COWGIRLS NIGHT OUT: Over the past few months it seems the venerable downtown hotspot Club Congress has been increasingly distancing itself from live music, preferring instead to offer a diverse lineup of dance nights, and setting Friday night aside as its sole showcase for bands. (And in a rather dubious move, the Club has ditched its Thursday night retro-'80s format -- previously its most crowded dance night of the week -- for the new "Decadance: A Decade of Dance 1990-1999," a mix of early techno, Euro-pop, house, and alternative dance mixes.) So it was therefore quite refreshing to learn that the Congo has not one, but two excellent shows booked this week.

Filling the usual Friday night slot is one of the most underappreciated punk bands around: The Lazy Cowgirls have been together for nearly two decades, churning out album after powerful album for a small but religious cult following. They're the sort of band that'll be "discovered" and finally given props only after they've broken up. Help stop this nonsense. All it takes is one Lazy Cowgirls show to make you a convert, to keep you one step ahead of the masses who'll proclaim frontman Pat Todd a genius years from now, to make sure these guys get the credit they deserve while they're still around to enjoy it. You like mid-period Stones, right? (Doesn't everyone?) And the Dolls, and the Stooges, and Hank Williams, the Ramones, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Thunders, too? Of course you do. Then I wholeheartedly encourage you to go see the Lazy Cowgirls play in advance of the April release of their new album, Somewhere Down the Line (Sympathy For The Record Industry), at 9 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Club Congress, 311 E Congress St. Five bucks gets you through the door, where you'll be treated to opening sets from L.A.'s The Sid Hillman Quartet and Tucson's own The Knotts, featuring former members of Helldriver and The Fells. Call the club at 622-8848 for more info.

TWO FOR THE ROAD: The nice thing about living in between the West coast and Austin, Texas, in March is that most of the bands making the trek to play at South By Southwest set up shows along the way, both to gain exposure and to offset their traveling costs. Thus, Tucson is prime stopover territory, and we'll be treated to a couple of shows this week from bands on their way to the big-ass conference.

The other Congress show this week qualifies as such, with two of L.A.'s biggest buzz bands of the moment hitting the stage on Tuesday. Beechwood Sparks releases its self-titled debut album on Sub Pop on March 21, a beautifully crafted platter that combines golden era pop à la Brian Wilson-meets-Big Star with a Byrds-ian country twang, and the occasional foray into psychedelia. Fans of Joe Pernice's multiple projects (Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice Brothers, Chappaquiddick Skyline) won't be disappointed.

Beechwood Sparks opens for the equally lauded Whiskey Bisquit at 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. DJs Baldy and Snizz spin tunes in between sets, and the whole darn thing only sets you back two bones. That number again is 622-8848.

Another Sub Pop band en route to SXSW lands in Tucson this week. Seattle's Love As Laughter, who've just released a second album, Destination 2000, on which they lean a little toward the New Wave side of things (in contrast to their Stones-y debut), play the Plaza Pub, 20 E. Pennington St., at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 9, along with openers Mala Vita. Call 882-0400 for more info.

PURE KANE SUGAR: Many are the ex-porn stars -- and for that matter, actors and actresses in general -- who have attempted to parley their fame into a singing career. But if that Traci Lords techno album was an epic letdown, and Bruce Willis' The Return of Bruno wasn't quite the front porch hoedown it purported to be, it doesn't necessarily mean there's no exception to the rule. One such is Candye Kane. Unlike most actors-turned-singers, the girl's got talent: she's an ex-porn star, a wife, a mother, a bisexual, and a helluva jazz-blues singer.

On her forthcoming release, The Toughest Girl Alive (Bullseye Blues & Jazz/Rounder), Kane stretches out stylistically, if not thematically. Never one to shy away from the topics of love and sex, Toughest Girl continues in that vein, and Kane's trademark bluesy burlesque swing is in full effect. But this time around it's spiced with flavors of country-blues (the title track), gospel ("One More Day (Without Your Love)"), rockabilly ("For Your Love" and "Je N'en Peux Plus Sans Ma Cadillac") and straightforward Texas blues ("Let's Commit Adultery").

Catch Candye Kane at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Tucsonan Lisa Otey is touring with Kane's band on piano (she guests on three cuts on the new album), and roots-rocker James Intveld provides opening duties. Advance tickets are available for $6 at Hear's Music, CD Depot, Guitars, Etc., Zip's University and the Congress Street Store. They'll be $8 at the door. Call 798-3333 for details.

LET THE RUMBA FLOW FREELY: While the success of The Buena Vista Social Club kicked a Cuban renaissance into high gear recently, there are other equally noteworthy artists out there that are finally beginning to get the recognition they've deserved for a while now. Among those is ÁCubanismo!, a 15-piece ensemble led by trumpeter Jesus Alemany that emphasizes son, the main traditional song and dance form of Cuba, and the root of salsa. The group keeps the traditional framework of son, but adds layers to it, in effect opening the style up to create what Alemany calls "a new era of dancing music." The band also hits upon other traditional dance styles like rumba, cha-cha and descargas, as well as more obscure rhythms like danzon and pa 'ca.

Slip on your dancing shoes and check out !Cubanismo! at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $20 at Hear's Music, Antigone Books and Enchanted Earthworks. For reservations and information, call 881-3947.

PUNK JUNKIES: Since reopening roughly a month ago in its new location, Skrappy's, the all-ages hangout-cum-punk rock club, has been staging some impressive shows. This week is no exception. A trio of noteworthy performances is sure to sate anyone's hunger for the punk:

Hardcore royalty D.I. hits the club on Saturday, March 11; left coast faves the Mr. T Experience appear along with the Groovie Ghoulies on Sunday, March 12; and next Thursday, March 16, the club hosts ska-poppers The Hippos along with Nerf Herder, Jerry Lives Twice, Phil's Revenge and Pasta Rocket. Skrappy's is located at 201 E. Broadway Blvd., in the former location of Dillinger's and the Rialto Cabaret. Tickets for all shows are available in advance at CD Depot and Zip's University. Call 620-1824 for show times and ticket prices.

MOLLYS MADNESS: How quickly time flies: 10 years ago this month a trio called The Mollys debuted -- on St. Patrick's Day, natch -- on the outdoor patio of Cushing Street Bar and Grill. In the decade since that fateful first gig, the Mollys have expanded to a five-piece, released six albums, and toured the world to consistent critical acclaim. Known for their unusual combo platter of styles, most notably combining Irish folk, country and Tex-Mex, head songwriter and singer Nancy McCallion has been lately garnering some impressive ink on the strength of her songwriting. According to a December 1999 review in The Washington Post, "(McCallion) rivals Lucinda Williams and Iris DeMent as one of the finest Americana songwriters of the '90s and she deserves a comparable reputation."

To commemorate their 10th anniversary, the band has recorded the excellent, brand-spankin'-new CD, Only A Story (Apolkalips Now), and celebrates its release with a party at 9 p.m. Friday, March 10, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Tickets are $8 at the door, and include $3 off the new CD, available for purchase at the show. Call 798-3333 for additional info.

FRESH FRUIT: Australian five-piece Fruit plays electro-acoustic funk in an uplifting, energetic and entirely danceable style that has been aptly described as the Indigo Girls-meet-INXS. Along the way they also toss in heartfelt love songs, a dash of punk energy, and a sort of multi-culti cafÉ culture vibe. Judging from their newest self-released album Shift, recorded live in May 1998 in Australia, the band knows how to throw it down on a stage with the best of 'em.

Fruit appears in a benefit show for KXCI-FM community radio at 8 p.m. Friday, March 10, at the International Arts Center, 516 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $12 in advance, available at Antigone Books and Hear's Music; they'll cost $14 at the door. KXCI members receive a $2 discount. For more information, call 795-4135. You can also preview Fruit's music online at www.fruit.on.net.

LAST NOTES: A benefit for the Cure For Cancer charity features an all-star local lineup with Shoebomb (who, after a lengthy hiatus, are playing a handful of shows this month alone, with a batch of new songs in tow), The Zsa Zsas, Fourkiller Flats, the Simplistics, and Wise Folk Malcontent. The event goes down at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at MOCA/Hazmat Gallery, 191 E. Toole Ave. All proceeds benefit UMC cancer patients. Call 624-5019 for additional information.

And finally, old school ska-sters The Skeletones make their way to town this week along with local openers Pasta Rocket and The Elemenopees. The gig hits the basement of the Double Zero, 121 E. Congress St., at 7 p.m. Friday, March 10. Advance tickets are available for $8 at Zip's University, CD City, and the club. For further details, dial 670-9332.


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