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POR VIDA: While many credit Uncle Tupelo for the neo-traditionalist country movement (aka alt-country, aka no depression, aka whatever term you prefer), the fact is that it can be traced at least back to the '80s, when bands like The Del Fuegos, The Blasters, Jason and the Scorchers, Rank and File and the True Believers injected their rock and roll with a healthy dose of rootsy twang. Austin-via-San Francisco's Alejandro Escovedo, who was a member of those latter two bands, was in on the ground floor, not only of the roots-rock revival, but also punk rock; in 1976, he formed one of the West Coast's first punk bands, The Nuns; went on to give the world the prototypical cowpunk band Rank and File in the early '80s; teamed up with his brother Javier for the roots-rock combo True Believers; then went solo with his ever-morphing Orchestra in the '90s, focusing on his dusky vocals and testimonial songwriting, the latter of which has garnered comparisons to Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen. This century, with By the Hand of the Father, he even added playwright to his extensive resume. For his efforts throughout the '90s, alt-country bible No Depression magazine bestowed him with the title Artist of the Decade. In other words, the man is a legend--a cult legend, maybe, but a legend nonetheless. Unfortunately, he's fallen on hard times this year.

Following a performance in Phoenix on April 26, Escovedo collapsed due to complications from hepatitis C, and he's been making a slow recovery since.

Like most musicians who record for independent labels, Escovedo has no health insurance to help defray the costs of his medical treatment. And also like most musicians, the bulk of his income comes from tireless touring, something he obviously can't do in his condition.

Luckily, Escovedo has a hell of a lot of friends and fans who care deeply about him, and they've stepped up in large numbers to help him out. A trust has been established on his behalf, with money pouring in from both personal donations and benefit shows held across the country. (Point your browser to www.alejandrofund.com for all the info.)

One such friend is Tucsonan Jefferson Keenan, who got to know Escovedo while living in San Francisco in the early '80s, when Escovedo was making a name for himself in Rank and File, and Keenan was gigging around town with his band, The Phantom Limbs. Escovedo took a liking to both Keenan and the Limbs, and he had them open some high-profile shows for Rank and File, giving the band some much-needed exposure. Later, the Limbs shared the stage with Escovedo's band, the Make Believers (a True Believers offshoot), at one of the very first South By Southwest music conferences in Austin. By that point, Keenan had moved back to Tucson, and he would repay Escovedo for his early support by putting him up when Alejandro passed through town.

"I've been friends with him for 20 years," Keenan says, "and he's been very good to us over the years. I feel privileged to know him. He's one of those guys--like (the late) Rainer (Ptacek)--who's just really inspirational, almost saint-like."

So it seemed only natural to Keenan to organize a benefit show to help out his ailing friend. For the occasion, Keenan has reconvened local honky-tonk supergroup The Fraidy Cats, which also includes members Al Perry, Tommy Larkins and Jim Parks. Also on the bill are Greyhound Soul, fellow friend-of-Alejandro Howe Gelb, La Cerca, Jason Steed and Campo Bravo.

The Benefit for Alejandro Escovedo kicks off at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. For more information, call 622-8848.


DOG DAYS, PONY GIRLS: The Fraidy Cats aren't the only local band reuniting this week. The members of Dog and Pony Show, who were one of Tucson's biggest draws in the mid-'90s, will come together to play a show this week. During their existence, the band--singer/guitarist Mike Semple, guitarist Mike Ahearn, bassist Jason Steed and drummer Timo Frost--released only one album, 1995's Ashtrays and Afterlife Money (Epiphany), which sounded a bit like a desert-baked Dinosaur Jr. and still holds up today.

These days, Semple lives in Los Angeles and splits his time between two bands: Campfire Girls, who are signed to Interscope and performed at the Rialto Theatre last month, and the once-Tucson-based Friends of Dean Martinez; Steed performs around town frequently as a solo artist; Frost has drummed for loads of local bands, including Truck, Shoebomb and Creosote, which also included Steed and Ahearn; and Ahearn lives and works in the Bay Area.

The Dog and Pony Show reunion hits the stage at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Saturday, Dec. 27. The show begins at 9 p.m. with a set from Jesse Stanley & Terry Kyte and a rare performance from cowpunks Gila Bend, which includes singer/guitarist Loren Dircks, Al Perry on guitar, bassist Jim Blackhall and Tommy Larkins on drums. Admission is a paltry three bucks. Questions? Give 'em a ring at 798-1298.


HEAT TREATMENT: Fans of Reverend Horton Heat, who normally see the big daddy of modern, punk-infused rockabilly in Rialto-sized venues, are in for a real treat this week. The good Reverend is performing at the deliciously intimate Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Monday, Dec. 29. The show begins around 9 p.m. with an opening set from Al Foul. Advance tickets are available for $15 at the club, CD City and all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 321-1000. If any tickets are left (not likely), they'll be $20 at the door. For further details, call 622-3535.

Happy holidays, ever'body.

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