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The guide to the week's concerts 

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This week's guide contains:

YES, PLEASE: Black Lips, Box Elders, Jake Winstrom, Brett Harris, 9th Wonder & Co., Humble Tripe, Mandolin Orange, Solas, Drunk Tigers, NAPS, Pros and Cons, Steve Forbert, Athens Boys Choir, Pink Flag, Stoney LaRue, The Ruby Suns, Toro Y Moi, Ampline

VS.: Ballyhoo! vs. David Ford


click to enlarge Black Lips
  • Black Lips


This is a nice pairing, but not because, as some have suggested, Box Elders sound like Black Lips. Both draw from the garage rock trunk, but that makes them about as similar as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Omaha trio Box Elders drape their buoyant '60s pop gang vocals and surf-inflected guitar crush in a blanket of noisy, meter-pegging lo-fi. It's all delivered with a joyous, off-kilter energy that sometimes pushes the vocals off-key but seems so intent on a good time you hardly notice. But the Lips just go for it: Their rebellious, rowdy garage-punk rages and careens as if their instruments are on fire, and they just don't care. The devil-may-care live aesthetic has given way to a less sloppy, hookier approach on the last couple albums, but their performances remain sooty sonic bonfires. $10–$12/ 9 p.m. —Chris Parker


Quite the mixed bag: The City Skyscape is a vehicle for electro-pop composer Christopher Mongillo, whose sense of theatricality is underscored by clattering techno and thin synth washes. As it veers from Owl City sap to Dresden Dolls cabaret and skittering electroclash, the briefly memorable flashes of his self-titled debut come short-circuited by inconsistency. Better is ex-Tenderhooks frontman Jake Winstrom, whose high, keening tenor blows like an Arctic wind across haunting country-folk with pitch-dark subject matter. Talented local Brett Harris gilds glittering hooks to his punchy power pop, recalling a soulful Marshall Crenshaw at his most winning and infectious. $5/ 9 p.m. —Chris Parker

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If you're not making it to Austin for SXSW this year, you won't be dogged by the impossibilities of scurrying through an overcrowded town to catch overlapping showcases. Instead, you'll be here, where, without hassle, you can catch 9th Wonder's It's a Wonderful World Music Group's showcase featuring artists from Jamla and The Academy his labels. The street-tendered Big Remo, the sensational Tyler Woods, Rapsody, Thee Tom Hardy and young gunners Actual Proof will mark one of the first phases of an overt makeover to the local hip-hop and R&B tableau. For this new movement to materialize into something sustainable, we have to, for the first time in a long time, act like real hip-hop fans—by attending shows by local folks like these. $5/ 8 p.m. —Eric Tullis


It may be the first full-band show of the year for Durham's Humble Tripe, but don't expect the restrained back-porch arrangements—abetted by violin, trumpet, harmonica and whatever else the quintet can lay its hands on—to be much less delicate than the fragile voice of songwriter Shawn Luby. As fiddle twirls gracefully among gently strummed guitar and mandolin chords, Mandolin Orange charms with simple elegance on rustic tales of Americana. Andrew Marlin's plaintive drawl handsomely matches Emily Frantz's songbird harmonies. Wielding his banjo as an amped-up, arpeggio-spewing axe of black metal, Colin Booy opens with a rare appearance of his Clawform solo project, accompanying power chords with programmed beats. 9:30 p.m. —Spencer Griffith


If Cherish the Ladies is the reigning Celtic folk champion, then Solas is the upstart challenger, built around one of the champ's former players and a unique style. Solas formed in 1994 behind Seamus Egan—who'd won the All-Ireland championship on four different instruments by the age of 14—and ex-CTL fiddler and vocalist Winifred Horan. While still deeply informed by traditional Irish music and instrumentation, their nine studio albums sample a wide variety of forms (including baroque pop, jazz, world beat and rock) and artists (Nick Drake, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen). It's established them as the more eclectic and challenging of the competing exemplars. $22–$24/ 8:30 p.m. —Chris Parker


Charlottesville, Va.'s Drunk Tigers put curlicue, thin vocals in front of a four-piece indie rock outfit with a knack for good hooks and a love of direct, emphatic rhythms. But these songs offer welcoming, slightly menacing surprises, like occasional bursts of distortion and sidemen that shout their halves of antiphonal choruses like marching orders. Think of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, only if they wore brass knuckles as they went from town to town, starting fistfights at after-parties. Raleigh's NAPS gathers a few well-known locals behind the anxiously intimate songs of Daniel Michael, glowing drones, noisy scraps and elliptical drums cresting and collapsing behind them. Pros and Cons, the side project of Transportation's Stephen Murtaugh, headlines. 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin


Steve Forbert's an American Roots Series mainstay for good reason: His rich, varied output has always honored the work of pioneers, even as he used that foundation to create his own unique roots system. Starting with folk-rock that was so disarming and refreshing upon arrival in the late '70s that he almost dodged the "new Dylan" tag, Forbert has gone on to be backed by Spooner Oldham, the late Jim Dickinson and members of the E Street Band and Wilco. He's also released a full-length tribute to fellow Meridian, Miss., native Jimmie Rodgers and written a song about Rick Danko, proving he knows his Canadian roots, too. $16–$18/ 8:30 p.m. —Rick Cornell

click to enlarge Athens Boys Choir
  • Athens Boys Choir


This four-band bill is largely of and by the LGBTIQQ community, sure, but that doesn't meant it's exclusively for it: Katz, a Georgia transsexual man who calls himself the Athens Boys Choir, is an always playful and often commanding emcee, whether going a cappella on a spoken-word piece or rhyming over a chintzy party rap beat. Blasting binaries and excoriating the divides that make us comfortable, Katz rhymes, "I'm a pansexual/ Got me hands on the manual/ I'm a smooth Jew/ A Bar Mitzvah party animal." Doesn't sound too exclusionary, does he? Meanwhile, 8 Inch Betsy, from Chicago and new to the 307 Knox roster, is at turns a charging punk trio, pogoing New Wave popsters and smoldering rock balladeers. Named for Wire's calling card, Pink Flag angles electric guitars around bulbous bass and powerful drums. Pariah Piranha opens. $7/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin


A regular on the Texas circuit, Stoney LaRue plays guitar from the hip and wears his heart on his sleeve. With tattoos, bandana and electric guitar, LaRue turns outlaw country into gritty Southern rock. His backing band, The Arsenals, stoke his fire with keys and fiddle. But LaRue is just as likely to find inspiration in singer-songwriter Jim Croce as Merle Haggard, and acoustic guitar often grounds lyrics exploring the heart of relationships. In both sound and lyrics, LaRue approaches it all in big, sweepingly romantic gestures, daring the world in his sincere, soulful baritone, "If I'm going down, I'm going down in flames." $10–12/ 7 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey

click to enlarge The Ruby Suns
  • The Ruby Suns


With notable exceptions from each, like Toro Y Moi's warped drifter "Blessa" and The Ruby Suns' gently rhythmic "Two Humans," both Columbia, S.C.'s Toro Y Moi and New Zealand's The Ruby Suns make dispersive pop music. On the Suns' third record, Fight Softly, you'll need to settle beneath the sonics—sheets of synthesizers, electronic drums, bent and stacked vocals—to latch onto the melody. As impressionistic as they've always been, but now just a bit busier, Fight Softly electrifies and emboldens their island eclecticism. It mostly works. However, Toro Y Moi's debut, Causers of This, seems to build toward the song rather than away from it, emphasizing interesting sound rather than alluring songs a bit too often. Still, the rubbery beats of Chaz's Bundick's one-man band seem to bubble from between the ocean's waves, giving even his most formless moments a wonderful unpredictability. $8/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin


If you thought Ampline had broken up—assuming you'd ever heard of the Cincinnati trio in the first place—you'd be forgiven. Rosary, the instrumental band's fifth and most recent album, was released in 2006. And the Web offers no real sign of new activity either, save for a list of tour dates. But if the band's post-rock is as swollen by punk momentum as it was four years ago, then we can assume this is still the post-rock band for people who like their loud-quiet-loud epics condensed to under five minutes and expanded to high volume. With Blood Red River and Daikaiju. 10 p.m. —Bryan Reed


click to enlarge 03.17mushearingaid_ballyhoo.gif


From: Aberdeen, Md.

Since: 2004

Claim to fame: Carrying on the legacy of 311 and Sublime

Like the oafish buffoon at the party who somehow believes his crass, off-color remarks are amusing, someone somewhere encouraged pallid ska-punks Ballyhoo!, and, three albums in, it's too late to turn back. Their Brad Nowell-scripted moves are no more derivative than Owl City's attempts at The Postal Service, but that sets the bar pretty low. They've toured heartily and sold thousands of copies of their self-released albums, but one imagines their parents wanted something more for their kids than to be toasted by bros in ball caps singing along to infantile come-ons like "Let's Get Horizontal" and "Sweet Cheeks" between keg stands. With Murphy's Kids and 5th Generation. At LINCOLN THEATRE. $8–$10/ 9 p.m.


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From: Eastbourne, England

Since: 1996 with Easyworld; 2005 with himself

Claim to fame: Brooding and evocative—if long-winded—balladry reminiscent of Damien Rice

At his best, Ford's a UK answer to Conor Oberst, with overwrought songs that bristle with thwarted emotions like frustration, outrage and misanthropy. Thanks to his manifold gifts, he's well-equipped to deliver the drawing room meditations he favors, fashioning alluring textures from guitar and piano that offer backdrops suggestive of a less baroque Damon Gough. His tempered croon's not overpowering but rather crisp and resilient, the perfect understated platform to showcase his words, which turn and slice quickly with surprising grace. His latest, Let the Hard Times Roll, is his sharpest and most concise, cutting Ballyhoo! down to sushi size. With Jeanne Jolly. At BERKELEY CAFE. $10/ 8 p.m. —Chris Parker


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