Bayou City live music fans experienced an embarrassment of riches in 2019. CultureMap previewed hundreds of shows over the past year in its Live Music Now column, reviewing and attending many of those, making the task of selecting the best of the bunch no more than a fool’s errand. Ask anyone about their best 2019 concert experiences and each list would be different.
Yet, the end of the year requires us to stretch our journalistic muscles to filter down the shows that wowed, thrilled, and brought the noise. These were our favorites.
Show of the Year: Rolling Stones at NRG Stadium, July 27
You can’t always get what you want, but Rolling Stones fans got more than enough satisfaction when the rock legends rolled through Houston on their No Filter Tour. Sure, we had to wait a few months to see the septuagenarians due to Mick Jagger's emergency heart surgery, but the anticipation only served up a bigger payoff with a sold-out crowd singing along to the classics, including “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Start Me Up,” and “Brown Sugar.”
Will it be the last time we see the U.K. hit-makers? Judging by the way Mick, Keith, Ronnie, and Charlie performed and responded to the appreciative audience, don’t be surprised if they have a few more tours under their belt before all is said and done. But if it is the last we see of the Stones, the 19-song set alongside the best production values in the world will be remembered for years to come. Satisfaction, indeed.
Show of the Year runner-up: Travis Scott’s AstroWorld Festival at NRG Park, November 9
Following the dissolution of several major Houston festivals (Day for Night, In Bloom), it looked like the city would be left without any major music gatherings. Enter hometown hip-hop star Travis Scott, who built AstroWorld Festival across the highway from the old Six Flags amusement park and turned it into an international audio-visual destination. It sold-out it’s second edition early, despite not announcing any of the line-up ahead the event.
Those who had faith in the world-beating Scott were aptly rewarded by performances from some of the best rap artists in the world (and Marilyn Manson for some reason), something that caused a near-riot as kids tried to jump the gates when they couldn’t get a hand on a ticket. Fellow Bayou City artist Megan The Stallion, Pharrell, Playboi Carti, and Migos all came ready to impress. And of course, there was the headlining slot by Travis Scott which included Kanye West, planting a flag for AstroWorld Festival for years to come as the biggest thrill ride for local music fans.
RodeoHouston delivers the goods at NRG Stadium, February 25-March 17
RodeoHouston is this city’s most popular sound and light extravaganza for a reason, drawing the biggest performers in the country industry and beyond. The 2019 line-up didn’t disappoint to the level that we’re not sure how it will be topped in 2020. Tens of thousands of music fans showed up every night (over 1.3 million total came through the NRG Park turnstiles), RodeoHouston records broken several times throughout the three week event.
No other show could beat the extended closing performance by the King of Country, George Strait, which shattered the RodeoHouston and NRG Stadium attendance numbers with 80,108 on hand. But other shows were just as electrifying, including the black magic vibes of guitar legend Santana, an actually decent, slightly family-friendlier show by hip-hop star Cardi B, and a star is born opening set by Kacey Musgraves, who rode out of the stadium on a white horse (naturally). Despite a few hiccups due to the unpredictable winter weather, RodeoHouston 2019 was an undeniable success.
Muse at Toyota Center, February 22
Think about the things that makes a great rock show and British band Muse had you covered. Crazy lights? Check. Loud, face-melting guitar riffs? Definitely. Mass singalongs? For sure. A 50-foot animatronic robot that overshadowed the stage blowing everyone’s minds? Hell yeah.
Muse’s latest album, Simulation Theory, might not have been as well received as previous efforts, but those who attended the U.S. tour opener at Toyota Center experienced years of hit songs and virtuouso playing by frontman Matt Bellamy and company. The visuals were the most bonkers we’ve seen in years, something that has made them a must-see live act back across the pond and made for one killer experience.
Michael Bublé at Toyota Center, March 26
We went into this show expecting pure schmaltz — Michael Bublé is the kind of crooner your grandmother used to swoon over — but the Canadian singer charmed the pants off everyone at Toyota Center, playing ringmaster and jokester between originals and covers. A full-sized orchestra brought serious Bond vibes and Bublé proved why he does a modern day Sinatra better than anyone on the touring circuit. Call this one a pleasant surprise and a hard-won appreciation for the Grammy Award winner and master performer.
Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals at Revention Music Center, June 11
What a killer lineup. Not only did you get the soul meets funk meets hip-hop meets R&B of Anderson .Paak, but there was the monstrous bass workout of Thundercat and indie hero Mac DeMarco. .Paak and his band of Free Nationals brought the house down with a three-tier level set with the band leader showcasing his multiple talents in front of a sold-out audience. If only all shows were this creative.
Hometown heroes doing us proud
We might be living in the golden age of Houston music with the city seemingly producing more commercial and critically acclaimed artists and bands than ever. Local concert stages proved just as much with some of the best shows coming from homegrown acts.
Other than AstroWorld Festival mentioned above, ZZ Top celebrated their 50th anniversary in May at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Megan Thee Stallion brought her "Hot Girl Summer" to Revention Music Center in September, current it-girl Lizzo played a sold-out show at the same venue in October, international funk group Khruangbin topped a huge year by playing a packed White Oak Music Hall lawn, and Alief rapper Tobe Nwigwe performed his biggest show yet, also at Revention in December.
Tame Impala at White Oak Music Hall, October 5
Anyone who passed the N. Main exit on I-45 North on the afternoon of October 5 caught a strange sight: a line of hundreds of music fans lined up across the bridge connecting both sides of the highway. They were waiting to see Australian psych-rock wunderkinds, Tame Impala, set to play a side show at White Oak Music Hall around their two headline slots at ACL Festival. The sold-out lawn show featured brain-warping lights, lasers, and the unyielding charisma of frontman Kevin Parker with a nice waft of high-grade, mind-altering substances.
Billie Eilish at Toyota Center, October 10
The biggest pop star in the world came to Houston in 2019 in the form of a teenage girl from Los Angeles with only one album under her belt. But boy, was it a doozy. Billie Eilish’s When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is in line for a boatload of Grammys in 2020, she gave a jaw-dropping performance on SNL, and basically set a new course for youth culture. She didn’t need to sing a single word at her electrifying Houston stop: the sold-out arena knew every synth-and-angst-laden syllable.
Rufus Wainwright at Heights Theater, November 21
A new album on the way from singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright meant those packed into Heights Theater got to hear a few new tunes in addition to a selection of heartfelt and witty selections from the gorgeously voiced Canadian talent. Intimate, soulful, and funny, Wainwright showcased the power of what a theater show can be and highlighted why smaller local venues are just as important for music as much as the amphitheaters and sports arenas.