If last week was the third-grade dude with a big fat "L" on his face to denote his social standing, this week is that kid's older sister who graduated summa cum laude from Brown University.

Or, without the similes and metaphors, last week was pretty dead as far as live music is concerned—and this week is about as busy as a summer week in Tucson gets.

Take Wednesday, July 21, for example. There are four pretty great shows: Two of 'em feature fogies who are aging gracefully; the other two feature sprite young indie combos. Where will you be?

When I was 5 or 6 years old, Elton John was my first rock hero. His songs are the soundtrack of my childhood: He was Captain Fantastic, a hit-making machine (along with his lyricist, Bernie Taupin) who rarely stumbled. Hell, he was so big that the presence of his background vocals could actually turn a proposed Neil Sedaka comeback song into an actual Neil Sedaka comeback song ("Bad Blood," which made it to No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart). In the '70s, cocaine-fueled Donald Duck suits or not, he was unstoppable.

Then came the '80s, during which he rarely worked with Taupin, and issued a bunch of relatively lame pop hits that still managed to keep him in the public eye, especially among those who watched MTV and Night Tracks. (By his own admission, the alcohol and drugs didn't help.)

In recent years, he's attempted to return to his early country- and-gospel-tinged roots, with mixed results: His last few albums are among the best he's released in the last couple of decades—though no one really seemed to notice. On Oct. 19, he's scheduled to release a collaborative album with the perpetually underrated singer-songwriter-pianist Leon Russell, produced by T Bone Burnett, which certainly has the potential to be incredible.

Perhaps in an attempt to quash the controversy of performing with Eminem at the Grammys a few years ago, John recently accepted $1 million to perform at the wedding reception of Rush Limbaugh, who isn't exactly a crusader for the right for Elton to marry his longtime companion, David Furnish. Question his judgment, sure, but you simply can't deny his catalog of classics.

Elton John performs at the Tucson Convention Center Arena, 260 S. Church Ave., at 8 p.m., Wednesday, July 21. Tickets are $37 to $137, available in advance at all Ticketmaster outlets and Ticketmaster.com. Call 791-4266 for more info.

Appealing, perhaps, to a slightly different demographic among the same age group, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy will perform at AVA at Casino del Sol on Wednesday. Plant, of course, was the yowler behind Led Zeppelin, who gave hessians across the globe a reason to exist and drive Camaros and wait around for the world's most anticipated comeback tour, should they ever actually choose to do it.

For his part, Plant has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. His unlikely pairing with Union Station's Alison Krauss, on 2007's relatively subdued but eerie Raising Sand, which was also produced by T Bone Burnett, was somewhat of a revelation, earning the duo a boatload of Grammys and multiplatinum status in an era when that rarely happens anymore.

Band of Joy is the name of one of the groups Plant played in before Zeppelin was formed, though the act he's put together under that name this time around is far different than that one. For one thing, the late John Bonham won't be playing drums this time.

Plant co-produced the group's upcoming album, slated for a late summer/early fall release, in Nashville with guitarist Buddy Miller, who will be part of Plant's backing band for the tour, along with other notables such as singer Patty Griffin, multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, bassist Byron House and drummer Marco Giovino. Hot on the heels of what is one of Plant's biggest Zep-less successes, both critically and commercially, it will be interesting at the least to see what he does to follow it up.

More touring with the Band of Joy will surely follow, but as of now, Tucson is one of only a dozen planned U.S. dates with the new band.

Robert Plant and the Band of Joy perform at AVA at Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road, on Wednesday, July 21. Opening at 7:30 p.m. is the spectacular soul singer Bettye LaVette, who you can read all about in this week's music feature. Advance tickets are available at solcasinos.com/ava for $20 to $85. For further info, call (800) 344-9435.

While the fogies are deciding between Elton and the dude who used to sing for Led Zeppelin, downtown hipsters will likely be flipping a coin to figure out which show to see: New Pornographers or Delta Spirit?

The former is the (mostly) Canadian supergroup headed by Carl Newman, who once led an underrated band called Zumpano and who currently also releases solo albums as A.C. Newman. Dan Bejar, the slippery frontman of lauded Canadian band Destroyer, also shows up for most of the band's gigs (no telling if he'll be present this week). And then, of course, there's the incomparable pipes of Neko Case, who will be making her first local appearance since hightailing it out of Tucson for a farm in Vermont.

Spread out across five stellar albums, the New Pornographers offer up one of the quirkiest power-pop repertoires you're likely to find in 2010. The group's songs are hook-laden pop confections that take a listen or two to really stick with you—but stick with you they will. The work on their latest, Together, released on Matador earlier this year, is no exception.

The New Pornographers perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, July 21. Opening at 8 p.m. are The Dodos and Imaad Wasif. Advance tickets for this all-ages show are $24 for general admission, and $26 for reserved balcony seats. They go up $2 on the day of the show. To order, head to rialtotheatre.com, or call 740-1000.

Delta Spirit, meanwhile, are a pack of rockers from Long Branch, Calif., who merge modern indie rock with a passionate reverence for the spirit of old-timey gospel music. It shouldn't work, but it does—splendidly. The band's two albums, 2007's Ode to Sunshine and this year's History From Below (both on Rounder) are rave-ups that agitate for all the right reasons.

As good as they are on their albums, the sheer force of their music is best witnessed in a live setting—especially when the crowd knows the music well enough to join the call-and-response fray.

Delta Spirit performs at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, July 21. Opening at 9 p.m. are David Vandervelde and The Romany Rye. Admission is $12. Call 622-8848 for further info.


The Oscar-winning duo of The Frames' Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who perform together as The Swell Season, as seen in the beloved film Once, will return to town with a sprawling chamber-pop band in tow on Saturday, July 17, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Peter Salett opens the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $30 for general admission, and $35 for reserved seats in the balcony. They'll be a buck more on the day of the show. Head to rialtotheatre.com, or call 740-1000.

After canceling her Phoenix-area date on Thursday, July 22, Rihanna immediately rescheduled it for the same night at AVA at Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road. No explanation has been given, but our best guess is that, because AVA sits on the land of the Tohono O'odham Nation, she can safely play within the state while escaping criticism for playing in Arizona during the SB 1070 hullabaloo. Whatever the case, the girl who can take a mediocre rap song and make it triumphant by adding one of her choruses will take the stage here this week along with current pop chart darlings Ke$ha ("TiK ToK") and Travie McCoy ("Billionaire"). The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $60 to $125. Ouch. For tickets and more info, head to solcasinos.com/ava, or call (800) 344-9435.

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