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A VERITABLE CORNUCOPIA

Fall's harvest is bringing us such a mighty bounty this week that I'll do my best here to forgo the long-winded stuff in attempt to be as inclusive as possible. Let's get started, shall we?


ROOTSY TROUBADOUR

Remember when you were going through that awkward stage in junior high, checking your pubes daily for progress? At the same age, Omaha native Conor Oberst was releasing albums. He's been doing it consistently since he was in his early teens as part of a number of bands, most notably Commander Venus, Desaparecidos and Bright Eyes. The latter has been his primary source of output for the last 10 years or so, and has evolved considerably in that time.

The band has released albums of electronic-based music and emo-ish screeds of woe and heartbreak, and in recent years has veered increasingly toward an earthy, countryish sound that easily lends itself to, say, duets with Emmylou Harris. Oberst is a fine writer, attuned to detail when he wants to be, and the combination of his more folkish tendencies and the newfound lyrical tropes that accompany them had critics gushing a few years ago that he was the umpteenth "new Dylan."

His latest album is not only credited to his birth name; it's self-titled (though his backing band bears the name the Mystic Valley Band), and its sound evolves the country-rock and folk sound he's been leaning toward in recent years even further. There's nothing resembling the angsty, heart-on-sleeve diatribes of his youth; in their place is a collection of songs that wouldn't have sounded out of place had they been released in the '70s singer-songwriter heyday.

The album is good--don't get me wrong--but I can't escape the nagging feeling that, whereas his early songs were immediate and raw, sometimes to a fault, here he seems to be playing the role of the rootsy troubadour. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of heart, or feeling, whereas his early work was nothing but.

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Oct. 18. The all-ages show starts at 7:30 p.m. with openers The Like and All Smiles. Advance tickets are $23; they're $25 on the day of the show. Call 740-1000 for more information.


WORLDLY BLUES

Though he's accurately called a bluesman, having been one of the foremost practitioners of traditional acoustic blues for the last 40 years (and influencing countless singers and musicians along the way), Taj Mahal has never been content to just play the blues.

While he's imbued his music over the years with traditional American forms such as jazz and gospel, he's also veered across bodies of water for inspiration, adding reggae, African and Latin influences. Safe to say, if it's even mildly exotic, Taj Mahal has played it. And in a form as traditional as the blues, there aren't a heck of a lot of bluesmen you can say that about.

The legendary Taj Mahal performs on Tuesday, Oct. 21, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Corey Harris opens the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 and $46 for reserved floor seats, and $26 and $36 for reserved balcony seats. Call 740-1000 for more details.


FREE BLUES

While we're on the topic of the blues, this weekend, the Southern Arizona Blues Heritage Foundation is sponsoring the Blues Heritage Festival, a daylong celebration of blues in many of its forms that includes both touring and local acts. The family-friendly fest will feature performances from Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, the Kevin Pakulis Band with Jesus Lopez, Stefan George, the Grams and Krieger Band, Lefty Larry and the Blues Avengers and Ada Redd Austin. It all goes down from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 19, at the Demeester Outdoor Performance Center at Reid Park. Best of all, admission to the event is free. For more info, head to azblues.org.

If eight hours of blues isn't quite enough, Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave., will host an after-party featuring a performance by Michael P. Things get rolling there at 8 p.m., and you can call 690-0991 for details.


DOUBLY REFRESHING

The always-entertaining Polysics, aka the Devo of Japan, return to town this week on a double-bill with Matador band Jaguar Love. The latter is a trio that includes veterans of two highly regarded but defunct bands: two former members of the Blood Brothers--singer/pianist Johnny Whitney and guitarist/bassist Cody Votolato--and keyboardist/bassist/drummer Jay Clark from Pretty Girls Make Graves. Refreshingly, the new outfit doesn't sound much like either of the members' former bands, but instead takes an anything-goes approach anchored by Whitney's distinctive, high-pitched vocals. (If you didn't know better, his voice could easily be mistaken for that of a woman.)

Polysics and Jaguar Love perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Oct. 22. Black Gold opens at 8 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show are $13 in advance, or $15 at the door. Call 622-8848 for more information.


DISAPPOINTINGLY REMARKABLE

It's tough to get a read on what the hell's going on at the Fox Tucson Theatre these days, especially given an e-mail sent out to media a couple of weeks ago announcing that the venue is "revamping (its) organization."

Jim Williams, who was hired earlier this year as executive director, has left the organization in what the press release calls a mutual decision with the board of directors; the restructuring "includes a reduction in staff, job combination and outsourcing."

Perhaps most important to us, the music-loving public, concerts at the theater have been, overall, few and far between since it opened its doors almost three years ago. So it's somewhat disappointingly remarkable, then, that this week, the venue is hosting two shows in a three-day span. Disappointingly remarkable in that this sort of thing should be happening far more often. What's the point of having a gorgeous room with fantastic sound if it so rarely gets utilized?

But like I said, there are, indeed, two shows this week, so let's focus on them.

As the frontman for '80s and '90s neo hard-rockers Soundgarden, Chris Cornell boasted some of the most glorious pipes around. As part of the grunge-era Seattle scene, the band culled fans from various corners of rock fandom; it was no small feat in those days to appeal to both punks and headbangers. After Soundgarden broke up in 1997, Cornell issued a solo album that was considerably toned down, formed the successful Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine, then put out another solo album most remarkable, perhaps, for its cover of "Billie Jean." Even odder, his upcoming third solo album, Scream, scheduled to be released next month, is a collaboration with hip-hop beat-maker extraordinaire Timbaland.

Expect to hear a survey of all the above when Chris Cornell performs an all-ages show at the Fox at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 21. Advance tickets are $35 to $70.

Two days later, on Thursday, Oct. 23, '70s singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot returns to the Fox to perform hits such as "Sundown," "If You Could Read My Mind," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "Carefree Highway." The all-ages show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $49 and $67.

The Fox Tucson Theatre is located at 17 W. Congress St. Call 547-3040 for more information or to purchase tickets.


ON THE BANDWAGON

Check out the Boobs Are Cool benefit for the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Southern Arizona, featuring the Runaway Five, Jumper, Leila Lopez, Namoli Brennet, Amy Rude and Little Black Cloud, among others, at Plush next Thursday, Oct. 23; the MTV Choose or Lose Tour with Locksley, Peachcake and Hymns at Club Congress on Sunday, Oct. 19; Everlast with The Lordz at The Rock on Tuesday, Oct. 21; Matt White, Sharon Little and Leila Lopez at Plush on Saturday, Oct. 18; Dave Attell at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, Oct. 17; Deer Tick, The Fuckin' Kennies and others at the Dry River Collective on Tuesday, Oct. 21; British Invasion Night featuring tributes to Led Zeppelin (Whole Lotta Zep), the Rolling Stones (Running Hot) and the Beatles (Mystery Tour) at Club Congress on Friday, Oct. 17; Von Iva, Pacific UV and Four Five Six at Plush on Friday, Oct. 17; Down at the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 22; Innerpartysystem, Stands With Fists and others at The Rock on Friday, Oct. 17.

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