From the usual concert halls to unlikely music spots, from global celebrities and local music veterans to unheralded upstarts, from well-known and much-loved tunes to all-new compositions: Here are 30 songs by 30 acts seen in Houston over the last 30 days (give or take a day). Don’t believe anyone who says Houston isn’t a music city.
Presented in three parts, this is one person’s musical trek across Greater Houston and just a glimpse of where music is happening in the city. Some of these shows were circled on the calendar and some were spur of the moment stops. They all reminded the listener of the unifying power of live music. Presented in no particular order, here are the first 10 of 30 songs that left an impression:
“Astrodome,” Bruce Robison, Wortham Theater Center, June 7
Bruce Robison is one of Texas’ venerable songwriters, so to whom else would one entrust an ode to a state treasure like the Astrodome? He debuted his homage to the Eighth Wonder of the World at the Texas Monthly LIVE event the Wortham hosted early last month. As Robison sang the wistful tune, the song’s official short film rolled behind him and archival footage of the Houston Astros, Luv Ya' Blue, Evel Knievel and other ‘Dome magic transported viewers back to the building’s glory days.
“Down In An Instant,” Slummer, Wet Leprechaun Tavern, May 24, 2019
Sometimes all a dad can do is promise his kids things will get better when the moment seems bleak and answers are hard to find. Houston’s pre-eminent “dad punx,” Slummer, have crafted a cautionary song for the moment with “Down In An Instant.” It might be hard to tell your kids (and yourself) “This whole country is going to the pits,” but it’s reassuring to tell them (and yourself) that change is possible and starts at home.
“Brick House/Fire,” Lionel Richie, Smart Financial Centre, May 28, 2019
Pop superstar Lionel Richie performed all the hits for Houston-area fans on his recent visit to Smart Financial Centre, one of the area’s best and busiest concert halls. His set list was heavy on the ballads he’s built his solo brand upon, favorites like “Hello,” “You Are,” and “Say You, Say Me.” But Richie fully embraced his work with the influential funk/R&B act The Commodores this night and an inspired mashup of the band’s towering megahit “Brick House” with the Ohio Players’ “Fire” moved hand-holding, snuggling couples from their seats to their feet. As an unabashed dance party occurred, retro images of afros and bell-bottoms flashed onscreen behind Richie and band, effectively tying five decades of music together for fans.
“Play That Funky Music," The Generations Band, Taco Cabana, June 1, 2019
Recently, diners at select Taco Cabana restaurants have been served a heaping helping of music alongside their sizzling fajitas and frozen margaritas. The drive-thru Tex-Mex chain has lately scheduled patio music performances at some Houston area locations. We caught The Generations Band at TC’s Yale location one Saturday evening. These music veterans specialize in old school R&B, funk and blues and started things with a wicked, wicked Wilson Pickett cover and included tunes by Gap Band, Bill Withers and Cameo, among others. An earnest waitress rushed onto the patio just before they broke into their best selection – Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” – saying “Number 12? Two crispy tacos?” She was trying to locate a hungry patron before The Generations Band doled out another spoonful of its own soulful stew.
“Jerry Seinfeld,” Anna Pascali, House of J, May 29, 2019
House shows are great settings for true confessions. The secrets shared in dimly-lit living rooms turned show venues sometimes remain there; but, when they’re tender admissions that strike a universal note, they should escape those confines and float into the world. So, world, here’s a deserving floater, Anna Pascali’s “Jerry Seinfeld.” The singer-songwriter told an intimate weeknight crowd at House of J that she wrote the song for a teacher she once had a crush on and the softhearted lyrics and tone of the tune expertly recall what it feels like to be young and achingly in love.
“Let It Be,” The Molly Jones, Continental Club, May 24, 2019
The Molly Jones is a Beatles cover act that occasionally holds court at mid-Main mainstay The Continental Club, particularly during happy hour sets on Friday nights, when they help Houston’s party-seekers twist and shout their ways into the weekend. Like most Beatles bands, they’re a bunch of fab fellows, with the noticeable and welcomed inclusion of female vocalist Taylor Simpson. (If they look familiar, these versatile players also morph into The Monicas Band, a ‘90s cover act, for when the gig calls for “O.P.P.” rather than “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”). Unless a Beatles cover act plans to play the last six minutes of Abbey Road to shut its set down, the only other way to do it is with “Let It Be.” The song has been covered hundreds of times and its maternal theme always plays stronger when the vocals are guided by a woman. Simpson’s version was straight-forward and powerful.
“Amanda Ruth,” Vernon Trumbull and His Kinsmen, Darwin’s Pub, May 31, 2019
The title character of this song can’t cook a lick, according to front man Vernon Trumbull, who sings from behind his signature red beard “she burns her biscuits and her gravy is strange.” At least Trumbull and His Kinsmen have a delectable recipe of country, rock and blues here. A pinch of Roy Orbison, a dash of Beach Boys, all spicing things up in this easy sing-along about a very interesting woman. They worked up a bit of a Friday night frenzy early in their set at Darwin’s Pub with this one and you won’t be able to get the girl or the song out of your head after a listen.
“It’s My Life,” Fake Midget, Braman Winery and Brewery, June 29, 2019
A good cover band should know its target audience and the venue it’s playing. Fake Midget is an in-demand cover group for those reasons, as well as for its playing prowess. The band did its homework for its recent gig at Braman Winery and Brewery. The Fort Bend wine and craft beer purveyors were celebrating two years in business and the band unleashed a defiantly fun version of “It’s My Life” for the anniversary party. The song’s take charge message is an anthem for entrepreneurs like the folks at Braman and judging by the dance floor moves and chimed-in vocals from the wine-hoisting, beer-sipping crowd, Braman’s got plenty of Bon Jovi fans.
“These Old Sad Songs,” Jacob Ryan Marshall, Truck Yard, June 8, 2019
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Truck Yard is a massive party space and its fans come in hordes for boozy drinks, tasty cheesesteaks and socializing in a setting that resembles a chic junkyard. It can be a tough gig for an artist. Musicians are tucked in a corner there and compete for attention with an actual Ferris wheel just feet away. Jacob Ryan Marshall was undaunted and caught our attention with a strong voice, nice guitar pickin’ and Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash covers. Once we were hooked, he reeled us in with this original song about music and the role it plays when we think back on past relationships.
“Burial Under the Sun," Funeral Horse, Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, June 1, 2019
While skateboarders were grinding rails, local doom lords Funeral Horse were grinding out a set of riff-heavy tunes during a sunset performance on a near-perfect evening at Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. The trio was playing as part of the downtown skatepark’s Skate & Rock Memorial Session, which honored more than a dozen local skaters who have died since the park’s opening. This tune, from last year’s Psalms for the Mourning, seemed tailor cut for the event. The band’s thrashing made viewers wonder whether they too shouldn’t be geared in helmets and pads for the set. The song’s bone-jarring rhythm reverberated from one end of the skatepark to the other, where it wafted away into the city skyline.