Ted Leo is best onstage with his longtime band the Pharmacists, who give his tuneful indie rock a burst of punk rock fury. (Hearts of Oak, from 2003, is one of the decade's most underappreciated albums. Give it a listen if you've never heard it.) But Leo's almost as good by himself, armed with a guitar and tearing through his extensive catalog like a swinging, spitting one-man band. He isn't supporting anything new on this solo tour — the last Pharmacists album, The Brutalist Bricks, came out a year ago — so you'll probably hear an unplugged set that amounts to the Best of Ted Leo. But don't expect him to tone down the energy just because his bandmates aren't onstage with him. Leo is a literate songwriter (he graduated from Notre Dame with an English degree), so this cozy gig should be a perfect fit for his songs about drinking, girls, and the music he loves.— Michael Gallucci
With Max Stern. 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 4. B Side Liquor Lounge. Tickets: $12, $10 in advance; call 216-932-1966 or go to bsideliquorlounge.com.
Like Jamey Johnson, Zac Brown, and Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley brings some welcome grit to country's usual gloss. The Arizona native is both a Nashville insider and outsider these days, scoring with a series of hit records that have snagged numerous country-music awards. But on last year's Up the Ridge, Bentley went bluegrass, which reminded the singer how important it is to "cherish the records you make." "If you are not putting your heart and soul and really giving it the attention that it deserves, then that is not right," he says. Bentley spent about a week in a South Carolina studio earlier this year, recording more than a dozen songs for a new album due soon. The first single, "Am I the Only One," is a barn-burning party anthem that backs up Bentley's claims that the new record will be "kick-ass." Who better to lead the Jägermeister Country Tour when it comes to Akron this week? — Michael Berick
With Josh Thompson and Miss Willie Brown. 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5. Akron Civic Theatre. Tickets: $35; call 330-253-2488.or go to akroncivic.com.
Endgame, the latest album from politically charged Chicago punks Rise Against, is full of big hooks, social consciousness, and rousing calls to action. So it's a lot like their other records. Only this time they sound more like a hard-rock band than a punk one. But Tim McIlrath's sweeping vocals still carry messages of change, despair, and growing up without giving in. After a dozen years, Rise Against's evolution and progress — like fellow punks Against Me!, who share their bigger and more mainstream aspirations — has given way to an album that takes the next step without sacrificing too much of the sound that attracted such a loyal following in the first place. Either way, they're a great live band that still plays like raging punks onstage. — Steve DiMatteo
With Bad Religion. 7 p.m. Saturday, May 7. Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica. Tickets: $29.50; call 800-745-3000 or go to livenation.com.Blue October
These Houston alt-rockers released their debut album in 1998, but nobody paid attention to them until five years ago, when their mopey hit "Hate Me" assaulted radio like an awkward goth unleashing vengeance on a classroom full of jocks. The success of the band's platinum album Foiled thrust frontman Justin Furstenfeld into the limelight as a poster boy for eyeliner-sporting dudes everywhere. But duplicating the success of their stadium-sized sing-along has proven quite difficult, resulting in a few moderate chart flirtations and a general drop off the musical map. So now Blue October are taking a new step to stay relevant by stripping things down and playing intimate acoustic gigs featuring their old songs, which double as prep work for an upcoming unplugged live album. — Ryan Reed
8 p.m. Tuesday, May 10. House of Blues. Tickets: $30 and $40; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
The third album from Atlanta indie rockers Manchester Orchestra is big, beautiful, and ambitious. It's a coming-of-age concept record that gets into the mind of a confused but motivated young man in his twenties. And it's going to make these guys stars. Trust us. The album, Simple Math, comes out next week, and it sounds like a jolt of purpose hit the band since its last effort two years ago. At the center of it all is frontman Andy Hull, who leads Manchester Orchestra through 10 songs about hope, hopelessness, love, sex ... you get the idea. Simple Math is more or less his story. The title tune is the epic centerpiece of the album, a gorgeous ballad that builds over five minutes until an avalanche of swirling strings and rolling drums falls down around Hull. Can't wait to hear this one live. — Gallucci
With An Horse and Harrison Hudson. 8 p.m. Friday, May 6. Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $19, $16 in advance; call 216-383-1124 or go to beachlandballroom.com.
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