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SPORTING WOOD

Like gorging on Pat's Chili Dogs or subjecting oneself to the Buffet Bar's "special" 21st-birthday drink (special ingredients: coffee grinds and bar-rag juice), The Wooden Ball has become a Tucson institution, if a far less nausea-inducing one.

Organized by local musician Chris Holiman, the first Ball was held in the late '80s at what was then Nino's Steakhouse. After a several-year hiatus, Holiman revived it in 1994, and the event is now in its 11th consecutive year.

The idea is a pretty simple one: Gather some of Tucson's finest bands and performers, veterans and newcomers alike, and have them perform (mostly) acoustic sets, regardless of how loud their usual outings are or what style of music they perform. In other words, the focus is squarely on the songs and the musicians, not how kickass their pedal racks are. It's sorta like Tucson Unplugged.

As usual, Holiman has assembled an impressive list of participants (11 in all), each of which will perform a 20-minute set. The most surprising act this year is the late, lamented '90s roots-pop combo The Drakes, who are reuniting for the event. Also on the bill are Al Perry, Loveland, Cathy Rivers, The Wyatts, the Nick Luca Trio, the Sand Rubies, Paula Jean Brown (who performed at the aforementioned first Ball at Nino's), Greyhound Soul (who have performed at the last 10 events), Camp Courageous and Holiman's own Downtown Saints.

Each year, the Wooden Ball always supplies a handful of magical musical moments, and you're advised to arrive early (doors open at 7:30 p.m.) so you don't miss a single one.

The Wooden Ball hits the stage of Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Sunday, Jan. 16. Admission is $6. For more information, call 798-1298 or visit www.holiman.org.


HIP-HOP ACTIVISM

In what is becoming somewhat of an institution of its own, Arizona hip-hop represents this week at Unification V: A Showcase of Hip-Hop Culture. For the past couple years, local promoter Solomon Freed's 12 OX'N Productions has presented these gatherings--which merge performances by local underground hip-hop acts with 12 OX'N's political activism--on a semi-annual basis. The political component of the event this time around comes in the form of a presentation on the Al Aqsa Intifada, as well as the distribution of literature dealing with a variety of social and political issues. As for the music, performers will include Influence, Louis Mercury, DJ Bonus, James Ciphurphace, Power Freedom, Stress, D-Rise, Pokaface (the only Phoenix emcee on the bill), The Greyz and various artists from The Mercury Project.

Unification V goes down at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission to this 21-and-older show is a mere $3. For further details, call 622-8848.


WHY ISN'T THIS BEING HELD AT THE YMCA?

With her interminable final tour, Cher seems to be attempting to do two things at once: trump KISS for the title of Longest-Running Farewell Tour Ever (does she realize that she's being ironic by calling it the "Farewell Never Can Say Goodbye Tour"?) and--by having the Village People open the dates--make a bid for the Gayest Tour Ever. No small feat on either account.

Still, this may indeed be your last chance to hear the icon perform songs from her impressive, decades-spanning career, like "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "Half-Breed," and "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." (We're hoping the leather boy from the Village People takes Sonny's parts on "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On.")

It may also be your last chance to see up-close what a couple mil in plastic surgery will buy you. Of course, you may also have to bear witness to those ass tattoos and sit through the godawful "If I Could Turn Back Time." Is it worth it? Your call, people.

Cher and the Village People perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19, at the TCC Arena, 260 S. Church Ave. Advance tickets are available for a whopping $79.50 and $59.50 at the TCC box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.cc.com, or by phone at 321-1000.


ANGRY HEAT

Including veterans of such bands as Kind of Like Spitting, the All Girl Summer Fun Band, Hutch and Kathy and Operacycle, Portland, Ore.'s The Thermals wound up on several critics' year-end Top 10 lists with their 2004 sophomore album, Fuckin A. The album, released on Sub Pop--who signed them on the recommendation of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service)--is a step beyond More Parts Per Million, their 2003 debut, in a couple of notable ways. The lo-fi fuzziness found on the first album has been replaced with the far cleaner production of Death Cab's Chris Walla. And the subject matter of the band's songs has dived head-first into the realm of the political.

Chopping into the band's two- and three-chord punk rave-ups, Hutch Harris' yelping rants are as impassioned as ever; but where he lent his clever lyric writing to sentiments like "We can turn bad luck into a bad joke" on the debut, this time around his fury has a target: On Fuckin A's "God and Country," anger seeps into every syllable of the lines "Pray for a new state / Pray for assassination."

The Thermals perform an all-ages show at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., Wednesday, Jan. 19. Tucson's The Sweat Band open the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $6. For more info call 884-0874, or point your browser to www.solarculture.org.

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