Shows of the Week: A Country Ingenue With Plenty of Experience
Photo by Guerin Blask/Courtesy of Sweet Talk Publicity
House of Blues, December 14
Kelsea Ballerini is yet another example that a CMA nod for Best New Artist can still be a long time coming. In her case, the 23-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee native has been writing songs since age 13 and had a Top 5 hit, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” by 20. Although she eventually lost to Texan Maren Morris — a rematch looms at next February's Grammy Awards, with Best New Artist the prize — Ballerini’s two nominations this year (the other was for Best Female Vocalist) came just as her biggest single to date, “Peter Pan,” was on its way to becoming her first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. However, all three of her singles from 2015 debut LP The First Time have topped the Country Airplay chart, suggesting listeners have only begun to fall for Ballerini’s sly wordplay and ebullient pop-country sound.
A JOHN WATERS CHRISTMAS
Heights Theater, December 15
‘A John Waters Christmas’ is quickly becoming an unlikely seasonal tradition in itself, in which he rekindles the disappearing art of comic storytelling a la Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, in order to wax acidic on the subject of holidays past and present, like a dapper Marley, except more prone to wit than whining. Waters’s polymath perversity looks its best when draped around archly traditional subjects. After all, he's best known as the iconoclastic filmmaker known for basting genres in sleaze, like the trash Americana of Pink Flamingos; the mawkish rock and roll B-movie Hairspray; the venal, craven art world in Pecker; or the normative American nuclear family in Serial Mom, as well his own forays into art and literature as a primo collector and manufacturer of trash, kitsch, and other tell-tale dross of the American dream. It’s one of those self-evident truths that every iconoclast needs icons to smash, so here comes Santa. In Mr. Waters’s words, and these must lie near the heart of Thursday’s show, Santa is the first lie that parents tell their children, the one that moves kids to completely mistrust authority and, later, to heroin and meth abuse. TEX KERSCHEN
BAND OF HORSES
House of Blues, December 15
Since their 2006 debut, the progression of images across the five Band of Horses studio albums holds up an excellent mirror to their pastoral, melancholy indie-rock: thick woods on Everything All the Time; a moonlit lake on Cease to Begin; star-streaked night sky on Infinite Arms; and a forbidding cliff on Mirage Rock. For Why Are You OK?, released in June, the Charleston-based quintet chose a pair of topless sunbathers on a lonely beach, finally allowing humans into the picture but keeping them at a certain remove. Produced by Jason Lytle of maverick 2000s indie faves Grandaddy, OK? tempers the lathered-up wildness in the Horses’ chiming guitars with subtle layers of synthesizer, appropriate for a group whose leader, Ben Bridwell, wrote the new songs while his young children were asleep or at school. At the same time, frisky songs like “Casual Party” suggest Bridwell is still quite a ways from putting his Horses completely out to pasture. With Israel Nash.
LEVEES, THE WHEEL WORKERS, FUNERAL HORSE
Walters Downtown, December 16
Steven Higginbotham is the sort of pound-for-pound champ we want in our corner when the prize fight is music-related. He knows December 16 is going to be an all-out brawl between his side and party-starters celebrating the beginning of Day For Night. But Higginbotham and his band, The Wheel Workers, are scrappy and ready to duke it out for their share of listeners that evening. They’ll be posted at Walters with stoner-rock heavyweights Funeral Horse, a pairing that may seem sonically incongruous but has been a long time coming, according to Higginbotham. They’ll both be supporting San Antonio’s Levees, a gritty rock act formed by brothers Kody and Kyle Anderson, which is touring Texas all month to promote its new EP Another Medicine. One last thing: If you can’t afford to be ringside for Moz or Killer Mike’s Day For Night pre-party, this one’s free. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
DAY FOR NIGHT
Post HTX (401 Franklin), December 16-18
Day For Night challenges the festival industry to accept something it should have a while back: we live in a digital world, one in which musicians and visual artists are much more comfortable operating than the people renting the stages and signing the checks. In its second year, Day For Night will expand both its location — Post HTX, the former Barbara Jordan U.S. Post Office branch near downtown, offers 16 acres of performance space, both indoors and out — and its lineup, promising an immersive multimedia experience that will leave fans’ mouths agape. But even if this were “just” a music festival, Day For Night’s talent alone would make it a spectacular one: Aphex Twin, in his first U.S. performance in nearly a decade, plus ODESZA; Kaskade; Nick Murphy (Chet Faker); Butthole Surfers; Travis Scott; and Run the Jewels — and those are just the headliners. Add the contributions of visual artists such as Bjork Digital (the uber-quirky Icelandic polymath who will also do a music set and DJ at Friday night’s pre-party), United Visual Artists, Golan Levin, NONOTAK and Damien Echols, among others, and Day For Night is, in two words, utterly unique. Passes are going fast but still available; see dayfornight.io for details.
Stampede Houston, December 16
Kevin Fowler is one of the crown princes of the Texas dancehall circuit, packing ‘em in with the same kind of go-for-broke energy he did long ago in vaunted Austin headbangers Dangerous Toys. After a stint in shaggy latter-day Southern rockers Thunderfoot, Fowler turned in his leather trousers for Wranglers on 2001’s Beer, Bait & Ammo, the first in a succession of albums that embrace all things Texas — which of course includes a great deal of beer-drinkin’ tunes and heartbreak ballads — while sometimes spouting off about country music of a less regional nature. His latest, this fall’s Coming to a Honky-Tonk Near You, closes with “Sellout Song,” which takes the brainless tone of so many modern Nashville hitmakers to task through frank lines like “the lyrics suck, but no one really cares.” Such audacity caused a minor flap in the country-oriented media a few months back, but for Fowler’s fans it was just one more hilarious song in a career full of them.
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