Houston's 10 Best Concerts In May

New Pornographers
New Pornographers
Photo by Jenny Jimenez/Courtesy of Sacks Co.
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White Oak Music Hall, May 4
The notion of ‘too many cooks’ has never applied to New Pornographers, the Vancouver-based outfit whose shimmering, whip-smart brand of power-pop has made them indie-rock sure things since the turn of the millennium, a full seven albums ago. Credentials don’t come much more impeccable than founder A.C. Newman, who first tickled Canadian fans’ ears in the bands Superconductor and Zumpano; fellow Vancouverite Dan Bejar, the Bowie-esque driving force behind Destroyer; and American ringer Neko Case, the bewitching alt-country chanteuse known for albums such as The Tigers Have Spoken and Middle Cyclone. Last month the Pornographers followed up 2014’s Brill Bruisers with Whiteout Conditions (Concord), which Newman says in the press kit he imagined as “Kraftwerk meets the Fifth Dimension”; the results mine his climate-change anxiety, among other things, to yield yet another not-too-slick but supremely hummable set of songs. CHRIS GRAY

Walter's Downtown, May 9
Mitski's confessional, cryptic, and stripped-down album Puberty 2 set indie hearts ablaze in 2016. With its raw soundscapes and effusive ruminations, the album captures the pains of being young and passionate in a brutally quotidian world. Each song showcases Mitski's vocal strength, even when those songs grapple with failure. In "I Bet on Losing Dogs," for example, Mitski's notes are even and steely as she bemoans her pattern of unsatisfying romances. But the quality of Mitski's musicianship should not go without mention; she's a master of distortion pedals, a fearless purveyor of fuzzy, crunchy guitar. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel will love songs like "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars," a chunky number that grumbles under the oppressive demands of the rent. Mitski's unique blend of gentleness and grit make her a great fit for Walter's Downtown, a beloved venue that's equal parts intimate and dirty. If there was ever a time and a place to see the voice of a young generation play, it's here and now. KATIE SULLIVAN

Stereo Live, May 12
It seems that Houston’s Trance Family is constantly searching for a home, but for one night, presented by Dreamstate, they will converge on Stereo Live for Paul van Dyk. One of the originators of the scene from the mid-nineties and cementing his place on the scene at the turn of the century with The Politics of Dancing, van Dyk remains a steadfast and current attraction in the electronic-music world by touring and producing the VONYC Sessions podcast. The latest release, “Touched by Heaven,” has a deeper meaning than other songs he has produced in the past; it’s the first track since the German fell from a raised stage during a set in the Netherlands, nearly resulting in his death in February 2016. After an astonishingly rapid recovery from a severe traumatic brain injury and a broken spine, van Dyk is making his way back on the circuit by also playing EDC Las Vegas and several dates at Amnesia in Ibiza. JACK GORMAN

Civic TV, May 13
Some artists have publicists; some have street teams; B L A C K I E has a rabid cult following such that he’s able to sell out every copy of his self-produced and self-released albums on nothing but word of mouth. Every time Kanye or Death Grips gets mentioned in the press, a forum somewhere online re-opens the commission as to how much those artists owe to LaPorte’s finest cultural export. The trick of it is, it’s no easy thing describing the actual music Michael LaCour makes, because it’s constantly changing. To call it rap is meaningless, to call it hardcore even moreso. He’s forever messing with his own signature, sometimes substituting Alice Coltrane vibes for grime production, at other times trading out the noise blasts and the hip-hop production with long interludes of progressive sax and transgressive funk. Whether moving forward into abstract realms or doubling down on the performative elements that set a room ablaze, B L A C K I E keeps one hand on the runes and one on the wheel. With Illustrations and Baby Horse. TEX KERSCHEN

House of Blues, May 17
The Damned played their first gig back on July 6, 1976 opening up for the Sex Pistols at London’s 100 Club, helping to start and lead the UK’s punk movement, one of the most exciting and influential scenes in rock history. The first UK punk band to release a single, “New Rose” (1976) and album, Damned Damned Damned (1977), The Damned also toured the United States before any of their peers, in the spring of ’77. The Damned are a legendary band, obviously, but it seems like they are somewhat underappreciated in the U.S. compared to England; though true punk fans in America have always appreciated them, more people in the States have probably heard the cover of “Smash It Up” by The Offspring from 1995’s Batman Forever soundtrack than the (obviously) superior original recording; that’s just sad. The silver lining here is that general-admission tickets for this show, part of The Damned’s 40th anniversary tour, are only 20 bucks, an insanely good deal to see a band of this caliber. Full disclosure, though: only two original members of the band are left, singer Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible, but the reviews of the shows on this tour have been mostly positive. The Damned helped influence the hardcore scene with their fast-paced songs and rebellious attitude; later albums went in a more post-punk/goth direction, influencing many bands as well. With The Bellrays and Elhae. DAVID ROZYCKI

Walter’s Downtown, May 18
Remand all that ukulele pop and blues-rock boogie to your fan boat’s storage trunk; if you want to know what the rest of the world thinks of Houston, at least that part of the island that doesn’t know how to rap, it’s Insect Warfare. They don’t make ideal music for drinking craft beer in the shade of a floppy felt festival hat; rather, this is music for sipping datura-tea on a wisteria-smothered veranda while the world burns beyond a cinder to a fine, entirely toxic dust. Their 2007 opus World Extermination featured 20 songs in as many minutes, securing the band a place in the Valhalla of international grindcore, whence they retired after touring Europe and Japan. Since then, they’ve proceeded through the rosters of a who’s who of Houston bands including the Homopolice, Snooty Garbagemen, Subsonic Voices, War Master, and Oceans of Slumber. They’ve turned down all but a few selected reunion offers, and say this is their last show ever, which in the music business means for a few years at least. With Excruciating Terror, Captain Cleanoff, PLF, Holy Money, and Vulva Essers. TEX KERSCHEN

THE B-52’s
House of Blues, May 20
Like The Damned, The B-52s also started way back in 1976; many first discovered them after their mainstream breakthrough single, 1989’s “Love Shack,” whose video which was huge on MTV at the time, as was followup “Roam.” Both songs reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, propelling the album Cosmic Thing into the U.S. Top 5 and eventual multiplatinum status; the band’s self-titled debut album, released in 1979, featured re-recorded versions of earlier underground hits "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls.” “Rock Lobster” is probably the group’s best-known song at this point, though, after the character Peter Griffin sang it on an episode of Family Guy. The B-52’s have a unique style influenced by New Wave with some ‘60s rock, dance and surf music thrown into the mix; the three lead vocals by Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson often done in call-and-response fashion as well as distinct guitars and keyboards instrumentation round out the band’s sound. The B-52’s put on a heck of a live show, though best to leave cell phones in your pocket as the band has been known to call out such interruptions onstage. DAVID ROZYCKI

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 may be on the mend. The box-office records they set on the U.S. and European legs of the subsequent Innocence + Experience Tour suggest their fans, at least, are a pretty forgiving lot; another boost came in the form of Bono's “XXX” feature on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, DAMN.. More records still may fall in the wake of this brief stadium lap celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, the one U2 album which even their harshest critics have a hard time denying its gut-level mass appeal. Never mind that the unfairly maligned if overcooked Innocence contains a clutch of the band’s best songs since the early ‘90s (especially lurking within the expanded edition), this is the U2 most people want to remember, 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. CHRIS GRAY

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 the band's enthusiastic fan base, many attendees will probably already be singing along to all the new material. All hail West Texas. Or, in this case, southeast Texas. MATTHEW KEEVER

Arena Theatre, May 27-29
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 Cain't 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. Badu's entire oeuvre is worth seeing live, and considering she's playing not one, not two, but three shows at the Arena Theater this month, you have no excuse to miss it. KATIE SULLIVAN

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