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The Whigs

With a gift for infectious melodies and solid rock’n’roll sensibility, it’s hard not to like The Whigs, at least a little bit—which probably explains their frequent appearances on late night TV. Formed in Athens, Georgia in the early aughts, the trio has five albums of palatable, loudly-produced garage rock. It doesn’t hurt that the lead vocalist-guitarist Parker Gisbert has a voice like Paul Rudd’s stubble—there’s enough roughness to register as manly—or in this case “rockly,” but it’s mostly manicured to good effect.

Wed., Sept. 3, 9 p.m., 2014

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Of Montreal

Of Montreal’s vibey, spirited energy offers a type of rock that plays with electric guitars and tambourines in familiar yet refreshing ways. Hailing from Athens, Georgia, their sound has evolved over the years but still has an unmistakable element, one that is reminiscent simultaneously of vaudeville and the 1970s. The band is a part of the eccentric Elephant 6 Collective — which also claims acts like Circulatory System and Neutral Milk Hotel — and will certainly send the crowd whirling with their animated, nostalgic riffs and loud, amped-up vocals.

Sun., May 11, 9 p.m., 2014

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Widespread Panic

When it comes to Southern rock behemoths, Athens, Georgia’s Widespread Panic are a big California Zinfandel compared to the Allmans’ half-drunk case of Bud. Two powerful and expressive guitarists — Jimmy Herring and bassist Dave Schools — fuel a complex express train fronted by epically urgent singer John Bell. Widespread returned to the road this spring after a hiatus and thus probably have something to prove.

Sat., Nov. 16, 8 p.m., 2013

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Futurebirds

If you like your Southern rock thick, syrupy, and dreamlike, look no further than this Athens, Georgia, quintet’s new Baba Yaga, which captures a Robitussin vibe vaguely, but oh so pleasantly, reminiscent of Chicago’s long, lost Souled American. Laconic three-part harmonies, pleading pedal-steel guitar, and lonesome-unto-death lyrics sound like the perfect recipe for a night of heavy self-medicating.

Fri., May 31, 9 p.m., 2013

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LIZARD KINGS

Damn these manipulative bastards: The way to our hearts is through childhood cartoons, and Reptar clearly knows it. (“Rugrats”! Nickelodeon! What are you, a monster?) Fortunately, the Athens, Georgia, quartet is every bit as captivating as their 2D dinosaur namesake, pumping tinny synths, tropicalia pipes, and affable hippie-dippie chanting through genuinely fun dance-pop. We’re lucky this one worked out, children of the ’90s: “Rocko and the Modern Lives” are probably forming as we speak, and that will not be pretty. With Young the Giant and 1,2,3.

Thu., April 14, 9 p.m., 2011

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B-52s+Belinda Carlisle

Like other ’70s new-wave and garage-pop geniuses, the B-52s (a self-described “tacky little dance band” from Athens, Georgia) translated the detritus of pop culture into booty-shaking anthems with a quasi-cosmic aura. See them sell sea songs by the seashore at this guaranteed-fun bill kicked off by recovery rocker Belinda Carlisle, former frontwoman of the Go-Go’s, the first chart-topping girl band to play their own instruments and write their own material–as big a deal in the early ’80s as it would be now.

Thu., Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Widespread Panic

When it comes to Southern rock behemoths, Athens, Georgia’s Widespread Panic are a big California Zinfandel compared to the Allmans’ half-drunk case of Bud. Two powerfully expressive players, guitarist Jimmy Herring and bassist Dave Schools, fuel a heady and complex express train driven by epically urgent singer John Bell. Marking their first quarter-century together, WSP have long hidden in plain sight in the jam band ghetto, a popularly purloined, underrated group and an unmistakable influence on the likes of My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers.

Thu., July 22, 8 p.m., 2010

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The Endtables Emerge At Last

Against all odds, 2010 is shaping up to be a real good year for indie-rock albums. Only thing is, the most exciting ones seem to have been recorded 30 years ago.

Matter of fact, I have 10 such platters piled up here, all released in the past eight months, all but a handful of their tracks put to tape between 1977 and 1983, just when technology was making homemade self-releases feasible—as far as “indie” goes, this was the ground floor. All involve artists based in provincial middle-American ‘burghs and ‘burbs, away from capitals of entertainment and commerce, but only five got entries in 1985’s The New Trouser Press Record Guide. Most selections have never before appeared in album form: They come from long-gone 45s, EPs, cassette compilations, live tapes lost in the backs of closets for decades, fuzzy mobile-rig-recorded demos. Yet almost without exception, they partake in an energy that puts pretty much any new 2010 indie to shame.

For one thing, most still sound like they’re inventing something; they’re operating in a habitat where “alternative” isn’t yet a quarter-century-old marketing concept that’s self-defeating by definition. They also represent a moment—a decade or more before grunge broke—when whatever-modern-music-was-called-then had neither been straitjacketed into slamdance nor ruled out rock-band power, momentum, groove, coherence, and structure as corny and déclassé.

That said, it’s notable that a couple acts—two-man art-funksters the Method Actors and one-man art-popster Kevin Dunn, both identified with the boho college enclave and proto-indie hotbed of Athens, Georgia—had already abandoned the traditional rock-band format. But while Dunn’s No Great Lost: Songs, 1979–1985 (Casa Nueva) features only one track by his mid-’70s Atlanta band the Fans, it still embraces rock ‘n’ roll enough to include insanely fuzztoned covers of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and “Louie Louie” amid all the herky-jerking Eno loopage. The bands that come off most comfortable in their relationship to pre-punk hard rock seem to be ones who were more or less formed by 1977, the year Never Mind the Bollocks came out: suburban Chicago class clowns Tutu and the Pirates; Louisville semi-metal eccentrics the Endtables; Erie, Pennsylvania’s boys’-room smokers Pistol Whip; Akron micro-prog weirdos Tin Huey. Cleveland’s even louder Easter Monkeys didn’t officially initiate their heavy post-punk psych caterwaul until ’81, but guitarist Jim Jones had been perfecting his downer riffs in the Electric Eels and Styrenes almost since the glam days.

The Ohio bands, for what it’s worth, had their own boho college enclave and proto-indie hotbed in post-massacre Kent—particularly nutjob virtuosos and longtime one-album wonders Tin Huey, whose ’78-’79-recorded Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes includes a live Stooges cover for Iggy’s birthday, yet revels in mixed-and-matched time changes, sax blats, and rave-ups owing more to bebop and the Yardbirds (and seemingly Zappa, even if they deny it) than to punk per sé. It was compiled by the remarkably reliable little Chicago label Smog Veil, which also put out Easter Monkeys’ menacing, frequently massive, and (especially when singing about underwear and crucifixion) surprisingly tuneful Splendor of Sorrow, along with Ohio-bordering Pistol Whip’s goofball parking-lot piledriver Terminal. For the latter, think pre-punk punks the Dolls, Stranglers, Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, and especially the Dictators; realize that they have songs called “Six More Inches,” “Big Boy,” and “Cock Sure,” and gauge their usefulness in your life accordingly.

I kinda love them, myself. Same goes for the possibly even more Dictators- (and Zappa-, and Mad-) damaged Tutu and the Pirates, cross-dressing cartoons who crack wise about Son of Sam, Nazis, necrobestiality, zits, janitors, disco, and how Darlene won’t give them head on the incidentally hook-laden Sub-Urban Insult Rock for the Anti/Lectual 1977–1979. Legend says Tutu’s crew introduced punk to Chicago, thus oddly paving the way for their current Factory 25 archive-labelmates DaExclamation Point (née Da!), whose lunging repertoire on (Un)Released Recordings 1980–81 is nonetheless considerably less asinine and more angst-ridden, coming as it does from an un-fratty co-ed lineup whose lead yelper, Lorna Donley, sometimes approaches Polly Harvey/Courtney Love territory a decade early.

Donley also, when loosening up a little in Da’s kerosene-pyromaniac (see: Big Black) “The Killer” at least, sounds quite a bit like Vanessa Briscoe Hay from Athens’ Pylon, whose own 1983 sophomore album was recently revived in expanded form as Chomp More (DFA). Pylon, as all hipster schoolchildren know by now, were all about the rhythm: spare clanking drumbeats, repeated guitar figures, and loud staccato chants that somehow anticipate techno and industrial while referencing funk, surf, and railroad blues. Their indelible 1979 debut single “Cool”/”Dub” was co-produced by the aforementioned Kevin Dunn, who also oversaw the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster,” and thus helped invent the new-wave substyle once known for a couple months as “dance-oriented rock.” In that category would also land aforementioned duo the Method Actors, whose fractured ’80-’81 drum/guitar/vocal workouts on This Is Still It (Acute) come off more severe and mannered than Pylon, but manage to click into volcanic reggae-reverberated harmolodics when allotted sufficient space.

Oddly, it was a less syncopative act from that same Athens scene—R.E.M., featuring Method Actors CD liner-noter Peter Buck—whose murmuring jangle really set indie rock on its ultimate path toward introversion. But it didn’t have to turn out that way. In turn-of-the-’80s Kentucky, you might have a band like the Endtables, whose superb self-titled collection on Drag City has their gargantuan transvestite frontman Steve Rigot bleating passionately about circumcision, Halloween, and bathtub razor-blade suicides against heroic guitar foil Alex Durig trying to get his Nugent on. Or, in St. Louis, there’d be a band like Raymilland, whose Recordings ’79-’81 (BDR) zip-zaps their science-experiment synth noise and dub-housed axe drones in a manner seemingly trucked down the interstate from the dilapidated North Ohio flats of Pere Ubu and the Bizarros. Pretty impressive that all this stuff was happening around the same time, with barely anybody noticing. Except then, within a few years . . . pfft. Whatever you call it, it was on its way out.

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Colt Ford, Renaissance Man

“Country music is where old genres go to die—or live,” English professor and record-guide author David Cantwell truth-bombed at the EMP Pop Music Conference in Seattle last month. He was mainly talking blues chords, but in the ’00s, the old stuff could just as well have been old-school Sugarhill-style hip-hop, via Kid Rock or Cowboy Troy. So now it’s the ’10s, and we’ve got Colt Ford: a 40-year-old, 300-pound Athens, Georgia, ex-golf-pro who road-dawgs 200 shows a year, revitalizing the kind of greasy, mud-spinning, r-dropping flows heard on early-aughts Southern-rap records. Since December 2008, he’s put out two studio albums, a live album, and a Wal-Mart-exclusive EP/DVD—all on his own grass-roots Average Joe’s Entertainment label. Three of those are currently in the top 70 of Billboard‘s country album chart; his new Chicken & Biscuits just entered both the country and rap charts in the Top 10.

Across all those releases, he shows off his scope. He drawls like Bubba Sparxxx against chitlin-circuit swamp guitars, an electro boombox, and chirping insects in “Cricket on a Line,” a fishing song that’s more just a repetitive chant. “Saddle Up” sounds like Juvenile-style New Orleans bounce at a barn dance; live, he stretches it past 13 jam-festival minutes. He shares Waffle House patty melts with his long-crunking fellow 300-pound Georgian, Bone Crusher, above a butt-rocking Steve Miller riff on “Gangsta of Love,” and swings into even bigger-bottomed ’70s biker-barbecue boogie for his new “Mud Flap” and “Ride on, Ride out,” the latter featuring old-school principal DMC. In the ’90s, he made a gangsta-rap album with Jermaine Dupri that never came out. But now, he guest raps with hip-hop-baiting redneck duo Montgomery Gentry, and covers everything from Usher’s “Yeah” to Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Nite” (with Colt on drums—the instrument that taught him beats in the first place) to C.W. McCall’s bicentennial CB-radio novelty “Convoy.”

Again, this is a country guy. The man born Jason Brown might dance like Heavy D, but he looks like a good ol’ boy. He might’ve graduated from the same college-town high school that gave us two B-52s, but his daddy was a used-car salesman who used to pick cotton and his momma’s from a South Carolina mill town. He may’ve been a Junior All-American golfer who grew up to give putting lessons to No Doubt’s drummer, but he also played football and baseball at Clarke Central, and after games—”This was still the South,” he says—white players and black players headed to different parties. The Athens projects didn’t scare him, but on his records, he still raps about how small-towners don’t have to lock their doors. Mostly, though, he raps about deep-fried food, cheap beer, swimming holes, career women who aren’t too snobby to skinny-dip, and single-wides with motors hanging from the tree.

On 2008’s Ride Through the Country, Ford got a songwriting credit on every track; Chicken & Biscuits uses only outside writers on more than half, which actually helps: “Trailer Park Pulp Fiction” (credit: K. Garrett, M. Kosser) is a rare contemporary country song wherein “children of the corn” revel in their own dysfunction. The new album also takes a page from hip-hop’s r&b-crossover playbook by having more country stars sing chorus hooks—a potentially canny commercial move, since songs designed for radio just might bankroll all the oddball boundary-stretching elsewhere. Either way, with Kid Rock now slated to host the CMT Awards this June, I, for one, will be severely disappointed if a multi-microphoned breakbeat-metal hick-hop throwdown medley of, say, Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses”/Trickeration’s “Western Gangster Town”/Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” isn’t on the agenda.

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‘Blackened Music Series Presents Harvey Milk+Coalesce’

Not heavy enough, not dirty enough—these are the words Athens, Georgia, sludge-rock crew Harvey Milk seem to have lived by for the past two decades or so. Not that many people have noticed. Despite vocalist-guitarist Creston Spier’s residency in Brooklyn (he co-owns the fried-chicken joint Pies ‘n’ Thighs, on indefinite hiatus), the group still rarely plays live. Their heavier-than-sledgehammer riffs need to be heard to be believed. Openers Coalesce have been equally elusive in recent years, but since releasing last year’s excellent OX, the Kansas-based hardcore crew has stopped through early and often—always a welcome treat. With the Atlas Moth.

Mon., March 8, 9 p.m., 2010