Clutch didn't invent stoner rock, but they're one of its strongest supporters. While many of their more metal-minded hesher comrades lock into deeply rutted, mind-numbing grooves, Clutch (pictured) prefer supple muscularity. Their blues-funk is hard but agile, offering a greasy southern-flavored rock slink that's capable of ample thump, but dynamic enough that it never lingers too long in one place. The Maryland quartet draws equal inspiration from Blue Cheer's stratospheric acid-rock predilections and Black Sabbath's bottom-end brutality. They've released nine albums over the past two decades, and if their latest, Strange Cousins From the West, doesn't provide many surprises, it also doesn't disappoint. If you're seeking something a little fresher, get to the show early for Kylesa. They're capable of thundering, heavy-riffing ferocity, but there are plenty of soaring, airy diversions too. That balance keys their psychedelic-leaning new album, Spiral Shadow. — Chris Parker
With Righteous Fool. 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 29. House of Blues. Tickets: $25, $22.50 in advance; call 216-523-2583 or go to houseofblues.com.
Fantasia Barrino won American Idol in 2004, but she's accomplished so much more over the past six years, including a successful run in Broadway's The Color Purple. Her latest album, Back to Me, overcame a rough start: Its first single, "Bittersweet," bombed so hard commercially that the rest of the record was pushed back several months so that some new songs could be cooked up. Apparently, time was all that the project needed, since the song eventually climbed into the R&B Top 10 and the album debuted at No. 2 on the pop chart — Fantasia's best showing ever. Back to Me is the singer's most mature and focused record, reconnecting to her gospel roots and bringing a newfound clarity and purpose to her music. — Matthew Wilkening
With Eric Benet and Kandi. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 29. State Theatre. Tickets: $47.50-$57.50; call 216-241-6000 or go to playhousesquare.org.
CHIMAIRA CHRISTMAS 11
Chimaira didn't release any new music this year, but that's not stopping the Cleveland metal titans from throwing their annual Christmas bash this week. Chimaira Christmas 11 also features sets by Ohio Sky and Solipsist, so things will get mighty loud inside House of Blues. Even though Chimaira are still working on a new album (which should be out in 2011), they managed to have a busy year. They spent the summer on the Mayhem Festival and released Coming Alive, a mega fan experience that includes two CDs and one DVD loaded with live music from past Christmas bashes. Be sure to head straight to the video, which features seven hours of footage, including lots of things you didn't get to see onstage. After this one last 2010 blowout, Chimaira will head into the studio with producer Ben Schigel. After that, they'll hit the road again. But be sure to check out their last rager of the year. It's one of the city's loudest traditions. — Jara Anton
With Ohio Sky and Solipsist. 8 p.m. Thursday, December 30. House of Blues. Tickets: $20-$50; call 216-523-2583 or go to houseofblues.com.
Saying Cleveland's Prisoners (pictured) play garage rock isn't quite fair. That wide brushstroke certainly colors their music, but their debut album, Back in the USSA, shows off the band's ability to cover so much more territory. It tackles shambling roots and soul, jangle pop, British Invasion rave-ups, and spiky indie rock. All these sounds are united by woozy and nearly beaten riffs and the generally ragged vibrancy of the gritty group's sweat-drenched songs. Still, Prisoners know their way around a hook — besides the scuffling rhythms, the quintet is characterized by insistent melodies. Cleveland's 2010 breakout band Cloud Nothings are also on the bill. Their bristling noise-pop has snagged plenty of buzz over the past 12 months. Their new album is due real soon, so you can expect to hear a few songs from it at this show. — Parker
With the Very Knees. 10 p.m. Thursday, December 30. Grog Shop. Tickets: $6; call 216-321-5588 or go to grogshop.gs.
Sometime over the past five or six years, singer-songwriter Todd Snider moved on from his role as class clown to become one of our greatest political voices. The 44-year-old scored a minor hit back in the '90s with the alt-rock goof "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues." He's always had a heart, which would peek out every once in a while from his album's lighter songs. But on 2004's East Nashville Skyline he got serious. Sorta. Serious enough to pen some great songs about people making wrong decisions and a government making even worse ones. The follow-up, 2006's The Devil You Know, is even better, a wide grasp that took in everything from busted-out alcoholics to out-of-work Everymen to George W.'s good-'ol-boy way of getting things done. On his latest studio album, 2009's The Excitement Plan, Snider continues down this path, chronicling the ups and downs of people who look a lot like you and me. (He has a new live record, The Storyteller, coming out in February.) Snider is always a kick in concert, and you never know which way he's heading. You may get a totally off-the-wall show filled with those goofy songs. Or you may get 90-plus minutes of expert storytelling that tries to make sense of all the crap going on around us. Either way, he won't disappoint.— Michael Gallucci
With Duke Junior & the Smokey Boots. 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 29. Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $22, $20 in advance; call 216-383-1124 or go to beachlandballroom.com.
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