Eric Church NRG Stadium, March 3
RodeoHouston kicks off its 2015 season with a first-time entertainer whose appearance says as much about the changing times as it does his hosts' unending need to stay in tune with what's hot. Once all but blacklisted by radio programmers for a hell-raising attitude that sometimes spilled over into his lifestyle, Eric Church now sits at the very top of Nashville's A list thanks to The Outsiders.
One of only two country albums released in 2014 to go platinum -- and the furthest thing from some focus-grouped album-by-committee stitched together in some big-label boardroom -- Outsiders is instantly recognizable as the work of an artist with an axe to grind who is firing on all cylinders, from No. 1 single "Talladega" and eight-minute stream-of-consciousness rant "Devil, Devil (Princess of Darkness)" on down. (Concert begins after rodeo is over.)
Helmet Fitzgerald's, March 4
Both perfectly of the moment and somewhat ahead of its time, Helmet's Betty still sounds like it could have been released yesterday. Flirting with both metal and hardcore but never quite crossing the line, Betty struck the perfect balance between guitar aggression, rhythmic complexity and barking vocals to become one of the most successful and influential hard-rock releases of the '90s. Page Hamilton's NYC outfit playing the entire album on its 20th-anniversary tour feels more like a well-deserved victory lap than a navel-gazing wallow in nostalgia.
Ledisi Bayou Music Center, March 4
After last year's The Truth cracked Billboard's R&B Albums Top 10 and got her a Grammy nomination for "Like This," Ledisi can now be seen on the big screen as gospel great Mahalia Jackson in Ava DuVernay's Oscar-nominated Selma. That by itself should tell you what kind of pipes the New Orleans native has, but she's already swung back to the other side of the spectrum with The Intimate Truth. Released last month, her new EP strips seven songs from The Truth down to their acoustic skeletons, confirming that Ledisi's vocal gifts can shine in any setting. With Raheem DeVaughan and Leela James.
More shows on the next page.
Miranda Lambert NRG Stadium, March 5
Miranda Lambert may be rocking a designer evening gown on the cover of her latest album, last year's Platinum, but the key to her popularity may be the way she retains the soul of the shotgun-toting, whiskey-chugging spitfire of her 2007 breakout LP Gunpowder & Lead. Lambert knows the fine line between blockbuster country and credibility-boosting Americana better than most, often feathering her albums with cuts by the likes of Buddy Miller and Brandy Clark, but knows when to cut loose with her gal-pal trio the Pistol Annies too. Essentially, she never fails to sound like she's having a ball. (Concert begins after rodeo is over.)
Cold War Kids House of Blues, March 5
The Cold War Kids almost set themselves up for a fall when 2006 debut Robbers & Cowards launched one of the decade's definitive indie-rock singles in "Hang Me Up to Dry." Rather than follow up quickly with another record that further crystallized their sound, the Long Beach-based Kids shuffled producers and directions until their founding guitarist quit in early 2012. Nathan Willet and his bandmates -- two former members of Modest Mouse now among them -- never completely lost their ear for sharp hooks, though, and may have righted the ship for good with last year's Hold My Home. With the Vanity and Eliot Moss.
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