John Egan The Big Easy, July 14
Give John Egan credit for taking chances. The longtime solo Houston bluesman's new album, Amulet, is in some respects the polar opposite of its 2012 predecessor, Phantoms. Besides bringing in a few side musicians and respected Americana producer R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Webb Wilder),
Egan has expanded his songwriting reach to include Latin-tinged jazz and melancholy pop, showing he's less reliant on his Resonator guitar's unforgiving tone but comfortable keeping the instrument as his anchor. The end result is a softer mood than Phantoms, whose songs sometimes showed visibly bared teeth, but Amulet's overall disquieting feel suggests Egan has done little to ward off the same tormentors who were after him last time. CHRIS GRAY
Rakim Numbers, July 15
Never mind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, hip-hop needs its own hall of fame if only to induct people like Rakim. Beginning with albums with DJ partner Eric B such as 1987 landmark Paid In Full, the former William Griffin Jr. (a devout Muslim since age 15) has used language the way John Coltrane and Charlie Parker used their swooping and diving saxophone riffs: to brag and boast, and blow your mind with his astounding agility and dexterity.
This is the man who swore "I Ain't No Joke" on the first song of Paid In Full, later promised "I hold the microphone like a grudge," and has meant it ever since. Since splitting with Eric B following three more albums, Rakim has gone on to a successful if sporadic solo career, most recently with 2009's The Seventh Seal. CHRIS GRAY
Lady Gaga Toyota Center, July 16
Time will tell whether or not Lady Gaga's ARTPOP is a simple stumble or a gaffe that will go down in showbiz infamy. Reviewers were indifferent at best, and a little more than half a year after its release, the album has all but disappeared not just from the charts but the pop-culture conversation in general. That might make it an awkward time for any other pop star to mount her most ambitious tour to date -- a modest little multimillion-dollar production she's dubbed "artRAVE" -- but not this one.
Instead, she's doubled down with two stages, catwalks, seven different costumes (including a dress with tentacles), inflatable flowers, stuffed animals, cannons, and God knows what else. So if all that amounts to a "goodbye celebration of the past," as Gaga has been telling her audiences, it ought to be a memorable one at least. With Lady Starlight and Crayon Pop. CHRIS GRAY
More shows on the next page.
The Neighbourhood Bayou Music Center, July 17
The Neighbourhood could be about to take over the world, or at least the charts. The L.A. band is a pop group masquerading as modern rockers, with enough electronica and R&B highlights to cover those bases as well. So far so good, as the quintet has ridden a high-profile opening slot on Imagine Dragons' 2013 summer tour and the success of singles "Afraid" and "Sweater Weather" (the latter a Billboard Modern Rock No. 1) into this large-theater headlining tour.
Overall the Neighborhood's songs (from their one and only album, last year's I Love You) are pleasant and haunting, soothing enough to be good background music but hummable enough to make good singalongs too. But their real secret weapon is the soulful, puppy-dog voice of front man Jesse Rutherford, who's not above a little pouting if its suits his purposes. He is a walking swoon waiting to happen. With Travis Scott and White Arrows. CHRIS GRAY
The Crystal Method Stereo Live, July 17
Remember when the media at large was pushing "electronica" as a thing, and all of a sudden videos by The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim were on MTV? Yeah, it was weird, but we did get exposed to some really fun artists like The Crystal Method out of the deal.
Now, more than 20 years after they started collaborating, Scott Kirkland and Ken D. Jordan are still making music -- 2014 has seen the release of the duo's self-titled fifth album -- and playing shows. And why not? The ability to know a crowd and get a room dancing is something that transcends age. Label it "electronica" or "EDM"; it doesn't matter with beats this good. CORY GARCIA
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