NNENNA FREELON & JOHN BROWN BIG BAND
Last month, Grammy favorite and jazz singer Nnenna Freelon released Christmas, her simply titled collection of 10 holiday tunes recorded with the big band of bassist and Duke jazz director John Brown. Perhaps that suggests a staid record of pretty singing over austere arrangements of horn and piano. But Freelon handles standards like "Silent Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" with loving roughness, scatting over the latter's powerful piano wallop and deep bass lines. On "Silent Night," though, she lets the organ growl and the horns surge; they rise up behind her during the chorus like an eggnog-happy bunch of carolers. Standards that feel challenged and thusly reinvigorated are always treats; Christmas delivers them by the lot. FRIDAY, DEC. 21, AT CAROLINA THEATRE. $24–$44/8 p.m.
NO BS! BRASS BAND
With an army of horns, a restless rhythm section and a vocalist that sometimes treats his position in this brass band as though he were leading a pack of hardcore insurgents, No BS! is all party. In fact, in 2010 at Richmond's increasingly legendary Best Friends Day, the troupe attempted to lead the world's largest conga line through a water park, with kids in swim suits falling in place to dance, drink and, well, form an enormous conga line. But don't take the zaniness as a permission slip for sloppiness: These are conservatory-trained players and members of Bon Iver, Matthew E. White's band and Fight the Big Bull who have chosen to supplement their more serious endeavors with seriously sweaty and exuberant nights of covers, anthems and blasts. Elikeh opens. SATURDAY, DEC. 22, AT THE POUR HOUSE. $6–$8/10 p.m.
WFMU/RED CROSS BENEFIT
A week after Hurricane Sandy rolled up the East Coast, slamming into New Jersey and New York, WFMU—the venerable and zealous donation-supported radio station in Jersey City—was still off the air. The storm damaged their transmitter and surrounded the station with rising water. "WFMU was literally on an island," station manager Ken Freedman told The Star-Ledger. WFMU is back on the air, but as North Carolinians know, real storm recovery is a long-term and high-dollar process. Tonight, three bands—the pugnacious and proud Pipe, the new Wool and the newer Snack Attack—join primo Chapel Hill songwriters Ryan Gustafson and Thomas Costello to raise money for both the station and Red Cross. From Tom Scharpling's FM brilliance to the station's fantastic Beware of the Blog, WFMU is an American arts institution, and they could use your $6–$10 cover. SATURDAY, DEC. 22, AT KINGS. 9 p.m.
THE ISLEY BROTHERS
At age 71, Ronald Isley is a supreme study in owning what you do: Though he's the only founding member that remains in The Isley Brothers, he's led the long-running band to three charting albums in a span just longer than the last decade. And those albums have capitalized on the band's soul-thumping legacy, with 2006's Baby Makin' Music refusing to cloak its intentions—or that of its audience. Through partnerships with R. Kelly, a few amazing music videos and a mishap of a solo album that thankfully sped his return back to the band's fold, Ronald Isley remains a modern-day soul giant, or a Ron Perlman-sized soul hero with a voice that whimpers and moans. Fascinating lawyer, jazz singer and actress Yolanda Rabun opens. FRIDAY, DEC. 21, AT DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER. $53.25–$79.75/8 p.m.
THE LOLLIPOPS AND SPIDER BAGS
Spider Bags and The Lollipops make music suited for an end-of-the-world party such as this; both bands, after all, specialize in stuff that burns bright until it burns out, whether that means the Bags' bursts of unbridled guitars and fuck-you-I'm-drunk hooks or Lollipops' delirious little squiggles of melody and fuzz. Thing is, there's also a melancholy recognition of fallibility and mortality inherent to both aesthetics, whether that means Iggy Cosky apologizing for an almost overdose or Dan McGee shambling through ragged country blues at party's end. Tir na nOg promises a few more acts for this celebration of impending doom, but why bother? This lineup is perfect. FRIDAY, DEC. 21, AT TIR NA NOG. $5/10 p.m.
To listen to Benji Hughes is to hear the sound of a voice unimaginably emotive and honest, a Nilsson or Lennon or Walker Brother disciple rhapsodizing life's tough breaks and tiny details through seemingly effortless pop. July will bring the fifth anniversary of A Love Extreme, Hughes' audacious two-disc collection of curios and contagions and, lamentably, his most recent release. This summer, however, he completed a residency in Charlotte haunt Snug Harbor and has spoken of a new album. Maybe the leonine crooner will bring some fresh cuts to Chapel Hill; if not, he's got a few old records full of great ones, anyway. SATURDAY, DEC. 22, AT LOCAL 506. $8–10/10 p.m.
Across two 7-inch singles, the guitar-bass-beats duo Robes has delivered propulsive and poignant electronic pop, with frontman Patrick Cudahy crooning sweetly over wide-eyed sequencing. Imagine a more modest Holy Ghost! or a romantically softened New Order. This show is the annual holiday party for The Merch, the Carrboro illustration and screenprinting company that Cudahy co-owns. WEDNESDAY, DEC. 26, AT LOCAL 506. Free/10 p.m.
DEAD SEA SPARROW
At first glance, Dead Sea Sparrow should suggest a prototypical co-ed coffeeshop pair, harmonizing their quiet and reflective tales alongside plainly chorded piano or guitar. Yet the Durham group scatters its songs just enough to not only convey its tales of aging parents or sendups of false idols but also to conjure intrigue. On this year's debut EP Love & Lovers, these tunes melt until they blur slightly, suggesting similarly hushed duo Low gathered around a wood-burning stove. With Ani Stark. SATURDAY, DEC. 22, AT BROAD STREET CAFE. Free/8:30 p.m.
GROHG, LEFT OUTLET
Whether through the upside-down churches depicted on their merchandise or the strange death-metal/noise-rock/hardcore chimera that their music has become, Raleigh quartet Grohg delights in a certain amount of discomfort. Their decision, then, to host a party dubbed "The End of the World" is an obvious one. They'll be joined by Left Outlet, a band who, like Grohg, attempts to push the firmament of heavy music past its point of stability, like Black Sabbath tailing Blue Cheer through a high mountain pass. FRIDAY, DEC. 21, AT KINGS. $5/10 p.m.
GOODBYE, TITAN AND THE FAREWELL MONUMENT
To an extent, the "post-" prefix in post-rock serves as a signifier of ambition, or of bands not content to work within the confines of four-piece hook delivery or power-trio bludgeon. That synopsis holds for Goodbye, Titan and The Farewell Monument, kindred instrumental quartets whose ruminative music explores a succession of moods for a dozen minutes on end, with textures from bowed guitar and inlaid samples to keyboard sustains and percussive quakes. Commit to these pieces, and both bands will pay off at least once a set. THURSDAY, DEC. 20, AT TIR NA NOG. Free/10 p.m.
THE WORLD/INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY
New York's The World/Inferno Friendship Society is a party band; look for evidence of that phrase's first word in the sweaty, sing-along choruses and clap-along rhythms of Inferno's stage shows. Whatever they deliver, the audience often delivers in kind. And maybe that's enough, but nearly two decades into the steadily maddening trip of frontman Jack Terricloth, the weak link here might be the "band" component. While gusto and gimmickry aren't a problem, Inferno's songs sound like shells of the jazz, burlesque, klezmer, Gypsy and rock music they attempt to embrace. You'll find more catchy substrate in a Disney musical, and you won't even need to remember where the slash goes. With O'Death. THURSDAY, DEC. 20, AT LOCAL 506. $12–$14/9 p.m.
NOT GOING TO SEE TERRY ANDERSON ON CHRISTMAS
When The Pour House Music Hall changed ownership earlier this year, one of my first worries was for Terry Anderson: "Well, what will he do this year on Christmas?" Anderson is a Christmas birthday boy who, for more than a decade, has been throwing a yuletide birthday bash with his ribald rock band, The Olympic Ass Kickin' Team. Years ago, Anderson relocated the soiree from The Brewery to The Pour House, which thankfully opted to close on Christmas Eve and give Anderson his day of merriment. So, don't waste away in front of the television this Christmas night. If you need a local holiday tradition downtown, this is it; and if you need to get away from the insanity of family ... well, maybe Anderson can at least help you get away from family. TUESDAY, DEC. 25, AT THE POUR HOUSE. $5/9 p.m.