Concerts in Columbia: Jason Ajemian, Norma Jean

Plus: Mazloom Empire, Elonzo, The Prairie Willows, Late Bloomer, The Mobros, Stellar, Thee Knee Jerks, Dreiberg, Stereofly SXSW Kickoff, He is Legend, Junior Astronomers, The Black Cadillacs
By Free Times
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thursday 27

Jason Ajemian & the High Life — Those in the know are already hip to Columbia’s fervent new music scene. For the uninitiated, The High Life offers a pretty good introduction. This quintet of ace improvisers and sound artists treads heavily in outré jazz and pushes the sonic limitations of its instruments, but its sensibilities, instilled by fearless leader and mercurial basso profundo Jason Ajemian, are rooted in pop tradition. The group’s amorphous and sonically omnivorous ad-libs are largely driven by melody, finding pockets of accessibility amid bleating fever-dream soundscapes. — Patrick Wall
Conundrum Music Hall: 8:30 p.m., $8; 250-1295,

Mazloom Empire, Elonzo, The Prairie Willows — Lawdan Mazloom and her band of merry men are a sort of beacon to ’90s alternative fan who love the Cranberries but can’t justify the flagrant yodeling, while Elonzo sounds a little Ben Folds Five if the trio’s frontman had picked up the guitar instead of the piano. But The Prairie Willows shine brightest on this stacked local bill, with masterful three-part harmonies sewn through delicate instrumentation, subverting a commonly held cultural assumption that power increases with volume. — Michael Spawn
New Brookland Tavern: 7:30 p.m., $5; 791-4413,

Friday 28

Late Bloomer — Michael Azerrad’s 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life chronicles the below-the-rader careers of pioneering bands of the American underground in the ’80s, icons who laid the groundwork for grunge and indie rock — the dueling idioms of ’90s alternative. Charlotte’s Late Bloomer resembles many of Azerrad’s subjects, in particular Dinosaur Jr.’s fuzzy fusion of noisy hardcore and melodic hard rock, and their descendents — the insistent Silkworm, the razor-sharp Archers of Loaf, the charged and peppy Superchunk. But Late Bloomer also transcends its obvious influences, its casual chemistry suggesting it would have come to this sound without these signposts. — Patrick Wall
Foxfield Bar & Grille: 8 p.m., $3-$5;

The Mobros — Retro-cool way beyond their tender years, the Camden blues duo of Kelly and Patrick Morris finally released their long-promised debut album last month and promptly returned to the constant gigs that earned them fans both young and old. Classic soul, ’50s rock and Chicago blues vie for dominance in their energetic songs, and the guitar-drums instrumentation is fuller than that of many larger bands. With The Dunder Chiefs. — Kevin Oliver
Venue on Broad (Camden): 9 p.m., free; 713-8333,

Norma Jean — Writing from a religious mindset doesn’t always result in praise or preaching, a theory for which Norma Jean offers particularly thorny proof. “A vine in the cracks of a life’s work,” Cory Brandan Putman roars during the opening lines of last year’s dynamic Wrongdoers, poetically dissecting the way pride and vanity undercut human accomplishments, foreshadowing their eventual downfall. The music alternately swells and slices, moments of uneasy sludge exploding into scorched-earth grindcore. Is Putman predicting punishment from the Almighty or an inevitable downfall following decades of unchecked hubris? The answer depends on your beliefs — a testament to Norma Jean’s powerfully open-ended tantrums. With Spoken, Invoking The Abstract and Vorov. — Jordan Lawrence
New Brookland Tavern: 7:30 p.m., $15 ($13 in advance); 791-4413,

Stellar — With ceaseless bass and synth lines that can climb four octaves in eight seconds, Las Vegas’ Stellar pumps out EDM that’s not only perfect for dance floor shenanigans, but also for any Matrix-inspired forays into late-night cyber-terrorism. — Michael Spawn
Social: 9 p.m., free; 603-4313,

Saturday 1

Thee Knee Jerks, Dreiberg — Take members from the likes of The Get Wets, Gravitron and Sons of Young, and you’re bound to come up with some kind of party. In local terms, Thee Knee Jerks take the garage-punk throne just vacated by the now-defunct Unawares and inject some humor and hubris. Dreiberg also include an ex-Sons of Young member in drummer Brett Wider, but Rich Owensby’s songs hew to a more conventional alt-rock style. With Release the Dog and Lost Wages. — Kevin Oliver
Art Bar: 9 p.m., $5; 929-0198;

Stereofly SXSW Kickoff — Stereofly — a concert promotions hub as well as the moniker of an earnest and ambitious local music zine — recently reinforced its zeal for supporting regional talent, booking a room in Austin, Texas, for a two-day showcase at the annual South By Southwest festival later this month. And though it went down to the wire, the group ultimately raised the necessary Kickstarter funds, surging $74 past its $8,000 goal mere hours before the deadline. Now, it’s time to celebrate, with three showcase standouts — authoritative and charismatic MC Fat Rat da Czar, heavy-leaning piano-rock outfit Shallow Palace, and rough-and-tumble folk-rock collective Mason Jar Menagerie — playing this gig before heading west. — Jordan Lawrence
New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., $5 ($8 if under 21); 791-4413,

Monday 3

He is Legend — Although it might have looked like the Wilmington, N.C.-based He Is Legend was hanging it up in 2009 when it announced an “indefinite hiatus,” the catchy and energetic post-hardcore outfit is getting back in the saddle once again, playing a string of dates in advance of a new album out later this year. Given the new single “Something Witchy,” expect the group to continue its ever-increasing turn towards radio-friendly fare at the expense of its heavier and more esoteric early material.  With Severance and Stonewall Stampede. — Kyle Petersen
New Brookland Tavern: 7:30 p.m., $12 ($10 in advance); 791-4413,

Tuesday 4

Junior Astronomers — Making their second appearance at New Brookland Tavern in two months, Charlotte’s Junior Astronomers are hard but not heavy; their emotional rock shimmers unpolished. Frontman Terrence Richard isn’t so much a singer as he is a vehement mouthpiece, never spewing a single syllable that isn’t gutted-out. Even his good moods tread barefoot over hot coals. With Buffalo Rodeo and Gunther Doug. — Michael Spawn
New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., $7; 791-4413,

Wednesday 5

The Black Cadillacs —The Knoxville-born Black Cadillacs are no assembly-line product, but their various parts are standard options on most any late-model retro-rock act. Delivering lighter-thrusting ballads and balls-out rockers with Stones-y swagger, they make for a pretty decent joyride. — Kevin Oliver
New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., free; 791-4413,

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