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TRAVELIN' BANDS

Each year at this time, practically the entire music industry converges on Austin, Texas, for the South By Southwest music conference. It seems that some members of "the biz" are actually musicians, and with the conference itself offering little compensation for bands aside from exposure to members of the music mafia, bands usually embark on tours to make a SXSW stop worth their time. Thus, coinciding with the conference, Tucson becomes an embarrassment of musical riches, as bands make their way to and from the main event.

The majority of artists covered in this week's TW Music section are also playing SXSW, so consider yourself lucky to be able to enjoy them without shelling out the dough for an actual vacation to Austin. It's like our own mini SXSW, so be sure to take advantage of it.

But know that I'm in Austin eating way better barbeque than you.


STUFF OF LEGENDS

Are The Unicorns the future of modern psychedelic pop? Believe it, man.

The word quirky doesn't even begin to cut it. Imagine Ween collaborating with those fuzzy little Quizno's Subs mascots on a cover of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," and you still have no idea what you're getting yourself into. Factor in appearances by instruments such as a pennywhistle, recorder, clarinet and synths older than the sum of the three band members' ages (in addition to the old standbys--guitar, bass, drums), and you're even more lost than before.

Apropos of their name, the band's 2003 album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (Alien8), is magically fucked up and wonderfully off-kilter. It'll make you woozy the first spin or two, but keep listening, and as each layer reveals itself, you realize you are hearing no less than a goofy-assed, 21st-century, lo-fi pop masterpiece--I shit you not. And they're Canucks, ferchrissakes. Canada's looking better all the time.

If the reviews are any indication--"best pop show of the year," according to the Village Voice--they're not to be missed in a live setting, where puppet shows, a homeless guy hired to impersonate the band and bloody onstage fights among band members are de rigeur. Stay home at your own peril.

The Unicorns perform Monday, March 22 at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Agit-pop-punks KaitO UK and Mission Statement open at 9 p.m. Cover for the all-ages show is $8. For more information, call 884-0874.


THE PASSION OF THE CHRISTENING

Plush isn't the only local venue currently undergoing a facelift. In case you haven't been to Club Congress in the last week, here's a bit of news. A new, relatively huge stage has been built in the area once known as the CyberCafe (along the club's northern wall), with the wall separating the two rooms completely knocked out, thereby upping the room's capacity considerably. Sound-quality issues are being ironed out as you read this, and will hopefully be finalized by the time the new stage is official unveiled.

Officially unveiled, you ask? That's right, Paco. This weekend, a fine sampling of local heavyweights will participate in what Congress-resident snarks are billing as The Passion of the Christening of the New Stage. On hand for your listening pleasure will be Chango Malo, Al Perry, The Knockout Pills (congrats on signing with Estrus, gents!) and Al Foul. In addition to free champagne, the show will boast some nifty musical surprises, too. (We're sworn to secrecy about specifics, but don't say we didn't warn you about that Al Perry/Chango Malo collaboration.)

It all goes down at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 19. Club Congress is located at 311 E. Congress St. Cover is a mere $4. Questions? Give 'em a ring at 622-8848.


EMBRACE THE ERUPTION

Critics' darlings The Capitol Years will bring their inspired combo of dusty country and indie pop to town this week, but openers Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! have been garnering more ink recently than the headliners.

With their eponymous debut album (2004, Polyvinyl), the band hearkens back to a time when the tunesmithery of Joe Jackson was in vogue, though here, it appears updated with a Spoon-fed indie sensibility. Utilizing just a keyboard, a guitar and a drum kit with double-bass, the Brooklyn threesome don't write songs; they craft them in textures that recall the Elephant 6 camp, minus the four-track recording fixation. It makes for a sugary sweet aural confection--not exactly nutritious, but it tastes pretty damn good while it lasts.

The Capitol Years, Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! and Galactic Federation of Love perform at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 25 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover charge is $5. Call 798-1298 for further details.


CATCH THE WAVE

Those who have followed Kristin Hersh's career over the years know that her music is always anything but predictable. From her days fronting Throwing Muses--who started out as pummelingly angular as fellow Bostonians Mission of Burma before evolving into something more widely accessible and only slightly less intriguing--to her solo career churning out albums full of elegant, neo-chamber-folk songs, Hersh has never been one to be reined in by a single defining sound.

That trend continues with her latest band, 50 Foot Wave, which comprises singer/guitarist Hersh, Throwing Muses bassist Bernard Georges and drummer Rob Ahlers, and releases its self-titled debut CD (Throwing Music) this week. (As opposed to the industry standard of releasing a full-length album every year or two, 50FW intends to release a new EP roughly every nine months.)

The disc demonstrates that, when she wants to be, Hersh still has it in her to be as feral as she was on those early Muses records; it's pure punk fury, as filtered through Hersh's ever-unconventional, herky-jerky songwriting. Her vocals this time around nearly match the anger and passion of Courtney Love, and her guitar playing has never been so straight-up amped, surfing waves of distortion that rival any teenaged punks just hitting the scene.

50 Foot Wave performs on Saturday, March 20 at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Howe Gelb performs solo, in what he's calling "the loud set," as opener at 9 p.m.. Admission to this all-ages show is $10. For more information, call 884-0874.


FAIR WARNING

Springtime officially arrives this week, and with it, the semi-annual Fourth Avenue Street Fair. Three stages will boast far-ranging acts for your musical enjoyment--the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association Main Stage (at Seventh Street); the North Stage (at Fifth Street); and the Winsett Outdoor Performance Center (316 N. Fourth Ave.). Best of all, it's entirely free.

While all three stages will host worthwhile acts, in the interest of space, here's the rundown of what you'll find on the FAMA Main Stage (schedule is as of press deadline): Friday, March 19: singer/songwriter Annie Rapid (noon), jazz by the Virtual Quartet (2 p.m.) and surf and country gems from Al Perry and the Cattle (3 p.m.); Saturday, March 20: original indie rock nuglets from The Deludes (noon), folk-rock originals by Buckshot Blu (2 p.m.) and classic jazz courtesy of the Presidio Jazz Quartet (3 p.m.); Sunday, March 21: folk originals by Midnight Water (noon), country from The O'Brien Family (2 p.m.) and reggae by local vets Neon Prophet, who are celebrating their 20th year as a band (3 p.m.).


ON THE BANDWAGON

Here's a few more shows worth checking out this week.

Electropop duo and Blondie/Human League worshippers I Am the World Trade Center are back in town in advance of their forthcoming album, The Cover Up (due out in May on Gammon), at Club Congress on Wednesday, March 24. Paperlions and Bark, Bark, Bark open, and cover is $5.

Ridiculously heavy sludgefuckers High on Fire return to Club Congress on Tuesday, March 23, with Dysrhythmia and Great American Tragedy opening. Tickets are $5 in advance; $7 on the day of the show.

If Bob Log III fronted a garage punk band for hepcats who like to dance, the result would sound a hell of a lot like San Francisco's Coachwhips, who will perform at two different venues on Thursday, March 25. First up is a show at Skrappy's with Audio Karate, The Big Collapse, Assume the Worse, and Sugarbush, starting at 7 p.m.; then the band heads over to Club Congress to perform along with The Natural History, in between sets from DJ Fancy Pants and the Optimist Club. Cover is one measly dollar.

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