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LET'S ROCK AGAIN, LIKE WE DID LAST SUMMER

Labor Day weekend last year was one of Tucson music's greatest moments: A three-day weekend that brought people from around the world and reunited 20-some local bands for an all-local music extravaganza. Anyone who ever had anything to do with the Tucson music scene, past or present, just had to be there. That was Club Congress' 20th anniversary celebration.

It was such a success that things like "We should do this every year" were overheard and dismissed as nostalgia overwhelming practicality. It all felt both nostalgic and in-the-moment, and no one wanted it to end, but no one wanted to attempt repeating it, either. It was a cross-generational class reunion that can only happen once.

Which is why we were a bit skeptical about this year's 21st Birthday Party: Congress Comes of Age (cute theme and all, but still ...). But then we got a glimpse of the lineup of acts--this time both local and national--coming to participate and realized that there was a real, actual, awesome music festival in town this weekend. Who can argue with that?

OK, let me phrase that differently. Do you people have any idea how freakin' cool this weekend's gonna be? Just as last year, it's three stages over three nights, and seriously, I don't know where to begin.

OK, let's go chronologically:

Friday, Sept. 1: Congress indoor stage: Serge will be your host for a night that includes Broken Horse (9 p.m.); Borts Minorts (10 p.m.); the twisted "music to start a cult to" of Joshua Tree, Calif.'s Gram Rabbit (11 p.m.); an increasingly rare performance from garage funksters The Pork Torta (midnight); and the second time in two years that local punk legends The Weird Lovemakers will reunite (1 a.m.). If you missed 'em last year, don't make the same mistake twice.

Congress outdoor stage: Chris Holiman and the Downtown Saints is the latest project from the former founding member of River Roses and 35 Summers (8 p.m.); '90s guitar-pop vets Star Crunch reunite (9 p.m.); one of the brightest stars of the desert rock scene were The Sidewinders (10 p.m.); the fabulous Centro-Matic (11 p.m.; see this week's Rhythm and Views); and the Dream Syndicate alumnus Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, who earlier this year released the excellent ... Tick ... Tick ... Tick, the third of a trilogy of ass-kicking, return-to-form albums recorded with Craig Schumacher at his WaveLab Studio in Tucson (midnight).

Rialto Theatre: The highly literate singer-songwriter David Dondero, whose voice will sound familiar, as Conor Oberst has copped much of his style (7:30 p.m.); country-rock and pop hooks are the name of the game for Limbeck (8:30 p.m.); and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men, whom you can read all about in Gene Armstrong's feature article this week (9:30 p.m.).

Saturday, Sept. 2: Congress indoor stage: One of the better additions to Tucson's singer-songwriter camp in the last few years is Namoli Brennet (9 p.m.); onetime leader of '90s indie rock heroes Archers of Loaf and the rootsier Crooked Fingers, Eric Bachmann just released his second solo album, To the Races (Saddle Creek), which sounds like a sparser version of Crooked Fingers (10 p.m.); itinerate singer-songwriter Richard Buckner is a favorite around these parts, and for good reason--his distinctively sonorous voice and a passel of heartbreaking tunes (11 p.m.); the jangly desert-pop of River Roses, who reunite again this year, helped put Tucson on the musical map in the '80s (midnight); the Fraidy Cats are a local supergroup who perform rollicking versions of country classics from yesteryear (1 a.m.).

Congress outdoor stage: Starting at 5 p.m. will be local twangmaster Al Perry's BBQ, which will feature the likes of legendary former singer of Dead Kennedys Jello Biafra; the sociopolitical comedy-rock of former Tucsonan Fish Karma, whose latest album appeared on Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label; the rockin' country that is Gila Bend, in a rare performance; Phoenix-area singer-songwriter Lonna Kelly, whose set at TapeOpCon's music showcase earlier this summer had everyone in the room spellbound; former member of Phoenix's Nitpickers and Trophy Husbands Dave Insley, who recently released Here With You Tonight, a new solo album of honky tonk gems; a reunion of the Hecklers, a psychobilly band that includes Perry and Schumacher; and a possible appearance by local pop wunderkind Andrew Collberg. At 10 p.m. the rootsy-but-moody The Drakes take the stage. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are a family band/performance-art project that are indeed a family. They buy up slides of photo images at thrift stores and estate sales, then write songs about them. Dad Jason sings and plays guitar, 'tween daughter Rachel plays drums, and mom Tina operates the slide projector. Trust us; they're charming and hilarious, and they're on at 11 p.m. One of the finest country and blues outfits currently out of the Bay Area, The Mother Truckers have a reputation as a killer live band (midnight).

Rialto Theatre: The trio of acts at this historic theatre tonight are all about the funk. Locals Mankind combine rap with a real live funk band (7:45 p.m.); one of last year's most talked-about reunions happens again as Pollo Elastico bring the funk-rock (8:45 p.m.); and then it's the legendary Fishbone, who pretty much invented the genre that combines ska, punk, soul, and funk (9:45 p.m.).

Sunday, Sept. 3: Congress indoor stage: A trio of singer-songwriters start things off--Billy Harvey (9 p.m.); former Rugburns frontman Steve Poltz (10 p.m.); and former blues-guitar prodigy and current psych-country-folk master Ian Moore (11 p.m.). The king of Tucson rockabilly Al Foul heats it up at midnight; and closing the night out is a much-anticipated reunion of the raucous, raw speed-blues of Doo Rag, which comprises singer-guitarist Bob Log III and found-percussionist Thermos Malling (1 a.m.).

Congress outdoor stage: No introduction needed for your host of Howe Gelb's BBQ, which gets rolling at 5:30 p.m. with the desert-fried psych-country of Golden Boots; fronted by WaveLab Studio engineer Nick Luca, Luca will celebrate the release of a fine new album, Sick of Love, next week (6:30 p.m.); the Southern gothic stylings of Georgian Vic Chesnutt have made him one of Soundbites' very favorite singer-songwriters of all time (7:30 p.m.); I know we've used the word "legend" a few times here, but we're using it in an understated fashion when we say that roots-punk legend and X founder John Doe will perform at 8:30 p.m.; former member of the fabulous Throwing Muses and current member of 50 Foot Wave Kristin Hersh will stare ominously, tell funny stories and perform her excellent songs at 9:30 p.m.; Gelb himself will take the stage at 10:30 p.m. (expect a lot of crossover among these performances, as many of the artists are old buddies); then, Fourkiller Flats demonstrate why they're one of Tucson's most beloved country-rock bands (11:30 p.m.).

It's worth noting that in conjunction with Congress' 21st birthday bash (which also coincides with Tucson's 231st birthday celebration), there will be a Film Showcase taking place at The Screening Room. Among the films shown will be High and Dry, a survey of the last 20 or so years of Tucson music; Going Back to Tucson: Live at Hotel Congress, which compiles highlights from last year's festival; plus many, many others.

(All schedules are current at press time. Expect the usual occasional tweak in the proceedings.)

Here's how the pricing breaks down: $30 gets you a pass to all events, both music and film. A $25 pass grants entry to all musical events. One-day admission for music is $10, and one-day admission to films is $5. Advance tickets and passes may be purchased at the Rialto box office, all Tucson Zia locations, all Tucson Bookmans locations or online at www.hotelcongress.com. Hotel Congress is located at 311 E. Congress St.; the Rialto Theatre is at 318 E. Congress St.; and The Screening Room is at 127 E. Congress St. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Primavera Foundation.

For more information, head to the Web site above, or call 622-8848.

Get plenty of rest, folks--it's gonna be another long, hella fun weekend. We'll see you there.

ON THE BANDWAGON

Of course there's plenty more worthwhile stuff going on in town this week that we didn't have room for, so be sure to check out our club listings for more great shows.

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