MIGHT AS WELL JUMP: I talk to a lot of people every week about music -- what new local bands are worth checking out, which albums, both new and old, are must-haves, and what upcoming shows are worth plunking down the almighty dollar for. You get the idea. The show that seems to be on everyone's mind and lips this week features an artist who hasn't put an album out in over five years. And he'll be performing material that dates back to the late '70s, up through the mid-'80s. So why all the hoopla? Why all the fuss? Why is everyone I talk to embarrassed to 'fess up to the fact that yes, they can't wait to see David Lee Roth?

One of the largest (and downright goofiest) personalities that the world of rock music has ever bestowed on us, Diamond Dave is the consummate rock star. As singer for Van Halen, one of the best hard-rock bands of their era (though they were as responsible as anyone for the proliferation of crappy hair-metal bands that followed in their wake), Roth embodied the showmanship that made the band. Sure, Eddie Van Halen revolutionized metal guitar, playing faster and more technically stunning than possibly anyone before him, taking the histrionics of rock-and-roll guitar playing to a new level. But he also influenced a generation of pimply-faced teenage boys to sit in their room listening to "Eruption" for hours on end, duplicating the damn thing note for note (hammer on, hammer off), thereby leaving the world a battalion of young guitarists who could play as fast as the dickens, but with absolutely no soul. In other words, if Eddie was the skill, Dave was the personality, the warmth, the humor. He was the fun.

Let's face it: up until 1984, Van Halen -- the band -- kicked ass; after Diamond Dave left the fold they sucked ass (despite the fact that they still enjoyed platinum success). Trying to replace Roth with Sammy Hagar (and now, with ex-Extreme vocalist, Gary Cherone -- bleeeack!) is like trying to replace Jim Carrey in a slapstick comedy with Jim Varney. While they both might attempt the same thing, one has the talent to pull it off, while the other merely has the talent to yank it off.

So, if given the choice between seeing Gary Cherone fronting the "original Van Halen" singing "Runnin' With the Devil," or David Lee Roth fronting a bunch of nameless guys culled from Van Halen tribute bands singing "Runnin' With the Devil," what would you choose? For me, and everyone else I've talked to recently, it's a no-brainer. And I guarantee you that once everyone gets over their "guilty pleasure" complex, and realizes that there's no shame in loving Diamond Dave, this show will sell out. If not, I promise to eat my own poop.

Don't miss David Lee Roth, as he performs all the Van Halen hits you can handle, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 29, at Metro, 296 N. Stone. Advance tickets are available for $25 at Guitars, Etc., Zip's University, Strictly CDs, and the club, or you can charge by phone at 1-888-244-8444. For more info call the club at 622-3206.

BAD, CRAZY SUN: A local musician and I were recently talking about our burg's unique music scene, and one thing we both agreed on is that Tucson has more than its share of characters. By that I mean an abundance of eccentric folks who march to the beat of their own drum (much to the chagrin of the band's actual drummer). One of the most--um--unusual talents the Old Pueblo has to offer is Black Sun Ensemble.

When Rich Hopkins decided, in 1993, to work with the band on an album for his San Jacinto imprint based on its impressive 1990 debut release, Lambent Flame, he had no idea what he was getting into. Sure he knew of band leader Jesus Acedo's troubled psychological past, and that Odin (ex-frontman of Celtic-punkers The Host and resident infamous snake-charmer) was temperamental at best. But he wanted, in his words, to create a "safe" and "happy" environment for Acedo to tiptoe across that fine line between genius and madness.

The results of that project are best left to Hopkins to explain (from the liner notes of the 1997 San Jacinto compilation, !Chinga!): "After working four months with--'Odin' on Psycho Master El Black Sun Legion, Jesus admitted he was being influenced by 'the devil,' perhaps fueled by the mind-bending, psycho-tropic drugs he was taking. At one point Jesus declared he was going to 'bless' each CD at his home, only to end up burning 600 CDs along with every other musical artifact to his musical past."

And now, several years later, with his demons safely under lock and key, Acedo is back with a new trio, still called Black Sun Ensemble. In addition, they've got reason to celebrate, as Australian label Camera Obscura is reissuing both the never-before-on-CD BSE debut, as well as a radically remixed version of Psycho Master El Black Sun Legion, which contains a brand-new 20-minute bonus trance-rock track. (According to resident music scribe extraordinaire Fred Mills, "It sounds as if it's a whole different album, with vocals now stripped away.")

Call it a comeback, if you must, but don't miss the rare live appearance by Black Sun Ensemble at 9 p.m. Thursday, September 23, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress. For details call 670-9202.

GROOVY, BABY! If you missed Phish and/or Leftover Salmon last week, fret not young groover! The Big Wu is hitting town to sate your appetite for dance jams as headliner of Groove Fest II. The Minnesota band, which has, in true jam-band spirit, established a tremendous grassroots following by way of incessant gigging, will release its debut album, Taking Buffalo Through the Bathtub (Phoenix Rising), this Tuesday, September 28.

And let me say that the album will appeal to more than the typical ex-Deadhead, with its funky G. Love-inspired opener, "Silcanturnitova," the Allman-like "Kangaroo," the bluegrass mandolin flourishes of "Bloodhound," and the playful workingman's plaint, "Gimme a Raise." Unlike much of the recorded music of many jam bands, the record is full of really well-structured songs, which actually function as songs and not just springboards for the inevitable drawn-out jam. (The writing credits on the disc read: "All songs written [and re-written every show] by The Big Wu," so the live show should include its share of improvisation.)

Playing the middle slot is California's Mother Hips, a pack of country-inflected rockers who tear it up live, and the show kicks off with a set by Tucson's own Groove Evolution, playing their unique brand of hippie funk. The Groove Fest II gets under way at 9 p.m. Friday, September 24, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Tickets are only $5 in advance, available at CD Depot, Guitars, Etc., Hear's Music, Zip's University and Congress Street Store.

SONIC YOUTH: If you're a regular reader of these pages, you'll recall a few weeks back a story we ran about local adventurous art-rockers Pathos in conjunction with the release of their second album, Pax (Youth Inc. Records). Pathos singer/songwriter/guitarist James Martin's other band, the decidedly punk rock (complex melodic hardcore, if you want to get technical) Malignus Youth will throw one of the group's twice-a-year "reunion" gigs this week.

The band has reissued its entire vinyl output on one CD, appropriately titled Vinyl CD (Youth Inc.), as well as a CD collecting unreleased material and the band's legendary punk-rock mass, Ephemeral/Missa Brevis (Youth Inc.), both of which will be available for purchase at the show. Catch Malignus Youth, along with Sap Head and Hand Grenade, at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 25, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress. Cover for the all-ages show is $8, and you can call 740-0126 for recorded details.

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