WOOD, YOU? I've always maintained that Tucson's music scene is--like most any other--a series of peaks and valleys. The number of bands in existence, the quality of those bands, the quantity of live music-friendly venues, all are variables in the day-to-day (or night-to-night) existence of the average cover-paying thrill seeker. But one thing that seems to paradoxically remain a constant in our little burg is the reverence for tradition. History seems to repeat itself in the strangest of ways.

I mention this for two reasons. The first is that, with the recent spate of club closings, someone needed to step in and start booking some bands to fill the void and create some musical options or we were fast on our way to one of those aforementioned valleys (and with a recent upsurge in local band quantity and quality, it simply wasn't an option). Luckily Club Congress, once the hub of downtown's music scene, is making a respectable attempt at filling those shoes once again. More on that in a minute.

Number two is that this week sees one of those rituals, the (roughly) annual Wooden Ball, played out before our very eyes, somewhat ironically, at Plush. The irony being that, just as Congress is starting to get its shit together, the WB pulls out of Congo, its home for the last eight years, for Plush, the unwaveringly gig-friendly upstart down the road. But I digress; back to the Wooden Ball itself.

In case you're green, it's a six-hour extravaganza of acoustic music--the less-is-more approach in full effect--from a dozen of the finest acts Tucson has to offer, each playing a 20-minute set with nary an electronic device onstage. From the get-go--the first event was back in the '80s--the whole shebang has been organized by Downtown Saint Chris Holiman. Tucson-wise, it's a tradition as rich as (and older than) the Club Crawls or the Cover-Up or the Giant Sand/Calexico gatherings at Solar Culture, but its essence is as rich and old as families gathering on the front porch to jam (and, in fact, engenders the same somewhat magical effect). Talk to anyone who's frequented the Balls over the years and you'll hear stories of the hairs standing up on the backs of people's necks, whether it was during Rainer and Billy Sedlmayr's duet on the Faces' "Ooh La La," or Maryanne's poppy update of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" or Chris Cacavas' profound piano ramblings or whatever; ask 10 people, you'll get 10 different stories. And as much of a tradition as the Balls are, they always foster a cosmic looseness, an environment, say, wherein a band can try out a cover it's always wanted to attempt in front of a crowd but never has.

Take a look at the roster of bands that appear on the two comp discs culled from past Balls, Could You Wood? and Wood for Rainer, and you'll find a veritable who's who of local music history. (A third disc, which will likely include highlights from this week's show, as well as tunes from years past, should be released soon--I've heard a rough version and it's shaping up to be the best one yet.) The 2002 version is no exception; here's the lineup: Al Perry, Greyhound Soul, Calexico, Troy Olsen, Nick Luca Trio, Sunday Afternoon, Panic Over Trainwreck, Oslo, Truck, Downtown Saints, Doug Smith and 35 Summers.

Get there early 'cause the Wooden Ball kicks off at 6 p.m. on Sunday, January 20 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Admission is a ridiculously paltry six bucks. If you need to know more than I've already told ya, the number to call is 798-1298.

BONGO CONGO: And now back to Club Congress. After a couple years of on-again, off-again live music bookings, these days the regenerative club seems once again truly committed to live music. With two or three shows every seven days, recent weeks have seen acts as diverse as Less Pain Forever, Twine, the Handsome Family, Chango Malo and a triple bill featuring Mark Insley, Chris Burroughs and Teddy Morgan, plus loads of others, on the Congress stage. As an indication of just how missed the Congress stage has been during these lulls, in last year's Best of Tucson, Congress won the readers' pick in the category of Best Live Venue even though the club hadn't featured live music in months. CC has, as in recent weeks, a triumvirate of shows booked this week.

Ivan Klipstein's third disc, Lifestyle! (Crustacean Records) was thrown on the CD player by a friend at a late-night gathering at my apartment about a week ago. I was drunkenly hostile enough to demand that, unless the first song on the disc convinced me otherwise, the sounds of Mission of Burma would be replacing Mr. Klipstein toot-sweet. My friend won. A few minutes in, I swallowed my pride and decided we'd listen to Ivan for a while.

Though he's not as talented as Beck (who is?), Klipstein mines similarly eclectic pop territory, voyaging into Bread's sensitive territory with "Pretty on the Outside," white boy ragamuffin style on "Amazing Grace," and the Squeeze-plays-10cc ballad "Wonderful," all to joyous effect. Mere charlatan or pop's next wunderboy?

You decide, as Ivan Klipstein plays the lobby of Hotel Congress, 311 E.Congress St., for free on Sunday, January 20.

Congress' other bookings for the week are the ever-fabulous Bob Log III and DJ Bazooka Joe at 9 p.m. on Friday, January 18, and Liberty School's CD release party at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23, with Sun River opening. For more info on any of these shows call 622-8848.

COUNTING SYLLABLES: Once again I've run my mouth off and left little space for the remainder of the column, so from here on out it's all haiku.

Bratty little snots
proving pop-punk is best when
stupid. No filler!

Sum 41 performs with Unwritten Law and Gob at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 19 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for a ridiculous $17.50 at all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 321-1000.

Still going strong, the
country/rockabilly queen
needs some relaxer.

Wanda Jackson performs at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 19 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The Cadillac Angels open the show. For further details call 798-1298.

Cult band for decades,
Letterman still loves Johnette.
Maybe you do too.

Concrete Blonde performs at 8 p.m. on Sunday, January 20 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $17 at Zip's University and all Zia locations. Call 798-3333 for more info.

Gorgeous songs about
beautiful losers, and that
ain't just talk, talk, talk.

Freedy Johnston performs at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, January 21 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., with Alana Sweetwater opening. Admission is $10. For additional information call 798-1298.

Former Sundog goes
solo, proving to be both
literate, funny.

Joe Paquin performs along with opener Bruce T. Campbell at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 17 at Hazy Dayz Lounge and Café, 187 N. Park Ave. For more info call 884-0272.

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