This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Mic Harrison; Max Indian, Bright Young Things; Gray Young, Goner; Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra; Icy Demons, Whatever Brains; Marah
EH, WHATEVER: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
VS.: Tesla vs. Ian McLagan & the Bump Band
VS.: Ben Folds vs. Michael Franti
INTRODUCING: Tin Star
SONG OF THE WEEK: Jason Isbell's "Seven-Mile Island"
02.19 MIC HARRISON @ THE POUR HOUSE
As stage-left co-lead vocalist and guitarist for the much-missed V-roys and as a late-inning addition to the Superdrag lineup, Mic Harrison never failed to make an impression. And his subsequent work as the main man in the one-off Faults and the guy to the left of the ampersand in Mic Harrison & the High Score fulfilled that promise, with power pop at its most rootsy and roots pop that's powerfully catchy. Opener Chris Berardo & the DesBerardos sports both a quality pun in its name and a knack for second-wave country rock a la Poco and the Marshall Tucker Band. $8- $10/ 9 p.m. —Rick Cornell
02.19 MAX INDIAN, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS @ TIR NA NOG
Young Triangle pop charmers all, Chapel Hill's Max Indian and Raleigh's Bright Young Things sit—like so many before them—at the throne of The Beatles. Max Indian injects its classic pop with shots of garage-ish crunch and soulish swagger, though, giving its tunes and energetic performances a surface of grit and a center of emotion. Bright Young Things' tasteful numbers come updated via Big Star and Wilco, hints of Being There's dual guitars and twinkling keys winding through songs about, you know, girls. Free/ 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
- Gray Young
02.20 GRAY YOUNG, GONER @ SLIM'S
Gray Young's precise vision and tight focus allow its debut, Firmament, to operate of its own accord in the post-rock realm dominated by Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. Gray Young builds tension while sloughing off the pretense that often accompanies the meandering sprawl plaguing the genre's derivative cohorts. Working as just a three piece, guitarist Chas McKeown alternately spirals notes around Dan Grinder's melodious bass or unleashes a hail of riffs over Jeff Dopko's drum barrages. The jagged, key-centric pop of old Raleigh hands Goner (we're not calling them old, just experienced) kickstart this celebration for the release of the newer Raleigh trio's excellent debut LP. $5/ 10 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
02.21 TRIANGLE SOUNDPAINTING ORCHESTRA @ NIGHTLIGHT
"If you don't like what you hear," says the quote on the Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra's Myspace page, "wait five seconds." That's funny, but it's no joke: Soundpainting is a universal sign language for directing musicians in structured improvisation, and this ensemble, conducted by Shannon Morrow, squeezes more ideas into one performance than most bands achieve in five. Two opening acts augment the conceptual-improv goodness. The Circuitry Dance Patrol uses decayed beats and spontaneous dance to create a space for audience interaction, and Projexorcism uses a renegade A/V rig to create chaotic, unpredictable visuals. Leave your attention span at home, as you won't be needing it. 10 p.m. —Brian Howe
02.22 ICY DEMONS, WHATEVER BRAINS @ LOCAL 506
Chicago's Icy Demons bring its swinging pop—keyboards buoying bass grooves and electronic accents like a head-fucked bossa nova—to the marquee. But the real draw ought to be Raleigh natives Whatever Brains, whose frantic fuzz-punk lives and dies by in-the-red guitars, snotty vocals and undeniable pop hooks. The band kicked off the new year with the three-song Mt. Whatever 7-inch, the first release on the brand-spankin'-new Bull City Records label. Watch out for these Whatever Brains, literally and figuratively. $8/ 9:30 p.m. —Bryan Reed
02.25 MARAH @ LOCAL 506
The emergence of The Hold Steady has dropped Marah back to being the second-most Springsteen-spirited band around. This being an acoustic show—and one without cofounding brother Serge Bielanko—the wall of sound is destined to be a little less meaty, anyway. Not to worry, though, because the stripped-down settings will bring the band's more Pogues-y and Every Picture Tells a Story moments to center stage, which is where you'll find the other Bielanko bro, Dave, holding court. As always, hope for "Round Eye Blues," the best song from Marah's catalog and, for my money, one of the best songs, period, of the last decade. $10/ 9:30 p.m. —Rick Cornell
02.20 JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT @ LINCOLN THEATRE
Jason Isbell joined the Drive-By Truckers in time to contribute two cuts to the band's 2003 album,
Decoration Day, title cut included. Over the next two albums, Isbell wrote some of the Truckers' best material, from The Band paean "Danko/Manuel" to an epic album closer called "Goddamn Lonely Love." But Isbell took his leave in 2007, and his two solo albums since feel like so much of the same sullen sincerity. Some of the songs still shine—this record's "Seven-Mile Island," for instance, and "However Long"; last year's war ballad "Dress Blues"—but, without the context of Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, Isbell sounds, to paraphrase the new record, like a petrified soul. "She left me alone with these pills and the last of my youth," he sings, permanently somber and serious. Isbell, just now 30, has a lot of room to grow. Wait for it without paying for it yet. With Charlotte's Benji Hughes. $13-$15/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
TUESDAY, FEB. 24
From: Sacramento, Calif.
Claim to fame: Hard rock (that's heavy metal in jeans and T-shirts)
Even though hard-rock five-piece Tesla has a sturdy catalog of original songs, it's a song the band didn't write that I most associate with it: "Signs." Originally a hit for the Five Man Electrical Band back in 1971, Tesla covered it on its Five Man Acoustical Jam album. The song's "quit hassling me, man" theme was apparently as relevant almost two decades on, and, riding the unplugged wave of the day, the video became an MTV staple. It's a safe bet the song remains a live playlist staple as well, tucked in there between "Cumin' Atcha Live" and "Love Song." At the LINCOLN THEATRE. $25-$30/ 8 p.m.
IAN MCLAGAN & THE BUMP BAND
From: Austin, Texas (by way of Middlesex, England)
Since: the mid '60s
Claim to fame: Faces rock (that's proto-pub rock with a lot of soul)
Even though Wurlitzer hero Ian McLagan has a sturdy catalog of songs that he wrote for Small Faces, Faces, and his Bump Band, it's a song he didn't write that I most associate with him: "Ooh La La." Cowritten by Ron Wood and everybody's late beloved mate Ronnie Lane, the song has a melancholy, clink-your-pint-glasses-and-sing-along charm that's spawned numerous cover versions and even seduced filmmaker Wes Anderson (Rushmore). When McLagan sings "I wish that I knew what I know now/ When I was younger" surrounded by those exemplary Bumpers, it's always a triumphantly bittersweet moment. At the BERKELEY CAFE. $18-$20/ 8 p.m. —Rick Cornell
Wednesday, Feb. 25
From: Nashville, Tenn.
Since: With himself, 2000
Claim to fame: Despite everything, probably "Brick" and being really fond of his black T-shirt
Perhaps at some point you've reduced Ben Folds to the solipsistic smart-mouth who led his old Chapel Hill band, Ben Folds Five, through three great records before making three solo albums that have, at best, been entirely mediocre. Thing is, you're mostly right: Way to Normal—Folds' latest monument to the problems of being spoiled, rich and selfish, built of the usual piano pop backed with rock and braided with strings—is a failure of ego, even when brilliantly catchy. Folds remains a wee little city upon a wee little hill, chastising the rich, his richness and basically anything that doesn't go his way. That strategy worked when he was talking about wives and girlfriends with the Five, but he's yet to, like, grow up and mine something deeper than his own misgivings. If you caught the Five's reunion last year and their performance of Folds' most ambitious material to date (Reinhold Messner), skip this batch of songs. And if you didn't, skip this batch of songs, anyway. At DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER with Miniature Tigers. $30.50/ 7:30 p.m.
From: San Francisco
Since: With Spearhead, 1994
Claim to fame: Despite everything, probably being the other conscious singer with dreads
Perhaps at some point you've reduced Michael Franti to a pious political firebrand who has ridden the ghost of Bob Marley through a two-decade career of songs about the evils of the world and the conquest for change. Thing is, you're sort of wrong: With Spearhead, Franti has combined hip-hop braggadocio, reggae rhythms, South African group singing and the occasional touch of soul balladry. While keying in on Marley's principles of active resistance ("Oh, rebel rockers!") and love-based unity, Franti's turned out some good romantic tunes in his time. True, he occasionally errs on the side of pedantic and cloying, his topical concerns getting the best of his self-editing, but at least he's artistically concerned with something outside of himself. Even Stockhausen demanded music for "the divine mission of one united world." And you're not too cool for Karlheinz, are you? Franti with the first round knockout tonight. At LINCOLN THEATRE with Cherine Anderson and Courtney John. $25-$30/ 8 p.m. —Grayson Currin
02.20 TIN STAR @ THE CAVE
"Our master bedroom is our music room. We sleep in the smallest room in the house," says Jamie Miyares, half of the couple that leads Durham's Tin Star. "We don't have cable TV. What we do when we have free time is play."
Indeed, Miyares, a classically trained pianist who performed professionally for 17 years, co-founded Tin Star mostly by accident with boyfriend Louis Botta. Both had recently left local bands and weren't looking to start a new group. During dates, though, Botta would pull out his electric guitar, and Miyares would sit behind the keyboard. They discovered a chemistry that stretched beyond their budding relationship and slowly began crafting songs about their families and social anxieties. Botta's shimmering guitar lines reflected off the crystalline surface of Miyares' voice and across the stately ease of her piano lines.
The couple cycled through several drummers, eventually recruiting Bart Moyers, Botta's ex-bandmate in William Christ Supercar. Dan Grinder of Raleigh's Gray Young joined on bass, and the quartet headed into the studio—that is, into the couple's little home on Durham's Bettie Lane. Look for the results—a six-song EP likely titled Bettie Lane, recorded by Bringerer's Shawn Albert and with art from Bringerer's Ron Liberti and Kevin Dixon—on Fractured Discs later this year. With Batata Doce and Shakermaker at 10 p.m. —Grayson CurrinCORRECTION: Yes, Please incorrectly listed Mic Harrison's former band. He was in Superdrag.