White Oak Music Hall, September 20
A once-in-a-generation talent will be in Houston on Tuesday, but it’s not Kanye West. It’s tough to overstate how hard critics have fallen for Cass McCombs’ eighth album, Mangy Love; his clippings are full of words and phrases like “master,” “compelling” and “the height of his talents.” Following up his Americana-tinged 2013 double album Big Wheel and Others, McCombs trains his preternatural intelligence on the gory details of our dysfunctional society; the image-ridden lyrics of “Rancid Girl” or “Medusa’s Outhouse,” to name two, sound straight out of a dream you’d really rather not remember. The kicker is how McCombs pairs these waking nightmares with music so placid it’s almost impossible not to be lulled along, a juxtaposition not unlike Steely Dan in its sinister genius. Whether McCombs is a seedy poet or mad prophet, or perhaps a little of both, there’s definitely nobody out there making music quite like him. With Big Search.
Cactus Music, September 20
Every so often you look up and realize it’s been a while since an album of Jesse Dayton’s tall-walkin’ roadhouse rockabilly has come down the pike, full of dark humor and all-too-Texan truisms. Lately it’s been because the Beaumont native has been hitting the highways and byways hard with L.A. punk lifers X, filling in while guitarist Billy Zoom battles cancer, as well as X on front man John Doe's solo dates. Luckily the wait is now at an end with the arrival of Dayton’s The Revealer (Blue Elan Records), which is loaded like a 30.06 with future classics like “Daddy Was a Badass,” “Eatin’ Crow & Drinkin’ Sand,” “3 Peckered Goat” (don’t ask) and good friend Mike Stinson’s “Take Out the Trash,” just to name a few. Dayton can write a bawdy country couplet as well as anyone save arguably his buddy Stinson, as heard on “I’m at Home Getting Hammered (While She’s Out Gettin’ Nailed),” but his straight love songs like “Match Made In Heaven” are mighty fine as well. Dayton will return in a week for KPFT's Troubadour Tuesdays at the Cottonwood, but this Cactus gig will be his first Houston reveal of The Revealer.
Toyota Center, September 20
What's left after you a build a mountain? Few of us will have to answer that question in our lifetimes, but few of us find ourselves living the life of Kanye West. So yeah, the last time he played the Toyota Center a mountain was part of his stage set. Now he's tossing aside a regular stage set altogether, choosing for The Life of Pablo Tour to perform on a floating platform above the audience. The whole thing looks amazingly complex (and expensive, if we're being honest) but completely stunning. It's the type of groundbreaking stage show one expects from Kanye, one that should be strong enough to make people forget just how weird the entire Life of Pablo era has been. From the weirdest listening party ever to multiple versions of the album to the “Famous” video and yet another beef with Taylor Swift, 2016 has, as hard as it is to believe, found Kanye at arguably his most controversial. Lucky for him, and for the fans who support him, the man has hits and vision for days, so his show here in Houston should be relatively drama-free...unless he rants, of course. CORY GARCIA
TRIBUTE TO OSCAR O'BEAR
House of Dereon, September 21
Oscar O’Bear belongs to the dwindling ranks of Houston bluesmen who were around in the days of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Thirteen years old when he moved from Louisiana to Third Ward, the guitarist was recruited into Brown’s band at age 16 and has been a regular on the scene ever since; in Dr. Roger Wood’s 2003 tome Down In Houston, the author notes O’Bear’s presence at the famous Sunday-night Etta’s Lounge ‘90s jam sessions; the Fifth Ward’s Silver Slipper; the Ponderosa in Sunnyside; and the Double Bayou Dance Hall roof-raisers presided over by the late Pete Mayes out in Chambers County. O’Bear gets around, and still does — tonight at House of Dereon, O’Bear’s friends and family will honor him with a “Music Legend Award” and a party celebrating both his 60 years in music and his new CD(!), More Love. Sponsored by the Houston Blues Society, the event also features O’Bear’s fellow Houston blues veteran Miss Trudy Lynn; his wife, Coach Roxy; and several artists on the roster of ME Managment, the firm run by Tracy Matthews, aka his son. Dress to impress.
NRG Stadium, September 22
Before the surprise release of Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 album, she was already a multiple Grammy-winning superstar beloved by the tens of millions of fans in her “Beyhive.” Since then, her level of pop-culture domination has put her on the track to becoming the 21st-century successor to Oprah, if she’s not there already. Just try to imagine another entertainer, now or in the past, who could fill a venue the size of NRG twice in six months; Beyonce could probably do it three times. So popular she has no need to play by the rules, and has come to delight in breaking them, instead of coasting Beyonce reached yet another level with this spring’s visual album Lemonade, her most provocative, profound and personal work to date.
Walters Downtown, September 23
Frog Hair squeezes pre-Rolling Stones R&B sounds from the spaces between Louisiana Hayride-style three-part-harmonies and Houston's late-'60s Love Street blues madness. Eschewing metaphor and vivid genre imagery for the first time in his towering psych-pop career, here front man JJ White (Spain Colored Orange, Drillbox Ignition, Dizzy Pilot) takes a turn towards literature. While ten years ago, he’d focus his power and sincerity on harrowing horror scenes or topical social commentary, for his latest group White chooses a path of lost love worthy of Anna Karenina. I've written about their music here and here, so if I point out humor on Frog Hair's brand-new LP A Long List of Shortcomings, I ought to clarify: I refer to the comic relief found in One Hundred Years of Solitude, or couched in As I Lay Dying. Everyone calls the band garage or pop; I’m trying to invent a $2 word like cowpunk or psychobilly. Invent it and i’ll give you the $2. What's more, the drummer, PJ, is as unique as Meg White playing that sparse kit. The bassist wrote all the great deadhorse songs. And look at guitarist Scott Ayers' credits on allmusic.com. With Pleasure 2, Gerritt Wittmer & the Unknowns and live art by Patrick Medrano. CREG LOVETT
HOUSTON OPEN AIR
NRG Park, September 24 & 25
Houston is home to a ton of music festivals, so any new one trying to make a name for itself has to really bring it Year One to get people’s attention. The people behind Houston Open Air know how the game works, and have put together quite a mighty lineup of hard-rock favorites. The true old-school fans can enjoy thrash legends Slayer and Anthrax and industrial icons Ministry. For those who grew up in the ‘90s, there’s the reunited Cavaleras clan celebrating Sepultura's Roots, plus grunge survivors Alice in Chains and the best band ever associated with nu-metal, Deftones. Modern acts get their representation in the form of Avenged Sevenfold, Pierce the Veil, Ghost and The Word Alive. Of course, that's not even half of what Houston Open Air is offering up. Want to see Foo Fighters’ drummer play rock covers? Chevy Metal. Feel the fest needs more pop-punk? Neck Deep. Wondering what Pantera’s Vinnie Paul has been up to? Hellyeah. For those who have been waiting for Houston to finally get its big, sweaty rock festival, the wait is over. CORY GARCIA
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ALABAMA SHAKES, CORINNE BAILEY RAE
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, September 24
Alabama Shakes have a vintage-soul backbone of solid steel, which means all they really need to do is let singer Brittany Howard’s once-in-a-generation voice do its thing. Following the word-of-mouth-driven success of 2012’s Boys & Girls, the quartet could have easily gone the safe route of cashing in on ad-licensing deals, but instead they worked the festival circuit and tightened their considerable chops even further. Eventually the Shakes returned to the studio to cut last year’s Sound & Color, a considerably more atmospheric and multidimensional effort than their gritty debut, but one that still allows plenty of room for Howard to wail. The strategy paid off — the group’s first Houston show in more than three years will be headlining the biggest venue in the area. Fans will also have a chance to get reacquainted with Corinne Bailey Rae, the award-winning UK pop-soul singer and songwriter who released her first album in six years, the uplifting The Heart Speaks In Whispers, back in May.
House of Blues, September 24
Championed by such diverse luminaries as Brian Eno, the RZA, Rick Rubin and Beyonce, each of whom has sought him out as a collaborator, James Blake casts a long shadow. Until Tricky returns to claim his empty throne and big gold stick, fans of trip-hop will have to wallow in Blake’s refined and twice-clarified sonic ghee. In the UK, dubstep is nothing like what we call dubstep, and in the UK sense, Blake applies a steady hand on the drum machine, deploying the side sticks and echoplex sparingly in the interest of defining maximum space. He has a rich voice, resonant like Rick Astley and melancholy like Billie Holiday, and uses it to convey a frosty fantasy world in gray and umber tones, not much unlike that depicted in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Blake’s voice is no doubt an instrument of restrained power and fascination, but his production work is the unseen star of the show. His productions are impeccable, ordered by a confidence in emptiness (not to be confused for empty confidence) which allows each and every shuddering bass tones and gymnopedian piano figure to slither on and off the stage in maximum relief. Each is spartan and somewhat yielding, displaying only such contours and structures as are absolutely necessary, like a well-made chair. With Moses Sumney. TEX KERSCHEN