AUGUST OCCASION: Working people of Tucson, lend me your ears: Tell your boss right now that next Thursday (August 26) you're going to be late to work. It seems that Musicalista, the god of concert booking, has picked Wednesday, August 25, to force you out of the house and into the realm of a damn good time, no matter which of the following three shows you choose to attend:

First off, there's the Melvins show at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave. (see this week's feature for details). The opening band on that show, Hovercraft, is also worth a listen, with expansive, experimental space-art rock that'll keep your attention. If that description doesn't excite you, then let me add that the band's bassist, Beth, is wife to some guy from Seattle named Eddie--Eddie Vedder, that is. (Hey, whatever it takes to get you off the couch.) As long as you're in the 18-and-over crowd, you can buy advance tickets for $10 at Zip's University, Sticks 'N' Strings, Majestic Tattoo, Strictly CDs and The Rock. They'll be $12 at the door. Call 629-9211 for details.

Another option for music fans of all ages hits the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., when stalwart bloodletters Testament pull into town on the same night. One of the longest-running speed metal bands around, the band's releases have only gotten darker and heavier over the years. Their brand new album, The Gathering (Burnt Offerings/Spitfire), continues the trend with what might be their most carnage-heavy release yet. As lead singer Chuck Billy bluntly explains, "This is the album where everyone dies." (As opposed to their previous opus, Demonic, wherein almost everyone dies).

While Billy and guitarist Eric Peterson are the only original members left in the band, Testament has become a metal supergroup of sorts with the additions of several new members: guitarist James Murphy (Obituary, Death, Cancer and Disincarnate), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death and Sadus), and the ridiculously powerful drumming of Dave Lomabardo (Slayer and Grip Inc.). If you like your metal hard, you simply can't do much better than these guys.

Testament's exclusive Arizona appearance hits the Rialto at 7 p.m. sharp, with openers Motive, The Haunted and The Aggressive Sound Session. Advance tickets are available at Zip's University, Strictly CDs, Sticks 'N' Strings, Zia on Oracle, or online at Call 740-0126 for more info.

If you're looking for a more moderately paced, country-leaning offering and you're of legal drinking age, look no further than the amazing bill Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., has to offer on the same night. Headlining the show is legendary Austin singer Alejandro Escovedo, who's touring to promote his latest release, Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot Records). In addition to four original tunes, the album includes covers from a truly diverse assortment of writers, including Jimmie Rodgers, Ian Hunter, the Gun Club and John Cale. Escovedo recorded Bourbonitis in three locations, with some truly special guests: in Chicago, with label mates Jon Langford (Mekons and Waco Brothers) and Kelly Hogan (ex-Jody Grind and ex-Rock-A-Teens); in Chapel Hill, NC, where the sessions were produced by ex-dBs pop god Chris Stamey, with appearances from members of Squirrel Nut Zippers and Trailer Bride; and finally, on his home turf in Austin.

This year Escovedo was bestowed with the title Artist of the Decade by No Depression magazine. If it was any other magazine, the honor would be a little easier to shrug off as hyperbolic fandom; but ND is pretty much the bible of roots music these days, with good reason. The article cites Escovedo's history as evidence: He got in on the ground floor of the punk rock movement in 1976, when he formed The Nuns; went on to give the world the prototypical cowpunk band Rank and File in the early '80s; teamed up with his brother Javier for the roots-rock combo True Believers; then went solo with his ever-morphing Orchestra in the '90s, focusing on his dusky vocals and testimonial songwriting, the latter of which has garnered comparisons to Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen.

He also maintains a couple of side projects, like the garage rock outfit Buick McKane, which he brought to town a couple of years back.

Taking the middle slot of the show is Richard Buckner, who has much in common with Escovedo. Both have beautifully weathered, rich voices; neither is afraid of taking the personal approach to songwriting, lyrically crawling through the muck and wreckage of their checkered lives' events and emerging redeemed and smarter; and both couch their tales of woe in beautifully transcendent melodies that only aid the healing process. Buckner is touring to support the reissue of Bloomed, originally released in 1995 on the now-defunct DejaDisc (available now in a remastered version on Ryko, with a batch of bonus tracks). Suffice to say that these two gentlemen are among the best in the singer/songwriter biz today.

This early show kicks off at 8 p.m. with a performance by Correo Aereo, also from Austin. Cover charge is a measly $5, and you can call Club Congress at 622-8848 with any questions.

You simply can't lose with any of these shows, so choose your destination carefully. But whatever you do, for God's sake don't stay home on Wednesday.

SIZE MATTERS--SOMETIMES: Lately I've been digging music with a really BIG sound -- two of the best shows I've witnessed recently were Sam Mangwana and his eight-piece Congolese rumba outfit at the Rialto, and the 10-piece Latin hurricane that is Ozomatli at Congress. This weekend should only fuel my newfound love for all that is big, as Cuba's Ban Rra Rra spends the upcoming weekend in town. Sponsored by the Sovereign Arts Society, the group will be conducting a three-day workshop beginning on Friday, August 20, and running through Sunday, August 21. The workshop will feature classes in Cuban-Haitian percussion, folkloric dance in Cuban-Haitian styles such as vodu, gaga, tumbafrancesa, conga and rueda de casino, a fast-paced, group salsa dance style.

For those who want to witness Ban Rra Rra's show but aren't so light on their feet or percussionally inclined, the group performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, August 21, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., as part of a very special Downtown Saturday Night celebrating Tucson's 224th anniversary.

The group's live show is as much performance art as music, with the seven-piece ensemble mixing frenetic percussion with traditional Cuban-Haitian dance incorporating fire sticks, machetes, colorful banners and a variety of stunts.

Advance tickets are available for $10 at Hear's Music, Guitars, Etc., Zip's University and the Congress Street Store. They'll cost $12 at the door. Cost to attend the workshop classes is $15 for one class, $36 for three classes, or $60 for six classes. For more information, call 327-3663.

BAKER'S BEST: Local jazz vocal seductress Mary Baker and her piano accompanist, Jim Dixon, have just released their first recorded collaboration. MEB Records' Mary Baker, The Sophisticated Lady, Featuring Jim Dixon Live!, was recorded at the duo's April 4, 1998, benefit show for Casa De Los Niños' Healthy Families program at the Rialto Theatre. The album features Baker confidently weaving her rich voice around such familiar standards as "Fly Me to the Moon," "Route 66," "Makin' Whoopee!" and "Summertime," accompanied only by Dixon's dexterous acoustic piano work. The two, quite simply, ooze soul. But don't take my word for it: check 'em out for yourself at their CD release party at 6 p.m. Sunday, August 22, at the Espresso Cafe at Borders Books and Music, 4235 N. Oracle Road. Call 292-1331 for details.

G-LICIOUS: Released in 1994, the same year Beck appeared on the scene, G. Love & Special Sauce's self-titled debut signaled (along with the aforementioned's Mellow Gold), the direction that popular music would take in the latter half of the decade.

Where Beck grabbed at all the sonic elements surrounding him in his native Los Angeles and incorporated them into an ever-evolving musical bouillabaisse, G. Love has stuck by the lazy Philly hip-hop blues that earned him his name.

If anything's changed in his sound over the years, it's that the group -- featuring Jimi "Jazz" Prescott on acoustic bass and Jeffrey "The Houseman" Clemens on drums and percussion, in addition to Love's slurred vocal grooves and acoustic guitar work -- has mastered the sound it's been mining for the last five years.

Their new release, Philadelphonic (OKeh/550/Sony), leans toward R&B flavor on tunes like "Numbers" and the B-boy jigginess of "Rodeo Clowns," and is better produced than probably any of their other three releases without suffering from too much slick studio sheen. It's far less gritty than their debut, but a solid "smooth groove."

G. Love takes the stage at 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 24, at the Rialto Theatre. Get tickets early, as this one will likely sell out. (When last in town in 1995, the band played to a packed house at the late, lamented Downtown Performance Center, and they've only gotten bigger since then.) Advance tickets are $12, available at the Congress Street Store, Guitars, Etc., Strictly CDs and Zip's University. For more info, call 740-0126.

GET ZIGGY: From the same fine folks at Skunk Records (who originally brought you Sublime) comes Orange County, CA's, The Ziggens. Along with Man-or-Astroman?, The Ziggens are one of a new breed of surf-punk bands tearing up the scene right now (after nearly a decade playing underground).

Whereas M-O-AM? play the hi-tech space-age card to its fullest, The Ziggens are a pack of down-to-earth guys whose sense of humor is firmly rooted in the wackiness of other punk misfits like The Dead Milkmen. I cite as evidence song titles like "Can't We All Just Get a Longboard?" and "I Took My Mom to the Prom," from their most recent LP, Pomona Lisa. A surf band that doesn't know how to surf, The Ziggens pepper their blend with cowpunk, ska, funk and swing elements for a truly unique and invigorating live show.

The traveling party hits 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m. Saturday, August 21, for an all-ages show. Call 670-9202 for details.

ASS-KICKING GERALDINE: What the hell is it about the state of Ohio that spawns such amazing punk-rooted bands? Historically speaking, there's the likes of Devo, Pere Ubu and the Electric Eels; and currently there's Gaunt, the New Bomb Turks and Geraldine.

Geraldine, you ask? I hadn't heard of them until recently either, but Geraldine's mix of '60s garage rock, punk, blues and country will sell you, fo' sho'. The band is hitting town to record with Jim Waters at his Waterworks West studio, and lucky us, we reap the benefits of a live show which should prove to be a whole lot of beer-spraying raucous fun.

In the words of Hector James of the Weird Lovemakers, who played a couple shows in the band's home state this summer, "They kicked my ass!" The show hits the basement of the Double Zero on Saturday, August 21, and also features The Weird Lovemakers, The Swinging Dicks and Los Federales. That number again is 670-9332.

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