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R.I.P. Robot

Houston mourns the passing of Numbers owner Robert Burtenshaw.

It also retained a lot of its old charm, with concession stands inside the auditorium and aisle markers that recalled its earliest days as a venue. Best of all, the music returned, and that rotating stage has kept moving ever since. Here are three of my favorite nights at the Arena, in hopes that the venue might inspire other ­former nightspots to see that everything old can be new again.

The Temptations, Four Tops, June 8, 1984

Motown was hip again in the early 1980s. The Big Chill dusted off some Hitsville USA classics like "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and a whole new generation learned the songs. When the Temps and Tops "battled" on 1983's Motown 25 TV special, it set in motion a joint tour that came to Houston in the summer of '84.

Even without David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks, The Temptations looked great. They moved in unison, never missing a step, and sounded fantastic, too. The Arena seats just under 3,000 people, and the seat farthest from the stage is only 60 feet away. Listening to the entire room sing along to "My Girl" was entrancing.

Seeing Levi Stubbs and the Four Tops, still a unit of original members at that time, throw down on songs like "I Can't Help Myself" is still a highlight of my concertgoing lifetime. The single best moment of the whole show was when the entire song went silent for a full second, before Stubbs resumed with his soul-wrenching plea — "Bernadette!"

James Brown, March 14, 1986

In 1986, James Brown was one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inaugural class members. He didn't need a comeback tour — he was already the legendary Godfather of Soul. Nonetheless, he rode into Houston that spring high on his sudden hit, "Living in America," from the Rocky IV soundtrack. Was he proud of his return to pop prominence? I'm pretty sure he opened and closed the show with the song.

In between, though, the Arena's mini-dome shook with the repeated stops and count-offs Soul Brother No. 1 was known to command of his airtight band. Fortunately for us, that night his band included sax legend Maceo Parker. They played the good stuff — "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," "Get Up Offa That Thing."

Blondie/Devo, September 19, 2012

My wife was sitting next to me, ­tugging at my shirttail and telling me to sit down and stop taking pictures of Deborah Harry every time she rotated into view. But there she was, just feet away from me. I reminded my wife there was a time when Harry was one of the music world's most photographed women. She wouldn't mind a few more. She might even be a little flattered.

I'd seen the Devo show before — same songs they played at Warehouse Live a year earlier — but it didn't matter. I loved it. Hearing "Girl U Want," "Whip It" and "Uncontrollable Urge" again was like a great encore. Only this time, I had one of Arena's seats to plop into if I needed a rest.

Blondie opened with my favorite Blondie song ever, "Dreaming," and kept the hits coming. Also, just for fun, Harry mashed up "Rapture" with the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." I gotta say, I'd have preferred being 17 and standing ten feet away from her in CBGB, but, all things considered, the Arena wasn't a bad alternative.
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Inquiring Minds

Monsters of Sludge
The Melvins ooze into town on their 30th-anniversary tour.

Nathan Smith

In the annals of alt-rock, pretty much nobody can lay claim to a longer, stranger trip than the Melvins. Since 1983, the ambitious, eclectic godfathers of sludge have traversed enough territory both creatively and geographically to buckle the knees of even the most dedicated touring acts. Along the way, they've managed to inspire nearly as much music as they've written, picking up new fans and friends at seemingly every stop.

Next week, the group swings through town on a trek celebrating its 30th year in business, a span that has seen the release of more than 20 studio albums and nearly ceaseless touring through every two-bit burg with a stage. It's been a tad more than drummer Dale Crover bargained for when he joined up with Buzz Osborne in alternative rock's heady DIY days, but certainly not more than he could handle.

"It's actually only been 29 years for me," says Crover, who joined the Melvins just as they were beginning to gain a modicum of traction in their home state of Washington. "I'd seen the band play in Aberdeen before — the very small town where we're from. And I thought they were kind of cool, probably one of the only bands in town doing original music.

"We had a mutual friend in Krist Novoselic," he continues. "They were looking for a new drummer, and Krist brought those guys over to my house and they asked if I wanted to join the band. Here we are almost 30 years later."

Was there any inkling back then that the Melvins would become his life for the next three decades? It's a question Crover can't help laughing off.

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