Shows of the Week: Divas of All Stripes, Loretta to Rihanna
Photo by Karen Keats
Under the Volcano, May 11
Few label monikers hold more credibility than the UK’s Stiff Records, the original home of "Wreckless Eric" Louden. An unemployed youngster when he dropped off a demo at Stiff’s London HQ, within a week Eric found himself getting ready to record an album with Nick Lowe as producer. Louden rode the fame — and booze — train until it wrecked him, but he kicked the alcohol and recorded relentlessly, putting together via various ensembles (Captains of Industry, Len Bright Combo) and a catalog of songs on a par with almost anyone you could name from the punk-New Wave era. These days Goulden lives in upstate New York and travels the States in a car with a couple of guitars, but even though he's solo, he still delivers the old energy and spunk he's been known for. Do yourself a favor and go see this legend who has never caved in to convention or trends. Do him a favor and resist the temptation to make a half-assed cell-phone video of his most famous tune, "Whole Wide World." Just don’t. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
A GIANT DOG
Satellite Bar, May 12
A Giant Dog’s Pile suggests a pack of extremely buzzed kids who have raided not only their parents’ liquor cabinet but their stash of glam-rock and power-pop LPs — Slade, The Sweet, T. Rex, Cheap Trick — and, before they totally trash the place, make a killer album in their own right. Now based in Austin, A Giant Dog’s roots stretch back to Houston, where the band’s core originally came together as high-schoolers and started a band called Youth In Asia, just one indicator of the kind of twisted minds at play here. A Giant Dog put out two albums while catching the attention of Spoon’s Britt Daniel, who quickly took the group on tour. Eventually they signed to his former label, Merge Records; last week came Pile, the kind of record that slaps you across the face before sticking its tongue down your throat. You remember what that was like, right? With Young Mammals and Frog Hair.
WOOD & WIRE, DANNY BARNES
Raven Tower, May 13
Raven Tower continues its early booking hot streak with this stellar double bill. Former Bad Liver Danny Barnes is the Jimi Hendrix of the banjo, his music moving far outside the narrow confines of bluegrass. Barnes has always been on an “out-there” head trip while making some of the most inventive music ever conceived with the banjo. Last we saw of him, it was a sort of White Stripes-meets-Stringbean thing with just Barnes, his banjo and a drummer. Austin hot licks ensemble Wood & Wire will be there to push Barnes. By putting a fresh coat of paint on old-school acoustic-style picking, W&W make it easily accessible for a modern audience. As they are traveling Texas together, don’t be surprised if they ask Barnes to join for a jam that would be the envy of any bluegrass festival. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Warehouse Live, May 13
For a brief moment in time last year, Young Thug was rap’s most polarizing figure. He found himself as the creative love child of Lil Wayne's most leaned-out hallucinogenic flows and Atlanta's current motorcade of trap hits. He croaked his way onto radio with 2014’s "Danny Glover” before maintaining a bit of stability with "Best Friend,” still using this high-pitched gurgle that some pundits consider linguistic genius. Thugger is a mad-science experiment to the nth degree, someone who either is a creative genius, a troll or a little bit of both. He's audacious, shops in women's clothing and consistently bends rap's decades-old stance on masculinity and bravado with a single tweet, IG post or song. All of this has kept the stove hot for his long-awaited upcoming debut album, while fans can only hope that he hasn't given away his best stuff for free already. BRANDON CALDWELL
DEVIL KILLING MOTH
Walters Downtown, May 13
A Night In the Life Of is an intriguing album title for practically any working band, but especially for Houston’s Devil Killing Moth, who have surely had some legendary nights in their more than ten years together. The album officially releases Friday, but last month DKM offered the sample track “Mind Boots” to fans. It’s a catchy paean to those who catch our attention and bring some sexy colors to the gray matter, definitely not safe for work listening unless you labor alongside nonjudgmental types who won’t disapprove of your spontaneous dancing. The oh-whoa-oh’s of the chorus will hang around like a good one-night stand — after a few hours of fun, you might wish them away, but you’ll wanna hold onto them all the same. With Linear Downfall, Rex Hudson and Only Beast! JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
JOHN EVANS BAND
Raven Tower, May 14
Once a linchpin of the Houston music scene, John Evans eventually relocated to Austin like so many others before him, but he comes back so often — both solo and recently also as part of El Trio Grande with Jesse Dayton and Mike Stinson — that it’s almost like he never left. What has been a long time coming is his new album, Polyester, with good reason: Evans wrote the songs while his young daughter, Abbie, battled a rare disease, but shelved it upon her death in 2013. (Abbie’s story is also told in the documentary Butterfly Girl, which screened at SXSW 2014.) Longtime Evans fans will instantly recognize Polyester’s easygoing swirl of country, rockabilly and roots-rock, as he alternates uptempo songs like “Instant Society” and the title track with emotional tracks that reflect a little more directly on Abbie (“Until You,” “Good Life”). It’s nice to have Evans back, although he never really went anywhere.
Arena Theatre, May 14
Merle Haggard’s passing in April was just the latest reminder of how grateful country-music fans should be that legends like Loretta Lynn still walk among us. But not only does the 84-year-old singer and songwriter continue to draw breath, this year she released the excellent Full Circle, her first album since 2004’s Jack White-assisted Van Lear Rose. A simple, largely acoustic affair that radiates wisdom and grace, Full Circle mixes originals with traditional songs like the old gospel standby “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” and remakes of catalog classics like “Fist City” and “Whispering Sea,” plus guest spots by Elvis Costello and fellow survivor Willie Nelson. Lynn has lived long enough to see several generations of artists she’s directly influenced fill stadiums (Miranda Lambert, Dixie Chicks, etc.), but also where only a handful of female artists get regular airplay on mainstream-country radio. What a world we live in.
Toyota Center, May 15
Rihanna has so many hit singles she doesn't have room for all of them on her setlists. “Disturbia,” “SOS” and “Take a Bow” were all real, actual No. 1 singles in this country, and you will not be hearing them when she returns to Houston. But, given the lineup of tracks she does still perform, you probably won't notice, or even care; anyone who has “Diamonds” and “Umbrella” to build her sets around pretty much has the freedom to do whatever she wants with the rest of her time onstage. Not that you imagine Rihanna really caring about whether or not she has that freedom; in the carefully calculated world of pop music, Rihanna comes off as the only person who seems interested in being exactly who she wants to be, critics and critiques be damned. It's no surprise that one of her fan Facebook pages has more than 2 million likes; when you're bad, you know it and you own it, you will be admired. Rihanna just happens to be the baddest, and she absolutely owns that. With Travi$ Scott. CORY GARCIA