EXPERIMENTS IN SOUND: There are only three more weeks before Club Congress discontinues its traditional Friday night schedule of live music.

Erstwhile club booker and DJ Spyder Rhodes explained that live music has been a money-loser for a long time now. Although the club's dance nights managed to balance the books for a while, the Congo's new management seems to be keeping an eagle's eye on the bottom line. It's tough to blame them for trying to keep the club in the black, but it's tremendously disappointing for fans of live music, whose options continue to dwindle.

Downtown's Plaza Pub, which featured live bands on both Friday and Saturday nights, closed its doors (again, but apparently for good) last month. But as we've all learned from experience, change can be a good thing, and inevitably when one (literal) door closes another will open. Hopefully, someone reading this right now is hatching plans to pick up the slack with a new live music venue.

This week, though, the Congo's lineup of three truly eclectic bands makes the looming end even more bittersweet. Tempe's Lush Budget Presents The Les Payne Product is one of those rare bands that can win over any audience. The band has only two members, a singer/guitarist and a singer/drummer/keyboardist (sometimes all three at once), but creates a sound greater than the sum of its parts. The guys are true showmen, all matching outfits and sense of schtick, which could be kind of annoying if the songs weren't so damn good.

Their sound approximates the quirky pop of XTC crossed with the dynamic anthems of Weezer, but the constant time changes also bring to mind Frank Zappa, lurching from one twisted hook to another in less time than it takes to say the duo's name. The boys currently have one self-released CD EP on the shelves, released a couple years back, but they're readying some new material for a split release on Acrobot Records with the second band on the bill, Ten in the Swear Jar.

Hailing from San Jose, Calif., Ten in the Swear Jar's most remarkable attribute is genre hopping so expert and defiant that it's unclassifiable. (A good point of reference is the underrated indie band Eggs, if anyone remembers them.) Their 1999 release, My Very Private Map (Acrobot Records), starts out with a somewhat disturbing sample of a little kid repeating "C'mere, asshole" over and over again, followed by a brief conversation that concludes with "Fuck off," before heading into the first track proper. "Helsabot" is a beautifully wistful indie ballad about, of all things, an "alcohol-fueled robot." The ominous "Sad Girl" is a pop song in wolf's clothing, aided and abetted by sax skronk and other assorted noise elements.

Come to think of it, if these boys have an m.o. at all, that's it: embedding luscious and sophisticated pop songs in a veil of pure cacophony, incorporating everything from accordion, mandolin, synthesizers, banjo, harmonium and saxophone into the fray. They're dense and atmospheric and moody, but never ethereal.

Kicking off the bill--and fitting into the mix quite nicely, thanks--is Tucson's own Cortex Bomb, whose CD Need to Scream...Have No Mouth, released last year, also showcases a band that defies genres, basically by fucking with all--and I mean all--of them, often within a single song.

It all kicks off at 9 p.m. Friday, May 26, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. If you're open-minded enough to appreciate well-executed experimentalism, then don't let the $6 cover charge scare you away; this one's a winner. Call 622-8848 for more information.

LAST NOTES: Another Tucson Jazz Society Plaza Suite Spring series comes to an end this weekend, and that means it's time again for the TJS Super Jam. The annual event features a virtual Who's Who of local jazz musicians pooling their talents and donating their time to raise money for the TJS scholarship fund, which supports the next generation of local jazzbos. The jam runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, May 28, at St. Philip's Plaza, at the corner of Campbell Avenue and River Road. Tickets are $11, $6 for TJS members. Because it's a benefit, the event is not included in the TJS season ticket price. Call 903-1265 with questions.

New York City folk-punk poet Roger Manning cruises back into town this week. Bearing the distinction of being the only act even remotely resembling folk music to put out a record on seminal punk label SST Records (Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, etc.), Manning is best experienced live, where he always gives a passionate, heart-on-his-sleeve, often hilarious performance. He's wordy, brainy and not afraid to let you know where he stands on anything. Get there at 9 p.m. to catch the twangerrific Topless Opry on Friday, May 26, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For cover info, call the club at 670-9202.

Geoff Muldaur is a musician's musician. Fans of his brand of American roots music--mostly country blues with elements of rock, folk and R&B--include Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, John Cale and Lucinda Williams--quite a cast, indeed. This week, Muldaur makes his second Tucson appearance in support of his 1998, critically lauded album The Secret Handshake (Hightone), his first studio set in 17 years.

Muldaur appears along with blues duo and Tone-Cool recording artists Paul Rishell and Annie Raines at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 27, for the kick-off of the Plaza Palomino Courtyard Concert Series, at Fort Lowell and Swan Roads. Advance tickets are available for $14 at Hear's Music, Enchanted Earthworks, Orange Grove Brew and Vine, and Antigone Books. They'll cost $16 at the door. For more information, or to reserve tickets by phone, call 297-9133.

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