PIGGIN' OUT: The first time I ever saw Tucson's Pork Torta I was sold. The thickest, chunkiest bass noise I'd ever heard, a guitarist who could barely pluck out the guitar break on Silver Convention's "Fly Robin Fly" and the completely astounding drumming of Lucas Mosely (quick aside: Isn't it weird how Tucson has so few drummers, but the ones we do have are among the best in the world? Think about it: Winston Watson, Peter Catalanotte (aka Splat), Tommy Larkins, Bruce Halper and, of course, Lucas, plus everyone I'm forgetting at the moment)--not to mention the name and the goofy costumes. It was a sight to behold, a rump-shaker of an evening. It was an acid-fueled art project gone completely right. I felt like I had discovered something that only a select few seemed to know: Yes, there were a lot of freaks living among us, talented people doing stuff 'cause it was fun and assuming there were enough like-minded compatriots to cause a ruckus. There were, and I counted myself among their ranks immediately.

I bought a cassette (come to think of it, has the Torta ever released anything on CD?) and a T-shirt that night. They had me at "hello."

And just as my shirt has gotten more and more frayed over the years, so have changes come to the mighty Torta. Original bassist Chris Cilla split town for Portland greenery a few years back, so gigs have been few and far between for a while now. But those sporadic gigs demonstrated that the band had actually gotten really good over the years (Ian, the guitarist, receives the "Most Improved Tortan" award). What had probably originally begun as a goof--albeit a fun one for both band and audience alike (rarer than you'd think)--had become a full-fledged bursting-at-the-seams bootyquake for white folks. When you got your groove on, you gotta share it with the masses, am I right? Tough to do when your bassist lives in Oregon. The cure to those ills was the inevitable "finding of a local bass player."

Enter one Chris Kaufman. His entrance into the band is just another chapter in the twisted saga that is the Pork Torta, and his first gig with the group is on Friday. The boys will be playing two sets for your listening enjoyment: In honor of the year 2001 (where are all those futuristic tributes, anyway?) the first set is titled "Space"; the second set, "Zombie Slumber Party," is a nod to the dark forces at work on Friday the 13th.

Opening the show is Japanese one-man-band Mai Nagashima, aka My H. Asshole, aka Miso Soup, who has a song written from the POV of a bottle of hair conditioner. I haven't heard him, but a reliable source says he's "definitely working the cute Japanese guy angle, but he's good and funny."

Go see the Pork Torta and Mai Nagashima at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 13 at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For more info call 670-9202.

SHAPING UP AND SHIPPING OUT: Taking its name from the E. Annie Proulx novel, The Shipping News was formed in 1996 by former Rodan bandmates Jeff Mueller and Jason Noble to create music for NPR's This American Life program. By that point, Mueller had moved on to front June of 44 (which, incidentally, just broke up), and Noble was busy inventing the "indie-classical" genre with his compadres in Rachel's. Adding Rachel's percussionist, Kyle Crabtree, to the lineup on drums, the trio was complete, and released its first album, Save Everything, on Quarterstick in the fall of 1997.

Three and a half years later, the band has finally released the follow-up, Very Soon, and In Present Company (Quarterstick). The record does what few other bands of its ilk have done: takes a math-rock aesthetic and makes it achingly sincere. Whereas most of these bands often sound like they're merely showing off just how many odd time signatures they know, The Shipping News never forgets that it's writing actual songs that people are going to have to listen to. There are dizzying guitar workouts; lush, atmospheric ballads; and tension-building mid-tempo tunes, and they're all great. Expect to see this album on a few year-end Top 10 lists.

Do yourself a favor and check out The Shipping News along with Audio Gusto and Umbra at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 14 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Cover is $6, and you can call 884-0874 with any questions.

V-DAY: And while we're on the subject, former tourmates of The Shipping News, Boston's Victory at Sea, will be passing through town this week, as well. Following an EP and a couple of singles, the band released its debut full-length, The Dark Is Just the Night, on Dischord subsidiary Slowdime Records in September. Charting similar musical territory as The Shipping News (though not quite as diverse), Victory's most distinguishing element is singer/guitarist Mona Elliot's voice, which at times echoes the sincerity of Barbara Manning, but also has no trouble wailing like Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker. File under: Up and Coming. Victory at Sea, along with opener La Reina, plays at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 at Solar Culture. Cover is five bucks, and that number again is 884-0874.

LUCK 'O THE IRISH: Beating out such big-timers as Solas, Altan and Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill for the honor, Ireland's Danú was named Best Overall Traditional Act by Dublin's Irish Music magazine. And if traditional Irish music inspires visions of middle-aged dudes blowing the pipes, think again: All seven members of the band are still in their 20s, and their brand new release, Think Before You Think (Schanachie), is the perfect soundtrack for getting your jig 'n' reel on. Danu will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 14 at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. (in the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind). Advance tickets are available for $16 ($14 for In Concert! Members) at Antigone Books and Hear's Music or by phone at 327-4809.

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