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TOP SHELF: Those of you who think that ZZ Top should have taken the money and retired when a razor company offered them $3 million a few years back to shave their beards for a TV commercial should probably give the Texans a little more credit. Hot on the heels of the release of a brand-spankin' new RCA album, XXX (perhaps alluding to porn? Dos Equis? the band's 30th anniversary?), ZZ Top will cater to longtime fans and attempt to convert the naysayers (who dropped the band once the ubiquitous "Legs" video fell out of MTV rotation) when they appear in town next week along with fellow dinosaurs Lynyrd Skynyrd.

After making a name for themselves in the '70s with their potent brand of greasy, riff-heavy Texas-blues rockers like "La Grange," "Tush," "Cheap Sunglasses" and "Heard It on the X," ZZ Top dropped the ball of critical scrutiny and, ironically, met with their greatest commercial success with the release of their Eliminator (Warner Brothers) LP in 1983. Opting for a slicker, synth-heavy sound (like so many bands during that blighted decade), the band was reintroduced to a younger generation of fans with the T&A-touting videos for "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man" and the aforementioned "Legs." Determined to repeat the success of that album, the band essentially rewrote it for their next couple of releases, which were unsuccessful both critically and commercially. With XXX, Top somewhat reinvents themselves yet again.

Perhaps taking cues from Los Lobos, the band has gotten downright experimental on the new album, which combines eight studio tracks with four live ones, including a cover of "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and a revisiting of their "Pincushion" from 1994's Antenna (RCA). Give 'em credit for taking chances. While the album is not without its missteps (the wryly titled "Crucifixx-A-Flatt" finds Top attempting to remain contemporary with its unfortunate stab at a hip-hop influenced tune), tracks like "Poke Chop Sandwich" and "Dreadmonboogaloo" utilize studio trickery to add depth to their riffage, and somehow manage to pull it off without sounding forced.

If you were under the impression that Lynyrd Skynyrd collectively died in a 1977 plane crash, you're only partially correct. The survivors of the crash (yes, there were a few, including founding guitarist Gary Rossington) reunited with vocalist Johnny Van Zant, brother of the late Ronnie, for the first time in 1987. Since then, the troopers have been touring and recording virtually non-stop, the latest fruit of their ventures being Edge of Forever, released earlier this year on CMC International.

When Skynyrd first appeared in the early '70s, they proved themselves to be heirs apparent to The Allman Brothers Band, all Southern rock flair with three potent guitarists in tow. The current configuration (in addition to Rossington and Van Zant, the band includes original bassist Leon Wilkeson and original keyboardist Billy Powell, as well as former Blackfoot guitarist Rickey Medlocke, former Outlaws guitarist Hughie Thomasson, and drummer Michael Cartellone) has wowed audiences nationwide, as their tour last summer was the 16th highest-grossing tour of that year, perhaps partially fueled by a segment on VH-1's Behind the Music. It's a safe bet that the band won't mess with a good thing, and will perform faithful versions of songs from its impressive catalog including "Saturday Night Special," "Gimme Three Steps," "Sweet Home Alabama," and the beautiful "Tuesday's Gone." Not to mention the fact that it'll be one of the great moments in rock and roll when the crowd -- without irony -- yells out "Free Bird!," and the band launches into one of the most recognized songs in rock history.

Catch the Duelin' Dinosaurs Tour (my name, not theirs) when ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd appear at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 9, at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave. Advance tickets are available for $35 (plus a $2 service fee) at the TCC box office and all Dillard's outlets, or by phone at 791-4266 or 1-800-638-4253 (for an additional $2.50 per order).


A NIGHT AT THE IMPROV: Resident jazz fans have a lot to be thankful for this week: In addition to the Mose Allison and Stefan George performance at the Rialto Theatre (see this week's Music feature), there are a couple of other noteworthy shows.

Steve Hahn's Zeitgeist promotion company has never been known for booking safe shows. Zeitgeist, which specializes in providing unrestricted performing opportunities for musicians normally constrained by the demands of club owners and the general lack of performance opportunities, will present its third annual festival of improvised music this week. This year's model, called Making It Up (In Real Time), will feature performances from the sax-n-drums Chris Gladney Duo, who will be performing their interpretation of John Coltrane's "Interstellar Space"; the Human Arts Ensemble, which includes Mat Bevel on bass and percussion; the Matt Mitchell Trio, which includes saxophonist Jeremy Patfield and drummer Aaron Bonsall, in addition to guitarist Mitchell; and Shrimp Shaperone and the Gamma Rays, which balances elements of traditional surf-guitar music and avant-garde jazz. Each artist will get an hour to do whatever the hell they want (which is the way it should be). The event is sponsored by Impulse Records, who will offer CDs and other cool stuff to be given away in drawings between acts.

Catch Making It Up (In Real Time) at 7 p.m. Friday, December 3, at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave. Admission is $5 at the door, with proceeds to benefit the Bevel Education Fund.

A lot of people don't know it, but the late, great jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus was born 77 years ago in Nogales. This week, The Newport Rebels, an eight-piece jazz ensemble formed and headed by alto saxophonist Sam Robles, will pay homage to their fellow statesman with The Mingus Project, a multimedia journey into the mind of the legendary performer. The resumes of these eight talented young gents is impressive, to say the least, and this performance should be as well.

The Newport Rebels perform The Mingus Project at 8 p.m. Monday, December 6, at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave. Admission is $5 at the door, and you can call 744-8711 for more information.


CELEBRITY UPSTART: If you've ever been jealous of your friends' stories of seeing famous musicians in tiny clubs before they actually got famous, here's your chance to garner bragging rights yourself: Keith Gattis is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. While he had a successful straightforward country record out a few years ago on RCA, lately he's been delving into the realm of heartland rockers à la Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, and with the evolution he's attracted attention and interest from a slew of major label suits, some of whom will attend at his Tucson show this week. In addition to his usual bandmates, he'll be backed at the show by one of Tucson's finest and most tasteful guitarists, Greyhound Soul's Jason Decourse.

Say you saw him when...as Keith Gattis opens for Deadbolt and James Dead at 9 p.m. Friday, December 3, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is five bucks, and you can call the club at 622-8848 for details.


GALACTIC GALA: Although their website (www.jupiterdave.com) touts 221 as the number of gigs the band has chalked up thus far, Jupiter Dave, which now features Aretha-influenced vocalist Anna Warr, will be celebrating their 200th performance this weekend at Nimbus Brewing Company. The band regularly occupies a weekly Thursday spot at the brewery, and has amassed quite a following in a relatively short amount of time. Their debut CD, Sands of Jupiter, is slated for a January release. See what all the fuss is about when Jupiter Dave hits Nimbus Brewing Company, 3850 E. 44th St., at 9 p.m. Friday, December 3. Admission is cheap, and so are the delicious, on-site brewed pints. Call 745-9175 for more details.


IN MEMORIUM: And finally, we were saddened by the news that local blues guitarist Denis Offret passed away on November 19, at the age of 43. A talented acoustic guitarist and historian of early Delta blues, Offret was instrumental in founding the Tucson Blues Society, and was that organization's first official member. A public memorial for friends and TBS members will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, December 12, at the Boondocks, 3306 N. First Ave. Call 690-0991 for more information. Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Offret's family and friends.

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