Paul Hewson, better known as Bono Vox, lead singer of the Irish supergroup U2, once opined that "nothing changes on New Year's Day." Hogwash. The college football bowl games get exponentially better, for one. And, if one partied like it was 1999 the previous evening, the way their head feels changes, too. New Year's Eve for me is usually a little anticlimactic. I enjoy hoisting a can (or bottle, or pint, or two) on the eve of the new year, but usually don't travel very far. There are a couple for reasons for this. One, I value my driver's license. Secondly, I've found that most New Year's celebrations aren't much different than your average Saturday night during the year, except that people drink way more than normal and bars charge five times what they normally would because they're giving away free plastic flutes of Martini & Rossi Asti Spumanti (no Cristal here, playa). But I do enjoy a party, and mass camaraderie can be nice every now and then -- especially when paired with mass drinking (did they even celebrate New Year's during Prohibition?). Uptown Charlotte's New Year's celebration seemed a bit muted this year, and less crowded than in the past. Perhaps our residents enjoyed last year, and didn't want it to end: The Panthers finished on a roll, and we got a fatpockets owner for our new NBA franchise. Then again, in past years I might have been seeing double. No matter, as seeing double just makes the fireworks look all that more impressive. Down comes the crown, and up go the fireworks, which are advertised every year to be "bigger and better" than before. Frankly, I can't tell the difference. Perhaps if they scented the damn things (cotton candy, anyone?) or otherwise introduced some technical advances, the fireworks industry would be rejuvenated. No matter, I suppose. When you get down to it, the fact that we've all made it through another year and continue to live free in this hectic world is reason enough to celebrate, and if freedom means tossing back a few cold ones and shooting colored explosives into the sky, so be it. At least it's friendly fire.Alt.country converged on NoDa Saturday evening, with four of the smartest performers in the genre appearing on the same night. The Evening Muse hosted two of Lucinda Williams' favorites, the ornery but talented Malcolm Holcombe and Nashvillian Kevin Gordon. The Neighborhood Theatre's bill boasted the husband-and-wife balladry of Buddy and Julie Miller. Locals Lou Ford, who have been playing some dates with the Millers, opened the show with a nice full-band set of their robust roots rock that continues to make critics everywhere reach for the alliteration. After a solid hour of music, it was Miller time. The unusual twosome are a fascinating study, even if you don't care for their harmony-laced brand of alt.country. Buddy was resplendent, as usual, in a shiny silver blazer and baseball cap (like Dwight Yoakam, he needs to own up to hair loss, unless he's got some sort of endorsement deal I don't know about). His wife Julie wore her usual shimmery dress and accented her long auburn locks with what looked like Christmas tree tinsel. The show was the pair's usual solid showing, showcasing the their untraditional harmonies and Buddy's meaty guitar tone, especially on the tunes he played from his newish release, Midnight and Lonesome. At times, however, Julie Miller's propensity for between-songs flakiness seemed a little too "tee hee, nudge wink" to my liking. If you're gonna be crazy, do it like my man Malcolm Holcombe. Holcombe, a damn talented singer, probably has to look little further than himself in wondering why he's never made it further than he has despite four-star Rolling Stone reviews and lauds from pals like Lucinda Williams. On stage, Holcombe immediately does his best to commandeer the audience with a blend of inspiration and intimidation, daring you, sometimes vocally, to order a beer or visit the loo. Luckily for him, the songs pretty much do the commandeering for him. Much more agreeable was the late show by Kevin Gordon. Gordon, a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, may be one of the most overlooked roots artists working today, and to hear him speak from the stage about his (soon to be formal) record label, it's apparent he too shares this sentiment about himself. Perhaps he should get back into fiction writing -- now there's a field where folks can count on artistic merit, as opposed to the bottom line. Here's to fair treatment, and a big-time promotional push that suggests the same. Then again, maybe not. At least with a guitar, he gets free drinks.