The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Marco Torres

REPUBLIC OF TEXAS TOUR FEAT. GT GARZA, DOEMAN, DUSTIN CAVAZOS & DRO FÉ
Fitzgerald's, 2/8/2015

From Houston to Dallas and the Rio Grande Valley, this group of hungry young artists put on a passionate and energetic show as they traveled around the state. These guys are rappers who just happen to be Latinos, but not exactly Latin Rappers, and that's something to be admired. There was raw talent on display as Doeman lead the lyrical assault, followed by the coolness of Oak Cliff's own Dustin Cavazos, and the menacingly deep growl of Dro Fe. Rounding out the crew was the swaggered-out and smooth beats from GT Garza. This generation has the future of Texas music in good hands. MARCO TORRES

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

ALICE COOPER
Revention Music Center, 2/14/2015

Consider the marvel that is Alice Cooper: a man in his seventies playing a string of hits from decades past with the fervor of someone less than half his age, by a wide margin. Add Nita Strauss’s incredible guitar playing to the mix, and you have rock and roll perfection. Cooper’s Valentine’s-eve performance was nothing unusual insofar as his normal theatrics: dark humor, macabre themes and a guillotine. What he has mastered beyond many other performers, though, is how to engage an audience for an entire set. His secret? Play every song as if it were an encore. KRISTY LOYE

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Francisco Montes

ROOSH WILLIAMS
Walters Downtown, 3/7/2015

The best local rap show I saw all year was Roosh Williams’ Unorthodox record release show at Walters. It wasn’t just that Roosh totally killed it, although he certainly did — he performed with a coterie of talented dancers and rapped faster than perhaps anybody from Houston did this year. The show also delivered a completely stacked bill of local talent, featuring enthusiastic sets from Def Perception, T2 the Ghetto Hippie and a newly returned Kyle Hubbard. The crowd was into it; the rappers were into it. It was just terrific, and I hope to see them all onstage again in 2016. NATHAN SMITH

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Jack Gorman

PRIMUS
Revention Music Center, 4/30/2015

Primus and the Chocolate Factory was certainly a weird, welcome addition to the long-running band’s collection of musical trifles upon its release in 2014, but it wasn’t until the band toured the record live that I realized just how special it was. After opening for themselves with more-or-less a standard Primus set, the trio donned Wonka-esque costumes and were joined by percussion-and-cello duo the Fungi Ensemble for what was undoubtedly the strangest rock and roll trip in the city this year. Bizarre visions of Gene Wilder danced on giant screens behind them as Oompa Loompas frolicked to Primus’ manic, frightening reinterpretations of the classic film’s soundtrack. Given the props, the costumes and the incredible sounds billowing from the stage, it was impossible not to be transported into magical chocolate factory. Who wouldn’t love that golden ticket? The crowd’s response was ecstatic, and if the rest of ‘em were anything like me, they drove straight to the candy shop afterwards. NATHAN SMITH

Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos
Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos
Photo by Marco Torres

LOS LOBOS, MARIACHI LUNA LLENA
Miller Outdoor Theatre, 5/3/2015

Free shows at the Miller Outdoor Theatre are always a pleasure to attend. But when it includes one of America's best and longest-running bands, who just happen to be helping Houston celebrate Cinco de Mayo, it turns from cool to awesome really quick. With the backdrop of calaveras in a loving embrace, Los Lobos helped usher in a new era for the recently remodeled venue, which was looking and sounding mighty fine. Sitting on the lawn, drinking a prickly-pear Shiner beer, and hearing “Sabor A Mi,” “La Pistola Y El Corazon” and all of Los Lobos' other classics certainly made this a night to remember. Mariachi Luna Llena from Rice University opened the show with a spirited selection of traditional Mexican music. Viva Mexico indeed! MARCO TORRES

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Marco Torres

THE GETO BOYS
House of Blues, 6/11/2015

Any time the Geto Boys perform in Houston, Texas, it’s a big goddamned deal. With apologies to Rand McNally, it was Scarface, Bushwick Bill and Willie motherfucking D who put this city on the map, and multiple generations of fans showed up at House of Blues for a proper kickoff to the Boys’ tour this summer. All the crucial tunes were in place, but I think my fondest memory of the show will always been Scarface picking up an acoustic guitar and leading the crowd through the first verse and chorus of “Hotel California.” If you weren’t there to sing along, you fucked up bad. NATHAN SMITH

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photos by Jack Gorman

D'ANGELO & THE VANGUARD
Warehouse Live, 6/17 2015

Last December, D'Angelo ended what was once R&B's longer droughts between full-length albums, at least on the male side. A lot of people consider what he created with Black Messiah as a preamble to what Kendrick Lamar laid down with To Pimp a Butterfly – funky, layered protest music. The live version of it, where D'Angelo played bandleader, voice of seduction and leader of a revolution, was probably even more powerful. On the same night that a piece of domestic terrorism occurred hundreds of miles away in a Charleston, S.C. church, D'Angelo played "The Charade" with the same pained gusto of someone who was just tired. It may have been the blues for almost two hours, but it was smiling, toe-tapping, shouting and joyous throughout. BRANDON CALDWELL

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

GARTH BROOKS
Toyota Center, 7/3/2015

Country music has never meant much to me. Try as I might, I’ll never really be a disciple of Johnny Cash and John Deere. But god damn if Garth Brooks isn’t the most amazing showman I’ve ever seen. His mastery over a crowd and his music is unreal, almost superhuman in nature. He has more energy than acts that are half his age, and the fact that he was doing two shows every night doesn’t even seem possible, but there he was, four nights in Houston this year, for what were among the city's loudest crowds of the year. No matter what you think of his music, Garth Brooks should be on your concert bucket list. He’s that good. CORY GARCIA

DANZIG
Revention Music Center, 7/14/2015

Personally, this show was probably a low point for me as far as audience behavior; however, the music was easily one of the year's best. On the loudest amps and speakers I’ve heard yet at the much-renamed venue, openers Pennywise played an aggressive set of punk hits. When Danzig’s band came out, tension in the room exploded as his explosive baritone howled Satanic hymns to the roughest and toughest part of Houston's music fan base. Like a caged animal, he paced back and forth, growling at the audience and demanding their participation. Unlike anyone I’ve seen in Houston do in a long time, Danzig owned the stage and audience simultaneously. KRISTY LOYE

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

SMASHING PUMPKINS, MARILYN MANSON
NRG Arena, 7/16/2015

It’s hard to figure out what Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson feel they have to prove in 2015, because they certainly hit the stage at NRG like they were on a mission. The result was a show that was even better than traveling back to when they were at the height of their powers. Sure, they’ve gotten older, but that age has honed the rough edges smooth so that all is left are two performers who know how good they are and aren’t afraid to show it. Manson is still all shock-rock goodness, but proves that his voice was always underappreciated and capable of true, gut-wrenching emotion when that’s his goal. Corgan, joined on this tour by original Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (who is still amazing, in case you were curious), made being a guitar hero look effortless. You can’t turn back the clock, but if this is how good they are now, I wouldn’t want to. CORY GARCIA

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

FAITH NO MORE
Revention Music Center, 7/28/2015

After Faith No More spent nearly 20 years on my Houston concert bucket list, I’d all but given up hope of ever seeing them perform in my hometown. Even when they became a hot commodity on the European festival circuit a few years back, a return to Texas still seemed a rather remote possibility. After all, fairness has never exactly been the band’s raison d’être. When they final got around to releasing a new album, though, their record company finally made sure that the money made sense for Faith No More to check out Revention Music Center at last. Even better, they brought along Napalm Death, another personal fave. The new songs sounded just fine, and there were a few really old deep cuts in the mix, too. But it wasn’t until I could sing along to “Ashes to Ashes” in downtown H-Town that I mentally crossed them off the bucket list for good. NATHAN SMITH

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Jack Gorman

NIKKI LANE
House of Blues, 8/1/2015

Opening for Social Distortion with her band, the “first lady of outlaw country” brought the unique energy that comes with pearl snaps and pedal steel guitars set on songs about breakups, making bad decisions and overall misbehaving. No doubt the crowd was there to see Social D, but this rising Nashville star put an excitement in the air that got them in the mood for even more hell-raisin’. Lane is full of spit and vinegar, but in a quite charming way; she's definitely someone you could find some trouble with. She left many intrigued fans wanting her come around again for a headlining show. JACK GORMAN

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Christi Vest

SLAYER
Mayhem Fest, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 8/1/2015

Slayer's presence on the final Mayhem Fest may have been the only reason why the long-running package tour didn’t call it quits earlier. To see them after a long, hot day of average summer festival openers and a more than disappointing Victory Records side stage, it was easy to see why Slayer’s presence on the tour was essential. Far more impressive than at Rocklahoma just weeks before, Slayer played from their catalog of hits and their yet-to-be-released Repentless, a clear return to their thrash roots whose songs hit the Mayhem crowd with the force of machine-gun bullets. While it was clear Mayhem needed Slayer, Slayer didn’t need Mayhem. Indeed, I’ve never seen the Pavilion fill more quickly than when the first notes from Kerry King’s guitar began to fill the air. KRISTY LOYE

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Ray Redding

DAWN AND HAWKES
McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 8/10/2015

While many folk duos can harmonize, very few complement each other as well as this Austin couple with the ability to communicate a range of expression, not just hover over sadness and sorrow. Something innately authentic resonates with these songwriters, a feeling of poignant sensitivity stirred up by their beautifully poetic lyrics. Dawn has a way of holding a note with such beauty that it extracts every sentiment from the listener at once; the emotional impact from such an intimate display is both frightening and beautifully rousing. Catch them back at the Duck on January 2. KRISTY LOYE

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Francisco Montes

NEUROSIS
Warehouse Live, 8/16/2015

Neurosis has never been a particularly hard-touring band. Skip ‘em when they come to town, and it might be a decade before you get another shot. I had no intention of missing the Oakland post-metal masters when they booked a date at Warehouse Live back in August, and I certainly wasn’t alone. The concert was as close to an un-missable event as I’ve seen in the venue’s smaller Studio room, and it was packed to the gills. The ladies in attendance, in particular, came dressed as if to snag themselves a husband — or somebody else’s. The fashion was intense. Neurosis, for their part, did not disappoint, opening with one of my favorite songs, “A Sun That Never Sets.” I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back into my head. The rest is kind of a big, extraordinarily heavy blur. NATHAN SMITH

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Jack Gorman

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DEFTONES
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 8/19/2015

Chino Moreno and crew put on one of the most intense and powerful sets of the year as they were sandwiched between Incubus and Death From Above 1979 on arguably the summer’s hottest tickets. As emotional, aggressive and heavy that the music is the group was satisfactorily happy, as witnessed by the constant gleam of Sergio Vega’s golden grill while he slapped at his bass and Moreno’s smiles as he jump-roped the ridiculously long mike cord. They were on 11 throughout their entire set, which left a weird feeling of needing more metal when the very relaxed Brandon Boyd came out with Incubus. JACK GORMAN

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Jack Gorman

ED SHEERAN
BBVA Compass Stadium, 9/3/2015

Understand that I love spectacle. I love Kanye’s mountain, Lady Gaga’s balls, thousands of flashing bracelets at a Taylor Swift show and whatever it is that Gwar does. They are all great things, but they all pale in comparison to what Ed Sheeran manages to do on stage as a dude by himself with a guitar. There is no greater gap in music between someone as an artist and someone as a performer than recorded Ed Sheeran and live Ed Sheeran. His songs aren’t bad, but they don’t really stand out to me as anything special, but I could watch him perform all day long. He is captivating, no smoke and mirrors needed. It is music at its most pure: one man showing off what he – and a loop machine – can do with a guitar. CORY GARCIA

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Christi Vest

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR
Warehouse Live, 9/16/2015

I’ve been to enough concerts in my life now that it is extremely rare that I have visceral emotional reactions to them. They’re what I hope for every time I step into a show, but the reality is that you secretly want that sort of thing to be rare, so that when it does happen it feels even more special. But Godspeed moved me. Deeply. As they had finished “Mladic,” things had become so intense that I needed fresh air. Luckily it was the final song of the show, because if it hadn’t been I don’t know that I could have taken much more. And I loved that feeling. And I love the fact that even now, months later, I still struggle to put the experience in to words. I love emotional catharsis, probably way more than most people, but I would take that kind of deep-seated subconscious musical reckoning every day of the week. If I thought my brain and my soul could handle it. CORY GARCIA

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

BROWNOUT
Yes, Indeed! Fest, Continental Club, 9/19/2015

Austin’s Brownout headlined this year's Yes, Indeed! Fest and wreaked total havoc. Some members also belong to Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma, but all of them exude such sheer talent that we were all lucky to witness them in the cozy Continental Club. I watched in slack-jawed amazement as guitarists Beto Martinez and Adrian Quesada shredded through Black Sabbath’s discography; their dexterous skills set the foundation for horns and percussion that gave Ozzy & Co. an awesome Latin tinge. (The Ozz himself is reputed to be a big fan.) Front man Alex Marrero was a revelation, doing Osbourne justice with an engaging stage show, a killer set of pipes, and even a wardrobe change. He and his cohorts were so committed, we in the audience felt as if we were at a stadium show from Sabbath's heyday. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Marco Torres

DEVIN THE DUDE, HEVIN SPACY, DJ DAYTA
Moon Tower Inn, 9/19/2015

Another one of my favorite shows of 2015 happened to be one of the smallest. On a modest stage in the yard behind Moon Tower's shack of beer and hot dogs, less than 150 people came out to see Devin The Dude give an impassioned “Do-It-Yourself” self-help seminar disguised as a rap show. With DJ Dayta of the Krackernuttz spinning behind him, Devin ran through all of his hits – “Boo Boo'n,” “Lacville '79,” and more – under the fading lights of the downtown skyline and the familiar East End smell of coffee and tacos lingering in the wind. Hevin Spacy (aka Lucas Gorham) opened up for Devin and even accompanied him for “Doobie Ashtray,” a show that was “cool, unpretentious and totally Houston.” MARCO TORRES

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Marco Torres

RUN THE JEWELS
House of Blues, 10/13/2015

When Killer Mike grunted and guffed about not getting a Grammy nomination for Run The Jewels 2, he was correct. Hip-hop's "it" group of the moment comes into any town swinging fury, curses, a bit of smart thinking and eye-opening revelations. He and El-P started this Run the Jewels thing a couple years ago and every show, much like the fiery one at House of Blues this fall, displayed a bit of power that captivates people. Whether it be Mike's voice or El-P's brief asides to discuss the world at large, RTJ are the critical darlings of hip-hop fans and hipster heads alike. Why? Because their stage show is a euphemism for kicking 100 people in the chest as if you were Cammy or Chung-Li. BRANDON CALDWELL

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

MASTODON
Revention Music Center, 10/30/2015

By the time Mastodon took the stage for their second Bayou City appearance of 2015 (following FPSF), the room’s aura changed from openers Clutch's beer-soaked blues hall to the magnificent, artful weirdness of time-signature changes and drum-kit fills. Playing selections from the prog-metal masters' deeply moving latest album, Once More ‘Round the Sun, Mastodon’s music transcended performance and became a conversation with the audience, as hundreds of fans pressed against the stage. For this writer, Clutch singer Neil Fallon’s return to sing “Blood and Thunder” from Mastodon's famed Leviathan album was the best concert moment of the year. KRISTY LOYE

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Christi Vest

BILLY JOEL
Toyota Center, 11/6/2015

If your true friend Billy comes to visit, you don’t expect him to wipe his feet on the welcome mat the exact way you do. If he changes the TP roll all wrong, you let that pass without comment because he's an honored guest. Still, it’s nice when he's respectful of your traditions and ways, which is why Billy Joel’s November return to Toyota Center was so fun. He did his best to become an honorary Texan, playing some of his favorites by some of our state’s favorites – ZZ Top, Don Henley, Sly Stone and others – as a sign of respect. In return we filled downtown Houston’s streets before the show, all Manhattan-like, and sang every classic New York state of mind song from Joel's own repertoire. He didn’t have to go changing to try and please us – we would have taken him just the way he is, but we were more than eager to abide and make him a fellow Texan. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

BLACKGRASS GOSPEL
Eastdown Warehouse, 11/23/2015

Talking about Shonen Knife with Giant Kitty after their set. Seeing Say Girl Say deliver a perfect cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” under a clear blue sky at Houston Whatever Fest. Running up and down AvantGarden’s staircase to see Jon Black, Biz Vicious, Mark Drew and NIKKHOO as they tested the capacity of the English language on Halloween night. Trying to figure which of Black Kite’s trio of performers was most responsible for putting me under a spell of blissful hypnosis any time I saw them this year. These are only snippets of many very good nights watching local musicians throughout 2015.

If I had to select one local act and one set, though, I’d pick Blackgrass Gospel. When they showed to support others booked on a last-minute Wednesday-night Thanksgiving food drive, few people were there besides the staff and the bands, and it didn’t matter at all. Once everyone got cooking, especially Blackgrass, which played an unannounced set with only part of its recently pared-down lineup. There’s nothing trendy about this band; don’t expect them at next winter’s Day For Night. But that Monday night they encompassed what I love best about Houston music: they played their hearts out for the love of it, and to entertain whomever happened to be out trying to extend the weekend into Tuesday. Giving us that kind of love, surely they and many other local acts like them deserve some in return. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

The 25 Best Houston Concerts of 2015
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

BILLY F. GIBBONS & THE BFGs
Cullen Performance Hall, 12/3/2015

Ah-how-how-how-how...Cuban style. Perfectamundo. CHRIS GRAY


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