Sam Phillips, with David Byrne
After incarnations as the queen of Christian rock and a secular purveyor of baroque, Beatlesque pop, Sam Phillips signed with Nonesuch and came up with Fan Dance, a much starker album of dark cabaret torch songs. And now, three years later, we have A Boot and a Shoe, which continues in this unembellished vein. And it's simply gorgeous -- like old cathedrals, music needn't be ornate to be beautiful, and all Phillips needs here is her sultry voice, whip-smart words, spare arrangements and lots of ramshackle drums played by the able hands of Jim Keltner, Carla Azar and road drummer Jay Belarose. (Husband T-Bone Burnett shows his normal production genius.) "They're personality drummers -- they're all odd," she says. "I hear the human coming out. They're not slick drum-machine drummers. They're funky -- I really wish we were filming those sessions, just to see what they were playing. At one point I think they had a snare propped up on a chair, and Jim Keltner was playing a piece of paper. And we had two drummers playing at once on nearly every song, which is completely unnecessary, but Jim Keltner, who I had called to play, really wanted to play with Carla, who is a lot younger than he is. But that was kind of the spirit of the whole thing. More drums! It was a drumfest."
Atop them rides Phillips's smoky Marianne Faithfull-like voice, in full torch-song mode, her wonderful melodies and dry wit clad in only minimal guitar chords and the occasional contribution from a string quartet, which adorns the bare songs as fragrantly and boldly as Dolores Del Rio once wore flowers in her hair. Come to think of it, the dignified Boot and a Shoe is as understatedly and intelligently sexy as all those golden-era matinee queens, and in these days of too much goddamn everything, understatement is the most compelling asset an artist can have. -- John Nova Lomax
Saturday, September 11, at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-4SPA.
Minus the Bear, with Paris, Tx, Statistics and Colossal
Take some guys from Seattle and add a bunch of guitars. Multiply the sum by casual yet convincing vocals. Divide that product by the square root of an electric edge and really fucked-up song titles, and you'll end up with the textured indie-pop of Minus the Bear. Even if you can handle the math, things don't get any easier. The band's full-length Highly Refined Pirates harbors genuine songs beneath non sequitur titles, and damn near all of the songs talk about drinking with girls near bodies of water. "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister" is about drinking, girls and boats. "Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!" is about drinking and sitting on a boat dock with a girl. "I Lost All My Money at the Cock Fights" is about being drunk and standing in the rain with a girl. It's insanity. Of course, there are more songs. Songs about sailing and drinking, skinny-dipping drunk and drinking in France. With girls. Somehow, the redundancy doesn't add up. Is it a gimmick or a twisted obsession? Bring a calculator and a life jacket just in case. -- Mandy Jordan
Thursday, September 9, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.
Marc Broussard, with Blue Merle and Louque
At first glance it's tempting to lump Marc Broussard in with folks like Gavin DeGraw -- all those good-looking white guys signed in the wake of Dave Matthews's success. There's quite a bit more to Broussard, though. His record may be too slick, but his voice is immediately striking -- deeper and more soulful than any of his contemporaries'. However, it's in his live performances that Broussard really breaks away from his competition.
The last time he was here he actually opened for DeGraw, who spent the show seated at his keyboard in his faux trucker's cap basking in the ladies' adulation. Broussard, on the other hand, delivered a chest-thumping, soul-rattling performance that I'm sure was as close as any of those kids had ever come to a tent revival. He comes by it naturally. His dad was the guitarist in the legendary Gulf Coast showband the Boogie Kings for years, and Broussard's voice will remind you of Boogie Kings singer G.G. Shinn. Broussard is ably supported by a good rhythm section and guitarist Gib Droll, a veteran of the eastern-seaboard circuit who proves a worthy foil.
Carencro, Broussard's major-label debut, sounds a bit too polished but features a couple of memorable tunes, including one ("Rock Steady") that sounds like a bona fide hit. It doesn't really matter, though. Broussard is going to win his audience the old-fashioned way: by blowing them away live night after night. I recommend you see him now, so you can gloat to your friends in a few years' time. -- Greg Ellis
Wednesday, September 15, at the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.
The Muffs and Visqueen
The Muffs -- fronted by the raging Kim Shattuck -- are one of the few woman-fronted touring acts that actually rock. Unlike, say, Manda and the Marbles, who try to revive the pop, punk and new wave of the '80s, the Muffs make underground power-punk with an early-'90s feel. Touring in support of their sixth full-length, Really Really Happy, the Muffs undoubtedly will attract longtime fans as well as those who missed them the first few times around. Having seen the Muffs with Fig Dish circa '95, I can attest to the power that the band (which includes original bassist Ronnie Barnett and former Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald) wields on stage. Comparisons to Hole and Veruca Salt abounded in the mid-'90s, but Shattuck and company have outlasted those acts, and with good reason.
Seattle's Visqueen, on the other hand, is more classic rock than classic punk. If Roger Daltrey were a woman, he would be Visqueen singer Rachel Flotard. Her throaty snarl, coupled with the work of bassist Kim Warnick (of Fastbacks fame) and drummer Ben Hooker, will leave fans breathless -- and give the Muffs a run for their money. After all, the band counts Robert Plant as a fan. Does classic rock cred get any deeper than that? -- David A. Cobb
Tuesday, September 14, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
60 Minutes of Minutes
The Pauline Oliveros Foundation kicks off its new season Saturday at Barnevelder Arts Complex with "60 Minutes of Minutes," a one-hour show consisting of 60 musicians playing 60 one-minute solos one after another. "Anyone who signs up can participate," says POF Houston director David Dove, and so far Charlie Naked, Chris Bakos, John Edward Ross, Kerry Melonson, Nick Cooper, Muzak and Mike Swizter, among dozens of others, have done so. Once on stage, Dove says, anything goes. "They can do absolutely anything they want: They can be hilarious, serious or just do what they normally do," he says. The musicians will perform alphabetically, and the one-minute stipulation will be rigidly enforced. "There's a clock up there they can see," Dove says. "They will start playing when the second hand hits 12 and finish when it comes back around to 12." This is the second annual performance of this kind. Dove says last year's version went surprisingly smoothly, given the logistics nightmare that is getting 60 musicians to arrive at a gig on time. Don't expect the show to somehow flow together as some kind of seamless whole, though. "What was striking last year were the juxtapositions, not the connections," Dove says. "You had stuff like classical flute followed by a Speak & Spell followed by jazz guitar followed by heavy metal drums." Dove adds that the show is a great way for musicians to meet new pals and collaborators, and the whole thing's for a good cause, too. Musicians are asked to find $15 sponsors for their minute, with the proceeds going to charities. -- John Nova Lomax
Friday, September 10, at Barnevelder Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-529-1819.
When Lisa Novak abruptly stopped playing with her longtime band Big Holiday in 2002, we wondered what would become of one of the more interesting roots-rock acts in town. While Novak and Big Holiday had never really garnered much of the public consciousness, those who follow the local scene saw the band as a comer with promise.
Tougher Skin settles all "Whither Lisa Novak?" doubts pretty quickly. If there was anything she needed during her Big Holiday period, it was more drive. While she's always possessed a good melodic sense and written quality material, Novak's shows could range from sublime to lackluster.
On Tougher Skin, her collaboration with veteran drummer Mando Perez, solid bassist Jeff Enlow and lemme-bend-some-strings guitarist Larry Cooper has resulted in what is easily Novak's most appealing album yet. (Think Caitlin Cary without her occasional grad-school literary pretensions.) While it isn't easy listening, it is highly entertaining and easily accessible roots rock, full of girl-who's-seen-some-hard-knocks, won't-get-fooled-again lyrics. There is a simple yet magnetic appeal in the straightforward, unadorned, let-the-band-play approach.
All in all, Tougher Skin is a rich, twangy, rocking record without the slightest hint of schmaltz or pretentious overproduction. Now let's hope these folks have the wherewithal to capitalize on a fine album as they try to balance their musical night lives with the demands of their daytime lives. Kicking the weekend-warrior curse is a hard row to hoe, but this is a band that deserves a bigger following and a much wider hearing than just the bars of Houston with the occasional playing-for-tips trip to Austin. -- William Michael Smith
Saturday, September 11, at the Rhythm Room, 1815 Washington Avenue, 713-863-0943.
Umphrey's McGee, with Theresa Andersson
Now that those Phine Phellows of Phish have said "Phini!" speculation runs rampant -- rampant, I tell you! -- in the jam band community. Who will ascend to the hemp-stained throne and don the hoodie as the genre's guiding light?
Some point to veterans like the Dave Matthews Band or Widespread Panic, and others to fan faves like moe., the String Cheese Incident and Galactic. But a growing number are pledging their allegiance to Umphrey's McGee, a Chicago quintet that augments the traditional improvisational noodling and esoteric lyrics of Planet Jamband and augments them with healthy doses of prog-rock flow and synthesizer sounds à la Rush or Zappa. Formed in 1997 in South Bend, Indiana, they created a debut with the twisted title Greatest Hits, Vol. III, which came complete with fake chart positions for each song. The band's current harder style came to fruition later, with the addition of Jake Cinninger from the band Ali Baba's Tahini, and now, Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss give the band two equally strong front men.
The band's current album, Anchor Drops, is its most realized studio effort, an amalgam of twin vocals and guitar, solid grooves, jazz fusion and spacey hard-rock romps. Full of wild time-signature shifts, it offers ambitious and intriguing (but still groove-oriented) music in tracks like "Plunger," "In the Kitchen" and "Mulche's Odyssey." But this is a band that also has its hands firmly in the pop-culture pie, so don't be surprised to hear snippets of everything ranging from Mötley Crüe and Billy Joel songs to the theme from Family Feud. Umphrey's is certainly a band on the rise -- and this will probably be one of your last chances to see them in such a small venue. -- Bob Ruggiero
Saturday, September 11, at the Last Concert Cafe, 1403 Nance, 713-226-8563.
Electrelane, I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, Lights Out on Sound
When artists go from being instrumental to including vocals and lyrics (the former does not guarantee the latter), many consider it a graduation of sorts. But really, a lot of times the vocals don't make the band any better or worse, especially if the band was already brilliant. Such is definitely not the case with Electrelane. On the Brighton, England, quartet's newest record, The Power Out, recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago, the vocals aren't necessarily riding up front -- in fact, they're somewhat muted -- but the songs wouldn't be complete without them. It's more aggressive, jumpier and really conveys a different attitude altogether, and it makes you wonder why they took so long to add the vocals. And though their earlier work might have drawn comparisons to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the like, this one is much more akin to the art punk of their former labelmates on the newly defunct San Francisco feminist label Mr. Lady.
Austin's I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness includes past members of Windsor for the Derby, Paul Newman and the sadly overlooked Glorium, and Lights Out on Sound is DJ Ceeplus making friends with computers. -- Lance Scott Walker
Monday, September 13, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.
Ministry, with Hanzel und Gretyl and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult
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Former goths can think twice about reliving their glory years with Al Jourgensen and Ministry. The acerbic dance hit "Stigmata" is not on the set list this time around. "If we were going to get to all the little club hits or whatever, we'd have to do a three-hour set. We did a two-and-a-half-hour set last tour," Jourgensen says. "But we're touring with another band this time. So we're cutting the set back to about an hour and a half. You kind of got to pick and choose. Plus, we're all kind of sick of playing it after almost 16 years or something."
But Jourgensen is not totally averse to playing other hits, he says. "Our set will be mostly from our new album. If you put a quarter on my tongue, twist my ear, we'll become jukeboxes and spit out songs for you."
The new album, Houses of the Molé, is Ministry's first in 18 years without the two cents of Paul Barker, a computer whiz who added a techno edge to the group. "A lot of the stuff we'll be doing is much more guitar-driven stuff than we've had. So therefore, [there will be] a lot of stuff off Psalm 69, three or four off Filth Pig and a couple off Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and we'll probably keep it at that." -- Christina Fuoco
Tuesday, September 14, at the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.