Happy New Year—or for 2012 Armageddon theorists, happy beginning of the end. Across the Triangle, there are rock shows and dance parties aplenty, with offerings swinging wildly from Top 40-like alt-rockers to whip-smart jazz combos, from high art to the gutter. Indeed, most every taste is represented on this holiday of reflection, celebration and, well, heavy drinking. For that reason, many events have age limits, so it's a good idea to check for those before heading out.
At the outset, the Triangle's biggest official celebration, FIRST NIGHT RALEIGH, also appears to be the least adventurous. Still, kid-friendly elements and dozens of events scattered around downtown trump its largely inoffensive musical lineup. Of note, First Night includes a French film festival at the Museum of Natural Sciences, two performances by the Carolina Opera at the Edenton Street United Methodist Church and a giant Lite Brite on Fayetteville Street. And then there's the midnight acorn drop, a City of Oaks variation on the ball at Times Square.
First Night is an alcohol-free event, though, so duck into distinct, decidedly adult dance parties at KINGS or LINCOLN THEATRE to get your booze on without missing any merriment. Kings will host several DJs and bands for a double-decker party spread between the rock club proper and NEPTUNES below; meanwhile, REVOLUTION RALEIGH hosts a circus-themed evening of thumping electronica at Lincoln.
For those wishing to avoid noise and crowds, the N.C. SYMPHONY's "New Year's in Vienna" program promises a reasonably dignified alternative, with selections from German post-romanticist and tone-poet Richard Strauss. Depending on your persuasion, the inclusion of Gershwin compositions and Broadway standards in the New Year's concert either lightens the tone or robs a bit of the intellectual punch. This MEYMANDI HALL show will be over in time for attendees to celebrate elsewhere when the acorn drops, so to speak.
In what is perhaps the best live music bet tonight in Raleigh, Chapel Hill's Lizzy Ross Band brings its deservedly celebrated country-soul-folk to SOUTHLAND BALLROOM, closing out a year that saw release of the unit's debut LP, Read Me Out Loud. Elsewhere, VOLUME 11 holds a Dimebag Darrell tribute, DIVEBAR RALEIGH hosts The Future is Me's emo-prog, and THE POUR HOUSE promises hours of jamming by The Mantras. TIR NA NOG's Irish New Year features a pipe and drum band, Gaelic fare from Barrowburn and dancing courtesy of the Inis Cairde School of Irish Dance.
Parklife plays DEEP SOUTH THE BAR, delivering classic-sounding rock epics with modern slickness alongside Young Cardinals' smug blues-rock, Supatight, Colourslide and Zak Domogalla. Nearby, at BERKELEY CAFE, The Omega Project and Enemy in Disguise bring melodramatic nü-metal with discernable strains of Disturbed, Staind and Papa Roach. Time marches on, huh?
CHAPEL HILL has some of the best New Year's rock shows at LOCAL 506 and CAT'S CRADLE. At the former, Hammer No More the Fingers closes a banner year. Though only the trio's second record, this year's Black Shark stretches notions of the indie rock revivalists' capabilities as songwriters and instrumentalists. Also aboard is new project Boykiller, with Ginger Wagg of the sadly disbanded Veelee on drums. It's been a bittersweet year, seeing her old act go. This is only Boykiller's third show, so in the spirit of the holiday, here's a chance to ring in the very new. Organos opens. Durham's own yacht rock time machine, The Wusses, plays the Cradle. One of 2011's best records—Destroyer's Kaputt—came steeped in the same sax-heavy genre. So yes, this show's a bit silly and ironic, but there's something to be said for a night constructed entirely upon soft-focus nostalgia, especially on New Year's Eve.
At THE CAVE, Blood Red River rings out the old with tattoo-shop surf rock, like the Ventures shot with some grainy grindhouse camera. Greensboro's The Malamondos appropriately contribute retro punk and rockabilly with a spy movie feel. Due south just 20 minutes, in PITTSBORO, Grand Ole Uproar plays GENERAL STORE CAFE, while The Swang Brothers serve stripped-down, mostly acoustic rockabilly and West Coast country at CITY TAP.
On to DURHAM, where CASBAH really celebrates with the spectacularly tight jazz combo Peter Lamb and the Wolves. The Wolves' output falls somewhere between rental-party jazz and R&B, à la Big Joe Turner. Simultaneously dignified and sensual, The Wolves offer a rare balance of tunefulness and turmoil that's both intriguing and dynamic. Kindred spirits The Countdown Quartet bring a New Orleans flavor to the same early-20th-century hook-heavy jazz, with Dixieland trombone blare and zydeco shuffle in place of the Wolves' uptown sophistication. Evening attire is encouraged.
MOTORCO and THE PINHOOK host oh-so-Durham dance parties. Motorco brings DJs Chocolate Thunder, Chris Corsello and Pancakes. And in sarcastic reference to the Mayan apocalypse purported to hit sometime next December, a spread of diet-challenging, Mayan-themed confections prepared by partymakers Jeff and King makes this as much a foodie event as anything. The Pinhook party also promises an answer to Raleigh's acorn drop, though they won't say what exactly is getting dropped.
In other music, BROAD STREET CAFE brings eight-strong horn band RetroBuZZkill and opener Negative I. And outside downtown, BLUE NOTE GRILL has the Willie Painter Band, with harmonica-heavy blues and classic rock covers ranging from Cream and the Dead to even Gil Scott-Heron. And Mel Melton, owner of PAPA MOJO'S ROADHOUSE, plays his own spot with the zydeco-influenced swamp blues of The Wicked Mojos.