Hello, Houston!

"I remember you so clearly, the first one through the door...I return to find you drifting, too far from the shore" — Tom Petty, "Don't Fade on Me" (Wildflowers, 1994)

This is the second weekend of both iFest and the Crawfish Festival up in Spring, so it's probably the two- or three-day span when a lot of Houston-area citizens will take in as much live music as they will all year. Pity. The season's just getting started, so Noise thought he would break down the next couple of months in live music venue by venue for you.

But first, it's also the weekend after Noise buried an old friend, a gifted artist and tortured soul whose considerable vinyl collection and insatiable curiosity about the workings of things were ultimately no match for the demons that convinced him to take his own life April 13. We went to high school and Boy Scouts together, then drifted apart, but managed to reconnect somewhat after I moved back to Houston. Dale always seemed to be there whenever I'd show up on the patio at Poison Girl, talking excitedly about his latest fascination. I'll miss him.

As — well, not attractive — but maybe as understandable as artists like Ozzy Osbourne or Soundgarden sometimes made it seem, suicide never seemed like a viable option to me. Not with another show always around the corner — a show that probably won't, but just might, answer the ever-lingering questions at the back of your mind. The important ones that your friends, family and co-workers never could: "How did I get here?" "Where does that highway go?" "My God...what have I done?"

Dale, this note's for you.

Arena Theatre (7326 SW Fwy.): This in-the-round venue tucked underneath two office towers on the Wild West side is rapidly becoming Noise's favorite place to see a show in town. (Foreigner killed.) It's definitely the place to be for both classic and contemporary soul, with Mos Def, Ledisi and Bilal (Friday), the O'Jays (May 1), India.arie (May 23), the "Heads of State" tour with Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant (May 24), the Whispers and Manhattans (June 6), Boyz II Men and Eric Benét (July 2), Brian McKnight (July 9) and the Dramatics, Stylistics and Rose Royce (July 31) all on the way.

Country lovers can tap their feet to Ronnie Milsap (Saturday) and Randy Travis (June 28), while classic rockers won't want to miss Beatles pal Joe Cocker (June 15) and Heart (August 27). A couple of Kings, B.B. (May 29) and Gipsy (June 17), are also on the horizon, along with the "Yo! MTV Rap Fest" starring Naughty by Nature, 2 Live Crew, Big Daddy Kane, Tone Loc, Rob Base and host Ed Lover (June 13). Grade: B+

Continental Club (3700 Main): The Main Street mainstay rips into May with the Link Wray menace of Tito & Tarantula (May 1), and twangs it up with Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash (May 8), Two Tons of Steel (May 29), Jesse Dayton (June 6) and the Gourds (July 3). Taking 12 bars are "Juke Joint Duo" Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcolm (June 23) and Candye Kane & her Blues Orchestra (May 24). Louisianans Big Sam's Funky Nation (May 8) and the Lost Bayou Ramblers (June 12) make their semi-regular rounds, and, as always, the calendar is stocked with locals (Blaggards, June 13) and returning ex-locals (Mando Saenz, May 28).

Austin's Dustin Welch, whose Whiskey Priest is an early front-runner for Texas album of the year, heads an excellent roots-rock bill May 9 with Mark Germino and the Gougers. Special events include "Prom Night" with Molly & the Ringwalds and Disco Expressions (May 22), a crawfish boil in the new-and-improved backyard (now with icehouse!) May 16 with the Allen Oldies Band, Umbrella Man and Sean Reefer & the Resin Valley Boys, and Oldies Fest starring Archie Bell, Roy Head, Barbara Lynn and wildman Andre Williams (September 5). Grade: B

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion (2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands): The big ol' shed way up in the pines is back from Ike and bigger than ever after a multimillion-dollar renovation. Likely sellouts include Dave Matthews Band (May 1), Kenny Chesney with Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert (May 3), the big Buzzfest bro-down with Korn, 311, Toadies, Blue October and lots more (May 10), No Doubt (May 31), Rascal Flatts (June 14), Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd (June 30), Aerosmith and ZZ Top (July 17), Coldplay (July 22), Rod Stewart (July 24), The Fray (July 25), Def Leppard, Poison and Cheap Trick (August 19), Incubus (August 21) and Depeche Mode (August 30).

Still, the show of the summer may turn out to be the lighter-waving triple bill of Styx, .38 Special and REO Speedwagon (June 7). Hold on loosely, y'all. Grade: B+

Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak): Noise doesn't make it up to Fitz's all that often, mostly because he doesn't make it up to the Heights all that often, but the old Polish dance hall is still a reliable redoubt for Houston's harder-edged bands and the occasional out-of-towner. Coming up: rockabilly cat Deke Dickerson (April 30), the return of New Orleans gypsies Zydepunks with Los Skarnales (May 7), take-no-prisoners local punks American Fangs' CD release (May 8), high-school headbangers Metavenge (May 23), hippie hooligans Spoonfed Tribe (June 6) and San Antonio Smiths lovers Girl in Coma's first Houston show since last month's dust-up with some off-duty HPD officers at Chances (June 9). Grade: C+

House of Blues (1204 Caroline): House of Blues's tide of tribute bands has momentarily receded somewhat, save one ringer: Adler's Appetite, featuring original Guns 'N' Roses drummer Steven Adler, performing Appetite for Destruction in its entirety with backwoods barnburners the Texas Hippie Coalition (May 21). Tributes to Motown (Souled Out, May 30), Led Zeppelin (Zoso, May 8) and the Beatles (Getback!, May 9) are on the way, as are several bands who now exist, more or less, as tributes to themselves: UB40 (April 29), Live (May 14), Better than Ezra (June 6) and Third Eye Blind (June 9).

Otherwise, John Lee Hooker Jr. follows in his dad's boogie-chillun footsteps (Thursday), George Clinton lands the P-Funk Mothership (April 30), Latin chanteuse Ximena Sarinana enchants (May 1), Snoop Dogg barks (May 6), Paris and Dead Prez spit some hard truths (May 15) and the following grade gets bumped to B+ if stacked-heel pre-punks the New York Dolls are indeed booked for June 4 like Noise has heard. Grade: B-

McGonigel's Mucky Duck (2425 Norfolk): Houston's premier acoustic listening room welcomes honey-voiced Missouri songbird Iris Dement (Thursday), old favorite Jimmy LaFave (Friday), roots-rock wordsmith Randy Weeks (Saturday), hometown gal Trish Murphy (Tuesday) and blue-eyed soulman Dan Dyer (Wednesday) to round out this month. Coming in May are local jazz siren Kristine Mills's Bossanovafied CD release (May 2), potential Americana 2009 MVP Slaid Cleaves (May 9), ex-New Grass Revival bassist John Cowan (May 26) and two of Austin's hotter young rootsy acts: Suzanna Choffel (May 12) and the Belleville Outfit (May 28). Grade: C

Meridian (1503 Chartres): All metal all the time at Meridian...or is it? Well, it mostly is, but good metal: Napalm Death (Monday), Dredg and Torche (April 30), Isis (May 23), all the original members of British steeldrivers Saxon (May 23) and Houston's own King's X (May 30). There's also vastly different takes on the blues from Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials (May 1); "Frankenstein" himself, Mr. Edgar Winter (May 15, the Houston Press Music Awards nomination party); and Bob Log III (May 27).

The rest is literally all over the map: psychobilly from Mad Sin (May 7), progressive bluegrass from the Duhks (May 28), the femme-friendly pop of the Veronicas (June 18) and hammerin' hardcore with Anti Nowhere League (July 11). And, because it's Meridian, the odd fetish show (May 16) and burlesque revue (May 27) thrown in to keep things from seeming too...normal. Grade: B+

Well, that should be enough to chew on for one week. Next week Noise will run down the rest, from the Mink to Warehouse Live. It'll be fun. CHRIS GRAY

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