Most kids these days know Usher because of his Justin Bieber connection. But don't let that overshadow his real talent. He's been making records since he was 16 — the same age as that boy with the haircut he helped discover. Usher has been dancing circles around his peers since 1997, when his second album, My Way, topped the R&B charts. At 32, his voice is still silky smooth, and he continues to up his sex appeal, over and over again. And credit Usher for another thing: He basically invented texting lingo 10 years ago, before we even had cell phones, with the No. 1 hits "U Remind Me" and "U Got It Bad." He's got tons of songs to choose from on his latest tour, including "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" (which was all over the place last year), "OMG" (2010's best club song), and "My Way," which not only reminds us where it all started, but also how damn old we are. — Danielle Sills
With Akon, Dev and the Cataracs, and Tinie Tempah. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12. Quicken Loans Arena. Tickets: $29.50-$99.50; call 888-894-9424 or go to theqarena.com.
Airborne Toxic Event
Cynics might dismiss the Airborne Toxic Event as just another navel-gazing buzz band full of existential angst. After all, the California group's breakout song, "Sometime Around Midnight," brims with moody, low-lit melodrama. This dense emotional territory also permeates the band's new album, All at Once, on tracks like the synth-freckled slash-and-burn "Welcome to Your Wedding" and "All for a Woman." Onstage, Airborne Toxic Event prove they're more than just a pale imitation of the National or the Walkmen. Although singer Mikel Jollett's croon has a brooding edge, his main influence is the weathered-leather optimism of Bruce Springsteen; his voice is indefatigable in the face of adversity. (Unsurprisingly, the band has been known to pull off a moving cover of the Boss' "I'm on Fire" in concert.) Anna Bulbrook's viola and keyboards add subtle ebullience, while the band's guitars are bouncy and melancholy, in the imitable way of the Cure and the Smiths. — Annie Zaleski
With Vauxhall Broadcast. 8 p.m. Saturday, May 14. House of Blues. Tickets: $19, $16.50 in advance; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
Brent Kirby builds country-pop songs like a master craftsman, layering voices, acoustic guitars, drums, and bass. "Once that feels good, [electric] guitar and pedal steel come next," says the Willoughby-based singer-songwriter. "I think of them as bookends that further define the spirit of the tune." Kirby's a busy guy. In addition to leading the Lost Fortunes, he sings for Rust Belt rockers the Jack Fords and fronts the local Gram Parsons cover band New Soft Shoe. And he's releasing a new solo album, Coming Back to Life, at a CD-release show this weekend. The 13-song set of rustic rock is a rejuvenation of sorts for Kirby, who sliced a nerve in a finger. "It gave me some mortality," he says. "Unfortunately, I don't have 100 percent feeling back, and it doesn't look like I am going to." It doesn't seem to slow him down any. In his spare time, Kirby repairs instruments and teaches music. "Artistic people are going to create and deliver no matter what," he says. "Not because we expect appreciation, but just because we have to." — Keith Gribbins
9 p.m. Saturday, May 14. Happy Dog. Free; call 216-651-9474 or go to happydogcleveland.com.
Like so many other hipster-haven music makers, Brooklyn's Vivian Girls used to keep everything on the low-fi end, burying instruments and vocals in a mix so muddy you could barely make out what you were hearing. But the all-female trio opens up its sound on its third album, Share the Joy, which was released last month. They explore a wide-open palette of sounds that brings out just how much the band borrows from '60s girl groups and cocktail pop. Still, Vivian Girls are from Brooklyn and a favorite among blogging tastemakers, so there are still plenty of jagged riffs and tossed-off cool streaming through their grooves. And you'll never mistake this for, say, the Crystals. But now that we can actually pick out some of the things that drive their music, we like what we hear. — Michael Gallucci
With No Joy and Prisoners. 8 p.m. Sunday, May 15. Grog Shop. Tickets: $10; call 216-321-5588 or go to grogshop.gs.
It's just a little odd that Sugarland are kicking off Blossom Music Center's Country Megaticket concert series, since their latest album, The Incredible Machine, sounds unlike anything you'd hear coming out of Nashville's old-school song factories. But isn't that the way country goes these days? From Taylor Swift to Lady Antebellum, country music is pretty much just pop with an occasional slapped-on fiddle or a pedal steel. But The Incredible Machine is a different thing altogether, a massive stadium-rock record with giant hooks, fist-raising anthems, and enough processed production to fuel a year's worth of barn dances (or Def Leppard concerts, take your pick). So it should go over well at Blossom. But we're guessing Sugarland will also strip things down a little on songs like "Stay" and "Already Gone," which spotlight Jennifer Nettles' big, beautiful voice. — Gallucci
With Matt Nathanson and Little Big Town. 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 13. Blossom Music Center. Tickets: $25-$65; call 330-920-8040 or go to livenation.com.
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