This Chicago band racked up a ton of fans after it released its debut album online for free in 2008. It rode the success to Rolling Stone's recent Choose the Cover contest for unsigned artists, getting the boot last month — just one round short of the final showdown. But the quartet didn't take the loss too hard. "First there was a little bit of being bummed out," says guitarist Tom Conrad. "But there's also a sense of relief that we didn't have to think about it anymore." That leaves more time to focus on their second album, Bang, and summer tour. Unlike the somewhat uneven tempos found on their first album, Empires stuck to a more balanced sound this time. There's a little less pop-punk in the songs and a lot more rock & roll (think Foo Fighters, without the screamo banshee parts). Songs like "Damn Things Over" and the title track are roll-down-the-windows-and-blast-loud anthems. Perfect for summer. — Courtney Kerrigan
With Asleep. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23. Musica, Akron. Tickets: $8; call 330-374-1114 or visit ticketweb.com.
People Under the Stairs
The Los Angeles hip-hop duo may share its name with a Wes Craven horror movie, but its music is far from dark. Since 1997, Thes One and Double K have been on a mission to preserve the golden age of hip-hop. They share mic duties, alternately spitting laid-back rhymes that steer clear of the negativity so often found in mainstream rap. The production is old-school too: Instead of relying on modern sounds and techniques, Thes One tweaks classic funk and soul samples — a style that's made him popular with TV shows like Entourage, Girlfriends, and Rob & Big. Through it all (and over the course of seven albums), People Under the Stairs have never strayed far from their underground aesthetic. They've been relatively quiet since 2009's Carried Away, so their summer tour is a perfect opportunity to catch up. And with no new material to push, you can expect to hear a set that's heavy on fan favorites. — Eddie Fleisher
With the Worlders. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23. Grog Shop. Tickets: $14, $12 in advance; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
No doubt there's a lot going on in a band that calls its music indie-prog-pop. Or maybe this Columbus trio's sound is so tough to nail down, it requires its own super-hyphenated subgenre. Whatever the case, Lackluster's new album, Two Birds, One Stone, sounds like souped-up late-'90s radio rock. The straightforward thud does give way to plaintive piano melodies and complex percussion fills from time to time, but frontman Jon Hayes' raspy voice hangs on top of it all, making comparisons to 3 Doors Down and Nickelback hard to avoid. Despite the dubious genre label, there's no talk of medieval space kingdoms found in Two Birds, One Stone, and album opener "Lies" sounds more like a textbook breakup song than anything Yes ever did. By the time Lackluster get around to the superfluously (but excellently) titled instrumental "The Kick Ass Machine Has New Wheels," it may dawn on you that you're listening to the next step in the evolution of bro-rock.— Lydia Munnell
With Tuesday Blvd. and Cicada Sunrise. 8 p.m. Friday, June 24. Wilbert's. Admission is free; call 216-902-4663 or visit wilbertsmusic.com.
Considering the glut of garage-rock bands traversing the nation's highways, any group hoping to carve out something special in a genre that's now in its fifth or sixth phase needs to find ways to personalize the music. Coming out of Austin (home of the grandfathers of garage rock, the 13th Floor Elevators), the Strange Boys have a leg up on the competition. They added sax and a bit of xylophone for their second album, last year's Be Brave. And while this expansion can seem cluttered and clunky at times, the Strange Boys still manage to coax out a reasonable facsimile of an electrified and spaced-out Dylan in less bluesy territory. Be sure to get to the show early to check out White Fence, a project led by the Strange Boys' backing singer, Tim Presley. The band references basement-dwelling weirdos and Kim Fowley oddities more often than the usual tarted-up Nuggets fair. So it should be a cool mix of tunes onstage. — Dave Cantor
With Prisoners. 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 28. Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $10; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
Tim Easton & the Madison Square Gardeners
During the big alt-country influx of the mid-'90s there was a Columbus band called the Haynes Boys that made some great (if not widely heard) music. They released only one album, 1996's terrific Guardian Angel. Frontman Tim Easton went on to craft a series of solo albums, beloved by his peers but generally ignored by everyone else. Members of the Jayhawks and Wilco have served as Easton's backing bands over the years; Lucinda Williams and Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell have played with him too. Easton's albums often swing between acoustic and electric, but the Akron native recently resolved this dichotomy by releasing two albums: a solo acoustic outing (Since 1966, Volume One) and a plugged-in band affair (Beat the Band). Easton usually tours by himself, but he's bringing a band with him this time: the Madison Square Gardeners, who also open the show. So get there early. — Michael Berick
8:30 p.m. Monday, June 27. Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $12, $10 in advance; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
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