TAR HEEL SOUND FEST
Some free jazz, some distant drones, some modern composition, some indie rock, some folk meditations, some post-rock and some pure anger: The inaugural Tar Heel Sound Fest aims to put a little of everything (well, a little of the aforementioned niches) in three Chapel Hill rock clubs, with the aim of one ticket allowing concertgoers to sample the sounds at their leisure. Eighteen acts comprise the schedule, which co-founder Bruce Stevens says was inspired, in part, by the observation that "the area has an amazing amount of musical talent across genres. Many groups do not get nearly the audience they deserve."
Pay special attention to the incessant restlessness of Le Weekend, the singer-songwriter bounty of Corey Pallon and the open-ended explorations of jazz veteran Jeb Bishop. Most of the acts are local, but there is one especially noteworthy tourist on the slate: Pittsburgh's Microwaves camouflage tightly coiled compositions in an illusion of chaos and noise, vitriol pouring from red-hot amps and battered drums. For details, visit tarheelsoundfest.com. SATURDAY, JAN. 12, AT LOCAL 506, NIGHTLIGHT AND THE CAVE. $5–$12/4:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m.
JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION
Late last year, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion did what they hadn't done in eight years, at least on record: They exploded with the blues once again, releasing a 40-minute, 12-song blitz named Meat and Bone. Therein, the trio talked shit, acknowledged literary giants, ripped the harmonica and let the guitars of Spencer and Judah Bauer prowl and roar with, to be honest, much more finesse than in the early days. As reunion records go, Meat and Bone suggested that the band had simply hit pause years ago to let the ideas recharge into one sudden and splendid gush. If so, it worked; I'm strangely excited to witness Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in 2013 and, just maybe, beyond. Shockwave Riderz and Dex Romweber Duo open. WEDNESDAY, JAN. 16, AT CAT'S CRADLE. $15–$17/9 p.m.
LAST YEAR'S MEN, DEX ROMWEBER
More than two years have passed since the release of Sunny Down Snuff, the excellent 10-song debut burst from wiry and wry Chapel Hill garage upstarts Last Year's Men. In the interim, they've played a lot of shows, earned a modicum of buzz and, late last year, finally began recording Snuff's follow-up. But in the summer of 2011, they did offer a future tease with "In My Car," their side of a split with heroes The Reigning Sound. An anxious tune, "In My Car" showcased the expanding range of frontman Ben Carr, whose wavering worry of a voice split the difference between Gordon Gano and Jonathan Richman and revealed a band with more to offer than big hooks and short jams. Dex Romweber, himself an expert in the art of vocalizing paranoia and pressure, opens. THURSDAY, JAN. 10, AT THE CAVE. $5/10 p.m.
SPIDER BAGS, GROSS GHOST
On record and on stage, Spiders Bags and Gross Ghost are two of the most irresistible North Carolina bands working. Spider Bags' wild-eyed, crooked-smile garage rock is both celebratory and damaged, encapsulating at once the euphoria and meltdown of a very good time. Hooks held high, Gross Ghost's hazy rock numbers should snag you in an instant. After this show, they hit the road together for a short tour to New York, Tar Heel emissaries you can be proud to claim. TUESDAY, JAN. 15, AT THE PINHOOK. $7/9 p.m.
PHIL COOK, PLUME GIANT
Brooklyn folk-rock trio Plume Giant specializes in balance: On Callithump, the band's 2012 full-length debut, the big-hearted swelters that have turned Mumford & Sons into a movement share space with somber chamber pop, while the saccharine pop charms of She & Him co-conspire with a nearly vaudevillian sense of adventure. They also manage to sound bigger than a three-piece, with vaulting co-ed harmonies and bracing string arrangements serving as the propulsion for these plaintive numbers. The visitors share a bill with Phil Cook, the Megafaun member whose folk and blues erudition serves as the anchor for the band's postmodern explorations of those realms. His solo music, delivered with the assistance of His Feat, is elegant and earnest, the sound of the romantic surveying the terrain before him. FRIDAY, JAN. 11, AT CASBAH. $7/9 p.m.
The right hand of Rory Block is a music marvel: Popping strings from beneath or slapping them all from above, her fingers hooking and straightening in an instant, Block elicits an army of effects from the six strings of her acoustic guitar. Those techniques afford her one-woman country blues the urgency of a crack backing band, the need for a drum kit supplanted by her palm and the woody body of her instrument. Block is a tight coil of the blues; with every reading of a blues classic, she again bounds forward. FRIDAY, JAN. 11, AT THE ARTSCENTER. $13–$21/8 p.m.
THE OVERMOUNTAIN MEN, MIPSO
David Childers once led the rambunctious country act The Modern Don Juans, while his collaborator, Bob Crawford, earns the most notice as the upright bass thumper in the wild-eyed Avett Brothers. In the Overmountain Men, though, both settle into well-developed folk molds, sharing stories of the down and out over austere arrangements that occasionally seek the frenzy of those other acts. Speaking of the Avetts, Chapel Hill's Mipso has been hidebound to comparisons to the Concord group since the start, but their graceful little numbers lilt where the Avetts barrel, smile where the Avetts smirk. These are pop songs, pleasantly dressed in bluegrass garments. FRIDAY, JAN. 11, AT KINGS. $6–$8/9 p.m.
TOM BLACKLUNG & THE SMOKESTACKS
The name of this Brooklyn trio might suggest y'allternative with a dollop of dourness, but Tom Blacklung & the Smokestacks have more to do with the back catalog of Touch & Go than back issues of No Depression. Like a horde of Shellac lovers suddenly discovering the kindred frenzy of Primus, these dudes shout about bad times above guitars that are angular, bass that is muscular and drums that intend to give you a deep bruise. MONDAY, JAN. 14, AT THE CAVE. Free/10 p.m.
TERRY ANDERSON & THE OLYMPIC ASS-KICKING TEAM
If you've never seen Terry Anderson kicking around with one of his other bands during the last few decades, The Olympic Ass-Kicking Team is a pretty splendid chance to catch up with a songwriter who understands the most basic function of rock 'n' roll—attitude, baby—better than plenty. Comedic and cocksure, Anderson is so schooled in his craft that he leads his band from behind the kit. After all, it's easier to kick the ass of the ass- kicking team if you're behind them. They headline, with Michael Rank's bleary-eyed, Stones-in-shambles project STAG opening. Also, the new MSRP. THURSDAY, JAN. 10, AT TIR NA NOG. Free/10 p.m.
THE OLD CEREMONY, STEPHANIESĬD
Durham's The Old Ceremony and Asheville's stephaniesĭd trade in grand ambition. For their part, The Old Ceremony bolster the theater of Django Haskins' stories and the flair of his voice with vibraphone and violin, slinking rhythms and surging hooks. They pair well with their western brethren, who bejewel Stephanie Morgan's Björk aspirations with complicated keyboard lines, horn fanfares and post-rock atmospherics. These bands take different paths with equivalent zeal, arriving here at the same stage. SATURDAY, JAN. 12, AT MOTORCO. $10–$12/9 p.m.
Nashville's Pujol gets off on being weird, or at least claiming to do just that. But frontman Daniel Pujol's impatient little rock numbers would do better if he treated them a bit less like art projects and more like the simple songs they are. When Pujol just plays, his stuff is fine. When he pauses to line these songs with frills, he litters momentum and potential with reminders that plenty of bands are currently doing this barebones and wild rock thing much better. With Museum Mouth, Diarrhea Planet and Petey. SATURDAY, JAN. 12, AT KINGS. $8–$10/9 p.m.
At the very least, New England band Guster deserves credit for sticking around for more than two decades. That any act could stick with such completely bland, utterly unremarkable and unanimously uncontroversial fare is in itself a feat of astounding perseverance. Now, the long-running frat-rock posse makes the obvious adult contemporary concession, adding "The Guster String Players" to an acoustic show. If this gig were a color, it would be eternal khaki. SATURDAY, JAN. 12, AT CAROLINA THEATRE. $28–$38/8 p.m.