Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016

Tool's Maynard James Keenan is ready to crack some skulls.
Tool's Maynard James Keenan is ready to crack some skulls.
Jack Gorman

TOOL
Toyota Center, January 14
Tool’s 2016 return to Houston felt like something special.
Maynard was slightly more chatty. The band seemed a little more loose, a little more human. It was a contrast to the show I saw in Dallas the same weekend, where the band was technically flawless but disconnected from the audience. When they are on, it’s very hard to argue that there’s a band better live than Tool, and when they arrived at the Toyota Center this year, they were on in a way I hadn’t seen in years. I once wrote that I thought it might be best if the band broke up. Now I realize how stupid that idea was. CORY GARCIA

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Christi Vest

CITY AND COLOUR
House of Blues, January 20
I had never really given City and Colour a chance, having only casually listened to a few of singer-songwriter Dallas Green's songs before this performance in January. But I was able to see firsthand just how good City and Colour really is. Green's songs were mostly moody, but that didn't keep him from coaxing the crowd into a few fits of laughter as he dedicated "Wasted Love" to Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard and "Lover Come Back" to the team's former head coach, Kevin McHale. MATTHEW KEEVER

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Courtesy of Elliot Soeder

BEN FOLDS, YMUSIC
Cullen Performance Hall, April 18
Ben Folds is classically trained and irreverently witty, capable of lifting his fans' hearts through comedy on one song, then bringing them to tears on the next. Having performed with the Houston Symphony in 2014 with the express goal of introducing younger fans to the symphony, Folds returned to Houston with a new ensemble to promote: yMusic. Laughs were had; classical music was enjoyed; and much to Folds's chagrin, an impromptu rendition of "Free Bird" was performed, if only momentarily. MATTHEW KEEVER

Houston's Mark Drew (left) spits some truth during The Catch Up.
Houston's Mark Drew (left) spits some truth during The Catch Up.
Marco Torres

KAM FRANKLIN’S THE CATCH UP
The Nightingale Room, April 20
The Nightingale Room has quickly solidified its place as the best small venue to see a show downtown, especially on any random weekday. Inspired by her unwavering support for the Houston music scene, Suffers singer Kam Franklin took a time-out during a break from touring to convene a handful of hungry local artists for The Catch Up. From the sexy vibes of Lita Styles, the truth-rap of Mark Drew and Rob Gullate and the synthy electro funk-rock of Rex Hudson, the show was excellent from beginning to end. MARCO TORRES

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment

BEYONCE
NRG Stadium, May 7
The Formation World Tour was sublime, and Beyoncé, in spite of all her insistence otherwise, was a god. Never in my concertgoing life have I seen such a triumphant visual spectacle combined with such an epic music set. Every rumbling bass beat, every twist of aerial acrobatics, every fireworks explosion and every bodysuit sequin was scrutinized to perfection. The memory of Beyoncé dancing triumphantly to "Freedom" in a stage-wide pool of water is forever burned in my mind. This concert slayed. KATIE SULLIVAN

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Christi Vest

THE 1975
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, May 7
Until The 1975 become the total package by elevating their studio game to equal their incredible live show, there’s so much to appreciate in what they do live when they’re firing on all cylinders. Front man Matt Healy perfectly leverages his charisma and persona to get maximum adulation from crowds that line up for more than a day to see them take the stage. Their songs shine live – who doesn’t like a good sax solo or two? – and their lighting and visuals are arguably the best in the business right now. They keep things simple and clean and tasteful, and everything ties in with the music flawlessly. Once they get a few more great tracks under their belt, they’re going to be quite the force. CORY GARCIA

Florence Welch
Florence Welch
Jack Gorman

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE, GRIMES
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, May 17
Easily one of today's most outstanding touring acts, Florence + the Machine did not disappoint Houston fans this spring. In a long set that showcased the best of the band's three studio albums, the audience bore witness to Florence Welch’s peerless talent and visceral energy. Running barefoot around the stage while belting out each song, emanating pure power and ethereal magic, Florence reminded rock fans that real talent is truly inimitable. Opener Grimes only strengthened the show by serving H-Town with some much-needed uniqueness. SELENA DIERINGER

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Violeta Alvarez

EAGLES OF DEATH METAL
House of Blues, May 18
It's no secret that Eagles of Death Metal can put on quite a show; they've been doing that for years. Yet after last year's terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris, I was curious to know if they still had it. Now I stand by my original assessment that this HOB show was one of the best I've ever witnessed. Sure, "The Devil" left the stage and walked upstairs to the balcony to play to fans; that was great, but when I scanned the crowd and saw Houstonians in all walks of life gasping and guffawing as I was, I knew the show was more incredible than I had imagined. KRISTY LOYE

Wayne Coyne, super-nice dude
Wayne Coyne, super-nice dude
Christi Vest

THE FLAMING LIPS
White Oak Music Hall, May 29
True, this wasn’t even the best Flaming Lips show I’ve ever attended (shout-out to San Antonio 2007). But this was my first visit to White Oak Music Hall, and I wasn’t disappointed; the venue has since become my favorite in the city. That said, this Memorial Day weekend show was one for the books. The Lips brought their usual mix of oddities and intimacy and really provided nice closure to what had been a full, hot and sun-soaked day on the outdoor lawn. Bonus points to front man Wayne Coyne, who hung out with fans at neighboring Raven Tower after the show, took pictures and was an overall great dude. CLINT HALE

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Jack Gorman

BIG GRAMS
Free Press Summer Fest, June 5
Nothing's much worse for an avid concertgoer than attending a festival with crap weather, and the deluges that plagued FPSF this year seemed extraordinarily crappy. Everything came to an unfortunate climax when Sunday’s lightning storms forced the evacuation of the entire grounds. Thank God FPSF acted quickly and reorganized; otherwise Houston would have been deprived of the sickest show of the year. Big Grams absolutely slayed: the combo of Big Boi's smooth flow and Phantogram's electro-dreamy rock may sound like a strange melding, but it's a mismatch made in heaven. The set re-energized the soaked crowd, sparking the biggest dance party of the weekend. SELENA DIERINGER

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

30FOOTFALL
The Nightingale Room, June 9
It was a little curious to learn that 30footFall had been booked into the posh downtown home for the city’s hottest indie, hip-hop and R&B acts, but the Houston punk legends’ fans packed the room to the gills. The band followed suit, with singer Butch Klotz leaning precariously over the balcony railing, drink in hand, singing songs from throughout 30FootFALL’s nearly 25-year career. He mixed it up with fans on the floor while the band played on, sounding stellar and never missing a beat over more than two hours – no opener, just 30footFall, all night long, the way the punk gods intended. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

This graffiti-doctored Donald Trump backdrop seen at Arizona's Ak-Chin Pavilion was also at the Houston stop.
This graffiti-doctored Donald Trump backdrop seen at Arizona's Ak-Chin Pavilion was also at the Houston stop.

DIXIE CHICKS
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, August 6
Even though the trio hadn’t released any new music for a decade, the Dixie Chicks’ Houston fan base was beside themselves to see their heroes’ first concert in this area in more than 15 years; many in the sold-out crowd were little more than toddlers when singer Natalie Maines made her infamous George W. Bush comment. There was lots of water under that bridge during the Chicks’ two-hour-plus set that was as much rock and roll as ’90s country, with moments of somber reflection scattered among the gleeful celebration. But even with cameos by 2016’s major presidential candidates and Queen Beyoncé herself (through a spirited cover of Lemonade's “Daddy Lessons”), Natalie, Emily and Martie were the indisputable stars of the evening – instrumentally, vocally and in their animated superhero alter egos. CHRIS GRAY

Ben Wallers, a.k.a. The Rebel
Ben Wallers, a.k.a. The Rebel
Erika Thrasher

THE REBEL
Alley Kat, August 12
Ben Wallers, The Rebel, of London UK, touring in support of a reissue of the Country Teasers’ 1999 classic LP Destroy All Human Life as much as for his own strange kicks, treated Houston to an unexpectedly good-natured, intimate solo performance of odds and ends from his considerable discography. Less mouthy than in previous outings, he let the songs do the verbal comedy this time out, as it is something they do well, around which Wallers indulged himself by prodding at an electronic doodad, playing the part of a merry dotard, his face lined with ink from a ballpoint pen, his movements prematurely slow. Besides that, it was a pretty good year for small shows, my favorites of which also included Protomartyr and Muhammadali at Walters for Bad Ass Weekend in February; The Wiggins and Muzak John at Notsuoh; Bill Converse at Walters Downtown, July 7; Rough Sleepers and Rusted Shut at Notsuoh, July 8; Cock ESP, Holy Money and Burnt Skull at the Clinic, September 10; Distant Worker at Satellite, October 30; and Alex Cameron at White Oak Music Hall, October 15. TEX KERSCHEN

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Marco Torres

EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY
White Oak Music Hall, August 22
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a concert is perfect. When the mood is just right and you find yourself surrounded by your favorite people, it makes for quite the experience, especially when the weather cooperates. Such was the case when Explosions in the Sky headlined the Lawn at White Oak Music Hall, the climax of the brand-new venue's Grand Opening weekend. The pale sky provided a perfect backdrop for the Austin-based quintet, who tore through 90 minutes of atmospheric rock and roll as the crowd soaked up every note along with the cool breeze blowing over the bayou. MATTHEW KEEVER

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Violeta Alvarez

ALICE COOPER
Revention Music Center, August 23
At 68, one of the originators of shock rock still knows more about being a master showman than entire record labels put together. Yes, his show is built around gimmicks, but it’s not something you could just slot someone else into. Over the course of his career, Cooper has built a show that blends his music and creative vision in a way that is perfect and endlessly entertaining; his playlist is full of classics, but the show doesn’t feel like a nostalgia parade, just like what Cooper does. And beyond that, his tribute to some of his fallen brothers in rock — including a hair-raising version of “Suffragette City” — was one of the best live moments of the year. CORY GARCIA

Pete Tong
Pete Tong
Jack Gorman

FEDDE LE GRAND/PETE TONG
Proof Rooftop Lounge/Cle, September 4
The Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, Houston was blessed with sets by Dutch house producer Fedde Le Grand and iconic tastemaker Pete Tong within walking distance of one another. The party started under the crisp and clear blue sky at Clé Day Club, with Tong spinning current deep house cuts and a few legendary classics from his extensive catalog that had the entire poolside crowd dialed into his rolling beats. Afterward, folks freshened up a bit and made the short walk over to Proof for the club’s Third Annual All White Party, featuring Le Grand on the decks, which only subsided long after all the cotton and linen outfits were fully drenched with dancing-induced sweat. These two incredible sets were a perfect way to wrap up the summer of 2016. JACK GORMAN

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Marco Torres

KANYE WEST
Toyota Center, September 20
This was a big year for rap shows at the downtown Houston basketball arena. Diddy hosted his label's reunion tour with plenty of special guests. Toronto's very own patois-speaking favorite son, Drake, held two nights of back-to-back Houston appreciation at James Harden's house. But even those two hip-hop superstars could not avoid being completely upstaged by Mr. West. With a floating stage that draped his fans with amber flood lights, Kanye offered up a substantially entertaining show with only a few minutes of ranting. That alone makes it an amazing performance. MARCO TORRES

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Jack Gorman

MINISTRY/HOUSTON OPEN AIR
NRG Park, September 24
No on can deny that Houston Open Air was another one of 2016’s many train wrecks. All of the few bands that actually took the stage did an outstanding job, however, and yet only Al Jourgensen and Ministry truly stood out among them all. At Rocklahoma 2015, they played a side stage and were cut off after 40 unimpressive minutes, much to Jorgensen's protests. But at HOA, they played like the rock stars we all remember them to be. Perhaps after being rained out for hours, any band would have been amazing, but this was different. Self-determined and confident, Ministry played at an entirely new level that was entirely worth the wait. KRISTY LOYE

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Marco Torres

OZOMATLI, GIO CHAMBA
White Oak Music Hall, October 17
No other shows in Houston this year could match the intensity, diversity and party vibes that Ozomatli brought to the still brand-new White Oak Music Hall. From cumbias to reggae, funk, jazz and mariachi, the Los Angeles band showed Houston what a real dance party is all about. Opening act Gio Chamba warmed up the crowd with his equally trippy tunes. MARCO TORRES

Houston's 20 Best Concerts of 2016
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Upcoming Events

MAGGIE KOERNER
House of Blues Foundation Room, November 4
Maggie Koerner live is more than just the voice, which is the proverbial slap to your dumb, unsuspecting face. While you rub your burning cheek in astonishment, you notice her remarkable songwriting and the highly adroit band delivering behind her. Despite the drunken jackass who actually tried to sing on a hot microphone before her set (please stop, drunkards, you’re making Houston look bad), she crushed it. The family and friends I brought along that night are now out there spreading the gospel too. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

Note: an earlier version of this article misidentified Eagles of Death Metal's "The Devil" as "Baby Duck."


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