The Brakes

The Brakes offer more than just a summery sound on a wintry night. Between their formation in 2002 and the release of this year's live debut,

Tale Of Two Cities,

this sunshiny Philadelphia outfit has made itself into a hard-pop, boogie-rocking machine built on intuition and steered by invention. That's probably why the Brakes made their first album a live one (and one nominated as best live album of '08 at the forthcoming national Indie Music Awards). Guitarist Matt Kass and singer-songwriter Zach Djanikian have taken the best of the gutsy California sound that spirited Spirit and the gentle primitive melodicism of Paul McCartney's earliest solo albums, making for a pulsating collection.

- A.D. Amorosi

Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Here's a tonic to soothe those post-Christmas and economic downturn blues: a sonic blowout by pedal steel innovator/funkmeister Robert Randolph and his Family Band. Randolph, who got his start playing gospel in a North Jersey church before moving into an A-list career with help from fan Dave Matthews, is revving up audiences this month with his 90-minute, no-set-list gigs. Randolph and crew (including his sister Lenesha on vocals) get audiences up and dancing. Sometimes, he allows dozens of fans onstage during extended jams that offer a cross-generational mix of everything from Michael Jackson and Bo Diddley numbers to their own hip-shaking tunes. And don't be late: Funk/jazz trio Soulive and vocal powerhouse Danielia Cotton make it worth getting there on time.

- Nicole Pensiero

They Might Be Giants

In a career that goes back more than a quarter-century, They Might Be Giants have rarely missed a chance to be quirky. So it's only a mild surprise that their two New Year's Eve shows at the TLA are billed as "14 and over" affairs. The age cutoff is odd, though: Given their recent success with kids' albums such as

Here Come the ABCs

and this year's sequel,

Here Come the 123s,

John Linnell and John Flansburgh might have some grumpy youngsters outside the door. Regardless, bouncy, smart and ridiculously catchy classics like "Particle Man," "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Don't Let's Start" can bring out the inner 14-year-old in every one, and TMBG can be counted on to put the happy in the new year.

- Steve Klinge