Houston's 26 Coolest Concerts of Summer 2017

Kendrick Lamar's July 15 show with H-Town's own Travis Scott at Toyota Center may be Houston's single hottest concert of the summer. But don't stop there...
Kendrick Lamar's July 15 show with H-Town's own Travis Scott at Toyota Center may be Houston's single hottest concert of the summer. But don't stop there...
Photo by Marco Torres
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If the brain-beating, mind-hammering heat of summer could build anything, we might all live in palaces and never again leave the house. But as that may never be the case, we ought to heed this tip from Keats, who may have been anticipating us and the lonely air-conditioned pods in which we huddle all day long when he said, “Ever let the Fancy roam, Pleasure never is at home.”

Summer music can be mellow as sun tea or as volatile as a tequila drunk; what sets it apart is the quantity. The stadiums and nightclubs are chockablock with top-tier names, golden oldies, amplified iditarods, strange night flowers, honeyed human voices, and the susurration of electronic sound-reinforcement systems warming up in advance of your arrival. However you take it, operators are standing by, ready to take your order. Every night a new surprise. [Note: See bottom for a venue guide with addresses, numbers and websites.]

MEAT PUPPETS, mike watt
White Oak Music Hall, May 25
The Meat Puppets have always been the SST version of the Grateful Dead, lower-budget and far more acid-damaged. Though they left SST decades ago, wandering dry and brittle pastures in search of an endlessly setting sun, the Meat Puppets never really left the underground. Part of this was their storied self-abuse, but equally important was their unending musicality, the likes of which kept them too slippery for major label success. They’ll be christening this summer of flesh and sweat with a little help from their tourmate, punk’s everyman, the ubiquitous mike watt, a band leader so self-deprecating that he eschews capital letters.

White Oak Music Hall, May 27
Though we may not yet see Rusted Shut on the White Oak Music Hall’s lawn this summer, at least there is Eyehategod upstairs on this stacked bill including the Secret Prostitutes and Venomous Maximus. When the film of banality and the plaque of human suffering begin to set and thicken on one’s teeth, there’s often nothing like a sharp swish of feedback and sound abuse to expunge those foul spirits. Some bands fall short of the promise of their names, not so Eyehategod. Three decades into it, these hellhounds never waver from their vocation of punishing the church, afflicting the earth, and cursing his name.

Eleanor Tinsley Park, June 3-4
Though youngish, this, the grandaddy of Houston music festivals, has achieved the socio-cultural density and attraction of an enormous, seasonal black hole. Beyond the sharp local representation – Solange, Khruangbin, Rose Ette, Night Drive, Deep Cuts – the boldest bets are headliner Lorde and Hooray for the Riff Raff, the rest of the lineup being a mirage-like shimmer of pop idols like Charli XCX, EDM breakouts, and here and there, between the food trucks, a few rockers. Whether the festival takes place in a park, as intended, or in a parking lot or even on an ocean-bound barge, FPSF asserts the prerogative of a pheromone spray, being something inescapable and inexpressible, except insofar that it is partially-tented and occasionally sprayed with misters as proof against the heat. fpsf.com

The Secret Group, June 7
Jeff the Brotherhood have the same relationship to garage-rock that the Steve Miller Band had before them to blues-rock in that each have always placed their songs before any restraints of genre. Though their band name suggests bare feet and patchouli, JEFF the Brotherhood’s songs owe more to the wholesome ‘70s stadium-rock traditions, sounding now and again like Sabbath’s Supernaut, or a dingier Ramones, or Over the Edge-era Cheap Trick. They’re technically legit, they’ve got the tunes, they boogie, and they deliver it all with a deadpan stoner style.

Warehouse Live, June 8
Hot-footing, New Orleans-style, involves a lot more than just dancing; it’s a way of life. Despite their tribulations, the people and artists of New Orleans have always kept a handle on an especially lively, and often raunchy, strain of joy. That joyfulness is the foremost element in the hot jazz marching band traditions and hip-hop variations of the Hot 8 Brass Band, as well as in the high energy bounce performances of Vockah Redu and the Crew, whose out-of-this-world dancing and high-energy toasting remain one of the Big Easy’s most generous contributions to Houston.

Revention Music Center, June 10
You’ve got a few weeks to get yourself back into your tightest jeans, as the MC5 of emo, At the Drive In, are coming back for another reunion tour. Call it a victory lap, for the years have been kind to El Paso’s favorite sons, whose subsequent groups, including The Mars Volta, Sparta, Bosnian Rainbows, and Antemasque, encountered a great deal of success without deviating from their own idiosyncratic paths through prog, fusion, and rock en Español.

NRG Stadium, June 11
There are two kinds of Metallica fans. There are die-hard Metallicats who carry locks of Cliff Burton’s hair of debatable provenance around their necks like shards of the true cross. Then there is everybody else, who appreciates a good walloping at the hands of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Though the band has changed with the times, a Metallica concert is something you can count on, a rollicking Wagnerian symphony of heroic smash-ups and pyrotechnics, the audio equivalent of a monster-truck jam with Marshall stacks.

Walter’s Downtown, June 21
MNDSGN’s synthesizers in satin-jackets and drum machines in short shorts recall the roller-rink funk of the 1970s. But beyond the blurry first impressions, there’s a D-I-Y glow apparent through the loosely stitched seams, a purposefully low-rent, cottage-industry aura that links these productions to our time. Which is just as well; it’s seldom good manners to get caught checking the settings on the time machine.

Toyota Center, June 21
Definitely the most dashing debutantes of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden also have a claim to the most famous logo, the giant undead Eddie, courtesy of artist Derek Riggs. Like Eddie, Maiden has a time-worn instantly recognizable identity. Now as then, they offer the promise of total escape through their fast tempos, killer riffs, dueling lead guitars, and the historical fantasy fascinations, operatic vocals and onstage high jinks of their longest-lasting singer, the charismatic Bruce Dickinson, who is also a fencing master and a trained commercial pilot.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, June 22
Future is both the Lou Reed and the Nikki Sixx of rap; perhaps the most hedonistic nihilist on the charts, with lyrical obsessions to match. His meditations on trap house living boil down to short lists of pharmaceuticals, molly, percocet, and the like, repeated like mantras. His laconic, speaking into his collar, vocal delivery is as memorable as his mysterious image, ever obscured by shades and a wide-brimmed, El Topo hat. Both have launched hordes of imitators from coast to coast, who’ve attempted to mine his dark vibes for gold dust. Migos, the flamboyant, fashion-forward trio, open this rowdy night of Atlanta futurism and haute couteur in the Woodlands.

The Secret Group, June 23
Were this bill exactly 120 minutes long you would see that this lineup is a godsend to fans of the ideas and vibes once embodied by bands like the Cure and New Order. This a show for people who have feelings, but who don’t necessarily trumpet them to all and sundry. This is a shebang for people who are aware of the anatomy of melancholy, but also inured to it enough to still want to dance. Furthermore, this is a party for people who are a little sensitive to natural light, but not so much that they would require colored contact lenses.

June 28
There’s a piquancy to this double-dose downtown. Party on the Plaza is a venerable concert series, alt-facts have it that Sam Houston threw the first one. It’s always been free and easy, but seldom so fresh. Fat Tony reps the Third Ward, and his stock seems to rise higher every month, He’s been popping up all over the festivals and magazines and fast-talking his way into the hearts of the world through his singles and collaborations. Young Mammals haven’t been burning out as many transmissions on the indie-rock trail of tears of late, which is about the only reason you many not already know about their most recent album, Jaguar, a trophy from their safaris across the savannahs of 610.

Walter’s Downtown, June 29
Though we take the psychotropic munificence of our cow fields for granted, it is often hard to find even the stemmiest dirt weed in Steve Hauschildt’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, which makes his time-tested commitment to expansive, non-linear music for the head and etheric body all the more laudatory. Since his time with Emeralds, Hauschildt has issued several solo records of zoned-out synthesizer music, just right for deep space exploration, couch trips, the yoga dojo, or the therapy table. Meanwhile, Gerritt Wittmer’s psychologically tense performance art, which abounds with suspense and the absence of confidence in the future, is seldom ambient, unless one’s sense of ambience was calibrated in an animal testing laboratory. Happily, the rest of the lineup falls more in line with the soothing electronic idylls popularized by Cluster, Klaus Schulze, JD Emmanuel and Brian Eno.

White Oak Music Hall, July 1
Like the songwriting teams of Howard Moon and Vince Noir, the Entertainment System, and 10cc before them, Children of Pop are working on the new sound, an exuberant concoction of New Romantic drama and New Jack Swing, adorned by totally modern production. This party celebrates the release of two new songs on their own #veryjazzed record label. Each of their mutant earworms seems to have arrived, as if through a Stargate or by way of a Kubrickian assembly-line for sound obsessives, fully formed and wild-eyed, speaking a cryptic patois.

Smart Financial Centre, July 2
It’s only on the strength of our democratic principles that we refrain from referring to the supreme Supreme as Lady Diana Ross. As an artist she is royalty; Michael Jackson lay at her feet in his lifetime, the sceptres since carried by Madonna, Beyonce, and Rihanna all bear one or another of her imprimaturs, from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to “I’m Coming Out.” Ever since her beginnings with Motown in her teens, she’s spent more time at the top of the pops than anywhere else. Her current “In the Name of Love” tour is going into its fourth year, and her catalog of hits, both with the Supremes and as a solo artist, is so vast and rich that she may never stop.

Toyota Center, July 6
More American than blue jeans; Pink Floyd’s contribution to the great American songbook takes up volumes. Books could be written about the mercurial genius of Pink Floyd’s original front man, the late Syd Barrett, and so they have been, but Roger Waters was always the rock upon which that institution was built. His songs seed the playlists of most classic-rock stations, though, long ago, he set off into the wilderness alone, touring the hits and speaking his mind. And what better time for a visit from the architect of the third greatest wall-builder (after Hadrian and that nameless Chinese architect) than the present, with our boundless public enthusiasm for walls and double-fisted authority.

Walter’s Downtown, July 14
Elysia Crampton hails from that distant dreamy part of the present where momentum implies forward. Ethnomusicology plays a big role in her work, but not as exotica or fodder for reenactments. In works like "American Drift" and "Demon City" — the latter of which also features collaborations with Houston’s mysterious super-producer Rabit — snatches of early American and Peruvian folk music slither about in the corridors between skit-length interludes of music concrete, symphonic arrangements of hip-hop plug-ins, and simple piano figures, suggesting a world re-staged and re-cast, where energy prevails over the dread and paranoia of high empire, and in which information isn’t hoarded so much as dressed up in its Sunday best and then paraded for all and sundry to behold.

Toyota Center, July 15
Not every superstar bounces back from a platinum success like To Pimp a Butterfly so quickly. Other rappers start counting their bars and getting stingy with their verses; other artists bog down in the quicksand of gravitas. But “Humble,” the first single from Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN., is a brag-packed instant classic, a costume jewel in the paper crown of summer, built for car speakers and block parties. The rest of the album continues his whirlwind travelogue through inner and outer consciousness, set against a montage of top-of-the-line arrangements, alternately jazz-crowded and icily minimalist, ready for headphones and festivals alike.

White Oak Music Hall, July 28
Bubble Puppy’s short hot streak in the late ‘60s saw them form in San Antonio, hit their stride in Austin, suit up in Houston with the International Artists label, and ultimately burn out in Los Angeles. “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass” was their hit, and has had a long life in anthologies and cover versions, but “Todd’s Tune” is their bona fide jam. It lurches headlong from a loopily crooned ballad into a blazing double lead-guitar jamboree that set the standard for boogie bands forever after.

Toyota Center, August 4
Expect the night to be long and full of pleasures. The former Commodore has been cranking out top ten jams since the ‘70s. A wedding DJ could earn his daily bread easily playing nothing but Lionel Richie hits, from the sleazy funk of “Brickhouse,” to the equally sleazy, but only slightly less funky “Easy (Like a Sunday Morning),” to a long list of baby-makers like “Lady” and “Three Times a Lady.” From the start of his incredibly prolific and successful solo career, Lionel Richie reached pop heights only rivaled by Phil Collins and Michael Jackson, with ballads like “Hello,” “Endless Love,” and “Say You Say Me (Theme From White Nights).” When Mr. Richie plays the hits, this regatta’s could last “All Night Long.” Opener Mariah Carey has a voice that can shatter glass and many plastics, so the Toyota Center floor may be such a mess that no one will fault you for “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

The Big Easy Blues and Social Club, August 12
Fans of the blues want a hog’s head of authenticity from each of their favored artists. Authenticity is the stock they trade in, and Houston’s Trudy Lynn is so much the real deal that you could float the economy of a small blues nation with just a few shavings from her biography. Born in the Fifth Ward during its heyday as a music destination, she first took the stage as a teenager, quickly finding herself performing on bills with greats like Albert Collins and Tina Turner. She only started her recording career in the late ‘80s, and has only recently begun get the notice she deserves, but she has long been known as the First Lady of the Blues.

Smart Financial Centre, August 12
Some guys have all the luck. The timelessly rakish Rod Stewart has so much sex appeal that he makes an anachronistic appearance in the index to Giacomo Casanova’s 1797 autobiography, under rivals. Even now, at 72, were Rod the Mod to come a-calling for your partner and your dog, you’d be going home alone. His leonine mane and his bedroom rasp are irresistible, but to compound the unfairness of the world, they merely mask a songwriting talent almost unrivaled through the ages. He’s up there with the author of “Greensleeves.” Cyndi Lauper first made waves back in the high ‘80s, when her name was as much a byword for her Bowery spunk, her punk look, and the Kaufman-esque comedy of her longtime friendship with wrestling promoter “Captain” Lou Albano. Her cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” still a weekends and weddings mainstay, rocketed to pop success, but more than that, her ballads like “Time after Time” and “True Colors” established her ongoing path as a powerhouse torch singer and LGBT champion.

Warehouse Live, August 12
Whether the credit is owed more to Lil Wayne or Rebecca Black, to the rhapsody of life in the matrix, or to the original creators of Auto-tune, the fact remains that music has attained a momentary state of grace, marked by a near-perfect effortlessness in execution and a freedom from the laborious burden of communication. Lil Yachty is one of the foremost avatars of this zen era, dripping with koans like “spent four seasons at the Four Seasons twice,” updated to the modern rules of the game, cyborg in form but still pleasure-seeking, unafraid to be young, amoral, and completely at ease.

White Oak Music Hall, August 19
Transgressive behavior in a back alley hardly merits a haiku, but the least nugget of trash in a wad of bubblegum pop is a sonnet to the eternal back streets that lead us from youth to corruption. Betty Who’s “Mama Say” combines the throwaway glamour of fast fashion with the poetic verve of the silliest early rock and roll, and the censors should be in every mall, notepads ready. Despite her music conservatory background, her productions are high-gloss and free of pesky, extra notes. Her pizzicatos are icy, but her double-entendres are right out of the Aerosmith chapbook, and her voice is that chimerical mix of thin and throaty best-suited to calling the dogs of summer to heel. Like Kylie Minogue with an updated OS, Betty Who is an icon in the making, another larger-than-life Aussie ready to run the charts.

NRG Stadium, August 25
If you look into your crystal ball, scanning far into the future, you can almost see the moment that summer ends and cold season returns. It can be rough out there on the ropes, buffeted by high winds and the passage of time, and no one knows this better than fans of a certain kind of pop-rock. There are many who find Radiohead too esoteric, Dave Matthews too smarmy, Gorillaz too edgy, and U2 just too much. To them we say, pay attention to the world around you. That song that played at your high school graduation, Coldplay wrote it. The taste of a sandwich, the feel of a sweater, craft beer, that new car smell, it’s all Coldplay. This is a Coldplay world and you’re going to have to buy a ticket.


The Big Easy Blues and Social Club: 5731 Kirby, 713-523-9999, thebigeasyblues.com
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion: 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, 281-363-3300, woodlandscenter.org
Eleanor Tinsley Park: 18-3600 Allen Parkway
NRG Stadium: 1 NRG Parkway, 832-667-1400, nrgpark.com
Party on the Plaza: 1001 Avenida de las Americas, 713-853-8077, avenidahouston.com/party/
Revention Music Center: 520 Texas, 713-230-1600, reventionmusiccenter.com
The Secret Group: 2101 Polk, 832-898-4688, thesecretgrouphtx.com
Smart Financial Centre: 18111 Lexington Boulevard, Sugar Land, 281-207-6278, smartfinancialcentre.net
Stafford Centre: 10505 Cash Road, Stafford, 281-208-6900, staffordcentre.com
Toyota Center: 1510 Polk, 713-758-7200, houstontoyotacenter.com
Walter’s Downtown: 1120 Naylor, 713-222-2679, waltersdowntown.com
Warehouse Live: 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483, warehouselive.com
White Oak Music Hall: 2915 N. Main, 713-237-0370, whiteoakmusichall.com

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