Bayou City

Shows of the Week: Oklahoma's Best-Kept Musical Secret Won't Stay That Way

Photo by Blake Studdard/Courtesy of The Syndicate
McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, August 17
Up Ahead, released in February, is looking like the kind of album that could bring Travis Linville acclaim similar to what fellow Oklahomans John Moreland and John Fullbright have been enjoying lately. Or Parker Millsap, whom Linville once taught to play guitar. Long in his corner, however, has been Hayes Carll, who had a front-row seat to the Tulsa-based Linville’s talents as the guy who paid him to play guitar for more than a decade. (Linville, Carll once said, is “criminally underrated.”) Up Ahead isn’t quite as scruffy as Linville’s former employer; its self-assured, thoughtful tunes flash hints of ‘70s greats like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne, due in large part to Linville’s crystal-clear tenor. If things keep up like this — the new album spurred Rolling Stone to put Linville on its latest “10 Country Artists You Need to Watch” list back in March — he could easily show the same sort of staying power. With Craig Kinsey.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, August 18
An air-guitarist’s delight, this tour pairs some of the most titanic riffs in classic-rock history with its most outrageous performer. On the road (again) behind his latest album, Paranormal, 69-year-old Alice Cooper of course needs no introduction; the shock-rock maven has been thrilling amateur herpetologists and the eternally truant since “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” hit the airwaves in the early ‘70s. Deep Purple’s sledgehammer guitars, fiery keyboards and the conquering-hero vocals of Ian Gillan have set the tone for generations of hard-rock and metal bands; even as a certain riff has long since come to stand for horns-up headbanger music itself, they’ve always had a lot more going on than just “Smoke On the Water” — “Highway Star,” “Space Truckin’,” and “Hush” stand at the head of a very deep class. Finally, Dazed and Confused fans know the hard-edged albino funk and six-string heroics of Beaumont native Edgar Winter, as heard on stoner-rock compilations to this day via “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein,” is well worth braving Friday-afternoon I-45 traffic.

Smart Financial Centre, August 18
About a year ago, the Avett Brothers released their first album in three years. Under the tutelage of iconic producer Rick Rubin, True Sadness showcased the band testing their ability to craft pop music, much to the chagrin of longtime fans and folk enthusiasts. But despite a number of tepid reviews, True Sadness debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and provided the North Carolina-born bluegrass outfit with a jumping-off point for a successful tour stretching from the U.S. to the UK. Eight years removed from their major-label debut, the Avetts will bring their unique blend of country, roots and pop to their Sugar Land stop, supported by a catalog chock-full of songs that will bring you to tears one moment before helping you up the next. They're likely to play at least a track or two from their latest release, but "Murder in the City" and "I and Love and You" are sure to make appearances as well. MATTHEW KEEVER

Toyota Center, August 18
Jermaine Cole is averse to the idea of fame. He's famous, mostly for being an artist who endured student loans to release a few breakthrough mixtapes drenched with observations about the world in general and how it shaped him. Being a famous rapper doesn't appeal to J. Cole. Being someone who engages thought and attempts to change the narrative does. His current tour has yielded no big guests; its most striking image is Cole walking out in full prison garb, hair locked in a dreaded Afro and demeanor quite stoic. He has reason to be. Last year's concept album 4 Your Eyez Only told the story of Cole’s childhood friend, who left behind a daughter after he was murdered. Cole raps about attempting to achieve a normal life while being low-level famous. He may have achieved this in some small part but, as a multiplatinum-selling rapper, he’ll never go back to being anonymous. Life, regardless of songs such as "Lights Please" and "Crooked Smile" and "Deja Vu,” won't allow it. With Anderson .Paak. BRANDON CALDWELL

Toyota Center, August 19
Who would have thought a red-headed Englishman would jump-start his career with a song about homelessness, drug addiction and prostitution? At first listen, Ed Sheeran's "The A Team" sounds like any other forlorn pop ballad, but its melodic tune and soulful vocals belie its dark lyricism about what people do to keep warm at night. Perhaps even more unlikely than the single's success, Sheeran has become a sex symbol in his own right as of late, thanks to his emotive vocals. Fresh off the release of his third studio album, Divide — which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts both in the U.S. and across the pond — Sheeran returns to Houston with “You’re Beautiful” and “1973” hitmaker James Blunt in tow. MATTHEW KEEVER

Rudyard’s, August 19
With Lovecraftian song titles like “The Skull Spat Upon the Maiden’s Hand” and “Hearts Melt In Horror,” and with the umber tones and cloaked, antlered skull of the cover art, AK’Chamel’s new cassette Death Chants might give you cause to expect something heavy and neo-Wagnerian, something like Swans or Sleep, but these local tricksters are more slippery than that, more attuned to sublime frequencies than sturm und drang. On tape, their murky drones and moans come across like the kind of liturgical music one might encounter on the Silk Road, under a cromlech or a yurt, wherever it is that druids and Mongolian shamans meet to talk shop. Onstage, AK’Chamel really get into the garb of the old-time medicine — masked, cloaked, mystical, and cackling with mischief — all the while beating on balalaikas, finger cymbals, and shruti boxes. Fewer costumes on the rest of this bill, though the vibes are just as dank, steeped in comedy and various third-eye unguents and cleaners. Openers Bodyfat and Unified Space are both new-ish bands, but both can trace their steamy, psychedelic bloodlines back to the big space-rock freak show that was ‘80s and early-‘90s Houston. TEX KERSCHEN
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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