The Delgados, with Crooked Fingers
The latest Britpop invasion is tapering down to a trickle heard most often over the supermarket PA. But even though Coldplay's warbly melancholy is a fine companion when deciding which frozen ham to buy, the Delgados' sophisticated sound, marked by the trading-off vocals of Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock, is worthy of a headphone session or two. In fact, we'd even say the Delgados, who founded the Chemikal Underground label (home to Mogwai and Arab Strap), remind us that pop is best when it least resembles itself. And if the Delgados keep finding inventive ways to cut through the treacle with bitterly ironic lyrics over world-weary tunes, they could end up writing the handbook for the anti-bubblegum generation. -- Jason Harper
Thursday, November 11, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.
The Legendary Shack Shakers
Psychobillies get no respect, but most haven't earned it. Playing up the tired affectations of punk and rockabilly -- we-so-crazy tattoos, cornball dialect, even cornier hail-the-hillbilly-Satan songs that wouldn't scare an American Graffiti extra -- they misunderstand their God, Jerry Lee Lewis, and his most important commandment: Thou shalt not pose. The Legendary Shack Shakers get that injunction -- and a few more, for good measure. The Nashville bandmates surf and shimmy and make a vaudevillian spectacle of themselves, but their best spins, their grotesque storytelling and gothified gospel, are powered by the same macabre undercurrents as are Tom Waits or Screamin' Jay Hawkins. You'll forgive pretentiously dark opening lines like "What evil star burns bright my old flame / And wilted my Rose of Jericho," just as you'll gladly take a hit off their backsliding boogaloo wine: "Greasy ain't easy but I'm doing fine." Their twisted medicine-show style may be a perverse put-on, but what medicine show isn't? And isn't that the point? -- Roy Kasten
Monday, November 15, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, 713-521-0521.
Joe Rathbone, with Robbie Fulks
A former wedding singer, Joe Rathbone writes some of the most literate pop songs around today, the kind of songs you hear and find yourself saying, "That ought to be in a movie soundtrack." Ever witty, Rathbone works from a power-pop template that emphasizes the power as much as the pop. He tends to paint sugary instrumental facades while letting the lyrics cut to the bone on tracks like "Hometown Queen" and the gorgeously constructed and brutally sarcastic "Everything's About to Be Beautiful": "You spent seven years working on a brand new style / Big bad eyes, big bad beautiful smile / Now everything's about to be beautiful." While the wily Atlantan spends most of his time on the love seat, he can also find those dark alleys on ripping tracks like the Tom Petty-ish "Take Me with You," where he tells his paramour, "Heard you found a brand new spaceship / Heard you blasted off last night / Wherever you may travel wasted / Take me with you every time." Rathbone will be playing with Jersey guitarist Scott Moore and should make a great foil for Robbie Fulks's solo performance later in the evening. -- William Michael Smith
Friday, November 12, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.
Coheed and Cambria, with Underoath
Coheed and Cambria produces more than just complicated prog-rock. Its members aren't merely musical geeks, either. They are epic musical geeks. And the strange fruit of their conceptual labor is simply good, though hardly simple, music. The band's songs thematically follow the adventures of two fictional characters (yup, Coheed and Cambria) in a postapocalyptic world. Think comic books. (No, really. They've created those, too.) But it's no mere gimmick. C&C mastermind Claudio Sanchez boasts a freakish falsetto, and the music is strong and confident. The melodies somehow manage to be simultaneously unexpected and wildly catchy. The group's latest album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, represents one installment of a four-part concept, but whereas concept albums aren't generally well regarded, C&C backs its elaborate story with music you actually want to hear. -- Mandy Jordan
Saturday, November 13, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 713-526-6551.
Undermotivated? Cautious? Lazy? Inhibited? Writer's block? Crisis of confidence? Cash crunch? Chronic indifference? All manner of surmise has surrounded the question of why local folk singer Hayes Carll has taken so long to follow up his critically acclaimed debut, Flowers and Liquor, which came out in June 2002. After all, given the kind of praise Carll got, the natural thing would have been to strike while the iron was hot. In fact, Carll's sophomore effort, Little Rock, has been recorded for some time, but events have conspired to keep the album off the market until March 2005. Produced by legendary roots-rock guru R.S. Field and featuring such A-list Nashville players as Kenny Vaughan and Allison Moorer, the album had several labels interested, especially the respected Sugar Hill Records. But eventually Carll decided to retain the rights to his songs and put out the record himself. However, the Woodlands songwriter has heard the clamor and will be selling prerelease copies of Little Rock from the stage at a series of gigs this month. -- William Michael Smith
Saturday, November 13, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.
Brian Kalinec and Jeff Chambers, with Mando Saenz
Don't look now, but original acoustic music has come to NoDo. Brian Kalinec and Jeff Chambers have played everywhere from nightclubs to supper clubs, and these two grizzled vets don't have to do it for the money, so they do it simply because they love to. And after a few somewhat tentative trial runs at the beautifully outfitted Twelve Spot, they've managed to snag a regular crowd (Kalinec describes them in part as "downtown hotel captives") for what has become a regular Tuesday-night gig. While Kalinec tends toward his own originals (several of which have been recorded by Melinda Mones, co-winner of the Press's 2004 Best Folk Act with Lisa Novak), he says Chambers can "play damn near any song ever written, from James Taylor to ZZ Top." Together they range from the local version of Elton John to a salty Texicana duo, depending on what the crowd is in the mood for.
The duo has decided to have one guest each month, and they've wisely chosen Mando Saenz for November. A timely selection indeed, since Saenz's 2002 Watertown has just been remastered and rereleased for national distribution by Houstonian Frank Liddell's newly formed Carnival Records out of Nashville. A veteran of the local scene who has recently written songs with Kim Richey, Saenz will perform a set of his material and join Kalinec and Chambers for a "whatever happens" performance. It should make for a lively and spontaneous occurrence on what is otherwise usually one of the dullest nights on the Houston live music scene. --
William Michael Smith Tuesday, November 16, at the Twelve Spot, 218 Travis, 713-222-1962.
Fat Possum Records, based in Oxford, Mississippi, originally devoted itself to the marketing of blues at its roughest -- music much truer to the spirit of the genre than the slick, tidied-up stuff being peddled by too many so-called roots companies. More recently, the folks behind the firm began applying this philosophy to the rock market by signing inveterate primitivists who have more in common with labelmate T-Model Ford than is obvious at first blush. That's certainly the case with Thee Shams. Formed in Cincinnati five years ago, the group is anchored by brothers Zachary and Andrew Gabbard, whose approximation of vintage garage rock on Please Yourself, their delightfully nasty new disc, is astonishingly accurate. Atop the sloppy rhythms of bassist Chad Hardwick and drummer-harmonicat Keith Fox, the Gabbards use a Hammond organ, an electric piano and lots of bone-cutting guitar to eviscerate a dozen brief but satisfying songs. Thee Shams may not sing the blues, but they're very much in keeping with the Fat Possum tradition. Even when they're cooking, they keep things raw. -- Michael Roberts
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Tuesday, November 16, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, 713-521-0521.
The Advantage, with the Octopus Project and Sugarbeats
Video games are for nerds, and so is most indie rock. And thus it just makes sense that a few socially challenged guitar-wielding geeks are digging out their old eight-bit systems and creating a new breed of geek-rock: a genre you could call "gamer-core." One such band is the Advantage, a side project of Hella guitarist Spencer Heim's. Armed with a guitar and a drum machine, Heim leads the Advantage through note-for-note covers of tunes from classic NES games -- you can relive anything from the Qbert theme to the backing track to the underwater scene of Super Mario Bros. to the Contra finale, and you can do it all without losing lives and/or precious hours staring at a television screen. And best of all, there's no case of the dreaded "Nintendo thumb" to worry about either. -- Travis Ritter
Friday, November 12, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.