WHO KNEW? What a difference a couple years (or so) make: It was just about that long ago that I found myself in 7 Black Cats, not too long after the club's opening, to check out a local band whose identity I can't recall. I stuck around to see a late addition to the bill, a touring band that just happened to be passing through town with a night off on its hands. The Ataris, which I'd never heard of, had an EP coming out soon on Fat Wreck Chords, one of several Cali punk rock labels du jour. Though there must not have been more than 20 people in the club that night, the boys played their little hearts out, tossing out punk-pop nuggets to the small but enthusiastic gathering like beads to a naked chick at Mardi Gras (obligatory timely reference). It brought visions of those heralded days when Green Day played backyard parties right here in our own burg, when Blink 182 was still, if not an underground band, at least a cult one. Yes, it was apparent from the get-go that these kids had learned all the proper lessons from their elders.

Fast forward to a week ago. At the little mom and pop record store where I work every Tuesday (for you non-music dorks, that's the sacred day of the week when new releases are gently, lovingly placed on the shelves), the hot item last week was the who-the-hell-knew-it-was-so-anticipated new disc End is Forever (Kung Fu) by the Ataris. In fact, our store, along with most others in town, had trouble even getting it from our suppliers prior to its release--usually a sign that an album is pre-selling in numbers well beyond its expected demand.

On the day of its release, we had at least a dozen customers call or come by to pick it up. As a point of reference, we only ordered four copies of the new, highly anticipated solo CD by Stephen Malkmus of Pavement. Two weeks later, we had only sold two of them; I bought one.

The Ataris is a talented, if typical, California emo/pop/punk band (emphasis on the emo as it continues to evolve), and its moment seems to be now. Catch 'em on Sunday, March 4, at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave. Also on the bill is Pollen, the second best emo band in Phoenix; Tsunami Bomb, an engaging punk band with a Gwen Stefani clone of a vocalist and a deliciously cheesy organ; and Girl Repellant. For more info call 629-9211.

TWISTED ROOTS: Since its inception in the mid-'80s, Billy Bacon & The Forbidden Pigs' forte has always been taking roots musical styles--be it rockabilly, swing, surf, honky-tonk or Tex-Mex--and exposing the post-rock and roll pop hook that resides there. Its new release is Pig Latin (Triple X), a bizarre take on the traditional greatest hits concept: Its version of this time-tested mainstay restricts the selections to the band's finest Latin-flavored tracks, and it works far better than you'd imagine.

The tracks here range from the Sir Douglas Quintet-influenced "No Mas Tequila" to "Mendocino," an actual Sir Douglas Quintet cover (Bacon's longtime hero was the recently deceased Doug Sahm, the Quintet's frontman), one of several including a heartfelt take on "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and a faithful version of the drunken frat-boy anthem "Wooly Bully." Elsewhere the glorious merging of surf guitar and cumbia merge on "Pushin' the Trucks," which gives props to a Saturday night spent in South Tucson, and we're treated to not one, but two versions of the Bacon-penned classic "Una Mas Cerveza," a rather tame take from the album of the same name from 1991, and the grittier original seven-inch version that was ubiquitous in Tucson jukeboxes for years following its release in 1988. (Incidentally, Doug Sahm eventually covered "Una Mas Cerveza" as a member of the Texas Tornados.) In addition, the original release dates of these tunes should put to rest any naysayers who might take the guys to task for jumping on the Latin Explosion bandwagon: They've been doing this stuff since before Ricky Martin was kicked out of Menudo, due to that pesky thing we call puberty.

Go forth and witness Billy Bacon & The Forbidden Pigs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7 at Plush, at the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street. For details call 798-1298.

SELF-CONTROL: New York's The Rosenbergs raised industry eyebrows last spring when it canceled its scheduled appearance on USA Network's TV program. The reason? In order to appear on the show, which is spearheaded by industry veteran bigwigs Jimmy Iovine and Doug Morris, and which purports to be a valuable talent-scouting tool--takin' it to the streets, keepin' it real--the band read the contract's fine print and realized that by appearing on the show, it was giving the honchos a 60-day option to sign the band to a six-album deal, regardless of the band's wishes or interest from other labels. In addition, if they "won" the deal, the contract retained ownership of the band's master tapes (typical procedure for a major label) and its official web site. The band responded to Farmclub by issuing a very courteous "Fuck you," which, in effect, caught the attention of none other than one Robert Fripp, who was in the process of starting Discipline Global Mobile, his very own record label. After negotiating a rather unusual contract in which the band retains ownership of all of its stuff, including the masters, and gets a higher royalty rate than usual, but the label shares in all profits, including concert ticket and merchandise sales, the band signed with Fripp, just released Mission: You on his label, and the rest is history.

As for the music, it's super-catchy, glossy '70s AM radio fare with horribly trite lyrics. If you don't pay attention to the words, it sounds just fine. Pure ear candy.

The Rosenbergs appear at Backstage Sports Grill, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road, on Friday, March 2. For more information call 733-6262.

ROOM TO MOVE: I have to admit that after listening to the demo CD from Los Angeles band Little Rooms, I am confounded. I either love it or I hate it; I truly can't tell which. I think I need to listen to it for a couple more weeks to decide. (Positive: the originals sound wholly unique and weird. Negative: one of the four songs on the disc is a superfluous note-for-note cover of Zep's "Ramble On.") But regardless, its Bowie-meets-Kansasyesjethrotull-doin'-the-cosmic-boogie vibe has provoked some kind of reaction in me, which just might be the point after all. Perhaps the live show will reveal more clues to this enigma.

We can all go a-hunting when Little Rooms plays the late slot at Plush, on the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, on Saturday, March 3. Incidentally, Hector on Stilts, which will open the show with an acoustic set, shares a bassist--Adam Levy, who now resides in Tucson--with the headliners. Questions? Call 798-1298.

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