This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Ungdomskulen, They Vinyl Strangers, The Great White Jenkins, Tony Williamson Band
EH, WHATEVER: Amandla
VS.: Mark Kozelek vs. The Dresden Dolls
INTRODUCING: Miss Mary Wanna
SONG OF THE WEEK: Goner's "Hella Jean"
01.16 UNGDOMSKULEN @ NIGHTLIGHT
Ungdomskulen is Norwegian vernacular for middle school, but you should be forewarned that these three Bergen men playing guitar, drums and bass sound nothing like any middle school you'll ever encounter: Their articulated, ambidextrous weld of metal, prog, math and straight-up blues-based rock vaults from ambition to amazement, zigging and zagging through tight riffs and taut rhythms and sans-transitions bursts of magic. Songs about the mysteries of sex, the heroics of rock and the adventures of youth reveal Ungdomskulen to be a bit like Art Brut on reptile amphetamines, and that's a very high compliment. With In the Year of the Pig and Curtains of Night at 9:30 p.m. Don't miss. —Grayson Currin
01.11 THE VINYL STRANGERS @ THE CAVE
In light of their sound (a proudly hooky concoction that originates at the point where pop starts lobbying for the power prefix) and their influences list (Nick Lowe and the La's to Big Star and Dusty in Memphis), it's reasonable to assume that Athens, Ga.'s Vinyl Strangers have stolen half of my CD collection. They make it worth the loss. Hear them at 10 p.m. or the next night at Sadlack's at 7 p.m. —Rick Cornell
01.12 THE GREAT WHITE JENKINS @ BULL CITY HEADQUARTERS
Soul mates to Durham's Megafaun, who headline, Richmond's The Great White Jenkins fold soul-painted folk and gospel-learned harmonies into anthems with psychedelic skin. Their latest, Mussel Souls, shakes and vibrates like a late-night, chemically augmented living room sing-along. Dark vocals drip and slide over woozy drones, and things go bump in the mix. Again, with Megafaun and Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers frontman Perry Wright. $5/ 9 p.m. —Kathy Justice
01.12 TONY WILLIAMSON BAND @ 40 ACRES HOUSE CONCERT
Among many other career highlights, Siler City mandolin master Tony Williamson has played in the star-to-be-studded Bluegrass Alliance, performed onstage with the Duke University Symphony Orchestra, done studio work with the likes of John Hartford and Vassar Clements, and served as a mentor for bluegrassing locals Big Fat Gap. Visit www.fortyacres.org for details on how to see his band in intimate confines. $15/ 8 p.m. —Rick Cornell
01.09 AMANDLA @ THE LIBRARY
The extravagant solo studio soul-pop project of longtime Ween drummer Claude Coleman Jr., Amandla would probably make for a documentary better than an album. Coleman nearly died in a car crash in 2002, and doctors told him he may never make music again. Coleman's recovery was remarkable, and he now fills his time with Ween gigs, sessions with Amandla and tours with the band as a five-piece. Trouble is, the story is all the interest here. The music—a badly cheesy neu soul mix of yacht rock textures and sexless sex-man songs—is just bothersome when not completely boring. Ween plays at Durham's Carolina Theatre Jan. 25. 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
SATURDAY, JAN. 12
From: Ohio to Atlanta to San Francisco
Claim to fame: "Dude, fix your face," Kozelek's suggestion to Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky
If you're familiar with Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon, you're not likely to hear the voice of Mark Kozelek, the frontman for both bands, and wonder who's at the microphone. Kozelek's voice is a narcotic drift, its midrange, slow-motion grace comfortable and familiar but ultimately betraying experience with extreme highs and lows. Kozelek's brushes with falsetto are like wisps of oxygen floating past the wick of a candle burning close to its end. Kozelek has covered Modest Mouse and AC/DC as Sun Kil Moon. The last time he visited North Carolina, Kozelek sang "Down on Main Street," using only his voice and his acoustic guitar to make Bob Seger's words feel like scraps of paper hidden away in blue jean pockets. Just know that this strength can be a liability over a 90-minute set. With Cities' Josh Nowlan at CAT'S CRADLE. $15/ 9 p.m.
THE DRESDEN DOLLS
Claim to fame: The popular arrival of dark cabaret—and the reclamation of face paint
If you're familiar with Dresden Dolls, you probably think everything by the Boston piano-and-drums duo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione sounds the same. They're best known, of course, for songs like "Coin-Operated Boy" and "Girl Anachronism," stompy, defiant, theater-of-the-overcoming-absurdity numbers where the piano and drums clang into one another hard and Palmer's throaty voice assails most everything around her. But Dresden Dolls hasn't forsaken their satirical, irreverent, arty past while climbing to fame (toured with Nine Inch Nails and hit Billboard in 2006): They're prone to smart recreations of Radiohead, Swans and T. Rex, and they staged a one-scene murder between Meg and Jack White. One of the most entertaining acts on this side of the American mainstream. With Two Ton Boa at CAROLINA THEATRE. $21-$24/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
01.12 MISS MARY WANNA @ LOCAL 506
Chapel Hill burlesque act Miss Mary Wanna loves what she does, in part, because she loves music. But there's something more to Miss Mary's fearlessness as she swaggers to everything from glam to punk to pop.
"It becomes even bigger than that for me, because, well, I'm bigger," says Miss Mary, who goes by Shannon Windsor off the stage. "To get up on stage in front of others and disrobe, and to do so in such a positive and undoubtedly sexy way, is political for me, in and of itself."
It's that philosophy that makes it easier to tear up a small stage in an even smaller amount of time, says Mary: "Part of what makes it so easy to go on stage and present myself so vulnerably is knowing that when I come down, at least one person will go home and look at their body in this new light." For all the power she puts out in performances—feeding off crowd reaction, unforgiving music, unrelenting confidence—Windsor had never seen a burlesque show until she started performing in them.
"Don't get me wrong, I love the art of tease. But in this sexually desensitized society, people want the meat," she says. "Me, I'm a sucker for audience encouragement. So if the meat's what you want, the meat is what you're going to get." The night's variety-show bill is the first from Pinky Presents, a group Windsor says is "working hard to establish a regular event during which queer performers—locally and otherwise—can rock out and show this town what we've got." With muzzled blues rock from The Moaners and Pixies/Madonna-influenced tracks from Carrboro beatmakers Robosapein, you'll get plenty for $6 at 9 p.m. —Margaret Hair