Murder by Death
This Indiana indie-rock band came to life 11 years ago with a cry of post-core prog rock. Now they're singing about whiskey-induced saloon standoffs and western romances. The conversion is somewhat of a mystery, but we have a theory that involves repeated listens to Johnny Cash albums before recording 2006's In Boca Al Lupo, their first foray into the genre. Murder by Death frontman Adam Turia sounds a lot like Cash, especially on "Comin' Home" (from 2008's Red of Tooth and Claw), but he's more than just another Man in Black imposter. The same album's "'52 Ford" comes off more like a sweltering Nashville hoedown than a spaghetti western soundtrack. And they just keep pushing their sound on their latest album, last year's Good Morning, Magpie, throwing in songs that shatter the mold of goth-country, convincingly pulling off almost any style of music they want to take on. — Phil Barnes
7 p.m. Wednesday, August 17. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Free;call 216-781-7625 or visit rockhall.com.
Made up of Nashville session musicians who've played with everyone from Johnny Cash to the Dixie Chicks, the SteelDrivers could be the tightest bluegrass band you've never heard of. They were nominated for two Grammys for last year's Reckless, and Adele recently covered their song "If It Hadn't Been for Love" for a special-edition version of her mega-hit album 21. Reckless is a no-frills tribute to everything you love about bluegrass, with a marriage of tradition and trend that only a group of musicians this seasoned could deliver. Comparisons to better-known bluegrass groups like Union Station are inevitable, but there's a subtle edge to guitarist Gary Nichols' voice that manages something different: wit and wonder, salt and sensitivity. Above all, it's the SteelDrivers' tight harmonies and driving energy that characterize their sound, delivering hammer to nail with the speed and ease of professionals.— Lydia Munnell
8 p.m. Saturday, August 20. Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $20, $18 in advance; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
The Alternate Routes
Turmoil must be good for the Alternate Routes. After breaking ties with their record company and bidding adieu to longtime bassist Chip Johnson last year, songwriters Eric Donnelly and Tim Warren left their Connecticut homes and headed for Nashville, where they recorded their latest album, Lately. Typically a band that road-tests material before recording it, the Routes took their new songs straight to the studio and came out with an epic alt-pop album that recalls U2, Coldplay, and Radiohead. Those sounds are amplified and magnified onstage, something their slavishly loyal fan base can attest to. The band isn't partial to one pronunciation of their name over another (roots vs. routes), just as long as you spell it correctly. Donnelly likes to tell the story of a newspaper in California that once advertised them as Alternative Robots. It's Alternate Routes, and as Natalie Portman might say, they could change your life. — Brian Baker
With Scattered Trees and P.J. Pacifico.
8 p.m. Sunday, August 21. Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $12, $10 in advance; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
Tim Kasher and Conor Oberst grew up together in Omaha, helped launch Saddle Creek Records, and share a penchant for theatrical musical introspection that takes a microscope to their emotions. While Oberst took Bright Eyes to the outer shores of mainstream popularity, Kasher remains shipwrecked on the indie-rock fringe. It may be that Kasher's obsessive romantic indulgences are less easily digested, but that's hardly an indictment of his craft. Since reforming his post-punk band Cursive for their 2000 divorce album Domestica, Kasher has strip-mined his love life for lyrical grist. After another abortive relationship, Kasher decamped to Montana, where he recorded last year's solo debut The Game of Monogamy. Like other releases under his previous solo vehicle the Good Life, Monogamy offers an operatic song cycle on aging and collapsing romantic illusions couched in surprisingly supple acoustic arrangements. — Chris Parker
With Aficionado and the Conductor & the Creator. 8 p.m. Sunday, August 21. Grog Shop. Tickets: $10; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
Scream It Like You Mean It
The Scream It Like You Mean It tour doesn't have the name recognition or mainstream influence of other traveling roadshows like the Warped Tour. But after only two years, the multi-band trek is quickly picking up speed. Headlining this year is the Denver duo Breathe Carolina (pictured), who take inspiration from crunked-up club jams, superstar-DJ sounds, and sleek Eurotechno. But their latest album, Hell Is What You Make It, features more than just disposable neon-colored electropop: The subdued "Gone So Long" recalls wistful new wave, "They Say You Won't Come Back" sounds like retro-funky digi-pop, and the ultra-catchy synth-swerved "Blackout" should be dominating Top 40 radio this summer. Others on the tour include digital-driven pop screamers I See Stars, scene stalwarts Chiodos (who have weathered multiple lineup changes on their way to post-hardcore dominance), and metalcore upstarts the Color Morale and the Air I Breathe. — Annie Zaleski
5:30 p.m. Sunday, August 21. Peabody's. Tickets: $18, $16 in advance; call 216-776-9999 or visit peabodys.com.