Free Radicals AvantGarden, January 6
Free Radicals is both Nick Cooper's revolving-door ensemble that at any given moment could be playing free jazz or Latin funk, and also Cooper's ongoing testimonial to how much he digs being a member of the Houston music community. He has so much experience at this point that he has very much become a one-man hub of that community.
In 2012, Cooper brought that same kind of musical civic pride to the Radicals' first albumin several years, The Freedom Fence, and then in July watched it win a well-deserved Houston Press Music Award for Local Album of the Year. The group's weekly jam, wherever it may be, is a true local-music institution. For a while it's been at AvantGarden, a local-music institution of its own, and follows David Dove's avant-music showcase They, Who Sound -- still another. CHRIS GRAY
Amy Lavere McGonigel's Mucky Duck, January 21
Pay attention to Amy LaVere. She won't be difficult to spot; not too many women play upright bass and front a band these days. But it's her talents as a songwriter, as well as an irresistible bio -- her nomadic background includes a mid-teens stint in Detroit punks Last Minute and a Legendary Shack Shaker as an ex-husband -- that make her worth seeing.
In 2011 the now-Memphis-based LaVere released the LP Stranger Me, a suite of rootsy, moonstruck pop with darker undercurrents drifting over from the banks of some remote Louisiana bayou. She and John Paul Keith of Memphis garage-rockers the One Four Fives teamed up to release last summer's Motel Mirrors, a seven-song EP that echoes the heyday of '50s sock-hop pop. CHRIS GRAY
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Amon Amarth House of Blues, January 22
"Fueling flames of violent rage" isn't just one of Amon Amarth's lyrics, it's the Swedish five-piece's mission statement. In two decades the Stockholm band has hacked their way to the top of the melodic-metal pyre, setting it alight with a host of bloodthirsty anthems as rich in Nordic folklore as death-metal devastation.
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Last year they rewarded superfans with several editions of latest album Deceiver of the Gods, one of them a $100 job boasting a 10" bust of their trickster deity of choice, Loki. Plenty of hair-whipping poser bands play at Viking metal, All Music Guide once noted, while Amon Amarth's works "aren't just written about Vikings, they are written by Vikings." With Enslaved and Skeletonwitch. CHRIS GRAY
Matt Wertz House of Blues, January 23
Kansas City native Matt Wertz has inched closer to becoming a household name durng the past couple of years. The quirky, endearing, and self-effacing singer-songwriter began his career playing Young Life concerts alongside Jars of Clay, but has traded in small coffeehouse stages for tours alongside massive mainstream artists like Jason Mraz and Gavin DeGraw.
His touring schedule and sheer likeability have helped his breathy, impassioned songs find their way to TV shows like One Tree Hill and Brothers and Sisters as well. ANGELICA LEICHT
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