WE'VE GOT YOU COVERED: All right, folks, I'm gonna cut right to the chase on this one: I go to way too many live shows a year, and the funnest one I've been to for three years running now is the Great Cover-Up. Never mind that I'm one of the people organizing the event. Or better yet, let me say this: The Cover-Up isn't great because I have a hand in it; I have a hand in it because the Cover-Up's great.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me briefly fill you in. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away--Champaign, Ill., about 10 years ago--the first Great Cover-Up was held. The idea was that the finest original musical acts in the local music scene would band together for the sake of charity two nights a year, with each group performing a 20-minute set of covers by a universally recognized band. In other words, bands that normally play their own music would goof on someone else's tunes for a change. The events were always the most sought-after ticket of the year, usually selling out weeks in advance.

Fast-forward to 1998, when Melissa Manas of Shoebomb decided the event would translate well to Tucson, and took it upon herself to prove it. Manas, along with then-Club Congress booker Mia Proli, staged the first two Cover-Ups in 1998 and '99, both smashing successes, earning a pile of cash to benefit The Brewster Center, a local domestic-violence service organization that provides shelter, crisis intervention and advocacy.

By the time 2000 rolled around, though, Proli had left Tucson and Manas was preggers (hi, baby Joey!). If no one stepped in to take it over, the Cover-Up would be no more. I've already said this is my very favorite event of the year, so really I had no choice. Last year my cohorts and I expanded the event to two nights, with 10 bands playing each night, and again we had a smashing success on our hands. While organizing this year's Cover-Up we (this year the crew consists of Kini Wade, Sesaly Stamps from The Brewster Center and Fletcher Chmara and Curtis McCrary from Club Congress) mulled over some clichÉs for a while, and settled upon: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. In other words, the format for this Cover-Up will be exactly the same as last year: two nights, 20 bands, each playing a 20-minute set of covers for your listening pleasure.

The Fourth Annual Great Cover-Up is Thursday, November 29, and Friday, November 30, and will again take place at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $7 for each night, or $10 for both. Each show begins at 7:30 p.m. It's early, we know. But remember that each band playing the event, whether it's scheduled for 7:30 or 11:30, has put the same amount of time and effort into its performances. Not only would it not be fair for you to not be there early and support them all, but if you show up late, you just might miss the best performance of the event. That's how these things work--you just never know. PLEASE arrive early so you don't miss anything.

We've also decided to retain the element of surprise that made last year so much fun: We'll tell you who's playing each night, and which bands will be covered, but we'll keep you guessing as to who's covering whom. That said, here's the lineup for this year:

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 29: BANDS PLAYING: Popular Virus and the Daisy Troupe (7:30 p.m.), Ozlo (8), Crosscutsaw (8:30), Naked Prey (9), Tucson Puppet Works (9:30), La Cerca (10), Spacefish (10:30), Chango Malo (11), Greyhound Soul (11:30), Fourkiller Flats (midnight). ARTISTS BEING COVERED: Neil Diamond, Television, Stevie Wonder, Bauhaus, Elton John, ZZ Top, Lou Reed, songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, John Mellencamp, The Kinks.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30: BANDS PLAYING: Single File Noise (7:30 p.m.), Sassy Star X (8), The Beating (8:30), Topless Opry (9), Annie Hawkins (9:30), Truck (10), Love Mound (10:30), Shoebomb (11), Maryanne (11:30), Mankind (midnight). ARTISTS BEING COVERED: The Pretenders, Joe Jackson, Billie Holiday, Concrete Blonde, Beastie Boys, PJ Harvey, The Police, The Smiths, songs from Walt Disney films, Sly and the Family Stone.

Call 622-8848 if you have any questions. See you there.

TEARFUL DEBUT: Washington, D.C. has long boasted a tradition of kick-ass punk bands, and while Cry Baby Cry emerges from that scene, it (along with The Dismemberment Plan) is arguably the most feel-good combo to set foot in Ian Mackaye's shadow. The band co-produced its debut disc, Jesus Loves Stacey (Skoda, 2001), with Burning Airlines (and ex-Jawbox) frontman J. Robbins, and mmm, it's tasty. Boasting an acute pop sensibility that underlines most of its tunes, the band leaves room for a variety of twists: The title track sounds a bit like Modest Mouse covering a Beatles tune, before it gets really weird; "The Last Days of Tarzan the Ape Man" is a bouncily infectious pop tune (with piano, even!) that practically dares you to try and stand still; and "Wake Up Now" is a speedy little strummer that nicely fills the void left by the breakup of Unrest a few years back. A tremendous debut--keep your eyes on these guys.

Cry Baby Cry performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, November 30, at Double Zero, 121 E. Congress St. For more info call 670-9332.

ROCKER DOCKS: One of our favorite standing nights in recent memory is Troy Olsen's Hillbilly Hayride, which takes place each Wednesday night at Plush. Every week boasts a killer roster of roots-rockin' bands--some local, some national, all good. We've especially dug the tribute nights, wherein a batch of local bands cover tunes by whomever is being saluted that night (Hank Williams and Gram Parsons have both gotten the treatment, so far). This week, though, leave your wagon at home and cruise down in your dragster, as Olsen will play host to rockabilly bass-slapper Lee Rocker, he of the late Stray Cats. It's a rare opportunity to see Mr. Rocker in such an intimate venue, and best of all, it'll only set you back six bucks.

Lee Rocker performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. For more information call 798-1298.

SPEND AN HOUR ORSO: It's OK if you've never heard of oRSo; it's underneath most people's radar. You have, however, likely heard of some of the other bands in which oRSo's members serve duty: Rex, Loftus, Bablicon and HiM, to name a few. You might even personally know the band's saxophone player, Carlo Cennamo, as he usta be a Tucsonan himself. On the band's 2000 release, Long Time By (Perishable), oRSo combines elements of two of Chicago's noteworthy musical movements: the post-rock noise meanderings of Tortoise and its ilk, and the Drag City pseudo country vibe à la Smog and Palace. Slow, harsh and pretty.

oRSo performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Electro Shock Box opens. For further details call 622-8848.

CHAVA BLAST: A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine was looking to buy some music by someone who gave her the same vibe as Marlene Dietrich. She came to me for help, and I was at a loss. But after hearing Foreign Letters (Rounder, 2001), the new album from Israeli singer Chava Alberstein, I know what to recommend to her. A mega-star for three and a half decades in her homeland, Alberstein possesses a rich, nuanced voice that calls to mind Linda Ronstadt and whoever sang that old song from the '70s, "Those Were the Days," as much as Ms. Dietrich. In other words, yes, there are some upbeat songs on the album, but it's those foggy ballads, drenched in enough sadness that the fact that you can't understand most of the lyrics (she sings in Hebrew, Yiddish and English) doesn't matter, and it's those ballads that'll make my Dietrich-loving friend happy.

Chava Alberstein performs at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 2, at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. Tickets cost $15. For more information, or to order tickets, call 299-3000.