch of “Everynite” and “It Still Goes On.” These two roundhouse rockers showcase the band’s all-too-uncommon forte: a Zep-like ability to find a nice hypnotic riff, ride it out and build it up into a thunderous crescendo. Locals Ronin King open with a wall of noise that would make Phil Spector piss his pants. Eric Davidson and John Nova Lomax Thursday, March 10, at Super Happy Fun Land, 2610 Ashland, 713-880-2100.

Castanets with Weird Weeds and Lazarus

Basically the brainchild of one Raymond Roposa, Castanets makes what he calls “derailed psych-country.” Who am I to disagree with such astuteness? Cathedral is country as in Western desert, sun-fried, things done in rural county shacks you don’t want to know about. Equal parts Daniel Johnston and Syd Barrett if each were raised on Willie Nelson, Roposa mixes his worryingly whispered vocals with acoustic guitar, found objects and even some horns just to keep you guessing. Surprisingly pretty and desolate, Cathedral is engaging in a twisted sort of way. “Baby, I don’t know where the hell I am,” Roposa sings on “No Light to Be Found.” No one will know this place either, but it is an interesting, scary and ultimately satisfying locale. Darryl Smyers Friday, March 11, at Walter’s on Washington, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-864-2727.

Elvis Costello & the Imposters, with Tift Merritt

As the official Most Stubbornly Eclectic Rock Artist to Maintain a Mainstream Toehold Over the Course of Nearly Three Decades, Elvis Costello has earned a little privacy, so who can blame the guy if he doesn’t feel like doing interviews? Too bad, though, ’cause we wanted to ask him about his gooey relationship with Houston blues, particularly his apparent love for Bobby Bland and Jimmy “T-99” Nelson. Instead, we’ll just reiterate that EC’s rootsy ’n’ recent Delivery Man disc is the beloved entertainer’s most satisfying rock record since he delved into the world of chamber music song-cycles, Burt Bacharach collaborations and marriages to hot jazz divas (all right, just one of each, but still...). Add in the fact that these Imposters are really the classic Attractions with Davey Faragher replacing turncoat bassist Bruce Thomas, and there’s every reason to expect a real Snopesian barn-burner of a show. Scott Faingold Sunday, March 13, at the Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas, 713-230-1600.

Pat Metheny

Guitar legend Pat Metheny has done nothing more than expand his horizons for nearly 30 years. Initially a fusion player lost in the ’70s torrent of jazz-lite, Metheny always had the chops but seemed to stay too firmly in check to rank with the greats. That all ended with 1980’s ponderously titled As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, his collaboration with Lyle Mays. Called jazz simply because of ECM label constraints, the found sounds and electronics of Wichita were such a shocking departure that many purists cried foul.

The Way Up is Metheny’s best since Song X, his untamed effort with Ornette Coleman. With traffic noises as a backdrop, Metheny’s latest actually succeeds in melding his wild-oats years with the fusion that first gained him notoriety. Soft and slow passages are enlivened by atypical frenzies reminiscent of the late, great Frank Zappa. Not content to serve as background music, Metheny continues challenging himself and the listener. Few can claim such distinction. — Darryl Smyers Monday, March 14, at the Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas, 713-230-1600.

Steve Miller Band

He may have sung years ago about wanting to “fly like an eagle into the future,” but it’s been more than a decade since Steve Miller released an album of new material. So will his rodeo appearance be a case of “take the money and run,” or will the 61-year-old rocker transform the big barn into “Swingtown” and spend the night “rockin’ you, baby”? A report from his appearance at the San Antonio rodeo last month suggests the latter. Recently returned to the road after a four-year break, Miller is sure to play the big hits, and for some that’s more than enough. But with blues harmonica whiz Norton Buffalo still in the band, the Dallas native also has been tending to his Texas blues roots, paying tribute in San Antone to Freddie King and playing his version of Mississippi bluesman K.C. Douglas’s “Mercury Blues” (which, as it was a hit for Alan Jackson, should satisfy the country purists at the rodeo). So with a little “Abracadabra,” he might “reach out and grab ya” with something more than the usual exercise in nostalgia. — Rob Patterson Monday, March 14, at Reliant Center, 1 Reliant Park, 832-667-1400.

The Bravery, with Ash

MTV and Rolling Stone both call them “an artist to watch.” They’re the “Top of the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2005’ poll.” They are the next Strokes, or at the very least, the next Killers. The members of hyped-up NYC act the Bravery practically have “next big thing” stamped on their foreheads — they’re even up for an election in that category right now in Fuse. Do they deserve it? Well, the guitarist seems to be somehow hung up on both the Edge circa Unforgettable Fire and a motley crew of hair-metal shredders; singer Sam Endicott lifted his anguished, world-weary faux English drawl lock-stock-and-smoking-eye-shadow from Robert Smith; the drummer rides his high hats nonstop like he’s in New Order; and the whole thing rests on 2K4’s de rigueur bed of warm synths and droning bass. It’s all very danceable, of course, and it is pleasant. But here’s the thing: All their songs sound alike, and they all sound like last year, not this year. In short, people who like this sort of thing will like this sort of thing, and I’m sure this will be a successful year for the Bravery. As for me, I think it’s bands like this that will smother retro-’80s rock in its cradle. Last year in this paper, Garrett Kamps predicted that this stuff had jumped the shark. How tragically right he seems to have been.

Oh, and poseur alert! Did you know that just two years ago Endicott — who is now decked out in leather and a Morrissey-style pompadour — was the dreads-sporting leader of a ska band called Skabba the Hutt? — John Nova Lomax Monday, March 14, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.

VHS or Beta, with Ambulance LTD and Robbers on High Street

The always inquisitive VHS or Beta has a fresh query for its fans: Disco or new wave? After debuting with 2002’s Le Funk, which married house music’s throbbing metronome to the jam-band circuit’s organic improvisation, the Louisville quartet uncorked last year’s Night on Fire, which is starkly angular enough to chase away party guests. Among fans of its earlier grooves, this metamorphosis raised questions, such as “What’s with the English accent?” and “Why the maddeningly steady percussive pulse?” However, recent converts who discovered VHS or Beta through college radio or some contextual-recommendation system (“if you like Interpol/the Rapture/the Curiosa Tour in a theoretical, I’m-not-actually-buying-tickets way, try...”) dig the band’s ability to rescue sorrow-shipwrecked songs with buoyant bass lines. Split between these vastly different albums, VHS or Beta set lists generate flashbacks to 1991 school dances, at which tracks from the Cure’s Mixed Up might have segued into selections from C&C Music Factory. Andrew Miller Tuesday, March 15, at the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.

Melissa Ferrick, with Garrison Starr

Onetime violin prodigy Melissa Ferrick is used to playing second fiddle; even her fans call her “the other Melissa,” in deference to Ms. Etheridge. Signed to Atlantic in the early-’90s, Ferrick watched another girl-with-guitar hopeful on her label soar while her albums tanked, a scenario she skewered with “The Juliana Hatfield Song.” As a hard-touring independent artist with an aggressive acoustic approach, she then attracted endless comparisons to Ani DiFranco. While DiFranco now plays full-blown funk with a big brassy band, Ferrick still prefers stripped-down showcases, with only an occasional drummer or lap-steel player in tow. And none of the aforementioned artists has ever recorded a tune as deliciously tawdry as Ferrick’s “Drive,” an explicit ode to lesbian love that she sometimes segues with Prince’s “Darling Nikki.” — Andrew Miller Tuesday, March 15, at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

This one-man prog-disco-pop-beatboxing act releases records that sound like they were recorded one instrument at a time using two tape recorders, but from what I can make out, the songs seem fairly solid. If you like early Sebadoh and that shrimpy guy from the Moldy Peaches, you’ll probably have a tolerance for this. Plus, lo-fi acts almost always sound better live. — Scott Faingold Tuesday, March 15, at the Proletariat, 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.

Kings of Leon, with Soundtrack of Our Lives and the Features

The Tennessee quartet Kings of Leon — three brothers and a cousin who share the last name Followill — have garnered a lot of ink for their backstory. The brothers are sons of an itinerant fundamentalist preacher father, and that Southern-gothic bio often has obscured the fact that this is one of the best new bands around, even if their home country doesn’t quite get them yet (as opposed to the UK, where they’re huge, bona fide double-platinum superstars). While their full-length debut was packed with up-tempo Southern-fried rockers, the just-released Aha Shake Heartbreak has a bleary-eyed world-weariness that hints strongly at too many nights with various body parts either pressed down to mirrored surfaces, wrapped around glass bottlenecks or inserted in various groupie orifices. In fact, groupie love seems to be the record’s overriding theme, as attested to by tracks such as “Taper Jean Girl,” the impossibly catchy “The Bucket” and “Slow Night, So Long” (“I hate her face / But I enjoy the company”). Vocalist Caleb’s recurring self-doubt (two songs mention his fear of growing bald) and morning-after recriminations make his partying tales sound more resigned than boastful. He knows last night was fun, but horribly sleazy (though we should all have such problems).

The band certainly has seen and done a lot in two years. The work of drummer Nathan and bassist Jared is mixed to the forefront, while the licks of lead guitarist Matthew are all over the map. While Caleb’s already trademark slurred vocals (“song” becomes “saaawwng”) are bound to frustrate those who try to decipher the lyrics, they are utterly unique, a sort of singing in tongues.

In interviews, the Kings talk about how they hope each record advances on the last and how they want to create distinctive periods à la the Rolling Stones. Though some of the slower material drags things down slightly, Aha certainly achieves that. Come to think of it, that template also worked for another little act called U2, who hand-picked the Kings to open the spring leg of their highly anticipated U.S. tour, which begins only a couple of weeks after this date. Hopefully, the boys won’t be swayed by the incessant preaching of that band’s messianic leader. Bob Ruggiero Tuesday, March 15, at the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.

The Duhks

Like a sequel to Hitchcock’s The Birds, suddenly the Duhks are everywhere. NPR, The Washington Post, No Depression mag, KPFT’s World Cafe...It seems the media can’t get enough of these five Winnepegians. Twentysomethings with oodles of music schooling, the Duhks play roots music, twisting it up with nods to other genres.

The band recently was signed by Sugar Hill Records, so comparisons to the label’s flagship act Nickel Creek immediately spring to mind, but the song “Mists of Down Below” reminds us of another Sugar Hill act — namely, the brainy Northeast roots-jam band Railroad Earth. Produced by Bela Fleck and Gary Paczosa, the self-titled album might be a little too clean and often proceeds at a measured, restrained pace, although occasionally the pickers loosen their grip on the reins with jammy instrumentals like “Gene’s Machine.” I suspect their live shows have more verve than their recording.

While the band anchors itself in old-timey music (most of the cuts are new arrangements of traditionals), it has a distinct New Age aura. Lead singer Jessica Havey (there’s never an article that doesn’t prominently mention her prominent tattoos, so there!) has a smooth, bluesy, quite dramatic voice that on the surface wouldn’t seem to mate well with the Duhks’ Celtic and Appalachian musical explorations. But it’s exactly this dissonance that makes the package work on tracks like “Four Blue Walls” or “Death Came A Knockin’,” whose Latin drumming and percussive banjo sound like Odetta in a session with Arthur Fielder’s Delta blues symphonic minions. Ringer guests like Fleck, Irish songwriting legend Paul Brady, and top-of-the-line bassists Victor Wooten and Edgar Meyer add priceless embellishments. William Michael Smith Wednesday, March 16, at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.

Hot Hot Heat with Louis XIV

A major-label band touring an album before it’s released? And it’s not due to “packaging technologies” à la Spinal Tap? Can it be? Crazy as it sounds, Hot Hot Heat has decided to tour the States for the month before the release of their major-label debut, Elevators. It could all be a ploy to maintain indie cred in the face of Sire Records’ big bucks, but odds are it’s just to warm up new guitarist Luke Paquin. While they’ve officially offered only a few clues to the new full-length (the single “Goodnight, Goodnight” and some studio video clips on their Web site), it would seem the band has kept on with its garage/new-wave stylings. So those who want to know what the new album is gonna sound like better get to the show.

Tagging along on this rock and roll revival are San Diego’s own rock and roll revivalists, Louis XIV. These new pretenders to the throne don’t take much thought; they’re in it for the rock and roll. They walk the line of classic garage rockers and able balladeers without too much difficulty. For a new band, they’ve certainly got the formula, right down to the heavy use of naked females in their cover art. All in all, the bands are a good match, so muss up your hair and get ready. — Chris True Wednesday, March 16, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.

Xiu Xiu

San Jose queer-centric soft rockers Xiu Xiu have been able to successfully weave a plush down comforter of unidentifiable influences — a you-can’t-peg-us factor to the nth degree. At times, Jamie Stewart’s voice quivers and rattles over straight, angular post-punk; at others, it aches over syrupy, rich acoustic guitars; and occasionally, it soars above an electronic orchestra. An unrepentant current of sexuality pulses throughout — swimming just below the surface but ever-present, like a great white’s dorsal fin. Stewart’s gargantuan, longing lust has trapped him in a prison of his own desire. Think that’s “gay,” in the junior high sense? Well, dig these lyrics: “Cremate me after you cum on my lips / Honey boy / Place my ashes in a vase beneath your workout bench.” Brian McManus Saturday, March 12, at Mary Jane’s Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.

Panthers

It’s tough to figure out Vice Records. On the one hand, they employ the smart, Brit-proud, smoked-out rap clique the Streets, who — while devoid of the flow American audiences are accustomed to — are cool and risky in their own right. The label also snorts pulverizing disco power duo Death from Above 1979 and hotly hyped dance-music makers Bloc Party, while at the same time taking long tokes on serious downers Panthers, whose tambourine-laden hand claps gently cup the balls of pompadoured rock revivalists, and whose political bent has been lifted directly from the plate of Nation of Ulysses. Sometimes shaking the musical snow globe can be a beautiful thing, but such you-dropped-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate moments are rare. More often than not, mixing the quick with the slow is a surefire recipe for a messy coronary collapse. With a sister magazine that’s been covering the culture of drug debauchery for over a decade, seems like Vice should know this. — Brian McManus Early show, Wednesday, March 16, at the Proletariat, 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.

Bobby Conn

Hey, mathlete, figure this one out: Queen + Bowie + The Rocky Horror Picture Show = ?

Time’s up, put down your pencils. You guessed Bobby Conn. Damn, so close, but wrong. An equation that equals Conn would also have been divided by violin, multiplied by a fistful of psychedelics, and added to a pair of nut-hugging stretch pants...all to the power of two, of course. With songs about whores, private country clubs, gun control, the capitalist system and the United Nations, Conn is able to masterfully walk a fine line between drenching his music in decadent excess and teaching his hypnotized audience a lesson. His stage persona — part outlandishly oversexed deviant, part rock and roll high priest — runs dangerously close at times to being performance art, but huge sonic ripping riffs catapult him from the pit of sucking joke into a stratosphere of “Holy fuck!” — Brian McManus Wednesday, March 16, at the Proletariat, 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.

Oxes, with Enon

Oxes hail (appropriately) from the south side of that John Waters mecca of weird, Baltimore, where their tight, continually changing math riffs teeter on the edge of a mountain pass made of metal. They’ve fallen victim to a dubious distinction of Courtney Lovian proportions over the years, in that they’re known as much (if not more) for news-making antics than for their complex music. Their infamous XXX album cover out a couple of years ago depicted the threesome receiving fellatio and snorting the devil’s dandruff and was pulled off record store shelves. Wireless rigs and no vocal mikes allow them to roam through unsuspecting crowds as they play — that is, when they’re not standing on two-foot-high specially crafted black boxes that raise them above the stage like prophets of rock in an Andy Kaufman wet dream. — Brian McManus Tuesday, March 15, at Mary Jane’s Fat Cat, 4216 Washington, 713-869-5263.

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