Rhonda Roberts

Further Seems Forever and Sparta, with Copeland and Sunshine

Hearts-on-their-sleeves emocore slashers Further Seems Forever cycle through lead singers the way Spinal Tap goes through drummers, albeit not under circumstances involving death by spontaneous combustion. The Florida group's original mouthpiece, Chris Carrabba, departed after 1999's The Moon Is Down for sensitive-guy campfire angst under the guise of Dashboard Confessional. Its next heartfelt screamer, Jason Gleason, roughed up Carrabba's distinctively angst-ridden phrasing with scratchy melodicism, but he stuck around only for 2003's How to Start a Fire.

Although Gleason's departure reportedly almost caused the band to split, ex-Sense Field front man Joe Bunch -- himself out of a job when his group broke up in January -- swooped in and saved it from premature demise. The resulting album, Hide Nothing, shows the union to be a match made in post-hardcore heaven. Bunch's traditionally dulcet vocals rise to new levels of emo urgency on songs such as "Light Up Ahead" and "Someone You Know," melding the dramatic heights of his former band with Further Seems Forever's needling chords and post-rock explorations.

Sparta was hastily convened in 2001 before the corpse of its predecessor, El Paso's would-be punk messiah At the Drive-In, had even been hauled down off the cross. The whole thing smelled a little suspicious. But any charges of necrophilia or opportunism have been conclusively laid to rest with the release of Porcelain, Sparta's sophomore full-length. Where 2002's Wiretap Scars was a rushed, haphazard splat of underdone angst, Porcelain channels the group's sincerity and solid framework of post-hardcore stamina into a powerful and integrated whole, while also managing to creep out a bit from under At the Drive-In's formidable shadow. Rather than a mere rehash or cash-in, the disc showcases Sparta at both its bravest and its most vulnerable; singer-guitarist Jim Ward has shed some reluctance and stepped up to the mike, at last sounding confident in his newfound role as front man, while the whiplash guitar interplay between him and Paul Hinojos has evolved into a true and unique symbiosis. Throw in some piano, a string section and even a love song or two in the middle of Ward's minefield of social and political outrage, and you've got the recipe for a band that's finally coming to terms with its past, embracing a more direct, grounded and eloquently spoken grandeur. -- Annie Zaleski and Jason Heller

Friday, November 5, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 713-526-6551.

The Fever, with VHS or Beta and Modulator

While countless acts hawk Faint-ly familiar dance punk, check out the Hot Hot Heat emanating from the Fever. The quintet's rowdy, '80s-inspired garage rock has the power to move the most clenched denim-clad booty. Front man Geremy Jasper twitches and yelps like a reanimated Mick Jagger (wait, he's not dead?), while guitarist Chris Sanchez and bassist "Pony" Stapleton craft dirty grooves. Drummer Achilles ticks like Timex on "Cold Blooded," does his best Stewart Copeland on "Gray Ghost" and stomps like a Stooge on "Labor of Love." Finally, the 103-degree organ lines provided by J (just J, thank you) bring things to a -- um -- fever pitch. And right when you think these boys just wanna have fun, they lay down a magnificent ballad like "Diamond Days." The Fever repaves much-traveled roads with sincere sweat and spastic soul. Make no mistake: Retro is back. -- Eryc Eyl

Wednesday, November 10, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.

Rhonda Roberts, with the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players and Modulator

One Friday evening a few years ago, my family and I were lazing around on the grass outside Valhalla, Rice's grad student pub, when a friend of ours introduced us to her younger sister, Rhonda Roberts. With her pageboy hairdo and old-fashioned clothes, Roberts looked like a flapper girl who had slipped through a crack in time from some Jazz Age bathtub-gin party, and that impression only deepened when she reached into a cloth sack and produced, of all things, a ukulele, and began to sing in a deep, sultry voice. It was her own composition, and it was about DNA, and somehow it was simultaneously highly skilled and intelligent, very sexy and supergeeky -- it was as if a cross between Olive Oyl and Betty Boop was singing a They Might Be Giants song accompanied by only a ukulele. And that was only one original of several Roberts sang that night. It was unbelievable to me that she had only played a few shows in public then.

Fast-forward a few years, and Roberts still hasn't played that many solo shows, though she is wont to whip that uke out for friends, family and even rank strangers at the drop of a hat. She is one of Clouseaux's multiple vocalists, and her deep, torchy alto voice has elbowed the band's male singer Thomas Escalante into singing the high parts in Clouseaux's lush soundscapes. But these solo uke gigs are rare and should not be missed. Trust us, if you're a fan of stuff like clever Tin Pan Alley tunes and Vaudeville-style jazz, or bands like the Asylum Street Spankers, the Decemberists or Combustible Edison, or if you'd just like to see a beautiful young woman play smart, quirky tunes on an odd instrument, you won't want to miss this show. -- John Nova Lomax

Saturday, November 6, at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-864-2727.

Mike Watt and the Secondmen

It's hard to jam econo with a catheter. Ask Mike Watt. In 2000, after an abscess in his perineum burst, the legendary Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist found himself bedridden with a raging fever, pounding Percodan, hallucinating, peeing orange and contemplating death more than the engine room. Fittingly enough, Watt used the downtime to reread Dante's Divine Comedy, the inspiration behind his third solo effort, The Secondman's Middle Stand. A complex conceptual effort cut into nine parts, Stand charts Watt's own agonizing journey from inferno to purgatory to ultimate paradise. The result is a trippy, swirling third dimension with lots of sunsets and pelicans. Supported by a B3-organ-fueled backing trio that sounds like Procol Harum on a prog fix, San Pedro, California's nautical son and beloved spielmeister returns from a tour of duty in hell older, wiser, thinner but oddly re-energized. Somewhere, D. Boon is smiling. -- John La Briola

Wednesday, November 10, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, 713-521-0521.

Mr. Plow

Call Mr. Plow "stoner rock" if you must, but before reaching for the bong and turning on the black light, be advised that this H-town riff machine cranks out sobering examples of what heavy metal was meant to sound like.

Plow (named for Homer Simpson's snowplow-driving alter ego) definitely takes its cues from old-school sweet leafers like Black Sabbath, but underneath the multilayered fuzz-tone attack exists a wry sense of humor.

No doom, gloom or demon tales here -- instead, benders, horny truckers and Taxi Driver are the themes of Mr. Plow's sludge-ridden grooves.

The band's most interesting lyrics, however, are in the semi-serious "Beat Down," from Plow's debut, Head On, which approaches classroom horrors from the teacher's point of view. "Teaching those kids isn't easy / They challenge you every day / It's a beat down from a smirk to a frown / Knee in the chest / They'll know who's boss."

While HISD may not approve of such material, Houston rockers were quite appreciative during the band's recent opening slot for underground faves Nebula at Rudz. Clean-cut guitarists-vocalists Jeremy Stone and Justin Waggoner led the charge with blissfully unified power chords while bassist Greg Green and drummer David Obert -- a ballsy enough guy to confess a love for Molly Hatchet -- maintained a flexible yet thunderous pace.

It was a loud affair that was met with heads bobbing and an occasional flash of the ol' index-finger-and-pinkie devil sign. Which is proof enough that good hard rock is alive and well in Houston, and that a band doesn't have to sing about Satan to raise hell. -- Mike Emery

Saturday, November 8, at T's Hideaway, 6004 Needham, Conroe, 936-273-5252.

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