YES, PLEASE: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Luminescent Orchestrii, Kenny Roby, The Houston Brothers, WKNC Double Barrel Benefit, Mountain Goats, Nurses, Vannevar, Theophilus London, Phony Ppl.
VS: David B. Dollar vs. Blue Dogs
INTRODUCING: Voices Carry
REINTRODUCING: The Popes
02.03 CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS, LUMINESCENT ORCHESTRII @ MEMORIAL HALL
The shakeup after the Carolina Chocolate Drops won a Grammy for 2010's Genuine Negro Jig was not what you might have imagined. First, the band lost original member Justin Robinson to grad school (and his Mary Annettes; see page 37); then, they picked up old-time bluesman Hubby Jenkins as a full-time member and beatboxer Adam Matta as a contributor. Such shuffling might have been a radical detour, but it turned out to be a natural fit and creative boon. The energetic band has kept up a grueling tour schedule, wowing audiences with their roots music chops and pure showmanship. They're as likely to play a tune gleaned at the knee of Mebane's Joe Thompson as a cover of some R&B smash—like the overwhelming crowd favorite "Hit 'Em Up Style." For this night, New York gypsy punks and frequent Drops collaborator Luminescent Orchestrii join in on the fun, adding Balkan flare to this string band crew.
There's also a decent bet the Drops will be previewing cuts from their upcoming album, Leaving Eden, due at the end of the month on Nonesuch Records. Produced by Buddy Miller, the record will smartly combine original compositions, traditional tunes and covers alike. Given the Chocolate Drops' catch-all creativity, fueled by fiddles, kazoos, drums, jugs and jigs, along with a continually adventurous spirit, there's little telling where they'll go tonight—or any other evening, for that matter. $39–$89/ 8 p.m. —Ashley Melzer
02.03 KENNY ROBY, THE HOUSTON BROTHERS @ MOTORCO MUSIC HALL
Though they've all been unified by his knack for lyrical detail and a voice that feels like a new belt made of old leather, various and distinct phases have marked the career of Kenny Roby for the last two decades like mileposts. With his alt-country bellwether Six String Drag, he was the ball coming out of the cannon, singing his songs in front of a heavy country-rock wallop. In the last decade, he's moved from sweet, spare storytelling to Elvis Costello, man-on-fire élan. Whether from restlessness or a compulsion to remain au courant, he's spiritedly shifted again to an elegantly atmospheric take on what's these days generally labeled indie rock—think a midpoint between Bon Iver's first two albums or Sufjan, coming down. Appropriately, he'll share tonight's stage not with a guy and his guitar but with young Charlotte quintet The Houston Brothers, who set melodies adrift on beds of reverb and twinkling effects. $5/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
02.03–04 WKNC DOUBLE BARREL BENEFIT @ THE POUR HOUSE
Preludes to anniversaries are tough; you naturally need to save your biggest offerings for commemoration, when outsiders can validate internal achievement. That's the conundrum for the Double Barrel Benefit, the annual fundraiser for N.C. State's WKNC 88.1 FM that's now in its ninth year. Though past benefits have included heavy hitters such as the Mountain Goats, Megafaun and Polvo, this year's lineup lacks such a star. That's not a condemnation of quality, though: Between MAKE's proudly patient doom metal and The Future Kings of Nowhere's bustling acoustic rock, Friday moves with plenty of surprises. Saturday, meanwhile, boasts two of the area's best live acts—the danceable Heads on Sticks and the pristine The Kingsbury Manx. They bookend worthwhile upstarts Gross Ghost and Naked Gods. This year's benefit also incudes a day party and market at Tir Na Nog with seven bands playing from 1–5 p.m. on Saturday and several local art vendors. The market is free. The shows themselves cost $10, or $15 for both nights, and start at 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
02.04 MOUNTAIN GOATS, NURSES @ HAW RIVER BALLROOM
Though there are those who would cringe and claw at the following statement, choosing to cling recalcitrantly to John Darnielle's earliest works like life rafts of meaning or authenticity, the Durham songwriter known as the Mountain Goats seems at a pinnacle of his career (if not the pinnacle). Consider that, just less than a decade ago, he entered a proper recording studio with a producer and such for the first time, subsequently laying down a nearly perfect triptych of records that explored love, hate, the end and occasional hope for a new beginning with unwavering candor. Despite occasional missteps, he's been pretty unstoppable ever since, becoming a bandleader capable of transforming the words on a page into multi-dimensional arrangements with nuance and valence. He ends a tour that included several sellouts tonight near home, playing new songs from an album expected late this year. $19–$22/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
02.04 VANNEVAR @ NIGHTLIGHT
Vannevar's sound is as humble and unembellished as its origins: Two dudes became neighbors and started playing music together. And now they're easing into live shows, this being their third. There are tastes of '90s college radio rock in their plainspoken Guided By Voices lo-fi, yet there's also an endearing quality to the duo's unassuming, potentially bashful nerd rock that plays like an early Weezer demo tape might have. Michael Rank and Marc Smith (or Snatches of Pink, minus John Howie Jr. and the band's heavy-rockin' grandiosity) bring two acoustic guitars to harmony-heavy, heartrending Americana. $5/ 9:30 p.m. —Corbie Hill
02.04 THEOPHILUS LONDON, PHONY PPL. @ CAT'S CRADLE
Theophilus London mixes computer pop and hip-hop with enviable flair. The Brooklyn MC first appeared several years ago, flowing over old-school breakdance beats while hailing Morrissey as one of his influences. TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek dug his throwback style and produced his debut album Timez Are Weird These Days, released last summer. His "Why Even Try?" flirts with bubblegum funk reminiscent of Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love." Also from Brooklyn come Phony Ppl. The classically trained teen collective, made up of eight members, uses mature instrumentation for feel-good hooks, creating infectious R&B gems. Raleigh's angular and agitated A Rooster for the Masses opens. $12/ 8:30 p.m. —Ashleigh Phillips
FRIDAY, FEB. 3
DAVID B. DOLLAR
CLAIM TO FAME: Well-crafted adult pop
Imagine Dave Grohl dipping into Brill Building pop, and you've caught a glimpse of David B. Dollar. The tonality of Dollar's singing shares something with Grohl's, but that's where the resemblance ends. Dollar's music is textured and understated, drifting like morning fog off a lake, shading spare melodies that emanate a pop classicism between Burt Bacharach and Bread. Dollar's drummer maintains a taut pulse while the guitars ring and dissipate like breath on a cold day. It's pretty stuff, though at times too laconic, lacking the widescreen feel and appeal of similarly minded local Brett Harris. With Detective Miles, Tin Can Sailor, Ryan Hamlin, Harvey Dustin & the Everyday Kings. At DEEP SOUTH THE BAR. $5/ 10 p.m.
FROM: Charleston, S.C.
CLAIM TO FAME: Bluegrass-informed Southern jam rock
If you were an entomologist, you wouldn't know where to pin these specimens. The driving undercurrent is rootsy, but the Blue Dogs simply sport that around town like a shiny new car. You'll find funky freakouts, shimmery atmospheric pop, crackling country rock, ragtime blues and felicitous folk. Whether lauding the charms of a Jeep Cherokee, imagining sailing the world in a boat with his horse, or passing through the world like a "Cosmic Cowboy," they've a playful spirit. The harmonies are crackling and the energy's infectious, which helps explain their quarter-century in the game and large grassroots following. Dollar may one day make his run, but for now the Blue Dogs are several laps ahead. With Old Habits and Old Man Whickutt. At LINCOLN THEATRE. $12–$15/ 8 p.m. —Chris Parker
02.03 VOICES CARRY @ MOTORCO
"Everybody wants to be a rock star," or so hopes Francis George and the rest of his bandmates in Voices Carry, a new act that ups the ante on the standard karaoke gig by playing the songs as the amateurs sing them. With "bandaoke," Voices Carry invite aspiring rock 'n' rollers to center stage to sing the best hits of the '80s with live music at their backs.
"Being in a band is about entertaining. It's about giving people a show, an experience," says George. "So we dress like rock stars, [...] we jump around stage and when the singer comes up, we'll put our arms around them like they're part of our band." Lucky for the singers, being a temporary part of their band doesn't mean dressing like they're in the band, too, even if it is encouaged—wigs, animal print pants, faux fur and generally anything that echoes the very best (or worst) of David Lee Roth's sartorial days. But it may mean singing "Purple Rain" at the top of your lungs or attempting your very best Steve Perry impression.
"When we play 'Don't Stop Believing' the whole place just comes down," says George. "I don't know why. It's just a song that people really connect to." But why wouldn't someone thrust into the spotlight, handed a microphone and cheered on by friendly and strange faces alike want to "hold onto that feelin'"? There aren't too many places where you can share the night and the spotlight so easily. $5/ 9 p.m. —Ashley Melzer
02.04 THE POPES @ LOCAL 506
Late last year, one of the more popular acts from the late '80s in Chapel Hill, The Popes, re-released their breakthrough debut EP, 1989's Hi, We're the Popes. The six songs offered a punchy set that combined the Hollies' '60s pop suave and college rock spunk, earning glowing reviews in Billboard and The New York Times. Now, they're bringing it back to life for one night.
Lodged in the area timeline between the Southern pop renaissance and the alt-rock explosion, The Popes imploded in 1992 after a series of missteps and an aborted label deal, leaving behind 2 EPs and a lost full-length. Principal Popes songwriters John Elderkin and Steve Ruppenthal reformed in Washington, D.C., in a quartet called The Public Good several years ago. Some friends eventually persuaded them to re-release that first Popes EP digitally.
"I listened to it and it was really good, which was funny because I didn't remember it that way," Elderkin laughs. "We'd get these emails from people, and they hadn't forgotten us. That was a shock."
Bolstered by the response, they contacted third member Henry Pharr and scheduled a reunion, something they swore they'd never do. "Our joke is, 'If the Sex Pistols can do it...,'" Elderkin says.
While that lost album is floating around out there, ownership questions complicate its release. They have considered re-recording the songs. "I'd love to go back," he says, "knowing what I know today." —Chris Parker
The Popes play with Phil Collins, formerly of Satellite Boyfriend, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8.