SCENE CHANGE: Sheez. I leave town for a mere week, and look what happens. In case ya haven't heard, there's been a big shakeup at Club Congress. Nearly the entire club staff was either fired or quit in protest. To put it mildly, things are in disarray.

What does this mean to you, dear downtown-trodden music junkie? As far as I can tell, it's a good thing.

First of all, repeat this mantra with me: Change is a good thing. Say it as many times as you need to, then hear me out. This town's music landscape has never been a flatland; it's always been all about peaks and valleys in regard to both the quality and quantity of local bands in existence at any given time, as well as the clubs that support them (and vice-versa).

The good news is that we've got a cozy new hotspot in Che's Lounge on Fourth Avenue, not the greatest physical layout for live music, but hey, they're doing it anyway. Plus there's never a cover.

Perhaps the better news is that a viable club venue is on its way, set to open this weekend. Plush will occupy the space at 340 E. Sixth St., the former location of Cafe Sweetwater. The brainchild of former Shelter proprietor (the ever-so-swank) Don Santiago, Plush will feature a kick-ass house sound system (an essential if oft-overlooked element of any club worth its salt), and if its initial bookings are any indication, a diverse and eclectic lineup of both local and touring artists. The club already has jazz singer-songwriter-legend Mose Allison booked for the near future (Mose Allison playing a club!).

On this, its opening weekend, Plush will feature local desert rock stalwarts Rich Hopkins and Luminarios, which boasts the all-star roster of ex-MC5 bassist Mike Davis, guitarist Gene Ruley (one of Tucson's most accomplished yet tasteful string-benders), and skin-pounder extraordinaire Jim Pavett. Not to mention Rich's Neil Young-on-a-bender guitar histrionics. It should be an appropriate kick-off to a most welcome addition to the downtown/Fourth Avenue music map.

As for Club Congress, don't count 'em out yet. Yeah, I know, word on the street has 'em as a corpse waiting to happen, but hopefully the added pressure of new live music venues on their home turf (not to mention the threat of their bread and butter being pulled out from under them) will inspire some creativity and they'll get their shit together and start hosting some fine live entertainment once again. At this point, if they want to stay competitive it seems they have no choice.

Shameless plug time: Yes, the Third Annual Great Cover-Up will go on as planned at Club Congress. We've expanded it to two nights this time around: Thursday, November 16, and Friday, November 17. That's 10 bands each night (20 total, if you're keeping track) of musicians who have spent the last couple months rehearsing and re-rehearsing a set of cover songs for the benefit of your good time and The Brewster Center. A full schedule of the event will appear in this space next week. For now, let it be known that tickets are now on sale at Club Congress and CD Depot. Advance tix for both nights will run you a mere 10 bucks (all for charity); if you're an ass-sitter, they'll run you seven bucks per night at the door, so go throw down already, cheapskate.

ZIPPED LIPS: The Squirrel Nut Zippers were always falsely linked to the now-dead neo-swing movement of a couple years back, but the band generally had more in common with the down-south porch music of its ancestors than it did the lindy-hoppers. What the promoters of Sunday's Zippers show won't bother telling you: The band has endured some pretty serious personnel changes since its last local appearance, most notably the departure of bandleader Tom Maxwell (he of the vocal persuasion on such memorable SNZ tunes as "Hell," the group's calling-card hit song). The good news is that the group's greatest asset, vocalist Katherine Whalen (she of the Billie Holiday-sings-the-best-of-Betty Boop persuasion) is still around, and predictably, she is featured most prominently on the band's new album, the just-released Bedlam Ballroom (Uni/Mammoth). While the tunes on the new platter could use a dose of Maxwell's wink-and-nod tunesmithery, the live show likely won't disappoint the faithful.

The Squirrel Nut Zippers, abetted by opener The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, will hit the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m. on Sunday, November 12. Advance tickets are available for $21.50 at Ticketmaster, Zip's University, CD Depot, and Guitars, Etc. For more information call 798-3333.

WAY BACK WHEN: Lovers of pop music of the '70s AM rock radio variety (for you youngsters, think--for lack of a more accurate and universal point of reference--The Beatles) have two fine shows to choose from this week.

Locals Willis will be faced with a name-change dilemma when their Seattle namesakes, just signed to a contract with Capitol, hit town. As evidenced by their five-song EP, Bourgeois Blues on Collective Fruit, the band specializes in tunes both heartfelt and catchy à la the era of the White Album and There Goes Rhymin' Simon. They'll play at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., on Sunday, November 12. For details call the club at 629-9211.

Chicago's Frisbie makes its way back to town for the second time this year in support of its excellent long-player, The Subversive Sounds of Love (Hear Diagonally Records). It's a gem of a disc that splits the difference between modern retro-popsters Papas Fritas and the vintage stuff of Big Star and The Raspberries. Blissful harmonies abound, and the hooks are as catchy as anything to be found in your pop's tackle box. If you can down bagfuls of cotton candy without once complaining that it's too sticky-sweet, this show's for you. Catch 'em at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For more info call 670-9202.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE: Eight out of 12 songs on Something Like Human (550/Sony), the new release from "new rock" radio favorite Fuel, are graced with one-word titles. Words that convey the torturous existence of being a white 20-something male at the dawn of the 21st century; words like "Scar," "Knives" and "Down." Come to think of it, I'll leave a review of the band's sophomore major label effort to one of the band's fans, someone obviously more qualified than myself to comment on it without prejudice. The following is taken verbatim from an review by a music fan from Birmingham, Alabama USA: "THIS CD IS AWESOME! IT HAS NOT A SINGLE CUSS WORD, AND IT'S JUST AS GOOD AS THEIR FIRST ONE!" I couldn't have said it better myself.

Fuel plays with openers Nickelback and Full Devil Jacket at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 10, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $21.50 at Ticketmaster, Zip's University, CD Depot and Guitars, Etc. For more info call 798-3333.

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