With smoky good looks and a soulful stare tailor-made for a CW teen drama, it's no surprise that Tyler Hilton is best known for his recurring role on One Tree Hill. Despite this high-profile heartthrob gig, along with an appearance as Elvis Presley in the Johnny Cash bio-pic Walk the Line, Hilton's dreamboat status hasn't derailed his music career. (Hell, looks plus a knack for heartfelt, alt-country-tinged MOR music hasn't hurt John Mayer!) Though Hilton penned Top 40 hits while still in high school, he is less a teen idol than a man caught out of time. Growing up with a love of Presley, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, he delivers mature, middle-of-the-road pop in an appealing, slightly husky voice. His pleasing, Americana-tinged tunes suggest a freshly scrubbed Ryan Adams ultra-lite, and they'd be Billboard gold if the market had been trapped in amber in the early '90s. Unfortunately for Hilton, the days when Richard Marx ruled the roost are long past. Long-delayed new material is edgier in tone, reflecting Hilton's screwing at the hands of his former label, but it's still comfortably familiar. Hilton is good at what he does, but he's crafting perfect pop in a style that doesn't mean much in 2013. With Teddy Geiger, Ryan Cabrera. $12-$15. Jan. 8, 8 p.m. Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizabeth Ave. 704-358-9200.
"You ever been surprised before?" asks vocalist Gabe Chiarello, in his spoken intro to Sink Tapes' "The Soul is in the Kitchen." It's a ballsy challenge from alt-rockers who hone their sound from unsurprising elements - chugging Velvet Underground guitars (circa "We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together"), fuzzy dreamscapes via eccentric art rockers Lansing Dreiden, and Sonic Youth's distortion and chiming clangor. It's a recipe for the standard Sundance movie soundtrack, the alt-music bed under a montage depicting the entropy of a collapsing relationship. Against the odds, Sink Tapes' hazy, time-distorting tunes take hold. Propelled by pulsing, precise drums and distant vocals, these druggy songs enter that non-Euclidean space where melody and mood become entwined. With a feedback fog that's part Phil Spector, part My Bloody Valentine, it's all magnificently sloshy and aquatic. If this is crate-digger rock, at least it comes from a cool collection. Many indie rockers nod to Lou Reed and Mission of Burma, but how many cover '80s Danceteria faves Mode-IQ? Despite a few familiar ingredients, it's easy to get sucked into this recipe - and be surprised. With Lions to Lambs, The Orchidales. $5-$7. Jan. 5, 9 p.m. Milestone, 3400 Tuckaseegee Road. 704-398-0472.
Taking its name from the Japanese word for "treadmill," Roomrunner resuscitates the sound of '90s grunge. Battered Fender guitars churning squalls of feedback are present, as are two- and three-chord riffs. The riff is everything here, and Roomrunner's grimy seismic wall of noise carries all before it. Not so much revivalists as resurrectionists, even Roomrunner's bio - drummer of a well-regarded but defunct punk crew straps on a guitar to start a new noise band - recalls the arc from Nirvana to Foo Fighters. Roomrunner's archival sound is the problem. Nirvana transcended grunge with pop-smart songwriting and reveled in '80s art-rock roots that included the angular structures of Wire and the loud/soft/loud dynamics of The Pixies. Cobain and company aside, the bulk of grunge was self-limiting, combining the slashing squall of Northwest punks The Wipers at half-speed with early-'70s Vanilla Fudge-styled sludge, minus the luridly engaging psychedelia. Roomrunner goes off the grunge script a bit with funky time signatures and life-affirming lyrics, but the sound of Sea-Tac-without-the-smack is not enough. Grunge ground to a halt because it had nowhere to go, and Roomrunner doesn't bring enough to the ear-bleeding party to take it out of its cul-de-sac. With Yardwork, Speedy Ortiz, Serfs. $5. Jan. 4, 10 p.m. Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St. 704-333-9799.
PULLMAN STRIKE, THE SAMMIES, MOTEL GLORY
You'll mosh. You'll cry. You may even try on a pair of Carhartts, as there's as much mournful rural twang as urban grit and gristle to Charlotte country-rockers Pullman Strike. The band's strongest qualities - galloping Northeastern punk energy and plaintive storytelling - balance against each other nicely, resulting in an engaging, down-to-earth crossover approach. The Sammies, on the other hand, offer an energized, indie-rock hybrid that looks less to the dive or the backwoods, and more to the arena: the songs of this Charlotte band are massive, infectious stompers. And Rock Hill's Motel Glory leads an occasionally jittery, sugar-high charge straight into the country-punk camp. Yet all three bands know how to slow down and spin a sad musical tale of loss and regret - gotta respect that. $7. Jan. 4, 9 p.m. Tremont Music Hall, 400 W. Tremont Ave. 704-343-9494.
Remember when the Avett Brothers used to celebrate every New Year's Eve at the modest Neighborhood Theatre? I'm not sure they do, either. Thankfully, Greensboro's just a short drive away. The Concord-based band is currently riding high on a Best Americana Album Grammy nomination for its latest release, The Carpenter. The album's dark undertones center on love and loss, but it doesn't overwhelm the band's energetic, back-porch spirit, which has remained tried and true after all these years. And with experience comes experimentation - expect to see a few more electric guitars on stage these days (and a few more members, as the band has added a touring drummer and keyboardist). And expect a rollicking NYE - these guys have that down to a science at this point. With Amos Lee. $39.50-$54.50. 8 p.m. Greensboro Coliseum, 1921 W. Lee St., Greensboro. 336-373-7474.
A veteran of the dubstep scene before it even had a name, Ollie Jones (aka Skream) brought grime's far more engaging and intricate sibling out of the shadows in 2005 with "Midnight Request Line." An unlikely club and blogger sensation, Skream's calling card married minimalist Space Invaders blips and beeps to experimental garage production that recalls the hypnogogic unease of avant-garde pranksters The Residents. Seven years on, Skream is busy deconstructing the very stylistic devices he helped create. Still remaining true to dubstep's clammy, juddering roots, he now grafts the formerly underground style to shiny, sparkly pop. True, this marriage of light and dark can produce a mongrel like the plastic trance of current buzz cut "Anticipate," but dubstep unvarnished is by nature self-limiting, and as one of its key creators, Skream had to take the sound somewhere. Why not the dance-pop mainstream? With Joker and Mindelixir. $46.50-$74. 10 p.m. 1000 N.C. Music Factory Blvd. 704-916-8970. www.fillmorecharlottenc.com.
The jam-band road warriors of Widespread Panic often fall prey to expectations raised by their own 19-year legacy. At its best, WP merges The Band's sepia-toned authenticity with the Allmans' bluesy swing and those rare, through-the-looking-glass moments when the Grateful Dead pulled the rug out from under you. At its worst, the long-running Athens, Ga., crew approximates the Dead's more frequent gassy bloat with meandering jams that vanish up the band's collective ass. Despite losing founder Michael Houser to cancer in 2002, Widespread Panic has soldiered on, recruiting N.C. native Jimmy Herring for the lead guitar spot in 2004. After playing Charlotte for a NYE party last year, these seasoned jam-vets flipped the script, going acoustic for a short winter tour before taking a long-overdue hiatus. Breaking their 10-month silence, the revered (and sometimes reviled) stalwarts play two gigs. On December 30, they are performing at a sold-out fund-raiser for Tunes for Tots at the Fillmore. Tonight, they'll ring in 2013 at Time Warner Cable Arena. $81.55. 9 p.m. 333 E. Trade St. 704-688-9000.
With a bewildering array of interests and a fistful of pseudonyms, it's surprising that producer/composer/performer/curator King Britt does not suffer from multiple personality disorder. As E-Culture, Britt dropped the ground-breaking house classic "Tribal Confusion." In 1992, he became Silkworm, the touring DJ with Grammy-winning Digable Planets. Under the nom de plume Sylk130, he released affectionate '70s soul pastiche When the Funk Hits the Fan. As The Nova Dream Sequence, Britt indulged his love of techno. Saturn Never Sleeps, Britt's "Massive Attack with Balls" project, explored the intersection of Sun Ra, eccentric soundtrack-monger Raymond Scott and Doctor Who composer Delia Derbyshire. Despite all this - plus remixing and producing everyone from Miles Davis to Radiohead - Britt may best be known under his own name. As plain old King Britt, he remixed street-corner preaching savant Sister Gertrude Morgan. Britt is still a moving target, currently augmenting historic Bush of Ghosts-style recordings from Zimbabwe. Catch him on NYE - before he changes again. $15. 9 p.m. Dharma Lounge, 1400 S. Tryon St. 704-334-8336.
REBIRTH BRASS BAND
Only a precious few of the Crescent City's signature brass bands have gone from French Quarter busking to playing international stages. Charlotte hosted the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in June, and now comes that group's rougher-around-the-edges peer and friendly rival the Rebirth Brass Band, which nabbed a 2012 Grammy for Best Regional Roots Album. Like the Dirty Dozen, the Rebirth Krewe honed its booming mix of marches, rags and fatback funk on the streets of Tremé. From the get-go back in 1983, the Rebirth Brass Band shunned standard parade-band arrangements, embracing ragged jazz and even some scatological rap. Still, the band keeps touch with its roots with churning updates of Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner classics like "Caledonia" and "Flip, Flop & Fly." With each player threatening to fly off the rails, the cohesive whole is anchored by founder Philip Frazier's subwoofer sousaphone. Thirty years on, Rebirth still keeps to the streets. "We don't want to be stars," snare drummer Derrick Tabb has said. "Once you become a star, you can't go hang in the hood." $15-$30. Dec. 26, 8 p.m. Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. 704-358-9298.
Let this soak in: Common's debut album "Can I Borrow A Dollar?" turned 20 this year. Twenty! While his filmography is quickly outpacing his discography, one thing Common hasn't let slip is his live show. The Chicago rapper isn't just an energetic performer; he's a student of the culture and channels the spirits of some of its greatest names. His sets quickly make you realize that the guy you're not quite buying as a second lead on the big screen has had top-flight bars for more than a decade. Recent appearances on G.O.O.D Music's Cruel Summer and as part of the Cocaine80s should erase any doubt that he lost his flow somewhere between his reading of scripts. Just imagine if he and Ice Cube, another public enemy-turned-media darling, decided to rekindle their beef for old time's sake. Though he's listed as a host of this holiday party, we're hoping (and betting) he'll take the stage for at least a handful of tunes. With DJ Dummy. $15. Dec. 22, 10 p.m. RE:Public, 314 N. College St. www.thesolkitchen.com.
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