This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Bullfrog Willard McGhee and Tad Walters, Chatham County Line, Kerblocki, Motor Skills, Polvo, Agalloch
VS.: MURS vs. Todd Snider
VS.: Moon Duo vs. OFF!
03.18 BULLFROG WILLARD MCGHEE AND TAD WALTERS @ PAPA MOJO'S
True to his handle, Th' Bullfrog Willard McGhee sings in a friendly, gurgling growl, a little like a latter-day Dave Van Ronk. While his voice is warm with a world-weary gentleness, his acoustic guitar smacks and snaps as he picks out the Piedmont blues Blind Boy Fuller made famous. McGhee pairs with Tad Walters tonight for the release of their first duo album, Stealin' Gasoline. The two trade guitar licks, Walters' bluesy drawl standing up to McGhee's croak. The duo most impresses, though, when Walters cuts in with flapping, soaring harmonica. It's a Sonny Terry/ Brownie McGhee-style pairing that can both wallow in and fight away the pain. 9:30 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey
03.18-19 CHATHAM COUNTY LINE @ CASBAH
Chatham County Line is not only neck-and-neck with the Carolina Chocolate Drops as the area's best roots export since Whiskeytown, it's right alongside the Grammy-winning Drops in the national conversation as well. This two-show weekend stand finds the internationally touring quartet in as intimate an environment as you'll find them in any time soon. The setting should allow guitarist and principal songwriter Dave Wilson the rapt attention he deserves as he conducts a master's course in songwriting, tugging at heartstrings with his tender ballads and getting shoes tapping with a breakneck barnburner moments later. The band's deft instrumentalism—capable of being explosive or delicate—and tight harmonies will also shine in this subdued setting. Sold Out/ 8 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
03.19 KERBLOKI, MOTOR SKILLS @ LOCAL 506
There's really no reason why rap rock shouldn't work. In the late '90s, when some of the worst specimens of the genre rose to national prominence, it overshadowed more respectable offerings—1993's Judgment Night soundtrack, for instance. Durham's long-absent Kerbloki—live, band-driven hip-hop with a dozen years under its belt—is an example of rap rock that works. With bass and drums borrowed from Chapel Hill's super-loud blues-metal act Caltrop, the hybrid gets a little crunchy without sacrificing the celebratory nature of late-'80s hip-hop. Kerbloki hasn't played together since 2008, so take this as your chance. Motor Skills started out in the hip-hop zone, too, but now mixes electronic percussion and boastful synthesizer lines with inspired indie pop. DJ Fifi Hi-Fi spins around sets. $6/ 10 p.m. —Corbie Hill
03.19 POLVO @ KINGS
Pretty much since Polvo went on hiatus in 1998, rumors about a reunion drifted through the Triangle. The rumors were of the usual variety—one of the '90s' best guitar rock bands, Polvo were supposedly planning to play someone's Raleigh basement; a Black Taj show at the old Kings was actually a front for a surprise Polvo gig. Thankfully, none of that ever happened. Instead, Polvo returned to the stage of the Cat's Cradle in 2008 and summarily went on to record maybe its best album ever, In Prism. With Brylawski and Bowie's guitars spiraling around each other, and a rhythm section that stomped each beat into the floor, they'd rarely sounded so determined to be a proper rock 'n' roll band. The wait was worthwhile. $10/ 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
03.20 AGALLOCH @ KINGS
During the last five years, some of the world's most interesting and inventive music has taken black metal—that grimy, mean, Satanic Scandinavian strain—and bent, battered and bruised it into surprising new forms. From Liturgy's athletic ecstasy and Krallice's kinetic epics to Sunn O)))'s drone smears and Cultus Sabbati's growling meditations, the possibilities of black metal's basic principles have offered endless fodder. Portland, Ore.'s Agalloch is one of the best and most aggressively innovative. Merging bits of classic rock (hear those solos fly), sylvan folk (notice not only the acoustic guitars but also the countermelodies at play) and musique concrète in triumphant 10-minute-plus marathons, Agalloch treats conventions like anathema. They've never gotten it more right than on last year's riveting Marrow of the Spirit, a seamless 65-minute escapade that wrestles with end-of-the-earth themes and eventually concedes defeat. Still, the album's experimental esprit and classical sense of scope is itself a suggestion of new frontiers for heavy music. Agalloch shows are rare, with tours rarer still. Even if you swear that heavy metal isn't your thing, seeing one of the most vital bands at work right now might be. With Worm Ouroboros and Aerial Ruin. $15–$18/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin
THURSDAY, MARCH 17
From: Los Angeles
Claim to fame: Busier than Lindsay Lohan's sponsor
This might've once proved an ass-whoopin'. Way back when, MURS' canny, laid-back lyrics, wily wit and indomitable flow were as impressive as his forearm-size dreads. Hell, they probably still are, when focused and directed, but there's an increasing feeling he may have fallen off. Once a prodigious, eclectic talent, he's largely been AWOL since his 2008 major-label taste, MURS for President. Though he promised nine more discs in 2010 when he released the middling Fornever with 9th Wonder this time last year, he's released nothing since. Wherever MURS and his skills have been hiding, maybe they'll say hi to Talib Kweli for us. With Tabi Bonney, Ab-Soul, DJ Foundation. At LOCAL 506. $13/ 9 p.m.
From: East Nashville via Portland
Since: Early '90s
Claim to fame: "Tree huggin', peace lovin', porn watchin', lazyass hippie"
A dope-smoking smart-ass with a flair for folk, Todd Snider burst onto the scene with his flannel-cracking piss-take "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Blues." He lasted longer on a major than you might've expected (three albums, actually) before hooking up with the label of kindred spirit John Prine. He's displayed a gift for goofy anthems ("Beer Run"), political broadsides ("Conservative Christian, Right-wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males") and keen character studies, like his ode to Dock Ellis' LSD no-hitter, "America's Favorite Pastime." But it's not all jokes, as his soul-searching musical acknowledgement of his former trouble with painkillers ("Age Like Wine") demonstrates. His intelligence, biting satire and light-hearted spirit outshine MURS' fading star. At THE ARTSCENTER. $20/ 8 p.m. —Chris Parker
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23
From: San Francisco
Claim to fame: Wooden Shjips member sets sail on similar seas
That Ripley Johnson spends his time away from Wooden Shjips making music that's not too different from what Wooden Shjips makes isn't a bad thing by any stretch. If anything, Moon Duo is perfect for folks who like the idea of the fuzzed-out psychedelia offered by Shjips more than the actual tunes. To give their trips some sense of direction, Johnson and Sanae Yamada infuse their sonic explorations with the sort of seedy rhythmic insistence that should make Suicide and Krautrock enthusiasts very happy. With Arbor Myst. At KINGS. $8–$10/ 9:30 p.m.
From: Los Angeles
Claim to fame: The triumphant second coming of a former Circle Jerk
The last time anyone who didn't subscribe to Maximum Rock & Roll gave Black Flag co-founder/ Circle Jerks vocalist Keith Morris a second thought, it was 1995 and it was because of who he was singing with (Debbie Gibson), not what he was singing. That's certainly not the case nowadays: OFF! finds Morris and friends spitting out the sort of snotty, no-nonsense hardcore whippets that'd do their younger selves proud. Moon Duo's all right (if you like spacing out), but with the equally worthy (and Morris-approved) Trash Talk and local punk faves Double Negative opening tonight in Chapel Hill, you'd have to be on something strong (or missed your chance to buy tickets) to overlook this show. At LOCAL 506. $15/ 9 p.m. —David Raposa
03.19 PHANTASCIST @ NIGHTLIGHT
This is where the freak jazz comes in. Or maybe this is sound art trying to be jazz. It's hard to tell, but here we have a band that is either great or terrible. Phantascist exists in an improv zone, with Sara Bloo delivering cavegirl sax skronks and Yoko yells, sometimes at the same time. But the Carrboro act's pieces, instead of inhabiting free-form frenzy, tend to be framed in menacing, spot-composed forms held down by bass and drums. Think a post-addiction Syd Barrett dissecting Danny Elfman. The music is like being inside insanity, and is probably meant to scare the casual listener. It's part of the draw. It's part of the repulsion. The best reaction to this odd little spectacle probably falls somewhere in the middle.
For Phantascist's CD release show, they've teamed up with Raleigh's Savage Knights, an experimental ensemble that suggests John Zorn in Eastern Europe. Boogie Reverie and DJ Heather Wilson join the bill. $5/ 9:30 p.m. —Corbie Hill
Correction (March 22, 2011): In Prism is definitely not Polvo's first album for Merge. See comment below.