Shows of the Week: The Natural Heir to Music's Two Great Bobs
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals
Photo by Danny Clinch/Courtesy of Concord Records
BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS
House of Blues, August 29
Ben Harper can never be accused of being idle. The 46-year-old musician is a polymath of folk, reggae, soul, blues and rock, infusing his unique style with a keen sense of social justice that makes him a natural heir to music’s two great Bobs, Dylan and Marley. If Harper isn’t quite as well-known as either of those icons (or even Dave Matthews), his catalog stacks up favorably against his peers and he truly shines onstage. His bands the Innocent Criminals and Relentless7 routinely appear high on the bills of festivals like ACL and FPSF, and rarely does a year pass without a new record bearing Harper’s name. Released this past spring, his first album with the Criminals since 2007, Call It What It Is (Stax), is firmly in Harper’s wheelhouse, balancing Stones-y rockers “When Sex Was Dirty” and “Pink Balloon”; a pointed title track spotlighting police brutality; and a lovely closing ballad, “Goodbye to You,” tailor-made for smartphone-illuminated festival encores. With The Jack Move.
Dosey Doe, September 2
Tab Benoit’s name should be central to any conversation about underappreciated modern bluesmen, with one important condition: blues lovers around the world are well aware of his talents. Although a real breakthough to mainstream audiences has eluded him, the 48-year-old Benoit has been honored eight times by the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards (formerly the W.C. Handy Awards), including twice as B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. Easily one of the most respected musicians in the New Orleans area, Benoit has collaborated with other A-list NOLA names like Dr. John, George Porter Jr., the late Allen Toussaint and Anders Osborne, co-producer of Benoit’s most recent album, 2011’s Medicine. Benoit’s work as an activist for environmental conservation foundation Voice of the Wetlands (also the title of his 2005 album), helped him earn the 2010 Governor’s Award from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.
Continental Club, September 3
Those fortunate enough to be present when Nikki Hill made her Houston debut at the Continental a few years back already know, but the rest of the world is just now waking up to her explosive talent thanks to new album Heavy Hearts Raised Fist. The North Carolina-raised singer turned quite a few heads with 2014’s Here’s Nikki Hill, but Heavy Hearts ups the ante even further with a potently mixed cocktail of R&B shimmer and rock and roll swagger; Tina Turner comparisons should never be tossed around lightly, but if the platform shoe fits, you might as well kick something with it. (Exhibit A: the double shot of AC/DC above.) Hill is already headed back this way to play Discovery Green’s Fall Concert Series on October 13 with with Houston’s Annika Chambers, but there’s absolutely no reason to wait that long.
Toyota Center, September 3 & 4
Rationally you have to believe that the day will come when Drake stumbles. Hip-hop has always been a young man's game, which means Drake can't make hit singles, records and mixtapes forever, right? But if there were one man who might just buck that trend, you'd be wise to put your money on the 6 God. He has consistently crushed things for the past two years, from If You're Reading This It's Too Late to What a Time to Be Alive with “Summer Sixteen” tour partner Future to Views, his multiplatinum smash from earlier this year, and you can't escape him on the airwaves. As of this writing, six tracks that he's on are in the Billboard Hot 100. So a visit by Drake is something to get excited about no matter where you live, but this is Houston, a city that Drake loves almost as his beloved Toronto, so you know a Drake show — or shows, as in this case — is going to be something special. Who knows who will take the stage with him when he arrives in town, but odds are good the man gave Houston its own appreciation weekend won't let Space City down. CORY GARCIA
Satellite Bar, September 3
Yet another young synth-powered act catching on quickly with local fans, Camera Cult wants to be the soundtrack to your next party. Founded in 2014, David Gonzalez and Ricky J. Vasquez have steadily raised their profile around town, appearing at this spring’s Madness On Main festival and opening for the likes of Children of Pop and Catch Fever. As with nationally known names like Chromeo, the elements of Camera Cult’s shamelessly retro sound — classic disco, “Pop Life”-era Prince, millennial boy bands — have been seamlessly rearranged to hit all the right notes with younger fans. Saturday’s show is a 7-inch release party for the songs “Heart Brakes,” which has already been picked up by Houston’s KPFT, and “Don’t Hang Out.” With Vas Deferens, Us, Rex Hudson and the Dimaggios.
Walters Downtown, September 3
Dylan Cameron’s brand-new LP Infinite Floor may help you help yourself. The good news is in about Special K, which may be the future of depression treatments (taken in trustworthy company), and Cameron’s wobbly ear candy is tailor-made for the rabbit hole. It’s new music, part house and part techno, built on the chassis of mass-produced electronica to slow-ride through the big cistern of the endless night in a Ford Focus kind of four-on-the-floor beat, indifferent to the bonehead horsepower of EDM. It’s as psychedelic and funky as its forebears but moodier, scratched in fine strokes and close detail, astringent enough for openminded rockers. Which is really no wonder: Cameron is of a dynastic Austin music family; he was born between the notes. For this LP release party, he’ll be joined by a few of Houston’s own nubeat stunt drivers, none of them genre-bound. Like the name suggests, Acid Jeep is an acid-house killer into techno-funk and the big beat, but with a penchant for cruising into the neighborhoods of jungle, drum & bass, and IDM, too. Pfaffenberg’s kind of live modular synthesis is less beatdriven and more improvisational, prone to weaving patch cords through an intricate and endless net of sound and texture. With Acid Jeep, Funeral Parlor, Pfaffenberg and Neil Ebbflo. TEX KERSCHEN
Continental Club, September 4
Touring tribute bands have an especially tough row to hoe: if other places are anything like Houston, there’s already one on every third stage in town, it seems like. But San Diego’s Cash’d Out has made it work for more than a decade, combining a repertoire that spans more than 150 songs and the authentic booming baritone of front man Douglas Benson, whose Man In Black is quite a bit better than merely passable. Cash’d Out was the first tribute act to be endorsed by johnnycash.com; and has likewise impressed members of the Man In Black’s extended family like ex-Tennessee Three drummer W.S. Holland, who has sat in with them, and Cash’s former manager Lou Robin, who has called their show “like going back in time.” Drawing heavily from Cash’s Sun years and the Live at San Quentin and Live at Folsom Prison albums, Cash’d Out will loop back around by Scout Bar next Thursday (September 8), in addition to Sunday’s date at Houston’s rockabilly central.
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