This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: The Fooligans, The Bamfs, The Magnolia Collective, Prypyat, Skylar Gudasz & The Baby-Jesus Of Bethlehem, Ghost To Falco, Morgan’s End
VS1: Casey Clark vs. River City Ransom
VS2: Pseudo Blue vs. Nathan Asher
RECURRING: Jim Watson
12.21 THE FOOLIGANS, THE BAMFS @ THE CAVE
The Fooligans take what they like from the worlds of classic rock and blues, infusing punk energy and Americana storytelling. They walk away with a sort of evergreen rock style that's largely immune to the ebb and flow of genre trends. The focus isn't on reinventing the wheel but rather on writing guitar-driven rock with strong melodic hooks. They succeed admirably. Raleigh's BAMFs do a '90s pop-punk thing with a pinch of riot grrrl thrown in. As she has in several preceding bands of the same aesthetic, Tiffany Banwart Badger lays into the mic with a powerful contralto, channeling Glenn Danzig. Free/ 10 p.m. —Corbie Hill
12.22 THE MAGNOLIA COLLECTIVE, PRYPAT @ NIGHTLIGHT
In The Magnolia Collective, what began as a loose-limbed country covers project by musicians sharing rows of neighborhood barstools transitioned into a propulsive, proficient country-rock outfit fond of sinister atmospheres. Ghost Stories, the group's seven-song debut EP, is at its best when it embellishes, adding distant harmonies and serpentine pedal steel to songs that race toward the pain. For this Nightlight holiday revelry, they'll be joined by Prypat, a side project from Hammer No More the Fingers and Lost in the Trees members. The free show also entices with complimentary food and door prizes; it's hard to find a reason to stay in, really. 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
12.23 SKYLAR GUDASZ & THE BABY-JESUS OF BETHLEHEM @ THE STATION
Stepping out of her usual role fronting the Ugly Girls (who are, for the record, guys, and not especially homely), Skylar Gudasz teams up for this third annual yuletide event with jazz players Charles Cleaver on piano, Jacob Rosch on sax and Britton Upchurch on drums, plus her own band's bassist, Casey Toll. They call the show "A Jazz Christmas," and they'll have song sheets for everyone to sing along on jazzy renditions of "Mr. Grinch," "Baby It's Cold Outside" and other seasonal favorites. Rumors also abound of Rudolph noses and sleigh bells. Belly up to the bar for some wassail. Free/ 9 p.m. —Peter Blackstock
12.23 GHOST TO FALCO, MORGAN'S END @ NIGHTLIGHT
Former North Carolina noisemaker Eric Crespo winds up for shows in Chapel Hill once or twice a year, recruiting a pickup band to bolster his wayward cosmic country anthems by fanning their smolders of psychedelic rock into full-blown flames. Tonight, he'll be joined by the excellent drummer John Crouch and Justin Borer. The young Morgan's End will open. $5/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin
12.22 JIM WATSON @ THE CAVE
Durham native Jim Watson has been holding his annual holiday show at Chapel Hill's venerable basement bar The Cave for 26 years, or as long as many musicians playing in upstart bands in the tiny room have been alive. In other words, Watson began this celebration years before Clark Griswold joined the Jelly of the Month club or Kevin McCallister prepared his highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner on Christmas Eve.
Focused on folk, bluegrass and old-time traditions, Watson—a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers, longtime sideman to Robin and Linda Williams, bassist for Green Level Entertainers and an accomplished solo artist in his own right—gathers with family and friends (musical and otherwise) in The Cave's cozy confines each year to play a sizeable batch of seasonal tunes both familiar and unconventional. The gig is perhaps the most enduring local music Christmas tradition we have in the area, and for good reason: The fuzzy holiday feeling really kicks in when Watson passes out sheet music and lyrics to the crowd, resulting in full-fledged sing-along caroling. $5/ 8 p.m.—Spencer Griffith
THURSDAY, DEC. 22
From: Catawba, N.C.
Claim to fame: Radio-ready, country-touched rock
Casey Clark takes a dreamy amble through the backwoods of modern America. Shimmering, distorted guitars push Clark's smoothly twanged pipes down well-worn pathways that are comfortable and pleasing if never truly exciting. The landscape isn't one in which you're likely to get lost, but it's approachable and likable enough. Yadkin River Theory opens with an uncompromising salvo of lumbering Southern rock. Crunchy riffs follow simple patterns, while gravelly vocals revel in phrases like "I'm damn sure" and "before the Devil knows you're dead." This stuff is as well intentioned as it is competently executed, but the set is unlikely to leave a lasting impression. At DEEP SOUTH THE BAR. $2/ 9 p.m.
RIVER CITY RANSOM
Claim to fame: Combustible barroom anthems
River City Ransom attack an America that resembles that of Bruce Springsteen with a stylish post-rock disdain that's more indebted to The Clash. Piano clangs with abandon as guitars chug along in crushing, distorted blasts, pairing nicely with songs that are sometimes redemptive, sometimes damning. The numbers don't always find their mark, but when they do, these songs leave one. The King's English opens with ragged back-porch jams that hit somewhere between patient folk-rock and energetic bluegrass. Rhythms run wild, but harmonies burst through clearly. It's an honest if somewhat uneven take on a sound that never really gets old. With Dark Water Rising. At TIR NA NOG. Free/ 10 p.m. —Jordan Lawrence
FRIDAY, DEC. 23
From: Wilmington, N.C.
Claim to fame: Funk sitting comfortably in warm-air doldrums
Though Pseudo Blue formed in Wilmington, the seed of the band was sown in Raleigh. Tonight the quartet returns to the City of Oaks to celebrate the release of its six-song debut, Building An Army. The band's easygoing mix of funk and Southern rock twang suggests Widespread Panic or Warren Haynes' Gov't Mule. When country jaunts ease into syncopated bass lines or smears of wah-wah guitar leads, and crunchy rhythm guitar comes matched by the crisp keyboards and the even-keeled vocals of frontman Eric Puente, Pseudo Blue finds its sweet spot. "Chill" seems to be an appropriate adjective. With Doco. At THE POUR HOUSE. $5–$7/ 9 p.m.
Claim to fame: Years spent leading the impassioned Infantry
For the four years it was a band, Nathan Asher and The Infantry earned a lot of accolades, including honors in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. They built a loyal local following and released two albums of earnest, eloquent and ebullient rock anthems. And always at the center, Asher's vivid storytelling and grand delivery earned frequent comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Conor Oberst. When the band bowed out in May of 2008, The Infantry was safely at the top of its game. Since then, Asher's been mostly quiet, so this solo set is a rare treat. With Gabe Johnson of The Makeout Room Band and The Degnans vs. Triple B. At SLIM'S. $5/ 8 p.m. —Bryan C. Reed