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ERIC HANSEN'S SPIRITUAL SIDE

It's been about seven years since we last checked in on local singer/songwriter Eric Hansen and told you about his then-new release, Real Slow (2000, Half Moon Full Star Records). In the interim, he's released a few more albums, including one aimed at kids. This week, he celebrates the release of his latest, My Medicine (2007, Half Moon Full Star), which, as he wrote in a recent letter to Soundbites, "has a slight spiritual flavor, which is the way my career has been moving."

People often turn to God when they most need him. I don't presume to know Hansen's current condition, but at the time I wrote about Real Slow, he made no secret of the fact that he was living with a rare and underdiagnosed genetic disease called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (A1AD), which significantly decreased his lung capacity. (It was a prime reason for his relocation to Tucson from New York City.) At that time, I praised the sincerity of his songwriting, which stood out in an irony-drenched culture.

Hansen hasn't stirred the pot too drastically since then. On My Medicine, the religious stuff is subtle and tasteful enough to never cross into dogmatic territory. And, again, his strength is the sincerity of his songs and the way he delivers them. Against a backdrop of expertly plucked acoustic guitar and subtle gap-filling synths, Hansen ponders life's timeless curiosities in his warm, rich voice. He turns his eye toward the difficulty of change ("Change Is Hard"), the healing powers of nature ("My Medicine") and our backward priorities ("Long Way Home"). The album's finest cut may be its first; "Wake Up" is an almost-jaunty celebration of the simple pleasures of life with a lovely melody attached.

Eric Hansen celebrates the release of My Medicine at a CD-release party at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, at Lodge on the Desert, 306 N. Alvernon Way. Admission is a suggested donation of $10. For more information, call 325-3366.


PALATABLE 'SPOILS'

Ever notice how often the members of a highly regarded but defunct band seem to bring their new projects to town in quick succession? Kinda weird, huh?

Following that trend, next week, Qui, which features former Jesus Lizard vocalist David Yow, will be playing a local gig. But in the meantime, this week sees a performance from U.S.S.A. , which counts among its ranks former Jesus Lizard guitarist (and current Tomahawk member) Duane Denison, as well as bassist Paul Barker, of Ministry and Revolting Cocks fame. (The other members are singer Gary Call and drummer Johnny Rabb.)

Given the band members' pedigrees, I expected something a lot weirder from U.S.S.A.'s debut album, The Spoils (2007, Fuzz), but it's no less thrilling for the lack of it. Call sounds a bit like Mike Patton crossed with Scott Weiland and Ian Curtis, and the band chugs along like the alt-rock heyday of the '90s never ended. This may be the first band that any of its members have been a part of that has a shot in hell of getting radio airplay.

Sure, there's some dissonance here and some outright noise over there, but The Spoils is generally surprisingly palatable. If there's a formula at work here, it's this: heavy, bass-focused verses that revel in their darkness, and soaring, near-anthemic choruses that are built for theater-sized (as opposed to arena-sized) audiences to sing along with. The more I listen to it, the more it sounds like Faith No More.

U.S.S.A. take to the stage at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Sunday, Oct. 14. The show begins at 9:30 p.m. with openers Weedeater and Dragged by Horses. For further details, call 622-3535.


CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED

More out of curiosity than anything, I attended the Mickey Avalon show at Club Congress in March. Wow.

And when I say "wow" about it, it has very little to do with what actually went down onstage, which was basically an L.A. scuzzball working his way through sometimes amusing white-boy rap songs that emphasize and celebrate his scuzzball ways.

Now, I've been to several hundred concerts over the years, and I can honestly say without hesitation that the crowd at that show was the worst I've ever seen. Avalon, it seems, has become a darling of the entitled college set, and they were, to put it mildly, completely fucking obnoxious.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I witnessed an attendee of the show being thrown out--and I'm being charitable here--every two minutes for bad behavior. It would have been comical if it wasn't so damn disturbing. Underagers trying to sneak drinks? The eagle-eyed Congress bouncers spotted them and tossed them. Same goes for 100-pound coeds with too much Jägermeister in their bellies. While waiting to be served at the bar, I stood next to a testosterone-and-alcohol-fueled dude who tried to engage me in his campaign to protest what a douchebag the bartender was for not serving him within 90 seconds. For emphasis, he elbowed me in the gut so hard that I had a bruised rib the next day.

It's a no-brainer that Mickey Avalon's show this week will sell out, courtesy of that same demographic. If you're a casual fan, you might want to consider this a warning of what to expect. If you're a die-hard, well, you know what to expect. You have two choices: Behave yourself, or enjoy the parking lot after you're tossed out on your ass.

Mickey Avalon performs an all-ages show at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the opening acts are Andre Legacy, Dirt Nasty and DJ Diesel. Tickets are $20, available in advance at hotelcongress.com. For more info, call 622-8848.


MY SLEEPER PICK

Denmark's Figurines are in town this week in support of their third album, When the Deer Wore Blue, released last month on The Control Group.

The album pays homage to the jangly pop that was all the rage 10 years ago while retaining a sensibility rooted in modern indie rock and indie pop. When "The Air We Breathe" isn't aping the lovely harmonies of the Beach Boys (which are prominent), it sounds a bit like the Waterboys. But the next song, "Hey, Girl," is a giddy little slice of '60s psychedelic pop that sounds more like it was recorded by an Elephant 6 band in the '90s than, say, Strawberry Alarm Clock. If there's something lacking here, in comparison to the bands Figurines are emulating, it's a lack of memorable melodies. What made those bands of yore so appealing was the undeniable hooks in their songs. When the Deer Wore Blue sounds pretty good while it's playing, but there's not much that compels you to play it in the first place, once you've heard it a time or two.

In contrast, Australia's Dappled Cities have both hooks and the sense of grandeur found in the music of Arcade Fire, David Bowie and The Cure. Theirs is a big, uplifting sound, and it's deceptively complex but not challenging. There's a lot going on in most of the songs on Granddance (2007, Dangerbird), their second album, but it's easy to simply enjoy without parsing out each sound, dissecting it, if you will. If they can come close to replicating this album live, this may be the sleeper show of the week.

Figurines and Dappled Cities perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Oct. 17. Doors open at 9 p.m., and admission is $7. Your questions will be answered by calling 622-8848.


ON THE BANDWAGON

Be sure to check our club listings for shows this week from Scout Niblett, Prong, Pepe Aguilar, Subtle, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, George Carlin and lots more.

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