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The guide to the week's concerts 

This week's guide contains:

YES, PLEASE: Liturgy, Chad Stock 2, Felix Obelix, Velvet Umbrella Orchestra and Chorus, Chip Robinson Benefit, Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, David Dondero, The Moaners

VS.: Azure Ray vs. Michelle Shocked vs. Brendan Benson

INTRODUCING: The Johnny Folsom 4


click to enlarge Liturgy - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND


Arguably more than any other American band associated with black metal, Liturgy is changing perceptions of the generally diabolical, dense and direct Scandinavian strain. Smart kids from Brooklyn who talk about philosophy and minimalism and simply wear jeans and T-shirts ("Fucking posers," some will call them, natch), Liturgy makes music that combines the tenacity and techniques of its most immediate ancestors with relentless interest in other outsider forms. There's throat singing, guitar workouts, beats that move in startling ways and strangely shaped song structures. Last year's Renhilation was one of U.S. black metal's most promising moments; the demos for their forthcoming Thrill Jockey Records debut deliver, mixing grandeur and growl in a dozen beautiful, captivating and weird ways. With Here Lies and Nine Fingered Thug. $8/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin


If there's one thing Robo Sapien knew how to do, it was throw a party. The dance-happy duo used a combination of chirpy, mashed-up remixes and low-level Beastie Boys rapping to get rooms jumping throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro. This evening at Nightlight is the second celebration of the band's Chad Byrne visiting town since leaving for San Francisco, and if it lives up to the zany fun of Sapien's shows, it should make for a hell of a time. Byrne's new act, Dear Little Lady, will play alongside a cadre of top-notch local DJs. 10 p.m. —Jordan Lawrence


Left-field pop pairings don't come much better suited than this one. Felix Obelix creates a whirring, off-kilter music machine out of organ, glockenspiel and accordion. Full of plucky melodies and a saccharine-laced sense of the macabre, the results fall somewhere between The Nightmare Before Christmas and Neutral Milk Hotel. Wendy Spitzer's warble lends an ironic sense of grandeur. The Velvet Umbrella Orchestra—created to perform a sci-fi pop opera written by SNMNMNM's Seamus Kenney called "All Hail the Comet"—aims for cinematic weirdness with smooth, melodic swells and gauzy chorus lines that ape the scores of '50s alien cinema. —Jordan Lawrence

click to enlarge Chip Robinson - PHOTO BY RAYMOND GOODMAN
  • Photo by Raymond Goodman
  • Chip Robinson


On a November Sunday almost seven years ago to the day, 80 percent of The Backsliders reunited as one of the highlights of a noon-to-past-midnight bill in Raleigh assembled in support of an ailing Alejandro Escovedo. Chip Robinson prowled the stage, threatening sheriffs and heaving rocks moonward. A hip injury suffered in a bicycle accident has put Robinson's prowling on hold; now it will be Escovedo highlighting a concert to raise funds for Robinson's medical bills. Call it alt-karma.

Backing Escovedo will be the Buck Jones Band, a group—to borrow the title from The Flatlanders' ill-fated debut—that's more a legend than a band. Formed on what started out as a slow night at Raleigh's former Lakeside Lounge, the band consists of Marc Smith, Skillet Gilmore and ex-Cry of Lover and Bottle Rocket/current Skynyrd-ite Robert Kearns, in addition to Escovedo and Robinson. In light of a contract that ostensibly calls for just one appearance every 10 years, you probably should catch the Buck Jones Band. Also filling the Southland air will be the silvery harmony rock of Tres Chicas, the small-town hymns of A Mexican Terrarium and the pensive but crunchy guitar rock of a fully reunited Patty Hurst Shifter. $20/ 5 p.m. —Rick Cornell

click to enlarge Sharon Van Etten - PHOTO BY KRISTIANNA SMITH


"To say the words I want to say to you would be a crime/ To admit I'm still in love with you after all this time," Sharon Van Etten sings, starting her second album, epic, with a romantic quandary worthy of a novel. On epic, Van Etten overcomes the meek singer/ songwriter tendencies of her past, bracing her best songs to date with a magnetic, versatile voice and a band that raises her feelings like fists. She'll likely be headlining spaces this size in a year. Junip, the band José González led before he made hearts skip with his acoustic cover of The Knife's "Heartbeats," actually headlines. The band's Mute Records debut, Fields, is a careful if sometimes tepid mix of acoustic grace and warm electronic undercurrents. The sounds—gently distorted and oddly stacked—are more interesting than the songs, a problem that Van Etten does not share. $15/ 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin


Kurt Vile previously swung through the Triangle last month, playing Local 506 on a weekday full of other shows. That shouldn't limit this audience, as those I've heard from who were there left raving not only about Vile's spirited psychedelic nuggets but also about the blasts and solos of openers Purling Hiss. They both return, this time with local openers Old Bricks. Again, a perfect bill starring Kurt Vile on a busy weeknight: Déjà vu is wonderful. $10–$12/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin

click to enlarge David Dondero - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND


David Dondero writes with enough wit, cleverness and emotional poignancy that it's possible to imagine him revered years hence like Leonard Cohen, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. I'm not sure how that puts gas in the car tomorrow, but if you appreciate Elliott Smith's dark self-deprecation, Conor Oberst's bare-wire confessions or The Mountain Goats' gift for telling detail, do us all a favor and contribute to the Keep David Dondero Going Until The World Catches Up fund by attending. As an additional reward, The Moaners will be performing tracks from their new album, Nocturnal, showcasing a quieter, more textured mood. With Salt to Bitters. $5/ 10 p.m. —Chris Parker


click to enlarge Azure Ray - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND


From: Los Angeles
Since: 2001
Claim to fame: Saddle Creek gems making shimmery dream pop

Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor have pretty voices. Their albums play to their strength, surrounding them with soft textures. Their gently undulating sound follows a trail blazed more artfully by the Cocteau Twins. The synthetic beats undergirding their latest, Drawing Down the Moon, have the shallow canned feel of hip-pop (think, sadly, Mike Posner), though it still manages plenty of warmth. But that can't distract from empty sophistry like "you can go ... but don't leave my mind," evincing heartbreak-porn getting by on emotional resonance without any lyrical or mental muscle. With James Husband and Dead Fingers. At THE ARTSCENTER. $12–$14/ 9 p.m.



From: Dallas/ Austin, Texas
Since: Mid '80s
Claim to fame: Folk-based songwriter with wide musical interests

Michelle Shocked's small talk probably possesses more depth and insight than an Azure Ray song. Whatever she might lack in relative natural beauty (those Rays are cute, granted) is compensated with an eclectic spirit capable of more than one musical move. Folk, gospel, blues, country, rock and pop—there's not much she can't do or hasn't tried. She's not as preoccupied with politics as many peers from the folk environs of the late '80s and early '90s, instead sketching characters and narratives reminiscent of the Texas country tradition. She's been self-releasing for the last decade, which may have cost her some profile. She's rewarded the faithful with well-rounded and underappreciated music, though she's never really earned the sort of free pass for cuteness that the Finks of Azure Ray have long used. In terms of talent, she's never needed it. With the Roadwork All-Stars. At CASBAH. $18–$20/ 8 p.m.


click to enlarge Brendan Benson - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND


From: Nashville (by way of Detroit)
Since: Mid '90s
Claim to fame: Brilliant power pop and collaborating with Jack White in The Raconteurs

Playing with Jack White afforded Brendan Benson an opportunity his two competitors would envy. It helped propel last year's My Old, Familiar Friends to No. 110 on the Billboard charts after a career of relative obscurity. It's welcome because Benson's a top-shelf pop craftsman of the type one rarely encounters (and the radio, sadly, no longer embraces). He displays exemplary command of the hook-laden rock and baroque pop pioneered by The Beatles, Zombies and Big Star. He's got a fine voice, a gift for keen couplets and an instinct for the subtle musical touches that distinguish pretty from simple earworm status. Shocked's superb on many levels, but Benson's effortless pop smarts disarm her and easily outdistance Azure Ray. With The Posies and Aqueduct. At CAT'S CRADLE. $18–$20/ 8 p.m. —Chris Parker



"Truth is, nobody really sounds like Johnny Cash. And we know that," says David Burney about the Cash-celebrating quartet that he fronts. "We're basically poseurs. I'm a designer. Our drummer, Randy Benefield, is a dentist. David Gresham, our Luther Perkins, is a Raleigh firefighter. And bassist Joey Ward is an insurance claims dude."

Well, they've nailed the pose: They sound as comfortable as anyone can covering the Man in Black—with side trips to Buck and Waylon, plus the occasional original. In addition to assuming the Johnny role in the band, Burney (who was in the Swingin' Johnsons with Gresham and Benefield) speaks fluent Cash. Asked for an introductory five-song list should someone would require one, Burney starts with "Big River" and ends with "I Walk the Line." Of the former, he says, "This is about a great a piece of southern poetry as there ever was. You can't change a lyric in this song—that's how pure and perfect it is." Of the latter: "I think this is the perfect Johnny Cash song. What is it? Country? Folk? Rock 'n' roll? It's its own genre. There's nothing like it. It seems so simple but it's so complex." The Cash catalog is in excellent hands. With Nasty Habits at 9 p.m. —Rick Cornell

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