White Oak Music Hall, August 24
As society becomes more divided and suspicious by the tweet, Michael Franti has been a force for unity and positivity in music for well over two decades, longevity that can be credited to his grasp of the old pop axiom that a catchy tune makes even the most bristling message easier to swallow. Franti was a master of that even in his ‘90s groups the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy; with Spearhead, his longest-running project to date, he’s traded in vitriolic hip-hop for a sunny blend of pop, reggae, and EDM that reached its zenith with the 2008 Top 20 single “Say Hey (I Love You).” Like Bob Marley before him, Franti seems to know that lasting change is only possible one satisfied and enlightened audience at a time, and Spearhead — going strong as of last year’s Soulrocker and their current “Love Out Loud” tour — is a long way from giving up that fight. With Satsang.
NIC ARMSTRONG & THE THIEVES
Continental Club, August 24
Hiding more or less in plain sight in Central Texas’s overcrowded music scene is one of the better latter-day Britpop bands ever descended from Davies DNA, Nic Armstrong & The Thieves. Originally from Newcastle, Armstrong relocated to Austin in the mid-‘00s and emerged with the sharp-angled hooks and effervescent melodies of debut The Greatest White Liar, a sound lauded by some folks who should know — Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, to name a couple. Keeping his songwriting chops sharp with a pair of 2010s EPs, Pocketless Shirt and Negative Slant, Armstrong had otherwise been stuck in music-biz limbo he likens on his website to Superman II’s “giant floating mirror in outer space.” It took a decade, but this spring Armstrong headed back to his native land to cut an album at Toe Rag Studios, the all-analog London facility also used by the White Stripes, the Kills, Tame Impala and many other retro-minded rockers. It’s done now and he’s back on the road; guitar-fueled mayhem awaits.
Warehouse Live, August 25; White Oak Music Hall, August 26; Rudyard’s, August 27
The late Chris LaForge's contributions were so significant to the Houston music community, it is honoring him with not one but three memorial events this weekend; these in addition to the many gatherings of friends, fans and family that have dotted the calendar since the guitarist's untimely death in May. LaForge’s involvement in so many musical projects over the years created undying friendships with people eager to honor his legacy; many of them, including some of the very bands he played with, will participate in the trio of shows hosted successively by Warehouse Live, White Oak Music Hall and Rudyard’s —Tsunami Bomb, Commie Hilfiger, Los Skarnales, Bickley, Venomous Maximus, the Velostacks and many more. Significantly, the weekend's events will raise funds for LaForge’s family; each also gives us more chances to fondly remember a stellar guitarist with a quick smile and trademark backwards ballcap. Though some tears are sure to be shed in the process, there should be plenty of gleeful reminders of LaForge’s familiar decree to “Enjoy Yo’Self!” (Door times: 5:30 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday; 5:30 p.m. Sunday.) JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
NRG Stadium, August 25
Coldplay is arguably the most polarizing rock-ish band to maintain a steady chart presence in this pop-dominated age, pilots of a musical journey so far-flung and outright bizarre it’s harder and harder to remember how their brooding 2000 debut Parachutes once marked Chris Martin and company as heirs apparent among the millennial bumper crop of so-called “new Radioheads.” But that was then, and if there is a through line to the band’s Technicolor present-day singles like “Hymn For the Weekend” or Chainsmokers collaboration “Something Just Like This,” it’s Coldplay’s almost puppy-ish desire to please their fans and unshakeable belief that their music deserves to be aired on the biggest platform possible. Such artistically risky choices have inevitably earned the group more than their fair share of haters, perhaps unfairly so, but the ultimate proof, as they say, lies in the size of the crowd at the show — and outside of U2 and Metallica, Houston may not see a bigger one this year. With Alunageorge.
MARY J. BLIGE
Smart Financial Centre, August 25
R&B owes a great debt to Mary J. Blige, who, for a quarter-century, has modified herself very little. She's a long way from ‘round-the-way homegirl who broke through with "Real Love" and sublimated her pain into art on 1995's My Life, an odyssey of heartbreak, confession and strength that became the quintessential R&B record for not only breakups in the '90s but Blige's career. Today she’s like the cool auntie who tells you the world’s secrets without judgment because she's been there before, but the Bronx-born singer can't escape heartache and her ways of channeling it into music. Gifted with a voice that can not only wail like an electric guitar but convey a wide range of emotions, Blige can make you dance, make you cry and make you understand her pains while projecting your own life into songs. "Be Without You," her 2006 hit from The Breakthrough, remains the most popular song in Billboard’s R&B history and her new album, Strength of a Woman, comes on the heels of a messy divorce. Mary's love has been public, both open and scarred. For two hours every night, she lets fans in to share that pain — and help heal in their own ways as well. With Lalah Hathaway. BRANDON CALDWELL