SPRINGTIME BONANZA: Hoooo, lordy! The past several months have been glorious ones for Tucson music lovers. The next couple look to be similarly excellent, and this week is so jam-packed with sonic goodness of the live variety that I couldn't fit it all into this space if I was using negative-20-size font.

For one thing, there's the Club Crawl on Saturday, April 20. You all know the drill by now: just about every band from within the city limits converges on downtown Tucson for one special night, and 10,000 of you come out to see them, bless yer hearts. It really is one of those few times that Tucson feels like the big town it actually is, as opposed to the small town it often feels like (oh wait, that and driving three miles during rush hour). Anyway, this year you're especially advised to pick up one of those $5 wristbands from any Zia location in advance, as they'll be $7 at the participating venues' doors. Be sure to check out the handy insert in this issue for full coverage.

And also be sure to take a gander at the Club Listings in this week's music section. I'll try to be short-winded enough to fit in as much as I can in this column, but like I said, there's no way I can fit in all the excellent shows this week.

AMERICANA BEAUTY: When Varnaline's Anders Parker opened up for Richard Buckner at Solar Culture in September, few in the audience seemed to have any idea who he was. But, as the show progressed, it was clear that sometimes all it takes is one guy with a guitar, a microphone, and a bounty of amazing songs to enrapture a crowd. While Parker played, whether it was one of his rough-hewn but delicate ballads, or a one-man approximation of his trademarked fuzz-guitar rockers, the audience was so hushed you could've heard a feather drop during the quiet spots. But as soon as the song ended, the audience clapped fervently, getting louder after each successive song. Some, in fact, were even heard to shout things like "Woo!" and "Yeahhh!!" Yet another audience won over by Varnaline.

This week we're treated to the Varnaline full-band treatment of Parker's songs, which not only pull off the feat of being gorgeously bleak without ever becoming maudlin or even depressing, but ring out of the speakers like they were written in your soul. That is to say, they bear that rare quality of sounding eerily familiar the first time you hear them.

Though Centro-matic have been kicking around their hometown of Denton, Texas--oddly, a current indie hotbed--for seven years now, and have released six albums in that time, I must admit I only first heard of them a few months back, when they were included on Uncut magazine's compilation of the best Americana songs of 2001. And while "To Unleash the Horses Now" was admittedly an excellent song, if I had heard it under duress of a blind taste test, I would have proclaimed, "Mmmm, it's good, but it tastes an awful lot like that jelly the Flaming Lips were going on about several years ago." But after hearing the whole of Distance and Clime (Idol Records, 2001), while the Lips stuff is still applicable, I'd also venture to say that anyone who likes the sort of big, layered, warped pop sound that bands like The Glands, Guided by Voices, and Sparklehorse favor will find much to like here. If this record is any indication, I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Varnaline and Centro-matic, along with opener The Long Winters, perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. Call 622-8848 for more info.

FIRE IS HOT: Man, talk about crummy timing. No sooner does the Weekly's office pull up stakes and move out of downtown, all the way out by the airport, than one of our ex-fave watering holes/restaurants, Cushing Street, located exactly 57 feet--82, if one is staggering--from our old front door, finally re-opens (again). Damn the luck!

We're also excited to see Cushing hosting live shows again, as we've got fine memories of performances past from the likes of Poi Dog Pondering, Jonathan Richman, Rainer, and R.L. Burnside.

This week brings a performance from Incendio, which takes a nouveau flamenco base a la Ottmar Liebert or Strunz & Farah, then adds a healthy dose of 21st Century beats, stretches of improvisation, and some exotic synth sounds that add to the World Beat element. The world's first nouveau flamenco jam band?

Decide for yourself when Incendio performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, at Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant, 198 W. Cushing St. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Antigone Books, Enchanted Earthworks, and CD City. They'll be $12 at the door. For further details, or to charge tickets by phone, call 297-9133.

TRIPLE DARE: I know it's tough to drag your ass off the couch to go see a rock show on any Sunday night, let alone the one that follows Club Crawl, but if you have a brain in your aching head you'll go see the truly amazing triple bill that Club Congress has in store for you this Sunday.

The Shins' debut album, Oh, Inverted World (2001, Sub Pop) was easily one of last year's best records, appearing on just about every year-end critic's poll you could get your hands on (including three out of four of The Weekly's writers' lists, myself included), and it's an album whose aura grows as time passes, and as more and more people discover it. Like McDonald's, for example, which just used the band's "New Slang," quite possibly the sweetest pop song of 2001, in a fry-hawking TV commercial. Is nothing sacred?

Anyway, the band--which previously recorded in a different configuration as Flake, then later, Flake Music--combines Beach Boys-y '60s pop, the kind the Elephant 6ers all get swoony over, with vintage power pop and what the kids are calling emo these days. But like like-minded indie-popsters Grandaddy, they combine a lot of elements to concoct songs rich in texture, while still retaining a hearty sense of individualism. Almost impossible to get sick of; do not miss this band!

The middle slot of the show is occupied by Fruit Bats, who you can read about in Linda Ray's feature article in this section, and then it's --

Howard W. Hamilton III, whose nom de musique is The Busy Signals, is a one-man sampling machine extraordinaire. There's a reason why Mojo is the world's best music magazine, so I'll take the lazy journalist's approach and quote its writer Andrew Cardin, who calls The Busy Signals, "an oddball mish-mashing of thrift store beats, easy-cheesy listening snippets and dreamy '60s pop. Think of a bubblegum version of the eels, a West Coast Cornershop or one of the Elephant 6 collective given a cut 'n' paste remix by Solex. The whole thing is instantly catchy and warmly welcoming, guaranteed to weld a goofy smile to your face." Thanks, Andy. I'll be sure to send you a residual check posthaste.

The Shins, Fruit Bats and The Busy Signals perform at 9 p.m. on Sunday, April 21, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $7 and all questions are answered at 622-8848.

LAST NOTES: As promised, space is getting tight so let me toss a couple quick ones in.

Those heading out to see Cracker this week--and you know who you are--should make sure to get there early to catch The Sound of Urchin, whom Jack Black considers his favorite band, and whom Dean Ween proclaimed to be "the second greatest band in rock today." Need we say more?

Cracker and The Sound of Urchin. perform at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, at Club Congress. Advance tickets are $13. 622-8848.

And as long as we're mentioning David Lowery, imagine if Camper Van Beethoven was still around in a post-kitchen-sink era, and actually knew a thing or two about world music, instead of pretending they did. Welcome to the world of DeVotchKa, named Best Inexplicable Band by a newspaper in their native Denver. Their last appearance at Plush slayed, and they're back this week to win some new converts.

DeVotchKa appears at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. 798-1298

Fans of smart folk-rock artists that can rock out when they want to, like Michelle Shocked and the Indigo Girls, won't walk away disappointed when Austin's Vera Takes the Cake takes the stage of Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18. 798-1298.

Purists will tell you that a bluegrass band can't have drums, so let's call Colorado's The McCloskey Brothers Band a rock-grass band. Regardless of whatever stupid hybrid description you call 'em, just make sure you mention how damn good they are.

The McCloskey Brothers Band performs a free all-ages show at 9 p.m. on Monday, April 22, at The Casbah Tea House, 628 N. Fourth Ave. 740-0393.

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