COVERING UP: A funny thing happened to Hootie and the Blowfish following its 16 million copy-selling debut album, Cracked Rear View (Atlantic, 1994). Its follow-up, the much-anticipated Fairweather Johnson (1996, Atlantic), disappointed all by selling a mere 4 mil, therefore consigning the band to has-been status forever.

Not really, of course, but Hootie and the boys (yes, I know that the band's leader is named Darius Rucker, and I also know that the band and its die-hard fans hate it when Rucker is called "Hootie" in any context; thus, for the remainder of this article, Rucker will be referred to only as "Hootie") certainly don't have the high profile they did a mere six years ago when "Hold My Hand" was as ubiquitous as J. Lo's ass. At the time, we were downright sick of them. The band's squeaky clean blandness was closing in on offensive; it was the paragon of MOR, and therefore was to be despised.

But like I said, a funny thing happened somewhere along the way: Hootie used to be the enemy; now he's the underdog.

In listening to the band's newest disc, the covers collection that is Scattered, Smothered & Covered (Atlantic, 2000), I actually found myself rooting for the dudes. I have no idea why, aside from the band's long-suffering critical status and recent fall from grace in the accounting department. Actually, that's not true; the new disc gave me newfound respect for Hootie before I even heard it, based on his surprisingly excellent taste in songs covered. The band chose 10 of the 15 songs included here, and left the other five to the band's fans via its Web site.

The result is a wildly diverse platter that includes renditions of songs by Tom Waits ("I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You"), Roy Orbison ("Dream Baby"), R.E.M. (a beautifully wistful take on "Driver 8"), the Silos ("I'm Over You"), the long-lost Reivers ("Araby" and "Almost Home"), Led Zeppelin ("Hey Hey What Can I Do"), New Grass Revival ("Let Me Be Your Man") and Vic Chesnutt ("Gravity of the Situation").

In true Hootie fashion, no risks are taken musically; nearly all the songs are painfully faithful to the originals. Even though some of the songs covered here are pretty darn obscure (two Reivers songs!), they're all so great that you'd have to be a complete moron to screw 'em up. Still, it's somehow mildly subversive to picture middle-aged soccer moms humming along to a Vic Chesnutt tune. Needless to say the blindly faithful won't be disappointed, and in the end the naysayers just might gain some respect for the Hootster.

Check out Hootie and the Blowfish when it plays an uncharacteristically intimate show at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5 at Backstage (formerly Bob's), 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Advance tickets are available at Backstage and Zip's University. For more information call 733-6262.

NAME CALLING: From the Someone Was Bound To Do It Sometime department: San Francisco's Fuck won't be getting any commercial radio airplay anytime soon, if only by virtue of its name. When the band first appeared on the indie scene back in 1996, everyone expected it to be a hard-as-nails revved-up pack of white trashers spewing tunes as provocative as its name. Imagine, then, the surprise that greeted those who bought the band's discs when they discovered that Fuck was actually a rather twee pop band.

A couple years back the group provided support for Cat Power when she played at Club Congress, and the pairing seemed peculiar at the time: An inventive, fluffy pop group providing opening duties for the dark psychological musings of everyone's favorite breakdown-in-progress, the match-up was nothing if not incongruous. But with the release of Fuck's new platter, Cupid's Cactus (Smells Like Records, 2001), the pairing makes more sense than ever.

Eschewing the lighthearted, goofy and infectious songs of yore, the band delves into slo-core territory on Cactus, waxing darker and more wounded than anyone would expect based on its previous output. It either made a conscious decision to make this its "mellow" album, or the band's members have been listening to the first Spain record a hell of a lot. Either way, the result is understatedly gorgeous--and, as always, short--songs that will claw their way into your noggin before you even realize it. If you're a fan of Low, Scud Mountain Boys, Eggs or Idaho, you'll inevitably fall in love with this album.

Go forth and witness Fuck when it plays at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Bonfire Madigan provides support, and you can call 884-0874 with any remaining questions.

SHOWTIME: From the '70s through the '90s, Tucsonan Connie Warren lent her voice to country music and Top 40 pop and rock songs. Last year a friend persuaded her to perform in a show that consisted of show tunes and standards, and Warren found herself rediscovering the classics. Hearing her perform in this context via a demo CD, it's hard to imagine her singing anything else. Her rich, silken voice is truly a marvel and suits these standards to a tee. Warren will be joined by an eight-piece band when she performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 11 at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts Proscenium Theater. Tickets are $16 and may be purchased in advance at the PCC box office, or by calling 206-6988. Call the same number for more info.

FLYING HIGH: Melodic, quirky and catchy, L.A.'s Arlo has just released the first full-length album of its six-year career. Up High in the Night (Sub Pop) will appeal to fans of mid-tempo guitar-pop à la Weezer, and the live show, which lands at Double Zero, 121 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14, should do the same. Questions? Call 670-9332.

ROOTS & ROCK: A nifty little double bill of roots rock touches down in town this week. Beloved American Indian songwriter Keith Secola, who worships at the altar of Neil Young, teams up with honky tonkers Forever Goldrush, who infuse rock energy and the shaky-and-stirring vocals of Damon Wyckoff into their traditional barroom brew-ha. Check them both out at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 10 at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For more information call 670-9202.

THREE'S A CHARM: A quadruple bill of delicioso punk rock bands both local and national files into Skrappy's this weekend. The Pattern, which includes ex-members of the Peechees, puts forth a believable and energetic take on groove-heavy retro-punk boogie; Sub Pop recording artist Vue does the cheesy-organ-over-mid-'80s-sexual-angst thing rather successfully; local pop-punk heroes Swing Ding Amigos are way more inventive and enjoyable than most bands that get tagged as pop-punk these days; and Pop Gestapo, the band formerly known as Head Grenade, is chock full of punk fury. Get your money's worth when this fearsome foursome takes the stage of Skrappy's, 201 E. Broadway, at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 11. Admission is $5 at the door. Call 620-1824 for more information.

ON YOUR KNEES: A quick note to all bands who have written in with inquiries about how to get in on the upcoming Club Crawl 2001 hoo-hah in April: For starters, I don't pick the bands that play it. In fact, the selection process for the much-coveted event has, if anything, gotten more diplomatic since I've been covering it. The way things stand right now, the crucial answer to the age-old question "Who do we gotta blow to play this thing?" is, in fact, your friendly local club booker. They are the ones who submit a wish list of which performers they'd be happiest to have grace their stage, and Jeb Schoonover, the guy behind more than you'd be comfortable knowing about the finer points of our friendly local music scene (god blessim), does his damnedest to accommodate all parties involved. In other words, if you don't have a nice working relationship with one of the participating clubs, and you're interested in playing the event, now would be a good time to pick up a ticket for the shmooze express. Let the brown-nosing begin.