Bayou City

Shows of the Week: This Time John Legend Brings Both Darkness and Light

John Legend performing in 2009
John Legend performing in 2009 Julio Enriquez via Flickr Commons
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, May 23
Six months removed from the release of his fifth studio album, Darkness and Light, John Legend will pay a visit to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Met with tepid sales figures despite critical acclaim, his latest sees the Ohio native adding dark undertones to his signature love ballads. Legend croons to his wife and infant daughter but also frets over political unrest and the future, which may have rattled longtime fans at first listen. Though love songs are still present, Darkness and Light marks an evolution of sorts for a singer-songwriter who seems to be expanding his reach beyond romance. Surely, however, Legend will perform plenty of older cuts as well; the versatile artist is capable of commanding a crowd both with a full band and by his lonesome, accompanied only by his piano. So no matter how Legend decides to arrange Tuesday’s performance — rescheduled from Sunday because of his appearance on Sunday's Billboard Music Awards — it’s unlikely any fans will be disappointed. With Gallant. MATTHEW KEEVER

NRG Stadium, May 24
Even U2’s staunchest defenders have to admit the Irish rockers won’t fully purge the stain brought on by the uninvited iTunes gifting of 2014’s Songs of Innocence until its long-gestating followup is made available only to those who willingly partake, but recent signs indicate their reputation is on the mend. After all, Kendrick Lamar won’t invite just anyone over for a feature, but there’s Bono keening on “XXX,” one of the standouts from the L.A. rapper’s hit album DAMN. And certainly not hurting matters is this brief stadium lap celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, the one U2 album whose gut-level mass appeal even their harshest critics have a hard time denying. Never mind that the unfairly maligned if overcooked Innocence contains a clutch of the band’s best songs since the early ‘90s (they're just lurking within the expanded edition), Joshua Tree U2 is the one most people want to remember, the rock crusaders whose songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name,” With or Without You” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” beg to let The Edge’s unique guitar tones ring out in the open air before a backup chorus tens of thousands strong. With the Lumineers.

MEAT PUPPETS, mike watt
White Oak Music Hall, May 25
The Meat Puppets have always been the SST version of the Grateful Dead, lower-budget and far more acid-damaged. Though they left SST decades ago, wandering dry and brittle pastures in search of an endlessly setting sun, the Meat Puppets never really left the underground. Part of this was their storied self-abuse, but equally important was their unending musicality, the likes of which kept them too slippery for major-label success. They’ll be christening this summer of flesh and sweat with a little help from their tourmate, punk’s everyman, the ubiquitous mike watt, a band leader so self-deprecating that he eschews capital letters. TEX KERSCHEN

Warehouse Live, May 26
R&B took a more sexualized tone in the early 1990s thanks to artists like R. Kelly and Jodeci; beforehand, sexuality had been discussed frequently in popular R&B, only in less direct and explicit terms. That era of talent begat today's crop of singers, few of whom get directly to the point quicker than Trey Songz. Discovering his voice as a lothario soon after his second album, Trey Day, Songz has now spent the better part of a decade creating sex-driven anthems for the bedroom with whatever woman may approach him. His technique has worked, especially in his live shows. Taking over Warehouse Live gives him full domain to render any "date" aspect of the evening useless. Your lady knows why she's there: for Songz's verbal intercourse, shirtless gyrations and persistent insinuations that she's the only woman in the room. With Mike Angel. BRANDON CALDWELL

Heights Theater, May 27
On their brand-new, eponymous and first official LP, Houston’s Ancient Cat Society seems to exist in the past and present all at once. Within the contemporary arrangements of these seemingly old-time folk tunes lie some of Sergio Trevino and Haley Barnes’s strongest songwriting to date. Born from the ranks of Buxton and Dollie Barnes, among other local indie-folk groups of note, ACS set themselves apart with image-rich songwriting and three-part harmonies that at times almost sound like listening to one voice. Although this new LP is mostly folky tunes, do not underestimate the trio’s power to surprise with the straight-up R&B arrangement of “Why Are You Getting Married?” or “Do You Feel,” the catchiest song on the album. Notwithstanding the top-notch production by SugarHill’s Steve Christensen, once that modern veil is lifted, listeners will find themselves somewhere very old, almost timeless, yet very familiar. With Say Girl Say. ADAM OHAYON

White Oak Music Hall, May 27
Seasoned indie-folk rockers The Mountain Goats have developed quite the following since their humble genesis producing lo-fi home recordings. What began as a solo project by John Darnielle has since developed into a celebrated four-piece with a cult-like fan base. With Darnielle at the helm, The Mountain Goats craft honest short stories atop folk music. Laden with dark lyricism, Darnielle's music often beguiles listeners with melodic guitar riffs and catchy choruses, but these songs are chock-full of serious material — from abusive stepfathers to failed marriages. On tour in support of their 16th studio album, Goths, The Mountain Goats will visit Houston just eight days after its release. Given Darnielle’s enthusiastic fan base, many attendees will probably already be singing along to all the new songs. With Holy Sons. MATTHEW KEEVER

Arena Theatre, May 27
Erykah Badu is an established empress of R&B; her 1997 album Baduizm, a triple-platinum masterpiece of vintage soulful sounds, jettisoned her to the top of Billboard charts and critical watch lists. But Badu remains a force in music because of her ability to reinvent her sound, maturing with it rather than against it. Case in point: But You Caint Use My Phone, the 2015 mixtape that Badu slyly released on her own record label. The mixtape meditates on the modern ubiquity of cell phones with a digital sound aesthetic. In some parts, such as the Drake-inspired "Cel U Lar Device," Badu creates a clever meta-commentary on mimetic music culture. On other parts, like "Hello," she reminds us that our hyper-connectedness doesn't necessarily help us feel closer. KATIE SULLIVAN

White Oak Music Hall, May 28
For the price of a single weekend show at many Houston-area venues, or much less, Madness On Main offers three or four times the action. Now in its fourth year, the three-stage festival is relocating to the grounds of White Oak Music Hall and Raven Tower (so still on Main Street, FYI), and plans to take advantage of its new surroundings with a variety of auxiliary perks: a parking-lot bazaar featuring dozens of food- and craft-minded vendors; several events produced by Kaleidoscope Houston, including a “How Music Influences Fashion” panel and student fashion show; and an installation by local artist DonkeeBoy that visualizes the Tex-Mex influence on Houston music. As far as the lineup, the festival usurps the traditional “headliner” concept in favor of 20 of Houston and the surrounding region’s fastest-developing acts from all points across the musical spectrum, plus better-known names like Something Fierce and Black Pistol Fire. Whether hard rock, punk, indie, electronic, noise, hip-hop, pop, reggae, folk — or, more likely, a combination of any or all of the above — there’s bound to be something to your liking here.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray