WAY-OUT YONDER: While the name Yonder Mountain String Band might conjure up images of a bunch of craggy, gray-bearded hillbillies sitting on a porch attempting to duplicate the magic of Bill Monroe, the group is actually comprised of four fresh-faced twentysomethings from Colorado who approximate the sound of John Hartford fronting a slamgrass jam-band. The band's latest album, Town By Town (Frog Pad Records, 2001) was produced by veteran folk/bluegrass singer/songwriter Tim O'Brien.

In true bluegrass style, there are no drums, the picking is lightning-fast, and the harmonies are of the high-lonesome variety, but the boys take liberties with the genre by stretching their tunes out longer than the traditional concise arrangements of typical bluegrass, allowing plenty of space for improv jams. Guaranteed to win over Leftover Salmon fans, bluegrass aficionados, and those who have recently caught O Brother, Where Art Thou? fever.

Catch Yonder Mountain String Band at 9 p.m. on Sunday, February 10, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $10. For more information call 622-8848.

POST-ROCK, SORTA: Sporting a guitarist, a drummer, and two bassists (one plays sixstrings, the other one less), Chicago's Volta Do Mar is an instrumental band that indulges in the region's patented post-rock sound (sorta), albeit with a hitch: they actually rock.

Like a guitar-heavy, meth-addled, ADD-stricken Tortoise, the foursome always keeps you guessing as to what's coming next, tossing off sections of funk, prog, and jazz (not to mention some nicely finger-picked guitar) at their skewed discretion, knowing exactly when to lull you and when to get frenetic on your ass. The band's latest release, At the Speed of Light, released in October on Arborvitae/Southern Records, proves them better than most bands of their ilk.

Volta Do Mar appears at 9 p.m. on Thursday, February 7, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Opening the show is Tucson's excellent Red Switch, who are embarking on a six-show string of dates through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona with the headliners (and who are also performing with Desaparecidos this week -- see article this section). For extra info call the friendly folks at 670-9202.

FREE BO!: Longtime fans of Bonnie Raitt will recognize the name Freebo, as he served as the blueswoman's bassist, both live and on record, throughout the '70s. When he wasn't sharing the spotlight with Raitt he was holed up in the studio doing session work for the likes of John Mayall, Maria Muldaur (he wrote and played the bassline for her enduring 1974 hit "Midnight at the Oasis"), Ringo Starr, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. But a couple years back Freebo decided it was time to strike out on his own; in 1999 he recorded and released a solo album, The End of the Beginning, on his own Poppabo Music label.

The disc, which features a host of guest appearances including spots from Raitt, guitar wiz Albert Lee, Tommy Mars (formerly with Frank Zappa), and Valerie Carter (Jackson Browne, James Taylor), carries a distinct '70s soft rock/blues-rock vibe, though its influences are slightly further-reaching and there are some notable exceptions to the rule: "You Don't Have to Live This Way" could be a ballad outtake from a mid-period Tom Petty record; "Trouble" grafts Mars' lilting (and ridiculously catchy) synth whistle onto a white-dude reggae groove; and "Yogi" sounds like a low-key boogie shuffle a la Little Feat.

Freebo performs at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, February 11, at Hazy Dayz Lounge and Cafe, 187 N. Park Ave. Tickets are $10. For details call 884-0272.

MARDI GRAS MADNESS: If you've been crying in your gumbo over the fact that you missed this year's Mardi Gras, mop away those tears and throw on your dancin' shoes 'cause 91.3 KXCI- FM is hosting a triple threat of N'awlins-style bands this week.

Headlining the celebration is Sacramento's Mumbo Gumbo, who incorporate elements of Latin and Caribbean musics into their Cajun and zydeco bouillabaisse, yet still manage to sound like they come from California. The seven-piece band has been releasing albums on Ruby Records for a decade now, and their latest is last year's Seven.

Rounding out the bill is a pair of New Orleans-flavored local combos: fronted by ex-Mollys accordionist Gary Mackender, Carnivaleros stick to the dark alleyways of the Big Easy, dishing out a bluesy take on Tex-Mex, while, true to their name, Black Leather Zydeco serves its Zydeco straight-up and danceable.

Mumbo Gumbo, Carnivaleros, and Black Leather Zydeco perform at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 9, at El Casino Ballroom, 437 E. 26th St. Advance tickets are available for $20 -- $17 for KXCI members -- at Antigone Books, Hear's Music, and KXCI, or by phone at 623-1000, ext. 20. They'll be $3 more at the door. Admission includes Mardi Gras beads, and those dressed in costume will be eligible to win door prizes. To further the bayou feel, The French Quarter will be on hand to sell Cajun food. For more info call the aforementioned number.

LONG LIVE THE FUZZ: If trashy sleaze-rock is your thing, you'll be pleased to learn that Missoula, Montana's Fireballs of Freedom will be dragging their knuckles into town this week. Documented on a trio of platters on Estrus Records (natch), the latest being 2001's Welcome to the Octagon, the Fireballs will appeal to those still bummed they missed out on seeing the Stooges and prime-era Alice Cooper, as well as those who have worn out their copies of Mudhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff.

The Fireballs of Freedom perform along with openers the Knockout Pills and Negative Spaceman at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is five bucks. For further details call 622-8848.

MOVIN' ON UP: After an illustrious career in the indie ranks, NYC positive hardcore outfit H2O jumped ship for MCA with last year's Go. While the band has always incorporated hooks into the blur, Go finds them fully embracing their poppier tendencies, thanks largely to some slick production work courtesy of Matt Wallace, while avoiding the trap of sounding like the generic pop-punk bands du jour. And while such moves usually sound the career death knell amongst punk purists, amazingly no one cried "Sellout!"

H2O performs, along with openers Mest, Tsunami (not the Jenny Toomey-led band) and Big Wig, at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $12 at Zip's University and all Zia Records locations, or online at Ticketweb.com. For more info call 798-3333.


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