WALKING DEAD: It's almost always a tricky proposition when bands continue to exist after their frontman has died. The whole thing tends to reek of a pack of less-talented sidemen who need to put food on the table, but haven't quite got the talent to do it on their own, and therefore rely on graverobbing the accomplishments of their deceased brethren. This week sees two very different bands, which have also approached their situations quite differently, pull into town for a pair of shows.

It's hard to argue with the fact that, for all intents and purposes, bassist/singer/songwriter Phil Lynott was Thin Lizzy. The immensely talented Lynott was an anomaly in virtually every way: a black Irishman who fronted one of the most intelligent hard-rock bands of the 1970s. Whereas most bands of Lizzy's ilk were content to make a power-chord racket with inane lyrics, Lynott's songs both rocked and had meaningful lyrics. His canon focused on slice-of-life stories about average working folks, and the trials and tribulations of such a life, spawning such bona fide classics as "The Boys Are Back in Town," "Jailbreak" and "Cowboy Song."

And the songs were bolstered by a dual lead guitar attack courtesy of Scott Gorham and a revolving-door second guitar post that over the years was manned by talents like Gary Moore, Eric Bell and John Sykes. But by the mid-'80s, Thin Lizzy had lost its fizz, due in no small part to the vast quantities of drink and drugs Lynott was pumping into his system. In 1986, Lynott lost the battle and passed on.

Now, 15 years later, a Thin Lizzy of sorts has come together to play the favorites for those who are nostalgic or who missed the boat the first time around. The current lineup includes original guitarist (and now vocalist, too) Sykes (who was also a member of Tigers of Pan Tang), onetime Lizzy guitarist Gorham and veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge, who, though never a member of TL, has logged his share of years with the likes of Ted Nugent.

And though the new Thin Lizzy does indeed smack of careerist opportunism, longtime fans who have witnessed recent shows--the current lineup released a live album, One Night Only, this past summer on CMC International--have had mostly kind words for the new incarnation. Still, this is after all a Lynott-less Thin Lizzy, which probably shouldn't exist in the first place. Proceed with caution, but if you're a die-hard, you might want to proceed anyway.

Thin Lizzy appears at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 16 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $17 at all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 321-1000.

The following night brings us another frontman-less act, but one with perhaps a touch more credibility. Former Mothers of Invention guitarist Lowell George started Little Feat in the early '70s as a bayou-influenced country/blues/swamp rock band with a twistedly humorous lyrical bent, releasing classic albums like Sailin' Shoes and Dixie Chicken, which, in addition to those records' title tracks, spawned classics like "Willin'," "Fat Man in the Bathtub" and "Easy to Slip."

In 1979, the group disbanded, with George releasing a solo album. But his solo career proved to be short lived, as he died of a drug abuse-induced heart attack later that same year.

But in 1988, the remaining members regrouped, with former Pure Prairie League vocalist/guitarist Craig Fuller taking George's spot, and began recording and releasing new material, as well as touring incessantly. And while the new songs certainly don't match the strength of Lowell George's, the group has made itself into, if nothing else, a legitimately enjoyable touring band, one that rests on its laurels by playing favorites from the George era, but at least makes a wholehearted attempt to carry on its tradition. Rhino has just released a career-spanning four-disc box set, Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat, which represents both eras of the band's existence.

To celebrate the release Little Feat plays at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, along with opener Teddy Morgan, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $25 through Ticketmaster, or by calling 321-1000. Additional information on both shows is available at 798-3333.

THE DOWNSIDE: No matter how you feel about the current rap-rock phenomenon (regular readers of this column know how I feel about it), there is no denying that one of the first bands to sport the now-ubiquitous sound was Downset. Its self-titled debut album on Mercury was released back in 1994, roughly a year and a half after Rage Against the Machine's debut, widely regarded as the seminal album of the genre. The band has just released a new disc, Check Your People, its first for indie Epitaph, and will appear in town this week to support it. Check out Downset, along with Factory 81, Relative Ash and Silent Eulogy, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, January 14, at Skrappy's, 201 E. Broadway Blvd. Cover for the all-ages show is $12, and you can call 620-1824 with questions.

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