The Cab/the Summer Set
The Top 40 may be dominated by Auto-Tune, candy-colored electro, and splashy hip-pop, but the pop-rock underground is thriving. The Everything's Fine Symphony Soldier tour features some of the genre's best. The Cab (pictured) hew closest to mainstream pop's glossy ideals. In fact, it's not a stretch to surmise that had their latest album, Symphony Soldier, been released at the height of Justin Timberlake mania, it would have been a crossover smash. As it stands, the earnest piano ballad "Endlessly" (which features a songwriting assist from Bruno Mars) and the funkier rock-driven "Animal" (a co-write with Adam Levine and Jesse Carmichael of Maroon 5) make sense for heavy radio rotation, while other songs show the Vegas band has a flair for the retro-futuristic. Co-headliners the Summer Set specialize in warm, well-produced music with touches of piano, fluttery acoustic guitars, and easygoing tempos. — Annie Zaleski
With He Is We, Days Difference, and Paradise Fears. 6 p.m. Thursday, February 2. Grog Shop. Tickets: $14; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
This Americana quintet from Chicago embraces a high-lonesome sound filtered through a rock & roll attitude. The one-two punch of singer-guitarist Kris Nowak and fiddler Allie Kral places Cornmeal right up there with other tradition-heavy roots bands that rock. Nowak's calming tone grounds the songs even when their tempos achieve hurricane-wind velocity, as they do on "Johnny Put Down Your Gun," while Kral's playing rivals Jimi Hendrix in its intensity and fluid improvisation. Their ferocious version of "Shelter" from Live in Chicago, IL Vol. II puts their talents on display and shows off how solid a foundation their bandmates provide. Within a single song, Cornmeal flawlessly move from country to reggae to Middle Eastern to jam and back again. They don't easily conform to labels, and they've built their audience the old-fashioned way, from one gig to the next. Check them out when they headline the Beachland this weekend. — John Patrick Gatta
With JP & the Chatfield Boys. 9 p.m. Saturday, February 4. Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $12; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
Twenty-eight-year-old singer-songwriter Andy Grammer — who combines pop, soul, soft rock, and even reggae in his songs — comes from creative genetic stock: His dad Red is a Grammy-nominated children's artist. When he was 20, Grammer — who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in New York — began street busking in Santa Monica using an amp powered by a car battery and an acoustic guitar before hitting the club circuit. His long apprenticeship finally paid off in 2010, when his debut single, "Keep Your Head Up," became a hit thanks to its interactive video (featuring The Office's Rainn Wilson), which allowed viewers to change the course of action playing out in front of them. Grammer's self-titled debut album came out last summer, and his latest single, "Fine by Me," has broken onto a number of charts and is netting lots of airplay across the board, drawing in music fans of all ages and tastes. — Brian Baker
With Ryan Star and Action Item. 7 p.m. Monday, February 6. Grog Shop. Tickets: $14, $12 in advance; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
Voodoo Glow Skulls
After nearly a quarter-century, Voodoo Glow Skulls remain one of punk's most visceral and engaging bands — and one of the few still standing from the fertile SoCal scene of the late '80s. The Casillas brothers (singer Frank, guitarist Eddie, and bassist Jorge), plus a rotating cast of drummers and amped-up horn sections play a bracing blend of shredding punk and adrenalized ska. And over the course of eight albums, Voodoo Glow Skulls have refused to join the growing throng of punk bands that sweeten their sound with perky pop melodies. Their latest album, 2007's Southern California Street Music, is a raw and raucous set that recalls the group's earliest work. The sextet recently posted four new tracks (including the anthemic "Don't Jump the Gun" and the hyperactive "My Girlfriend Is a Chola") online, a slamming preview of an album that should come out sometime later this year. Until then, strap in, hold tight, and mosh thoroughly. — Baker
With Authority Zero and Skyfox. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 7. Grog Shop. Tickets: $14, $12 in advance; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
Whatever happened to Estelle? Four years ago she was all over the place, mostly thanks to her collaboration with Kanye West, "American Boy," a globetrotting R&B fantasy that pinned the London girl's dreams on a smooth-talking boy from the United States who liked baggy jeans and words that rhyme. Her jet-setting beau probably never came through with the promised weekends in New York City and Los Angeles, but the 31-year-old singer didn't let that bring her down on her 2008 album Shine, which was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize (it lost to a record by Elbow, which also beat out better albums by Radiohead, Adele, and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss). It looks like Estelle is finally back in the game. Her follow-up, All of Me, is slated for release later this month, and she's getting the word out with a brief tour of smaller venues more suited to her big voice. But without a buzz track like "American Boy," or someone like Kanye in her corner, it might be a long haul back. The two songs she's already tested from the album — released in 2010 and 2011 — bombed. Her MIA status sure hasn't helped either. Is this 2012's first comeback? — Michael Gallucci 9 p.m. Thursday, February 2. House of Blues Cambridge Room. Tickets: $25, $23 in advance; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
Under the Radar
Damon McMahon, who records as Amen Dunes, makes psych-rock so fractured, battered, and fucked up, you'll worry for him in a Syd Barrett sorta way. His newest record, Through Donkey Jaw, is filled with feedback, buzzing noise, and barely penetrable vocals. It's not easy listening, but the scarred layers are revealing. Amen Dunes play the Happy Dog on Friday.