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PLUGGED IN: Intelligent music programming on television has gotten a boost lately from the second season of one of the best music shows on the air. HBO's Reverb features performances from both well-established artists and those who have yet to penetrate mainstream culture. And to the network's credit, they do it right.

First off, each one-hour episode of the show has a headliner of sorts, a name act to draw the casual watcher in, then places them alongside lesser-known acts who benefit from the exposure. Following concert tradition, the "headliner" 's set takes up the bulk of the hour, with the "opening act(s)" usually getting two or so songs to strut their stuff to a national -- albeit paying -- audience, depending on how many acts there are per show (usually three). And the producers are smart enough to try and match like-minded artists together instead of grouping them in slapdash fashion, which could easily happen in lesser hands. So, for example, if you tune in to see The Flaming Lips and Wilco, you just might learn a thing or two about other sophisticated pop bands like Super Furry Animals or Owsley.

Another nice thing about the show is that the clips chosen to represent each artist are taped at real, live club dates, and presented uncut, warts 'n' all, instead of the homogenized, in-studio TV performances we've all, unfortunately, gotten so used to. So when Joe Strummer unexpectedly stops singing an old Clash nugget to bitch out the security guards for being too "hands-on" in dealing with crowd surfers, we get to watch the whole incident unfold, "fookin' shite"s and all. It's the closest television comes to actually being at a show.

To be fair, the show isn't perfect. The interview segments -- thankfully brief -- are consistently its low point. The interviewers usually seem to have little knowledge of the bands they're interviewing, which leads to watching band members squirm as they politely answer the silly questions asked of them. Special props go out to Pavement, whose Stephen Malkmus ended his answer to one particularly insipid question by inquiring, "Do you ask that question often?" Props to the producers for leaving it in.

And not every act that gets air time is groundbreaking, either. So for every Built to Spill or Calexico (that's right, our hometown boys made the cut) that gets well-deserved attention, there's a Bush or an Alanis Morissette that one could hear by merely flipping on the radio. As I said, it's not without its faults, but it's still one of the best dern music shows to be found on the cathode tube.

And if you missed out on Season 2, it's not too late to play catch-up: to commemorate the end of the season, HBO has a Reverb marathon of sorts hitting the airwaves this week. From Sunday, December 26, through Thursday, December 30, the network is airing two shows per night, one at midnight, and one at 1 a.m. Then, on the 31st, they're airing three episodes at midnight, 1 and 2 a.m., the latter being the final airing of the Calexico spot. If you don't have HBO, have a friend tape 'em; you'll be glad you did. For a full schedule of performances, log onto www.hbo.com.


MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Our friends at community radio station KXCI, found at 91.3 on the FM dial (just in case you live in a deep, dark hole), have undertaken a most impressive task in conducting a special poll to determine the Fifty Most Influential Artists of the Century. After tallying more than three hundred ballots placed by DJs and listeners alike, two of the station's most popular (and best, in my humble opinion) on-air personalities will be hosting the unveiling of THE LIST. Kidd Squidd, of Kidd Squidd's Mystery Jukebox, and Carol Anderson, who brings you Ruby's Roadhouse, will be your hosts for the special six-hour program, which will air at noon Sunday, December 26. Tune in, relax, and enjoy this monumental broadcast. You deserve it. For more details, call the station during business hours at 623-1000.


HOLIDAY TREATS: And finally, it's a Christmas Eve Battle of the Local Bands Who Never Play Anymore this week at two downtown clubs.

Pork Torta gigs have become infrequent as of late, what with bassist Chris Cilla relocating to San Francisco 'n' all. (How dare he!) If you missed their appearance at 7 Black Cats earlier this month (their first U.S. gig in nine months) and are in need of a little lo-fi booty-quake, fret not. Get yourself on down to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, December 24, where the Tort-ahhh will be sharing the stage with Portland's powerful instrumental trio, Last of the Juanitas. Cover is a measley $3, and things should kick off at about 9 p.m. Call 622-8848 with any further questions.

And on the same night, just down the street, The Fells will answer such queries as, "Who's in The Fells these days?" and "Didn't those guys break up a couple years ago?" with their (often) potent brand of driving garage punk when they take the stage of 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St., also on Friday, December 24. A yet-to-be-named opening band will start the festivities at 9 p.m. Call 670-9202 to get those lingering questions answered.

Happy holidays to all.

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