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The Great Cover-Up: Rialto Theatre and Club Congress, Thursday, Dec. 9, to Saturday, Dec. 11

The annual charity event for which local bands leave their own set lists at home and instead perform short sets of cover songs by a particular artist this year lived up to its name. In the words of one Facebook commenter: "Wow. That was pretty damn amazing. The Great Cover-Up was truly great this year."

About 40 bands participated in this year's event, the 13th installation, which raised money for the Tucson Artists and Musicians Healthcare Alliance. For the first time, the action was split between the Rialto (Thursday and Saturday) and the event's traditional home, Club Congress (Friday). Some of the highlights:

The Runaway Five yacht-rocked it up mostly medley-style, with roughly half of their songs being related to Michael McDonald. The Electric Blankets turned in an electrifying take on early classics by The Who, while The Modeens and Muddy Bug expertly appealed to all fans of The Monkees and Donovan, respectively, splitting their time between hits and obscurities. Unfortunately, I missed sets by Flint and Spacefish (Nirvana and Jane's Addiction), but those who saw them seemed to universally agree on their greatness.

Fronted by Emilie Marchand and Brittany Dawn (with three female backup singers), Las Exciteras—one of several bands formed specifically for the event—gave a performance of girl-group nuggets by The Exciters that was so accurate, you might have thought you'd stepped back in time to 1963. Same goes for The Ghost of 505's Cake set, though the year would have been 1996.

Still, the best set of the whole weekend was the last: Calexico performing as The Flaming Lips, and I do mean as The Flaming Lips. Joey Burns donned his best Wayne Coyne suit (with untied bowtie, natch) and a gray wig. Hundreds of balloons were dropped from the balcony and bounced around the venue. Additional musicians were brought in to fill out the sound, including background singers the Silver Thread Trio, who were decked out in Santa suits. And the Powhaus crew danced around onstage in everything from gladiator and bunny costumes to gorilla suits. Did I mention the confetti and Silly String? The music itself was fantastically rendered, but the performance became a celebration of the surreal and sheer joyful abandon.

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