THEY'RE BACK: Unlike most townies, I love this time of year. Sure, we're still hitting record temperatures, the streets are like Marlon Brando's arteries, and I've already had to wait a half hour to get served at my local watering hole, but I tend to look at it this way: Along with the influx of population and the woes it brings comes a veritable cornucopia of fine live shows making their way into town (not to mention those annoying "Oh, we're recording right now, so we're not playing out" local twerps finally springing back to life). It certainly makes my job both more time-consuming (a good thing) and a hell of a lot more fun (an even better thing).

This week, finally, marks the beginning of the bonanza. Read on.

THE ROOTS AND THE BRANCHES: Go see Alvin Youngblood Hart tonight. I'm serious. If you have any interest in American folk-blues at all--I mean, if you like Ben Harper or Robert Johnson or Bob Dylan or whoever--do not miss this show.

Hart has released a trio of albums. The first two, Big Mama's Door (550/Sony, 1996) and Territory (Ryko, 1998), showcased a man who had truly absorbed not only the vibe but the very essence of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music; amazingly, they sounded nearly as authentic and great--in the true sense of the word--as the forebears contained in that collection.

With last year's Start With the Soul (Hannibal), Hart took a drastic detour away from traditional folk-blues and plugged in his electric. I know how this looks on paper. Not so good.

But in fact, the record exposes a Hart no one could have predicted, heading full-tilt into blazing country rockers like "Fightin' Hard," the slinky, late-night cocktail blues of "Once Again," and an incendiary, horn-aided take on the Cornelius Brothers' "Treat Her Like a Lady." Shunning everything annoying about the bulk of modern blues, Hart manages to retain the essence of the music he explored on his first two releases and bring it into the modern day with a sense of fury. If you're gonna call him a bluesman, then he's the best damn one I've come across in a coon's age.

Catch Alvin Youngblood Hart at 8 tonight, Thursday, August 30, at Boondocks Lounge, 3306 First Ave. Tickets will run $12 at the door, but they'll be worth it. For more info call 297-9133.

KNICK KNACKS: The question "How much will the concert-going public pay to hear two songs?" will be answered this week. Of course The Knack has loads more songs than that, but quick: Can you name any besides "Good Girls Don't" and "My Sharona"? Didn't think so.

The Knack's story is, by now, cliché in a post-Behind the Music world. In the late '70s, band emerges from California playing kick-ass power-pop tunes. Band is marketed--as is common for the era when labels don't know how to categorize an act--as new wave. Band has one mega-huge hit, one semi-huge one. Band is derided by power-pop scenesters for selling out, while out-of-touch suburban kids feel cool 'cause they're listening to "new wave." Band issues strike-while-iron-is-searing follow-up album, which tanks. Band tries to recapture the glory one more time with one more album, which tanks.

Fast-forward a decade. Due to soundtrack inclusion and the proliferation of "'80s nights" at clubs, the mega-hit is introduced to a new generation of fans, while it still sounds good to the ears that heard it the first go-round. Band reunites. Band releases two comeback albums, which tank.

Still, crowds still turn up at the live shows. They've heard the mega-hit on film soundtracks and at '80s nights at clubs, not to mention countless versions of it played by cheesy cover bands. They'll gladly pay to see the Real McCoy. The mega-hit has proven more lucrative than ever imagined, lending a one-hit wonder a two decades-plus career.

I am, of course, selling The Knack short, just as I suspect most who turn out to their shows these days probably do.

In fact, that debut album, Get the Knack (Capitol, 1979), is a power-pop milestone, an exercise in pure sleazy, joyous fun, not unlike the first three releases by Cheap Trick. Every tune has a decent hook, and it's dated itself far less than you'd imagine. Subsequent releases--even the comeback albums--while not as consistent as the debut, still sport a gusher of imaginative, if mindless, pure pop songs.

The band is set to release its third comeback disc, Normal as the Next Guy (Image), on September 25. Expect to hear several songs from it played live--along with those other two songs--as The Knack takes the stage at 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 30 at Backstage, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. For additional information call the venue at 733-6262.

TOO BAD YOU COULDN'T MAKE IT, SERGE: Tucson's favorite Frenchies, Amor Belhom Duo, are back in town and will be playing a show this weekend that is not to be missed.

Joining the avant-pop twosome in collaboration this time around will be bonus-guest-straight-from-heaven, Autour de Lucie vocalist Valerie Leulliot, being flown in from Paris especially for this show, which will be recorded by producer Jim Waters for possible future release. For those not familiar, Leulliot--who sings entirely in French on AdL's releases--possesses one of the most gorgeously seductive voices on the planet (what else did you expect from a gorgeously seductive French woman?). Expect her presence to up the sensuality factor far higher than the average Duo show.

Amor Belhom Duo and Valerie Leulliot, along with opener Howe Gelb--who will likely sit in with the headliners--perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, September 1 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $5. For further details call 884-0874.

THE HORROR!: You'd think punk rockers would be above the one-surviving-member-touring-unit blues that plagues loads of once-respected dinosaur bands, but you'd be wrong.

The touring unit that calls itself the Misfits sports an awfully impressive lineup: founding member Jerry Only, former Black Flag members Robo and Dez Cadena, and Marky Ramone, who once pounded skins for his namesake band. The only problem is that, like it or not, buff 'n' tiny reputed asshole Glenn Danzig was the Misfits. His Elvis Meets the Werewolf howl was easily the most identifiable element of the goth punk band's existence before he split for his own namesake band. Sure, the band that will appear in town this weekend is capable of kicking up a racket, but to call itself the Misfits is an embarrassment to the considerable heft that name carries, 25th Anniversary Tour or not.

The Misfits, along with openers Harlow and Elemenopees, appear at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 31 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $13 at Zia Records. For more info call 798-3333.

IT TURNS OUT THAT CHICKENS HAVE LIPS AFTER ALL: After a stint on high-profile, dirty-blues revivalist Fat Possum Records (which, oddly enough, released his slickest album to date), James Johnson aka Super Chikan is back where he belongs--on Rooster Blues Records--with his new release, Shoot That Thang.

Still incorporating R&B rhythms and funky wah-wah in his mix of both kinds of blues--Chicago and delta--Shoot is remarkably less chicken-obsessed (he used to sing almost exclusively about the dirty bird)--and therefore, less gimmicky--than his previous releases (some of which were, incidentally, recorded by Tucsonan Duncan Hudson). And while it's every bit as glossy as his Fat Possum release, the material this time around seems to suit the production better.

Still, he's best experienced live, and you can do just that when Super Chikan performs at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, August 31 at Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St. For ticket information call the venue at 745-9175.

MY CREDIT RATING IS A BATTLEFIELD: All right now, everyone. Who, in their mid-20s or older, would love to experience the joy of seeing rebellious rock grrrl Pat Benatar live in concert? OK. I see a lot of hands in the audience. Now--keep those hands up--who would be willing to pay nearly 30 bucks to do so? Ohhh-kaaay. That's what I thought.

If you're a die-hard, you can check out Pat Benatar on Friday, August 31 at Old Tucson Studios' High Noon Arena, 201 S. Kinney Road. Gates open at 5 p.m., and advance tickets are available for $26.95 at Western Warehouse. They'll be $29.95 on the day of the show. For more information call 883-0100.

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