Plants and Animals
Plants and Animals played their first gig after the trio graduated as electro-acoustic music majors from Montreal's Concordia University. Warren Spicer, Matthew Woodley, and Nicolas Basque have been on a journey of musical evolution since their 2005 self-titled debut, which consisted entirely of acoustic instrumentals. On 2008's Parc Avenue, Plants and Animals explored a sort of pastoral-prog on cuts like the epic "Faerie Dance" (really, how can a song called "Faerie Dance" be anything but pastoral-prog and epic?).
Recorded in their native Montreal and in Paris, the recently released La La Land takes a punchier approach and is a far less meandering record. "The Mama Papa" and the unfortunately titled but awesome "American Idol" are direct rocking numbers that come closer to the band's live shows than most of Parc Avenue. Plants and Animals still get their prog on in the lovely "Undone Melody," but there is far more kick to the flora and fauna this time around. — Chris Drabick
Plants and Animals with Lowly, the Tree Ghost. 9 p.m. Thursday, May 13, Grog Shop. Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show; 216-321-5588 or grogshop.gs
Most rappers don't last very long, but Los Angeles rhymer Murs has been making records for more than 15 years. From 1993 to 2007, he worked in the underground, carving a path in a genre oversaturated with mediocre MCs. Murs stood out thanks to his distinct flow and renegade style. After recording several albums for indie-rap powerhouse Definitive Jux, he took the major-label bait in 2008. Murs for President, his first Warner Bros. album, was so good that even indie purists found it hard to hate. On the new Fornever, Murs is underground again, collaborating with producer 9th Wonder and rapping with passion. He sounds bummed in "The Problem Is ... ," lamenting the struggles of being a musician. But thanks to the blueprint he helped create, aspiring rappers now have a smart business model to follow. — Eddie Fleisher
Murs with Nocando, San Goodee, and Vice Verses. 9 p.m. Friday, May 14, Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $12; 216-383-1124 or beachlandballroom.com
Falling somewhere between country and rock, singer-songwriter Todd Snider is an Americana mixed breed. The Oregon native lives in Nashville (not the shiny Music Row section, but the scruffier East Nashville side) after stays in Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, and Austin (his wry, shaggy-dog story-songs retain a Texas-troubadour sound). Snider's lived-in version of Robert Earl Keen's "Corpus Christi Bay," from his latest album, The Excitement Plan, sounds like a Snider original.
The Don Was-produced CD makes an excellent entry point to Snider, showcasing his mischievous wit and dark-hued self-deprecation. He ambles through an amusing gallery of characters like real-life ballplayer Doc Ellis (who pitched a no-hitter on LSD in the '70s) and a shady Portland figure named Slick Willie. He also slips in some political messages (the anti-war "Bring 'Em Home") and some autobiographical material ("The Last Laugh," "Money, Compliments, Publicity"). There's also "Don't Tempt Me," Snider's terrifically fun collaboration with the legendary Loretta Lynn.
Expect Snider to thoroughly entertain you with his trunkful of barstool philosophizing, lovable laments, and colorful character studies.
— Michael Berick
Todd Snider with Paleface. 7 p.m. Saturday, May 15, Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $20 advance, $22 day of show; 216-383-1124 or beachlandballroom.com
Marco Benevento Trio
A veteran of the N.Y.C. jazz/experimental scene, Marco Benevento falls somewhere between "nü jazz" and prog rock. But label-dependent listeners should be warned: The man is very much a moving target.
Even in a down economy, the Brooklyn-based keyboard wizard could make the rent on his jazz chops alone, fronting a standard trio. But Benevento's creative instincts have drawn him to rewiring toys into instruments and making good use of something called the Optigan, a floppy-drive keyboard sampler.
But for all the enticing technical invention, Benevento can just as easily draw you in with one of his evocative melodic creations. Sophisticated reads on pop coexist with the influences of death metal and Nintendo on Between the Needles and Nightfall, his fourth solo album. — Duane Verh
Marco Benevento Trio. 9 p.m. Saturday, May 15, Wilbert's. Tickets: $10; 216-902-4663 or wilbertsmusic.com
Horse the Band
Horse the Band's music sounds like a demented soundtrack to Castlevania. The California five-piece refers to its sound as "Nintendocore," recreating those infamous 8-bit sounds of early video games into a bizarre version of metal music. Keyboardist Erik Engstrom even plays a Game Boy on last year's Desperate Living, whose dozen songs seem to be inspired by two new visions: the John Waters movie of the same name (a creepy, campy lesbians-on-the-lam film) and the upheaval the band has experienced after 2007's A Natural Death (involving three drummers, three agents, two bassists, a bunch of labels, and a lawsuit).
Desperate Living is full of frustrations from a band that's a little too weird to really make it big — mixing a fury of hardcore, noise rock, and electro into music that kinda sounds like dying robots. Frontman Nathan Winneke's voice is more harsh and guttural (he's starting to find his death growl), while the band's sound expands with guests Jamie Stewart (the Xiu Xiu frontman lends his voice to "Shapeshift") and Valentina Lisitsa (a Ukrainian classical pianist who plays in "Rape Escape").
Horse the Band is also known for berserk live performances and insanely long tours. Most of their new songs were inspired by 2008's Earth Tour, where they traveled 40 countries, self-promoting and self-financing gigs around the globe. Busy guys. — Keith Gribbins
Horse the Band with Endless Hallway and Oceana. 7 p.m. Saturday, May 15. Peabody's. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show; 216-776-9999 or peabodys.com