This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Spider Bags, John Wesley Coleman, Mandolin Orange, Big Fat Gap, Drughorse holiday show, Valentino and the Piedmont Sheiks, ExMonkeys, Juan Huevos, Wet Mango, Benji Hughes, Papaya, Birds of Avalon, Violet Vector
VS.: The New Familiars vs. Mark Stuart & The Bastard Sons
VS.: Street Dogs vs. The Whigs
SONG OF THE WEEK: Brendan Benson's "Eyes on the Horizon"
12.10 SPIDER BAGS, JOHN WESLEY COLEMAN @ NIGHTLIGHT
Unlike so many of their one-trick-and-stop peers in the garage rock underworld, Chapel Hill's Spider Bags and Austin, Texas' Golden Boys cling to variety like its a last breath: Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World, the second LP from the Bags, moves from methamphetamine electric blues to ragged power pop to forlorn country groan, and that's just the first side. Meanwhile, Golden Boys' latest, Thee Electric Wolfman, spins from Skynyrd-friendly ruminations ("Old Man's Coat") to cocksure, blitzed rock blasts ("God Damn, I Love the Ocean," which, god damn, is a lovable song). Tonight, the Bags headline and back John Wesley Coleman, the wild side of the Boys' two-man writing team. Coleman's new solo LP, Steal My Mind, is new on Certified PR, and it's a dirty trip through a bro's tape hiss, record collection and chemical fancies. The tuff two-man rock of Blag'ard opens. —Grayson Currin
12.11 MANDOLIN ORANGE, BIG FAT GAP @ THE CAVE
While Big Fat Gap—a revolving crew of talented bluegrass vets notable for animated, off-the-cuff live performances—has no aspirations to hit it big, their Mandolin Orange pals have already begun tapping their huge potential, quickly becoming one of the Triangle's hottest folk acts. That comes as no surprise to those who've seen a performance by the young couple, which first met in January during a jam session hosted by the Gap. Songwriter Andrew Marlin—who handles guitar and mandolin duties—found his match in Emily Frantz, a classically trained violinist who sweetly harmonizes her crystalline voice to his rural Carolina twang. Expect collaboration across sets. 10 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
12.11 DRUGHORSE HOLIDAY SHOW @ LOCAL 506
This show might get a little confusing, but don't worry: You're surrounded by a remarkable gaggle of melody makers. The difficulty comes because many of these 10 bands share members. Max Indian, for instance, funnels into The Sundowners, while Ryan Gustafson plays in Mount Moriah, and most of The Love Language also calls The Light Pines a second home. As a new act takes the stage every 5 to 20 minutes, it might seem a little like you're playing a game of Concentration. But just relax and listen. Between Max Indian's surprisingly refreshing Beatles-meets-Band aplomb and The Love Language's passionate soul-rock jangle, or between Gustafon's fragmented country visages and The Light Pines' more primal rock urgency, there's going to be something that sticks to your ear. A great year-end bill for a crew whose run-with-the-retro assurance seems set for a big 2010. $8-$10/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
12.11 VALENTINO AND THE PIEDMONT SHEIKS @ PAPA MOJO'S
The rhythm section of The Piedmont Sheiks pitches back and forth, digging down to rock the floorboards. Guitar glides over the bumping, Chicago blues ruckus with clean, electric precision. Frontman Valentino presides over it all, singing with the alluring strut of a slick, possibly untrustworthy ringmaster. When he picks up his harmonica, his dirty solos seduce on slow burners and jump tunes alike. Arguably the best local blues band, the group was a semifinalist in the 2009 International Blues Challenge. Guitarist and harmonica player Tad Walters joins the lineup tonight. $8/ 9:30 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey
12.12 BIRDS OF AVALON, VIOLET VECTOR @ THE PINHOOK
There's more than one way to sail psychedelic: Birds of Avalon does it with chiseled rock built on a bulky rhythm section and decorated with the riffs and tangents of guitarists Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler. Anthemic and outbound, they'll wrangle you with hooks before dragging you into space. Violet Vector & the Lovely Lovelies dress brightly and sing cheerfully, but—at their best—the material wraps dark thoughts in a sheen of sweet. $5/ 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
12.12 EXMONKEYS, JUAN HUEVOS, WET MANGO @ NIGHTLIGHT
Last week in Raleigh, someone was telling me about a zany bill they'd encountered down the street earlier in the night. There'd been beats and noise, a little dancing and a lot of dudes diving deep into the tones coming from the stage. Oh, and a woman playing a set with a Gameboy and a slew of electronics, making strangely sexual, grinding bass music out of toys and mixers. Indeed, Technoiz—the new monthly night presented by electro-anthem pair ExMonkeys at Raleigh's The Pour House—wields unorthodoxy like a happy habit, and tonight, Chapel Hill gets a sample. Wet Mango, a member of the terrifying and exhilarating California crew Sonic Death Rabbit, is the one with the Gameboy. She'll be there, along with ExMonkeys and party rap madman Juan Huevos. Also DJ Nasty Boots and Andy the Doorbum. $5/ 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
12.12 BENJI HUGHES @ LOCAL 506
The hirsute Charlottean delivered one of 2008's best summer soundtracks with A Love Extreme, an extravagant double-disc debut that struck just the right balance between synth-pop party anthems ("Tight T-Shirt," "Vibe So Hot") and crooner-friendly day-after laments ("Love is a Razor," "All You Gotta Do is Fall in Love"). Live, Hughes' healthy appetites would make for ramshackle shows if not for a band experienced enough to reel him back in. But don't let the wild vibe fool you—Hughes is an exacting songsmith with a superb melodic ear and narratives that, even at their most libidinous, don't forget the psychic price tag that accompanies the good times. With Luego. $8/ 9:30 p.m. —John Schacht
12.12 PAPAYA @ UNC
Papaya is the proverbial juicy fruit of Latin folklore, a rustic metaphor that eliminates the need for an FCC. It's also the name of the juiciest salsa double bill to come along this season: Orquesta GarDel meets Charanga Carolina, as the Triangle's top salsa band goes head to head with the UNC performing ensemble that spawned it. The Charanga adds greasy trombones to its classical violins, flute and Latin rhythm section, making it possible to mimic modern Cuban timba bands as well as early New York salsa. GarDel is the big bowwow, packed with UNC alums gone pro. Expect a jam session at this birthday party for Nelson Delgado, who sings with both bands. So juicy, it's inevitable. In the Kenan Music Building Rehearsal Room. $5-$10/ 9:45 p.m. —Sylvia Pfeiffenberger
THURSDAY, DEC. 10
THE NEW FAMILIARS
Claim to fame: Rowdy Americana where strings fly and voices holler
Mixing thrashy bluegrass with pop sensibility, The New Familiars favor woozy shuffles marked by howl-out-loud gang vocals and frenzied strumming. Evolving from an all-acoustic lineup, the five-piece Familars added more instruments (and amplification) along the way, resulting in a whiskey-fueled hoedown of banjo, mandolin, lap steel, Dobro, electrics, acoustics, bass and drums. Heavy-touring Illinois quintet Cornmeal opens, steeping its newgrass picking in jam-based improvisation, not unlike Acoustic Syndicate with fiddle substituting for sax. At LOCAL 506. $8/ 9:30 p.m.
MARK STUART & THE BASTARD SONS
From: Austin via San Diego
Claim to fame: Rechristened country gang retains its outlaw ways
Mark Stuart sings as if he makes his home in a honky-tonk—appropriate, as that tends to be the case. After spending the last decade on the road leading the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, Stuart rightfully gets first billing in his redubbed roots combo. Not a whole lot else has changed: The band's stuck around, surrounding Stuart with crackling energy perpetuated by driving rhythms punctuated with rollicking boogie-woogie piano and searing guitar solos. The weathered pipes and keen tales of opener Otis Gibbs contrast sharply with his easy-to-swallow melodies. Also, Wink Keziah. At BERKELEY CAFE. $10/ 7:30 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
MONDAY, DEC. 14
From: Boston, Mass.
Claim to fame: Former Dropkick Murphys frontman Mike McColgan and similar fist-waving, shout-along passion
Punk rock's not complicated. As with delivering the mail, just about anyone could do it. But artistic aesthetics aren't built on technical proficiency so much as communication. Whether it's as simplistic as boy loses girl and touring is hard (cue "Wanted Dead or Alive") or as metaphorically rich as the Mountain Goats' lyrics, it's not just what is said, but how. That's where Street Dogs excel. Channeling the same spirit that energized his old band, McColgan and his mates sweep you up in rousing punk exultation that verges on European soccer mob mentality. There's joy and comfort in a rowdy crowd. With Roger Miret & the Disasters and Stigma. At CAT'S CRADLE. $12/ 8 p.m.
From: Athens, Ga.
Claim to fame: Limber, hooky rock with power pop energy
Like Street Dogs, there's a no-frills quality to this Athens trio. They don't neatly fit a trendy formula nor blow you away with their lyrics, vocals or playing. But damn if it doesn't sound good. Where the Street Dogs stir primal emotions, The Whigs finesse their way into your heart with enough sonic charisma to earn an invitation to your next party. Last year's Mission Control really amplifies their charms, like an unassuming yet indispensable sidekick with impeccable timing. They won't knock anybody out, but they score with enough ease to outpoint Street Dogs' fervor. With The Features and Mean Creek. At LOCAL 506. $10-$12/ 9 p.m. —Chris Parker