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PEAK TECHNIQUE: The two most technically proficient musical performances I've ever witnessed came from two very distinct performers.

In reverse chronological order, the first one was probably about five years ago. Classical violinist Itzhak Perlman performed a piece on Letterman--I couldn't begin to guess what it was, but I do know it had nothing to do with Schindler's List--that encompassed everything music sets out to accomplish. It was pure energy and vibrancy, a showcase for the master at the top of his game.

The second one took place when Yngwie Malmsteen opened for god-knows-who at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center in Springfield, Ill., about, oh, let's just call it a decade or two ago, give or take seven or eight years. I was a young lad--a rocker, sure--who would go see literally anything that was put before me. Such is the plight of a small-town pre-teen. To see the good stuff you had to travel to St. Louis or Chicago. When you can't drive, this is a problem. But it was always easy enough having parents who would participate in the I'll drop 'em off if you'll pick 'em up ritual as long as it only meant a quick drive downtown to the PCCC. I ended up seeing just about all of the second-ran rock bands of the '80s, plus the occasional A-lister.

Anyway, ol' Yngwie was probably opening for April Wine or The Scorps or some such shite, but at some point during the "guitar solo" portion of the show (i.e., the whole show), in between intervals of that throwing-the-guitar-360-degrees-around-the-waist trick (I'm pretty sure he did it before Steve Vai did), he launched into a guitar solo that was such a behemoth that it instantly got a drunken Midwestern bunch of yahoos-just-itchin'-to-see-Loverboy's attention, all eight or 10 thousand pairs of eyes widened, all eight or 10 thousand mouths agape. The combination of pure speed and accuracy was unlike anything I had ever seen, nor have I seen since then.

I've said that both of these performances were the most technically amazing I've ever witnessed, but so far I've ignored the fact that music is ultimately about communication, about soul. And therein lies the ultimate consideration of where Yngwie goes wrong.

Keep in mind that Perlman's performance was on television, which has to diminish at least a portion of its potency, and still, the solo violin piece was a completely passionately played dream, somehow via cathode-ray broadcast nothing short of pure transcendence, the very reason we ostensibly listen to music in the first place. Conversely, Malmsteen's guitar solo had as much soul as my cat's ass. Maybe less.

Yes, it freaked us all out to know that a human being could run scales that quickly, and yes, my mouth was one of those agape, but what kind of story is that later? "Dude, the guy was so fast and clean!" vs. "Dude, I think I just got a fleeting glimpse into why we're all here." Proficiency vs. Proficiency + Emotion. You decide.

Yngwie Malmsteen's War To End All Wars tour hits The New West, 4385 W. Ina Road, at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 23. Openers are Lizzy Borden and Gravity Couch. Advance tickets may be purchased for $15 at Zip's on University. They'll be $17 at the door. For more info call 744-7744.


QUESTIONABLE FUTURE: The bad news is that Tucson groove mainstay Good Question is breaking up; the good news is that it's doing it in style. Aside from its actual last-ever performance at this weekend's Club Crawl, the band will hold court for a night-long farewell at Plush a couple days prior. Though they promise to try and play for four hours straight without stopping, aided and abetted by friends sitting in, the smart money says they'll have to pee at some point. Catch the Improvadelicjammyjazzfunkatronica train while you still can when Good Question bids Tucson a fond farewell at 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 19 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover is $5 and you can call 798-1298 with questions good or bad.


HAWKING THE GOODS: Founded 29 years ago in the D.C area (Maryland, to get slightly more specific), The Nighthawks continue to pound the pavement peddling their time-tested triumvirate of blues, soul and rockabilly. Having endured more lineup changes over the years than you have fingers and toes, the combo is still fronted by founding member, harpist and vocalist Mark Wenner. Catch the current incarnation of The Nighthawks at 8 p.m. on Blue Monday, April 23 at The Boondocks, 3306 N. First Ave. Tickets cost $7 in advance and $10 at the door ($7 at the door for Tucson Blues Society and KXCI members). Questions? Call the friendly folks at 690-0991.


BULLOCK'S BOY: If fame will only get you so far in the music biz (see: Keanu Reeves, David Hasselhoff, Jennifer Lopez--doh!), then fame-by-association can't be worth much. Even if your name is Bob Schneider, your girlfriend happens to be named Sandra Bullock, and you are seemingly just a little-fish-in-a-big-pond aspiring singer/songwriter (living in Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, no less), do you think you could pack in sold-out crowds week after week? If your name is Bob Schneider, you can and you do. And to top it all off, you won 10 plaques at the prestigious Austin Music Awards last month, including Musician of the Year. You've also just released your major-label debut, Lonelyland (Universal), after you tired of self-releasing up to six discs a year (one of which sold 15,000 copies at your local music outlet, Waterloo Records, alone). You worked really hard on your new album, which veers from the Evan Dando-where-have-you-been "Metal and Steel" on over to the sultry country soul hip-hop of "Big Blue Sea," delving into Waits-ian weirdness on "Jingy," before stopping for fuel at the G. Love fill 'er up on "Bullets," not to mention one of the most gorgeous ballads written in the last few years, "The World Exploded into Love." And that's just in the first five songs. Proud of yourself, aren't you?

Like the fabulous new Jim White record, Lonelyland takes rural music forms and adapts them to the present day with modern flourishes (in White's case, collaborations with electronica whizzes the likes of Morcheeba; in yours, mellow hip-hop beats and horn sections, African world-beat and bossa nova, plus plenty of Hammond B-3). There will be a large, appreciative crowd when you take the stage of Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Sunday, April 22, just after Tucson's Train opens up. The club's number is 798-1298.


FLOCK TO SHEPHERD: Blues-rock prodigy/showoff Kenny Wayne Shepherd (he's still only 23) hits town with his regular band in tow, but this time around he's also bringing former Stevie Ray Vaughan backing band Double Trouble as opener and jam-mate. Expect an electrifying night of electric blues as the gents hit the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 19. Tickets are a steep $32 on the day of the show. Call 798-3333 for more info.


UR-PUNK EULOGY: As we go to press, I've just learned of the death of Ramones frontman Joey Ramone at age 49. A formative part of any punk fan's upbringing, the Ramones were arguably the granddaddys of the entire punk movement, all pure punk attitude in black leather jackets, dark sunglasses and Chuck Taylors before there even was such a thing as punk attitude. And the music--god, the music. Three chords of bouncy punk goodness rearranged appropriately depending on the song, with Joey's pure devil-may-care melodicism laid over it all. Simply put, punk rock would be an entirely different beast if the Ramones never existed. He'll be sorely missed.

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