Where I work we recently have begun transitioning from PHP/Etc to Java/GWT for both web-based (GWT) and non web-based (CLI) utilties and sundries that we use "to get it done". We have found that we spend more time creating code that works and alot less time debugging type issue, undelcared variable issues, etc and the performance gain over PHP was also a nice improvement.
The Apache Commons, XOM, JSOUP, and other 3rd party packages greatly simply stuff like XHTML processing, data extraction, format conversions, looping through files, and directories, reading files line by line, etc. And for some of our more heavy data stream processing type stuff, the built in threading stuff can give a definate peformance benefit when designed for.
While it is a compiled language, the development cycle for basic "get it done" stuff is extremely rapid because the applications we are creating are not large and the language is alot more flexible than basic Bash scripting, etc.
Eclipse also goes along with with automatic code completion, etc, in greatly speeding things up.
The core 'Java' syntax is similar enough to core 'C' syntax that you can spend your time actually learning the higher level stuff and alot less time learning where different punctuations go.
A good a quick introduction to the language would be something like: "Linda Java Essential Training" - http://www.lynda.com/Java-tuto...
(Not saying this one is better than any other quick introductions...)
Whichever language(s) you choose
... best of luck.