Punch Brothers Fitzgerald's, January 29
It's easy to call Punch Brothers a thinking-man's bluegrass band, but even that doesn't describe the kind of ambition and virtuosity we're dealing with here. After flirting with the mainstream on a few pop-tinged albums, Nickel Creek banjo prodigy Chris Thiele formed this quintet in 2006 and made it his main concern upon Creek's 2007 breakup; its first album, Punch, included a four-part quasi-classical suite.
More recently Thiele was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, to the tune of $100,000 a year for five years, and the Brothers are currently the reigning group of the year as named by both the International Bluegrass Music Association and Americana Music Association. Hardly a bluegrass album at all, the group's latest effort, last year's Who's Feeling Young Now?, reflects a pronounced Radiohead influence up to and including a cover of "Kid A." CHRIS GRAY
Little Joe Washington Boondocks, January 29
Out of a Third Ward blues guitar school that has now graduated to the great beyond Albert Collins, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Johnny Guitar Watson and Joe Guitar Hughes, Little Joe Washington is the last man standing. And he's hardly standing still: He's also pedaling his Schwinn from gig to gig, Fender strapped to his back, doing things with it you've never heard before and never will again, and then passing his hat around for tips. JOHN NOVA LOMAX
Wale House of Blues, January 30
Wale rose up through the Washington, D.C. rap underground and influential The Source column "Unsigned Hype," and is still known for 2008's Seinfeld-obsessed The Mixtape About Nothing, an album-length volume of detailed rhymes about that equally detail-obsessed '90s sitcom. (He offered up a sequel of sorts on 2011 tape More About Nothing.)
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After 2009's Interscope debut Attention Deficit, the boss Rick Ross welcomed Wale into the Maybach Music family for 2011's Ambition, which allows the forever-hustling MC and guests Big Sean, Jeremih, Kid Cudi, Miguel, Ne-Yo, Meek Mill and Ross himself to romp in a big-budget hip-hop playground created by producers including Lex Luger, Diplo, Tha Bizness and Cloud Eater. CHRIS GRAY
Lady Gaga Toyota Center, January 31
Lady Gaga returns to Houston for the first time since the release of 2011's Born This Way, an album that showed off what she had learned from three hard years climbing the pop ladder. It didn't quiet set the charts afire like its predecessor The Fame Monster did, but it gave her ample juice to tour the world for the next two years. The music industry is funny that way these days.
Expect a whole new stage production, as her Born This Way Ball is said to eclipse the audacity of the Monster Ball, with motorcycles and a more pronounced gothic tone. And ass. Tons of ass. CRAIG HLAVATY
Eli Young Band House of Blues, January 31 & February 1
Formed in Denton in the early 2000s, the Eli Young Band set itself apart from the Texas country pack right away in two important ways: no hats, and songs a little slicker and poppier than the yee-haw crowd was used to. True, the quartet has drawn some criticism for that, but honors such as the Academy of Country Music's 2012 Song of the Year for "Crazy Girl" surely help lessen the sting.
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No word on any follow-up to the group's most recent album, 2011's award-winning Life at Best, just more touring including these two nights at House of Blues. Friday's second show was added due to demand. CHRIS GRAY