Bill Maher, Murder by Death, Gov't Mule, Converge and more

Thursday • 10

BILL MAHER We're not saying Bill Maher is a saint. In fact, he's a chauvinistic jerk who makes ill-considered remarks, like imploring Charlize Theron to quit with the message pictures already and go back to being "sexy." And then there's his infamous comment about the Sept. 11 hijackers being "not cowardly" – a statement that tragically confused fanaticism with courage. But pith is a relative concept in times like these, especially with humorists left and right shying away from genuine controversy to pledge their allegiance to one nation under Clear Channel. In being the one guy constitutionally incapable of toeing the party line, Maher becomes a national treasure by proxy, exercising an unbought candor that far outweighs the force of his occasional gaffes. So the next time he puts his foot in his mouth, take it easy on him. All he ever thought he'd have to do was host a TV show or two. He didn't know he was going to have to be our Mort Sahl, too. (7:30 p.m. at Carr Performing Arts Centre; $35-$45; 407-849-2020)

Friday • 11

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA We've developed a perverse soft spot for these "Classic Albums Live" shows. They're unfailingly bizarre – knowing that "Kurt Cobain" is "Robert Plant" is "Brian Young" is a bit much to wrap your head around – but immensely entertaining. On paper, it seems totally crap; after all, what's the point of watching an anonymous, if note-perfect, band deliver a flawless rendition of your favorite album – they literally don't change a thing, whether it's the running order or the little sonic embellishments – when you can listen to the real thing at home? We don't know the answer, but we do know that of all the Queen albums we'd like to see, A Night at the Opera doesn't even make the top five. Give us Sheer Heart Attack or Queen II or even The Game (we're a sucker for "Dragon Attack"). That said, despite the radio-conquering presence of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Somebody to Love," this disc was one of Queen's straight-up gayest, and, back in the day when "album" actually meant something, it was one of those albums that tested the endurance of casual fans. And when the super-gay "Seaside Rendezvous" precedes the super-Wagnerian "Prophet's Song," we can't wait to see the crowd subconsciously reach for a nonexistent "skip" button. (7:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Live; $26-$28; 407-351-5483)

FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION'S 28TH ANNUAL CONVENTION God love 'em, but this Wisconsin-based group has some nerve to invite thousands of freethinkers (agnostics, atheists), authors and activists to Jeb BushLand for some liberal fun. FFRF-ers will be devoted in thought and speech to a variety of separation of church and state issues, including capital punishment, reproductive rights, humane treatment of the mentally ill and death with dignity. (through Sunday at Rosen Plaza Hotel; $75, students $25; 608-256-8900;

Saturday • 12

DAVID LEE ROTH We don't know if you noticed, but the advertisements for Diamond Dave's show kindly include a set list nestled next to the very vintage photo of Dave rockin' out. And we count exactly five non-Van Halen songs in the set. And of those five, exactly five were recorded by Roth before the '90s hit. We appreciate the promoter's efforts to assure us that this will not be a DLR Band show and that our deep and loyal affinity for Dave will not be subjected to rationalizing the inclusion of the dreaded "new material." However, the small boilerplate disclaimer at the bottom of the ad – "artist and showtimes subject to change" – made us nervously chuckle. We know Dave's got a lot going on in preparation for taking over Howard Stern's radio time slot, but if we show up and Gary Cherone prances onto the stage, we'll be mightily bummed out. (7 p.m. at Hard Rock Live; $27.50-$35; 407-351-5483)

FALL SHAKESPEARE POKER TOURNAMENT Bawdy times are a genuine celebration of the Bard, and so suit this card-playing fund-raiser for Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival. For the 100 expected players, "No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em" is the game of the night and festival staffers are no slouches in this department, we hear. But they'll teach the uninitiated and throw around door prizes, gift certificates and their charismatic personalities. So don't consider this gambling; it's just a historical re-creation of a Shakespeare night out. (6 p.m.-11:15 p.m. at Lowndes Shakespeare Center; $50 suggested donation; 407-447-1700;

CHILI CRAB FESTIVAL Fall has fallen, and that means gorging ourselves at outdoor eating festivals. This year we get to witness the debut of what will surely become our favorite: a festival that combines hot-and-spicy Asian food, cool-and-gassy Asian beer (Tiger, our second favorite super-gassy lager after Kingfisher) and a motley assortment of local bands (this being perhaps the only time ever that Band Marino and the Supervillains will share a stage). If there's a better way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, we don't want to hear about it. (4 p.m.-9 p.m. at Wall Street Plaza; free admission;

MURDER BY DEATH High-lonesome crooners cry in their beers, hip-hop crews down 40s and skinhead punks hoist toasts with their soccer-hooligan brethren. Murder by Death, however, transcends mere odes to beer. In an exponentially wicked move befitting a group with Iron Maiden decals on its cello, it imagines the devil as an angry drunk smiting an entire town after catching a slug in a barroom ambush. (2003's Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? covered this concept.) When singer Adam Turla delivers the lines, "I'll drink whiskey instead of water/'cause I can't stand to be sober in this place," most listeners will hear his words filtered through an imaginary twang to make them fit the standard country context. But with its gloomy guitars, skittering drums and ominous orchestral atmospherics, the Indiana-based band resembles Cursive more than anything on a saloon jukebox. Murder by Death still closes its shows with an intense instrumental, but its set list has changed substantially since its last Orlando visit, due to the 12 new tracks promised on its spring 2006 release. Titled In Bocca di Lupo, this record references Dante's Inferno, with a musically appropriate track for each damned soul (for example, a pirate gets an elegiac sea chanty). These characters share one common trait: With alcohol running through their veins like lighter fluid, they'll cause quite a flare upon descent. (with William Elliot Whitmore, The Life & Times; 6 p.m. at Will's Pub; $10; 407-898-5070)

Monday • 14

GOV'T MULE Wow, we can't remember the last time these guys toured … oh wait, it was like four seconds ago. A cursory glance at the Mule's website is proof they are a perennial touring machine. The "News" tab and the "Tour" tab display virtually identical content. There is no news. How can there be when you never stop playing? Honestly, we think these guys stand on the roof of their tour bus and play for traffic en route to their next gig. Although they attract twitchy Phish-heads desperate for a noodle fix, Gov't Mule possess a powerful, majestic Southern sincerity that leans more toward the grittiness of rock than the kitsch of hippy-dippy. (with Rose Hill Drive; 7 p.m. at Hard Rock Live; $23; 407-351-5483)

Tuesday • 15

CONVERGE Though hardcore has, since its early-'80s genesis, largely decayed into a regimented social cult comparable to the culture it assails and populated by acts most noteworthy for their mind-numbing indistinguishability, a handful of acts have ensured the form's survival as something other than a haven for alienated teens just learning to play their instruments. Chief among them is the Boston-bred quartet Converge. For 15 years Converge has pushed the form's boundaries and served as one of the primary inspirations for recent innovators such as Dillinger Escape Plan and Cave In. While retaining the brutal, paint-peeling aggression, Converge plays with the tempo and dynamics, moderating hardcore's lock-step cadences and generally uniform intensity. These herky-jerky rhythms and fluctuating volumes are crafted into taut, chaotic elegies that nonetheless move with intriguing suppleness. Unlike DEP, whose disparate sonic constructs can sound like they were assembled in a clothes dryer, Converge's music builds organically, encompassing more than a single mood. Last year's You Fail Me marked their move from underground institution Equal Vision Records to über-indie Epitaph for their most polished release to date. The crispness of the album more than compensates for any loss of brawn, and the six-minute acoustic (!!) track demonstrates their imagination and refusal to be limned by genre conventions. (with Darkest Hour, The Red Chord, Municipal Waste; 5 p.m. at Back Booth; $15; 407-999-2570)

Wednesday • 16

REINDEER ROMP AT OMA It just ain't right to make kids romp with reindeers before the traditional turkey slaughter has taken place. But time's ticking away on the Christmas calendar, and we MUST – if nothing else in these plagued times – stick to holiday deadlines. One of the surest signs of the advent of holiday pressure is the 19th annual Festival of Trees, organized by Orlando Museum of Art's Council of 101 support group. The festival kicks off Friday, Nov. 11, offering a lavish array of anything and everything a well-dressed house would need to win the neighborhood association's contest. Wednesday night is given over to youngsters, who will not find reindeer to romp with but can have photos taken with SeaWorld's Santa Shamu and Dolly the Dolphin in holiday dress. (6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at Orlando Museum of Art; $10; 407-672-3838;

Contributors: Jason Ferguson, Andrew Miller, Chris Parker, John Prinzo, Steve Schneider, Lindy T. Shepherd

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