New Year's Eve Blastoff

Sure, it's not happening for over another week, and you may have not even thought about New Year's Eve, with Christmas still looming. But after December 25, ticket prices will go up for New Year's Eve Houston '98 which brings together perhaps the city's most eclectic musical lineup of the year. Helping to ring in the new year will be two genuine founding fathers of rock and roll and sprightly senior citizens (Chuck Berry, Little Richard) and bands for fans of virtually every musical genre, including modern rock (Dishwalla, Fastball), neoswing (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy), psychobilly (the Reverend Horton Heat), swamp blues (Dr. John), Texas rock (the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Joe "King" Carrasco), ska (the Suspects), tejano (Norma Zenteno) and jazz/funk covers (Tkoh!). Plus, as an added bonus, there are representatives from the often-overlooked categories of Mexican Elvis impersonators (El Vez) and C-List-Actors-Who-Try-to-Sing (Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts who, hopefully, will not be chosen to lead "Auld Lang Syne"). And since the acts will be performing on four different stages, all of which you can easily walk to, you can pick your performers à la carte all night (unless, of course, you're obviously deranged and are just coming out to see Jim Belushi). Plus, there's a big fireworks celebration at midnight. General admission tickets get you onto the grounds to see all the acts, and the VIP treatment includes a party inside the Aerial Theater, free food and beverages and even valet parking, which, come to think of it, might alone be worth the price of the ticket.

-- Bob Ruggiero

New Year's Eve Houston takes place Thursday, December 31, in and around Bayou Place and the theater district. General admission tickets are $50 (regular) and $125 (VIP) until December 25 and $60 and $150 afterward. Call 629-3700.

Old 97s -- This Dallas quartet offers variations on a theme: cowpunks with broken hearts, thick spectacle-wearing, guitar-slinging nerds, or just sad-eyed drinking and commiserating rockers. Taking their name from a train wreck ballad and their sound from such disparate sources as the Pixies and Johnny Cash, these are good ol' boys from good homes who know and appreciate the similarities between country and rock but split the difference. Balancing between "woe is me" and "I never loved you anyway" sentiments, their third record, the major label debut, Too Far to Care, was released in 1997. Well received by critics and discerning record buyers, it sold a respectable 30,000 copies or so.

There are few better places to get introduced to the insurgent country movement than Too Far. Bad luck and good liquor share a table with twanging guitar licks and pop hooks. Singer/songwriter Rhett Miller was once a teen sensation (featured in Seventeen). He has settled into his adult voice, as comfortable spitting out venom about unsatisfying, bad sex and being hopelessly smitten with a "stick-legged girl." The other members of the band (Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea and Phillip Peeples) draw the outlines of his sketches like co-conspirators and sympathetic friends, with wide strokes of drums and bright colors of guitars.

Where the band brings it all together -- the agony and the ecstasy -- is on stage, preferably at a smoky place that serves lots of beer to cry into. As sterile a location as downtown (where they played last summer as part of those concerts in the park) couldn't keep them down. Plus, the group isn't jumping onto the alternacountry bandwagon; it has recorded with Waylon Jennings and Exene Cervenkova (of X), jammed with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the members know their music history, occasionally throwing a Bill Monroe and Hank Williams Sr. song or two into their set.

The band's follow-up release scheduled for the spring should break open a few more doors, but only a few, as radio is scared of bands like this that aren't easily pigeonholed. The Old 97s perform Wednesday, December 30, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $8. 869-2665. (David Simutis)

The Isley Brothers -- Though a whole new audience is being exposed to the Isley Brothers via the Clairol "Who's That Lady" TV commercial (featuring fellow '70s icon Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs a.k.a. Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter), the venerable R&B group's history stretches far back through the decades. From its early '60s soul smash "This Old Heart of Mine" to its more popular disco-age hits including "Live it Up," "Fight the Power," "For the Love of You," "Between the Sheets," "It's Your Thing" and "That Lady," the band's presence continues today via dance floor spins and that most modern of legacy ensurers, rap sampling. The Isleys have also been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though the actual number of Isleys in the group has shifted throughout the band's history since the early '60s (also fragmenting into splinter groups and solo careers), mainstay front men Ronald (on vocals) and Ernie (on guitar and vocals) will be on stage in this incarnation. But they probably won't be wearing the silver jumpsuits with flared pants and red sashes that are way back in the Isley family closet, and don't ask them to autograph any shampoo or hair dye bottles. The Isley Brothers perform Sunday, December 27, at 8 p.m. at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Deborah Cox opens. Tickets are $40. 988-1020. (Bob Ruggiero)

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