FALL REVIEW: In the spirit of the Holidays and giving thanks or some such nonsense, I thought I'd break from the usual format to highlight some of the shows that have been previewed in Soundbites since my tenure began 10 long weeks ago. With the semester, and the year for that matter, coming to a close, the stream of big-name draws has slowed to a trickle. The following shows were a few of the more noteworthy to come to the Old Pueblo and are a good indication Tucson is becoming an important destination for bands on the road. At last. So let's all take a moment and be grateful for such opportunities--and for the fact we didn't have to drive to Phoenix.

If the line around the block was any indication, Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion were definitely one of the hottest tickets this fall. Club Congress was packed to the gills on Monday, November 25, for a sold out show that was, quite simply, amazing. The Explosion blasted out a number of songs from the new album, as well as some older favorites, with a string of songs from Orange for the encore. One of the most vivid and interesting performers to come down the pike in some time, Spencer commanded the stage with a presence larger than life. Doo Rag were at the top of their game as well, kicking off the event with a vigorous, all-out set.

Equally unbelievably good was the Wilco and Handsome Family show held at The Rock on Saturday, November 9. To the vast misfortune of those who missed the show, which was not only under-advertised but scheduled for early evening (so the dance club theme night could follow--what an insult to the band!), Wilco was one of the best shows I've seen all year. Jeff Tweedy gave a singularly honest, heartfelt performance that carried him off the stage and into the crowd. The band was tight, powerful and completely without pretension, and rallied through material from both albums. But, in case you were wondering, Uncle Tupelo was definitely not in the building.

Delightful, charming Ernie Menehune, the sun-tanned Hawaiian Irishman, came out of retirement for an evening of Polynesian pleasures at the Airport Lounge on Thursday, November 19. The quintessential entertainer with quite the sense of humor, Menehune graced the small crowd with jokes, songs, and stories interspersed with traditional Hawaiian dances by three lovely dancers. All in all a warm, entertaining evening despite the fact he didn't do the act with the yo-yo's.

Other excellent shows were honky-tonk man Dale Watson at the Empire Café back on Wednesday, October 16; rhythm and blues veterans The Paladins with Kings of Pleasure at the Rialto lot on Saturday, October 12; and experimental rockers Skeleton Key, who opened for RailRoad Jerk at the Club Congress on Saturday, November 13.

Given this many strong performances in such a short time-span, there should be no complaints about how Tucson gets passed over and there's never anything to do.

HOT TICKET: Wednesday, December 11, at the University of Arizona Centennial Hall, the Grammy Award-winning a cappella women's ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock returns to the Tucson stage. Under the guidance of Bernice Johnson Reagon, Sweet Honey has blended blues, soul, gospel and jazz with a spiritual message of tolerance and activism. World renowned for their lively, personal and vibrant performances, Sweet Honey has shared an uplifting vision with countless audiences. Show time is 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $20.50. Phone 623-1688 for more information.

LAST NOTES: Two of Tucson's most-likely-to-succeed, Blackmoon Graffiti and Shoebomb, take the stage at the Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, December 6. Blackmoon is one of the most professional outfits in town, leaving us to scratch our heads in wonder that they aren't famous yet. Tight, catchy pop rockers Shoebomb open the show, which starts around 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $4 at the door. Call 622-8848 for more information.

New Format! Club Congress and Kini Wadé, who organized an outdoor music series you may have caught on Fourth Avenue last summer, join forces to present Local Music Sundays. Fairly self-explanatory, the new format gives lesser-known local bands a crack at the Congress stage and the opportunity for wider exposure. The ball gets rolling this Sunday, December 8, with Pagan Holiday and Atomic Frog. Doors open around 9 p.m. and tickets are only $2.

The Airport Lounge reopens this week, with a live show Saturday featuring Bobby Taylor and The Real Deal. The Airport Lounge is, of course, located downstairs at the Plaza Pub, 20 E. Pennington St. The show starts around 10 p.m. and tickets are $2 at the door. Phone 882-0400 for more information.

Should you, for some reason, resist the temptation of Sweet Honey In The Rock, infamous San Francisco darkwave band Xorcist makes an appearance at the Fineline, 101 W. Drachman St., at 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 11. Tickets are $6. Phone 882-4653 for more information. TW

--Lisa Weeks
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