03.11 I WAS TOTALLY DESTROYING IT, GRAY YOUNG @ TIR NA NOG
As innocuous as Chapel Hill pop-punkers (and tonight's headliners) I Was Totally Destroying It may seem, there's plenty of emotional wreckage behind those boy-girl harmonies and spirited song structures. Gray Young constructs its ramparts of post-rock as towering and dynamic as Raleigh's own shimmer wall, shifting at a moment's notice from a gently glistening breeze of guitar chimes to an all-out avalanche of furious riffs and drum assaults. Atlanta's electro-charged indie rockers Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun are catchy pop fun without the guilty pleasure. Free/ 10 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
03.12 TERRANCE SIMIEN @ THE ARTSCENTER
Terrance Simien's timeline tells an impressive story, from the formation of the initial incarnation of Simien's Mallet Playboys in 1981 (making Simien one of only a handful of young artists making Zydeco music) up through a Grammy awarded in 2008 for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album, a category that Simien worked hard to establish. And there are plenty of head-turning accomplishments in between, including cultural ambassadorships and education initiatives. But histories don't always fill halls; talent and engagement do. When charismatic multi-instrumentalist Simien takes a stage, there's no shortage of either on display. $15–$17/ 8:30 p.m. —Rick Cornell
03.12 REESE MCHENRY BENEFIT @ BROAD STREET CAFE
Indeed, this is a benefit for Dirty Little Heaters belter Reese McHenry, but foremost, she'd like you to know that everything is fine. "Otherwise, I'd have to get a wheelchair for the show, and that seems embarrassing," she says, laughing. Late last fall, McHenry had four strokes—one major, three self-resolving—that left a dead patch on her brain. (There's a lyric, huh?) Insurance covered her December surgery, but a subsequent premium hike forced her and her husband, Justin, to look for other options for the $1,000 of prescriptions she required during the next few months. And, as always in this beneficent music scene, her peers are going to help: Fresh out of the studio with their Merge debut Libraries, The Love Language unveils its new live lineup before heading to Austin, while The Loners—a menacing Raleigh rock duo with trash to talk and drums to torture—sound as good as they ever have right now. Openers D-Town Brass, The Travesties and The Pneurotics stack this bill high and mighty. $5/ 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
03.12 BENJI HUGHES @ THE POUR HOUSE
From his, umm, distinctive appearance—flowing reddish hair, ZZ Top beard, shades and slightly tight T-shirt, worn like a uniform—to his keen sense of pop melody and lounge lizard croon, Benji Hughes is a singular character within the pantheon of North Carolina musicians. And indeed, Hughes is a pop songwriter par excellence. Detailing daily frustrations (bad neighbors, failed dates, Flaming Lips concerts) with fanatic specificity, or crafting intricate fantasies of imprisoned princesses and partying monsters over an eclectic sonic expanse, Hughes' music is as instantly recognizable as he is. Tonight, for contrast, the swampy punk outfit Skullbuckle opens. $8/ 10 p.m. —Bryan Reed
03.13 OVER THE RHINE @ THE ARTSCENTER
Over the Rhine emanates cool, deliberative sophistication. The Ohio duo's wide-ranging Americana leaks aching pathos like an open wound. Karin Bergquist's resilient, wavering alto winds through sleepy country-folk, bluesy swing and skittering shuffles oft-rendered with tasteful understatement, allowing the grim colors to shine like beacons. They're unafraid to cite their influences, and it's not hard to hear Tom Waits' cabaret swagger, Neil Young's somber roots whine or the emotional wail of Billie Holiday. Over the Rhine, though, brings them together with mesmerizing craft and ardor. $16–$18/ 9 p.m. —Chris Parker
03.16 KOOL KEITH @ CAT'S CRADLE
Ol' Dirty Bastard might have taken many of his cues from one of the founding members of the Ultramagnetic MCs, Kool Keith, whose hip-hop perversions have always been a lottery of sex, enigma, sci-fi and crackpot idiosyncrasy. And that's just the normal side of this self-proclaimed "retarded funk maker." His latest release, Bikinis N Thongs, does little to add to his notoriety as a raunchy rapper, but his brand of peculiar smut qualifies for an entertaining listening, even after you've put away your Spank Rock CDs and 2 Live Crew tapes. Whether he shows up as Doctor Octagon, Black Elvis, Dr. Dooom or any one of his other erratic doppelgangers, you'll enjoy the spectacle and surely leave the show as a disturbed, confused and ultimately delighted human being. $15–$17/ 9:30 p.m. —Eric Tullis
03.17 FRUIT BATS @ LOCAL 506
After writing and recording the first three Fruit Bats albums on his own, Eric Johnson settled on a full-time backing band and invited them in for last year's The Ruminant Band, named after the new moniker he'd considered for the project. Though still connected to the glimmering, easygoing folk-pop of prior albums, the band's presence means a significant departure. They render a more organic, spontaneous feel that sounds less crafted than guided. It's a woollier and twangier approach, indulging a Crazy Horse-ish country-rock ache and groovier pace less preoccupied with delivering the hook than basking in the music's summery glow. With Blue Giant and The Singleman Affair. $10–$12/ 8:45 p.m. —Chris Parker
FRIDAY, MARCH 12
From: Dunkirk, Md., by way of Ann Arbor and Austin
Claim to fame: Making a Fender Telecaster tell stories, or reigning as the king of dieselbilly
Nick Lowe has said of his pal and frequent touring and recording partner Bill Kirchen, "(He's) a devastating culmination of the elegant and funky," while the Austin American-Statesman takes great joy in his "no-nonsense diesel guitar attack, powered by great booming, bottom-heavy licks still covered with axle grease." Yep, Kirchen's a guy who apparently can make coveralls feel like a tuxedo. If you want to fully capture Kirchen's sound, perfected across 40-plus years of a have guitar, will travel ethos, you need to mention rockabilly, soul, honky-tonk, pop, rhythm & blues and swing. And you still might be a couple styles short. 8 p.m. At SIX STRING CAFÉ.
Claim to fame: Watching airplanes and, as of the release of his new record, getting off on the pain
Today's Country magazine has said of Gary Allan that "his music has always walked closely along that border of mainstream country and a just left of the dial outlaw sound," while the New York Times speaks of his "elegant, often deadpan songs [that] tend toward manly understatement." I'll buy both those: Allan certainly has done well on commercial country radio, but an unforced ruggedness and adventurous song choices, such as Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life," have served to expand his appeal. And he's a tattooed tough guy with a sensitive side who, as "Nothing on But the Radio" demonstrated, can deliver a smooth line. $35–$45/ 8 p.m. At DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER.
Since: Early '00s
From: Virginia by way of Tallahassee, Fla.
Claim to fame: Making lovely roots music and advocating for roots of all kinds
NPR has said of Adrienne Young, "(She) has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of organic farms around the country," while Paste makes it known that she's a spokesperson for Food Routes, "an organization dedicated to helping support sustainable, locally grown foods." Fair enough on both counts: She's a gentle activist when it comes to the green and fresh. But Young is also a gifted singer, songwriter and clawhammer-style banjo player—an important point that occasionally gets left in the garden. Unsuprisingly, she traffics in a rather pastoral form of country and bluegrass. Local like-minded country-grassers The Kickin Grass Band top the bill. $10–$12/ 9 p.m. At CAT'S CRADLE. —Rick Cornell
SUNDAY, MARCH 14
HERE WE GO MAGIC
Claim to fame: Unspooling smoky, off-kilter folk tunes
Imagine playing a vinyl copy of Paul Simon's Graceland that was left out in the sun for a couple of months, and you'll have some idea of what you'll get from Here We Go Magic. On the group's self-titled debut, main magician Luke Temple (who mostly recorded the album on his own, though HWGM is an actual band now) concocts a brew that melds rustic songs with decidedly unfolky rushes of noise and hazy distortion, sometimes in equal parts (as on standout track "Fangela"). Sometimes, the needle even pushes to the non-song side of the equation. It's a strange swill that's both unsettling and alluring, and there's more than a good chance the group will be road-testing songs from their upcoming album for Secretly Canadian. With Lake Inferior. At LOCAL 506. $8–$10/ 9:30 p.m.
THESE ARE POWERS
From: Brooklyn/ Chicago
Claim to fame: A former member of Liars (and friends) making semi-organized noise
If you're looking for that "unsettling and alluring" feeling, but in something post-punky, then These Are Powers is the band for you. The opening band, True Panther signee Lemonade, also mine those still-fertile veins, but they're cutting their heady and potent stuff with a healthy helping of sounds from Ibiza clubs and Detroit warehouses. These Are Powers has been known to season their abrasive tones with some block-rocking beats (of the old-school Def Jam variety), and their Candyman 12" (out soon on the RVNG label) finds them trying to make bodies move more rhythmically rather than spasmodically. Still, their dark and twisted heart truly lies with out-there sonic provocateurs like This Heat, The Pop Group and any first-generation No Wave group of your choosing. This is a matter of taste—both these groups do what they do well—but it's safe to say that the real losers are the folks who want to, but can't, see both shows. With MDNR. At THE PINHOOK. $5/ 8:30 p.m. —David Raposa