This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Peter Case; John Vanderslice; Unknown Hinson; Imperial Battlesnake
EH, WHATEVER: Magnolia Electric Co., Ari Hest, Breaking Benjamin
VS.: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones vs. The Sea and Cake
INTRODUCING: The Love Language
LAST WEEK'S PARTY: Al Green
SONG OF THE WEEK: Grayskul's "Heaven Is Still Coming"
09.20 PETER CASE @ HIDEAWAY BBQ
Peter Case's one-line bio would go something like: Teen busker turned pop-rocker with the Nerves and the Plimsouls who then returned to folk-blues troubadour mode in the late '80s. The new, stripped-down Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John is as true to his roots as anything he's done, with Case mostly going it alone and playing that old, beautiful-sounding Gibson he's cradling on the cover of his self-titled solo debut from '86. "This isn't a pretend folk record," says Case. "It's a pure form of it." With Jason Eady. $12-$15/ 8:30 p.m. —Rick Cornell
09.21 JOHN VANDERSLICE @ DUKE COFFEEHOUSE
Sonic auteur (drum machines! strings! crunch! fade!) John Vanderslice's latest carries some of his least interesting songs to date. He's got a thick catalogue, though, and he's a warm entertainer. Bishop Allen's The Broken String compiles and reinterprets songs from a series of EPs the Brooklyn band released last year, and it's one of the year's most charmed indie pop albums, plying Neil Diamond and Rhymin' Simon influence beneath a bright veneer. $4-$7/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin
9.21 UNKNOWN HINSON @ HIDEAWAY BBQ
Self-proclaimed "King of Country Troubadors," Charlotte's Unknown Hinson is the child of sleazy psychobilly and tough country. And while his slick rambles lean on the side of parody (he's a vampire, you know?), his bass lines thump and his trebly guitar lines tickle. $15/ 9:30 p.m. —Kathy Justice
09.24 IMPERIAL BATTLESNAKE @ THE RESERVOIR
With songs titles like "Pastor of Muppets" and "Mt. Whore II," Chicago's Imperial Battlesnake is borderline campy. Fortunately, its Municipal Waste cheese-factor isn't as loud as its full-stacks: The heavy metal five-piece mixes Motörhead pummeling with Drunk Horse axe work, ultimately casting busier Karp. With Black Skies. Free/ 10 p.m. —Rich Ivey
09.25 MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO. @ CAT'S CRADLE
When Jason Molina shuttered his solo moniker, Songs:Ohia, and lifted the name Magnolia Electric Company from its final album, his embrace of country-rock became less unique and interesting, lacking that odd intimacy and frisson of his earlier work. He hasn't fallen completely-the-fuck-off, but it's hard to get excited about the week-late, sawbuck-short twang and warmed over Neil Young impression. Fortunately, he's continued to release solo-oriented material, such as last year's spare Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go, which picks up the baton from Songs:Ohia. With The Watson Twins, Drakkar Sauna and M.C. Taylor. $10/ 9:15 p.m. —Chris Parker
09.23 ARI HEST @ THE POUR HOUSE
The Break-In, the third LP from Brooklyn songwriter Ari Hest, is a bit of a break-out, finally finding Hest settling into a skin greater than his former open-chord love strums. His playing is more graceful, his arrangements more ambitious and his topics more intriguing. But give Hest another album or two, and he'll likely have finally eclipsed his post-grad, pedestrian foundations. With Kyle Andrews. $8-$10/ 6:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin
09.26 BREAKING BENJAMIN @ WALNUT CREEK
Somewhere between the proto-throb of Godsmack and the post-grunge caterwauling of Creed, there's Breaking Benjamin. Stereotypical breakdowns, quiet verse/loud chorus theatrics, misanthropic lyrics about "a hole where my heart should be": This band is so derivative and indistinct one doubts its members' mothers could tell the difference between it and opener Three Day Grace. Also, Seether and Skillet. Yawn. $10-$29/ 6:30 p.m. —Chris Parker
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 26
BELA FLECK & THE FLECKTONES
From: Virginia, Nashville and New York
Claim to fame: Banjo or guitbanjo? Drums or synth-axe drumitar? Goatee or dreadlockbeard?
Four exorbitantly talented musicians who have made their records and live shows progressively less about songs and coherence and more about indulgences and impression, wanton eclectics Béla Fleck & the Flecktones combine bluegrass, jazz and funk and remind you they are doing exactly that with slap bass, plethoric harmonics, double sax and a synth-axe drumitar, pirate percussionist Futureman's contribution to the conclusion that real drums sound better. All said, Fleck maintains a wonderful melodic presence, the springtime feel of his banjo lines often infused with a classicist's sense of emotional ambiguity. But cool it with the sojourning sometimes, OK? At CAROLINA THEATRE. $37/ 8 p.m.
THE SEA AND CAKE
From: Chicago, Ill.
Claim to fame: A supergroup worth its status? Right on!
Four very talented musicians who have made their records progressively more about buoyancy and balance than the skills members of Tortoise, Shrimp Boat and Coctails possess, The Sea and Cake blends bop bounce, rock hooks and Chicago smarts into graceful pop. Its latest, Everybody, is a warm breeze of a record captured by Brian Paulson. Led by Sam Prekop's fortified whisper and Archer Prewitt's elegant guitar, The Sea and Cake hints at twee, African rhythms, Brazilian psychedelics and kraut iterations without condescension. Drift along, OK? At CAT'S CRADLE with Meg Baird. $13-$15/ 9:15 p.m. —Grayson Currin
09.22 THE LOVE LANGUAGE @ NIGHTLIGHT
Stuart McLamb founded The Love Language as an inside joke. "It started when I posted a MySpace page with the name and put one song up," he remembers of the band's start late last year. "Really, the whole thing stemmed from a joke between me and an ex."
But McLamb knew he had a passion for penning pop songs, and soon he had a subject: His relationship ended. "Because I was looking back on a breakup, I was able to write about love from my point of view and hers."
McLamb recorded several songs in a tiny bedroom studio in Cary, working without a backing band for the first time (The Capulets had just called it quits). He learned the ropes of a BOSS BR-864 console and started mixing parts—piano, drums, guitars—into a sad-eyed, bouncy whole.
McLamb's no longer solo, though, as he's added a guitarist, keyboardist and a drummer so he can focus more on vocals and songwriting. He hopes it grows into an actual band, where the members feed off of each other. And even though his newer material isn't always about breakups and romance, it still speaks in same recognizable language. No, not love—sweet, shimmering pop. With Cakes of Light and Little Lords. $5/ 10 p.m. —Kathy Justice
09.13 AL GREEN @ UNC
Al Green treated his 90-minute set Thursday night like a series of encores, pushing every 15-minute phase of the show to its potential. By the two-minute mark, Green had everyone on their feet, basking in the sunshine of his smile and 12-musician, two-dancer band. By the eight-minute mark, he'd hit one knee and a piercing falsetto, the entire audience back in its seats ("Y'all sit on down, you're scaring the hell out of me."), hanging by Green's whim. For the audience, it was an effortless 90 minutes, where admission guaranteed a respite from whatever. —Grayson Currin