Bayou City

Shows of the Week: Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials Bring Brilliant Modern Blues

Shows of the Week: Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials Bring Brilliant Modern Blues
Photo by Paul Natkin/Courtesy of Alligator Records
Photo by Paul Natkin/Courtesy of Alligator Records
Dosey Doe, March 29
Contemporary blues outfits don’t come any finer than Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials, who have been preserving and updating the classic Chicago sound for nearly 30 years. Fronted by diminutive but dynamic lead singer and guitarist Lil’ Ed Williams, the Imperials are proud sons of the West Side, the very same turf that once nurtured blues greats like Magic Sam and Otis Rush. Williams’ elaborate guitar calisthenics in particular have made the Imperials a top draw at concert halls and festivals hither and yon, shaping the Imperials into one of Alligator Records’ flagship artists. The group’s ninth album for the label, last year’s The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & the Imperials, has earned them nominations for Best Band and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year (Williams) at the upcoming Blues Music Awards in Memphis.

Civic TV Collective, March 31
There’s something about a strobe light in an otherwise darkened room that promises an epiphany. Perhaps it’s just the precognitive liftoff of an incoming petit mal, but such blown-out optic-nerve satori goes hand-in-hand with the kind of homespun, hot-breath industrial assault going down here at David Cronenberg’s home away from home, Civic TV. Austin’s Street Sects may as well hail from South Houston; their blastbeat drum-machine tics, unnervingly alien sampler cycles, and road-rage-vs.-Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer vocal delivery evoke the carcinogenic haze of our own refinery rows and killing fields. A little groovier, like Groovie Mann from Thrill Kill Kult minus the disco, but with added inextinguishable aggression, Spit Mask gives their repertoire of punishment, discipline, filth and depravity a little workout in advance of an upcoming European tour. While not exactly “Come On, Get Happy,” the gales of hiss and burning amp tones arranged and invoked by NOLA transplants/noise gurus Joseph and Vanessa Gates, performing here as Peiiste, seem positively life-affirming by comparison. TEX KERSCHEN

McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, March 31
The depths of Willie Nelson’s gene pool don’t stop at Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real. Granddaughter Raelyn is quickly making a name for herself as one of country’s brightest up-and-coming female artists in her own right. But not a solo artist — the cover of her band’s self-titled 2014 EP is an obvious homage to the Ramones' debut album. That punky spirit carries right over into the songs, which establish Nelson as a lover and a fighter to be reckoned with. More impressive still is last year’s “Daddy’s Grave,” a touching tribute to her late father, Willie’s son Billy, who killed himself in 1991. She’s now working on a new album in Nashville, and while fellow Texans Kacey Musgraves, Sunny Sweeney, and Bri Bagwell all make good reference points for her sound, it may not be much longer until such comparisons are even necessary.

8th Wonder Brewery, April 1 & 2
Houston Whatever Fest is the little festival that could, or at least the little festival that's trying to. While it hasn't been held since November 2015 (which in turn was a date-change from its ill-timed August 2014 debut), the latest lineup suggests that things are finally coming together. This year, the festival takes advantage of Houston's gorgeous springtime weather and East Downtown skyline views to make for a unique local entertainment experience. Pair that with top comedy talent like Judah Friedlander, music headliners Ghostface Killah and a dirt-cheap ticket price (general admission is only $55 for the entire weekend), and you've got yourself a festival. HWF also provides a broader platform for some exceptional local talent, lending the mike to rappers Guilla or T2 the Ghetto Hippie and comedians Warren Wright and Son Tran. If you're a sentimental local who has mourned the loss of ye olde Houston block parties, then HWF is the festival you've be yearning for. See for ticket info and more. KATIE SULLIVAN

Toyota Center, April 1
Panic! at the Disco has come a long way from their electronic pop-punk origins. Having played musical chairs with every original member except vocalist Brandon Urie, Panic! has transformed into an eclectic solo project, regularly tapping into new genres for inspiration, incorporating psychedelic rock, baroque pop and even hip-hop into its music. In the decade since Panic!'s debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Urie has proven to be a multifaceted artist. His versatility has become Panic!'s strongest asset as the band's trajectory has continued upward while most of his peers have faded out of relevance. Most Panic! fans are divided in their reverence, however, usually favoring a specific album and forsaking all others — their debut, its Beatles-inspired followup, the party album that came next or the band's latest effort, Death of a Bachelor, their first to debut at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. With MisterWives and Saint Motel. MATTHEW KEEVER

Heights Theater, April 1
The disco era was totally unprepared when Rickie Lee Jones reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with a delectable little coffeehouse-jazz ditty called “Chuck E’s In Love,” and the number of acts with her kind of bohemian credentials to reach the Top 40 ever since can still be counted on one hand. Jones, whose early sponsors included Tom Waits and Little Feat’s Lowell George, immediately established herself as one of the most idiosyncratic singer-songwriters within all of pop music, a reputation she has hardly lived down throughout a career that now numbers 15 albums and songs in as many genres as there are letters in the alphabet. Most recently, the 62-year-old two-time Grammy winner and jazz chanteuse Madeline Peyroux teamed up to raise awareness for women’s rights by recording David Essex’s “Rock On” and the old Casablanca standard “As Time Goes By.”

White Oak Music Hall, April 1
Glass the Sky and A Sundae Drive have been steady and reassuring presences within Houston’s indie-rock community for most of the decade, and ASD for several years before that, too. The groups are so tight they’ve decided to have a joint release party for their new albums, and while the two don’t often step on each other’s toes aesthetically, both number among the more cerebral groups in their chosen genre — either in Houston or anywhere else. The deluxe-length songs on ASD’s Versailles dip their toes into the warm waters of slowcore and shoegaze, but often develop towards the thrilling climaxes of Explosions In the Sky (with vocals, though). Glass the Sky’s LP1, which follows up 2014’s EP, isn’t quite as bound to the shadows, balancing plaintive melodies with exalted guitar work, but the effect is similarly satisfying. Houston’s leading post-punk agitators, the Wheel Workers, and College Station kitchen-sinkers the Ex-Optimists round out what should be a stellar evening.
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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