Fresh off a trip to Mecca -- literally! -- Rhymesayers hip-hop star Brother Ali is doing his part to make the world a better place, and in this case it's a piece of it that he knows well: He's heading up a fundraiser for the music program at his alma mater, Robbinsdale High School, co-organized by the music-education do-gooders behind the "Minnesota Beatle Project" albums, Vega Productions. Also performing are Kanser's live-band offshoot More Than Lights, Dada Trash Collage, the Hood Internet and Ali's cohort DJ Snuggles. (8 p.m. Fri., Marriott City Center, 30 S. 7th St., Mpls. 18 & older. $30, VIP $150. (C.R.)

Singer/piano man Bruce McCabe is back on board with Lamont Cranston, Pat Hayes' enduring Minnesota blues institution. A big part of the Cranstons' heyday, McCabe went on to distinguish himself with the Hoopsnakes and Jonny Lang (co-writing "Lie to Me"). He'll do double duty, playing with opening act Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys. (8:30 p.m. Fri., Ramada Mall of America, Bloomington, $20-$25.) (J.B.)

.38 Special still has two of its original bullets -- singer Donnie Van Zant, brother of Johnny and the late Ronnie, and guitarist Don Barnes -- firing those 1980s hits "Hold On Loosely" and "Caught Up in You." The Southern rockers' last studio album, 2004's "Drivetrain," suggests that these vets are more about muscle than melody nowadays. (9 p.m. Fri., Treasure Island Casino, $30-$40.) (J.B.)

When a truly psychedelic band like Vampire Hands promises to do a set of all Beatles covers, you know not to expect a cakewalk through "Strawberry Fields." That is one of several promising tribute sets on tap at the Turf Club's year-end bash, also featuring the Leisure Birds as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Chambermaids as the Pixies and -- just in case you don't understand this is not your average cover-band show -- Daughters of the Sun as obscure doom-metal band Sleep. (10 p.m. Fri., Turf Club. 21 & older. $10.) (C.R.)

You can forget serving watermelon at your house for New Year's Eve. All of the melons in town will likely be bought up for the rare return of Metallagher, the so-stupid-it's-brilliant band that combines thrashing intensity of early Metallica songs with the smashing gimmickry of mustache- and sledgehammer-wielding comedian Gallagher. Torch the Spires and 20 Dollar Love open. (10 p.m. Fri., Triple Rock. 21 & older. $8-$10.) (C.R.)

Probably benefitting from its proximity to so many musicians' homes on a night when nobody wants to drive, Cause has a coolly eclectic quartet of bands who are worthy of headlining on their own any other weekend night. Ryan Olcott's electro-fried Mystery Palace tops the bill this time, with jazzbo hip-hop experimentalists Black Blondie, Southern-styled heavy hitters the Rockford Mules and large chamber-rock ensemble Me & My Arrow. Grant Cutler of Lookbook fame will also be DJ-ing. (9:30 p.m. Fri., Cause Spirits & Soundbar. 21 & older. $15.) (C.R.)

Dessa put together a new band at the start of the year to promote her breakthrough full-length debut, "A Badly Broken Code" -- the No. 2 album in this week's Twin Cities Critics Tally --and now the Doomtree rapper/singer/poet is showing off just how far they have come. Led by Sean McPherson of Heiruspecs fame, the group accentuates the jazzy side of her music and should sound intensely intimate here. (10 p.m. Fri., Aster Cafe. Limited SRO tickets remain. $20.) (C.R.)

His sixth annual NYE gig might actually be one of the more normal things Mark Mallman does in 2010. In fact, after pulling off his 78-hour Marathon 3 concert, issuing his synth-pop band Ruby Isle's remake of "Appetite for Destruction" and starting a new electronic act called Waxx Maxx, the piano-imploding madman is due to get serious and play a straight-up rock show. You can still expect a few surprises as well as a fun time with the opening bands, Red Pens, Caroline Smith & the Good Night Sleeps and bouncy rap duo Koo Koo Kanga Roo. (9 p.m. Fri., Varsity Theater. 18 & older. $14.) (C.R.)

We've seen Tina Schlieske do her Elvis shtick and her holiday show with Lola & the Red Hots. To ring in 2011, the most underappreciated Twin Cities bar-room singer of the past two decades will reunite with her old band, Tina & the B Sides. That means a good helping of her own original blend of rock/blues/soul. Either way, Tina always delivers. (9 p.m. Fri., Fine Line, $71-$76, which includes open bar.) (J.B.)

One of the great local music stories of 2010 was the return of Wilebski's Blues Saloon last New Year's Eve. This time the club is bringing in the new year with a triple bill at its spacious new location in the former Club Cancun. Co-headliners Bernard Allison and Eric Gales both come from illustrious blues families. Bernard is the guitar-slinging son of Luther Allison, while Memphis favorite Gales is the brother of the late Little Jimmy King. Both men rock up their 12-bar music, with Gales betraying a Jimi Hendrix influence. Opening the night is a set of reggae by the reunited Ipso Facto. (6 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri., Wilebski's Blues Saloon. $20-$25.) (T.S.)

Swingin' singer Carole Martin's annual New Year's Eve gig, always classy and comfy, has a somewhat different supporting cast this year. Club owner and son-in-law Kenny Horst is back on drums, of course, but with the apparently invincible Dean Magraw on guitar, longtime Moore By Four bassist Jay Young, eloquent pianist Phil Aaron and second-set special guest Gary Berg, playing both saxophone and chromatic harmonica. You'd be hard-pressed to assemble a Twin Cities band with more verve and versatility. (9 p.m. Fri., Artists' Quarter. $38-$45.) (T.S.)

It's time to "Pick Up the Pieces" of 2010. While partygoers revel around the globe, the Average White Band has a little "Work to Do." Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre have still "Got the Love" for soul and funk that's served them well since 1972. The Scots-born soul stalwarts still "Cut the Cake" and cut the mustard nightly. (5 & 10:30 p.m. Fri., Dakota Jazz Club. $100-$300.) (T.S.)


Defying the rule that all bands with hemp-related names have to be laid-back and groovy, Marijuana Deathsquads has been steadily blowing eardrums, breaking drum heads, and tearing at the seams of conventional music-making since its semi-mysterious inception as an experimental, rhythmically bombastic offshoot of the hardcore band Building Better Bombs. The group is made up of a loose collective of local scenemakers, including rap star P.O.S., programmer Ryan Olson and some of their Gayngs cohorts and other pals. (10 p.m. Sat., Turf Club. 21 & older. $6.) (C.R.)

A band that often sounds like it stepped over a roomful of empty PBR tallboys before taking the stage (in good ways), twangy, blue-collar rock quintet the Evening Rig is a smart choice to kick off a new Pabst-sponsored series at the Triple Rock. Every Monday in January, the two-room club will host a show on its original, smaller, cozier and usually nonmusical side, where fans will also be treated to half-price mugs of you-know-what and even souvenir cups. Opening night opener is the 4ontheFloor. (9 p.m. Mon., Triple Rock. 21 & older. $3.) (C.R.)

Singer Brian McKnight has worn many hats: pop/soul hitmaker ("Anytime," "Back at One"); late-night TV talk show host; smooth-jazz radio show DJ; contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice"; Broadway performer in "Chicago"; movie composer; songwriter/producer who has worked with Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and Josh Groban. When he comes to Minneapolis, he'll be a solo acoustic soul man. (7 p.m. Tue.-Wed., Dakota, $50-$65.) (J.B.)


The 400 Bar turns back the clock in a cool way, as Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover kick off a two-month Wednesday-night residency. The blues and folk legends, featured in a new DVD, "Koerner Ray & Glover Live at First Avenue," will play an hourlong set at 9 p.m. every Wednesday in January and February, with a band preceding them and another afterward. For the kickoff week, Mankato songwriter Joe Kopel opens, while the closing honors go to the spare and folksy trio Animals With Antlers, featuring sisters Sadie and Stevi Saindon, who happily give away free CDs at their shows. (8 p.m. Wed., 400 Bar. $5.) (T.S.)


The jazziest of the Neville Brothers, and the family member who's ventured farthest afield from New Orleans, saxophonist Charles Neville has credits a mile long and all over the musical map. He started out touring with R&B greats as a youngster in the 1950s -- Bobby Bland, James Brown, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles. Later came gigs with jazz heavyweights (George Coleman, Barry Harris), Mardi Gras Indians (the Wild Tchoupitoulas), genuine Native Americans (the Songcatchers), avant beat poets (Kip Hanrahan), and his daughter (Charmaine Neville). His latest album, "Tree of Life," is a world-music collaboration with Senegalese kora player Youssoupha Sidibe. Still, when leading his own band, Neville is likely to offer a funky post-bop mix -- some hard jazz, some groove music. (7 p.m. Sat.-Sun., Dakota Jazz Club. $20.) (T.S.)

Contributors: Staff critics Jon Bream and Chris Riemenschneider and freelancer Tom Surowicz.