MORE SONGS ABOUT MONKEYS AND CAVEMEN: Almost exactly 10 years ago I had the pleasure to witness two out of three nights of the Drag City Invitational, a consortium of sorts that featured just about every band on the festival's namesake label's arty and idiosyncratic roster, at the sadly now-defunct Lounge Ax (owned by the wife of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy), in Chicago. In those heady days--the year after punk broke--I was in full indie-rock mode, and I was most looking forward to seeing Pavement and what has through the course of history become known as "the only shows the Silver Jews ever played" (though Palace Brothers, Smog, and Royal Trux were also on the bill--the running order of bands each night was purportedly determined by pulling names out of a hat). And while I was already familiar with most of the bands that were to perform, that weekend I made two discoveries: Smog (this was, incidentally, before the release of the attention-grabbing Julius Caesar) and King Kong.

Fronted by goofy man-child Ethan Buckler, veteran bassist for seminal Louisville post-rockers Slint, King Kong was the only happy, danceable band that played over the entire course of the Invitational (not counting the head-bobbingly delicious sets by Pavement, of course). Coming off as the B-52s' blues brother, the band substituted groovy funk for the perky new wave-inflected dance tunes of its Athens-bred sister.

And Buckler, whose vocal "style" is clearly copped from Beat Happening/Dub Narcotic Sound System warbler Calvin Johnson (read: deep as a Pynchon novel and as monotone as an FCC test signal), began playing this dance stuff at least four years before Johnson did, in Dub Narcotic. (Ahhh, Grasshopper! The student has become the teacher!)

King Kong and DNSS also have in common their absurdist approach to lyrics. Where Johnson would pick a silly phrase (e.g., "monkey hips and rice, uh-huh, uh-huh") and sing it over and over 'til it was a proverbial dead horse, Buckler was more likely to write a silly love song about an affair between a horse and a dead turtle (OK, so he never actually wrote that one, but he did release a concept album about a relationship between a caveman and a yak). Which is to say, King Kong was always way funnier than Dub Narcotic, and just as fun to dance to.

King Kong's latest Drag City outing is the electronically enhanced Big Bang, another concept album (this time involving alien transmissions from the planet Kong), which was produced by Neil Hagerty, the first outside producer the band has ever used.

Ninja Tune recording artist Fog, aka Andrew Broder, performs a pastiche of indie guitar noodling, turntablist skills, spoken-word samples, tuneless electronica and occasionally gorgeous, rusty electro-Americana tunes.

King Kong and Fog appear at 9 p.m. on Monday, August 19, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $5. For more information call 884-0874.

GIVE YOURSELF A HAND, PEOPLE: Through their sheer omnipresence, shows in which someone picks local bands and asks them to perform songs by a well-known artist--let's call them "tribute nights"--have become much ballyhooed in recent months. Inescapable even.

And so we knew eventually the bottom of the barrel would be scraped, that we'd have nowhere left to turn but to our own. Thus this week brings the inevitable Tribute to Tributes, in which local bands cover other local bands, an event unprecedented since Rocco and the boys paid homage to Shoebomb a few years back, at the grandaddy of all tribute nights, the Great Cover-Up (set for November 15 and 16 this year, incidentally).

And judging from the eclectic roster of talent procured by organizers Curtis McCrary, club manager at Congress, and Mr. Al Perry (who will perform in three different outfits on the night, not to mention at the MOCA benefit, with Great American Tragedy, down the street at Vaudeville on the very same night), it should be a dandy.

The only rules for those taking part are that every song must be a Tucson band original, and each song must be announced prior to its performance. Eleven acts will take part; drumroll please: Al Perry and Friends, Mankind, Spacefish, Jason Steed, Topless Opry, Red Switch, The Fraidy Cats (Al Perry, Loren Dircks, Tommy Larkins and Dave Roads, whose last gig together was at least two years ago), Doug Smith, The Okmoniks, the Nick Luca Trio and Fish Karma.

To accommodate all the tribu-lickin' goodness, things kick off early-like, at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 16, at Club Congress, 311 E . Congress St. Cover is six government-issued strips of paper that say "$1." Questions? You best be callin' 622-8848.

NEWGRASSY KNOLL: Two of the most esteemed modern bluegrass specimens on the planet converge this week for a stellar double bill.

Peter Rowan was lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, before hooking up with David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn to form the now-legendary Old & In the Way. John Cowan, meanwhile is best known for his time served as singer and bassist for New Grass Revival, the band that gave name to the modern, jazz-inflected strain of bluegrass known as "newgrass," and which also included Bela Fleck and Sam Bush. Rowan has remained on the bluegrass path over the years, while Cowan has strayed into slick production and even dabbled in blue-eyed soul.

Peter Rowan and John Cowan perform at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, August 21, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $15 at all Zia locations. For further details call 798-3333.

JUST STELLAR: Just as Wilco's stellar Yankee Foxtrot Hotel (Nonesuch) was being released a couple months back, one of its primary architects, Jay Bennett, and his buddy Edward Burch (his ex-roommate, too, in Champaign, IL--Bennett lives in Chicago now), released The Palace at 4 a.m. (Part 1) (Undertow). A week later the duo were performing acoustic versions of songs from their debut collaboration to a relatively light but enthusiastic crowd at Club Congress. The show was a glorious mess, with Burch drunk and Bennett even drunker, highlights being as much toasted savant babblings about Cheap Trick between songs as songs themselves.

But the songs were good, even if they were missing the obsessive studio-craft that is rumored to have at least partly gotten Bennett released from Wilco in the first place. The album itself is a marvel, with each playing more instruments than you can count on fingers and toes (Bennett's album-credits list 19 instruments before ending with "and on and on and on -- ," while Burch's list concludes "and other things that he simply cannot remember"), as well as co-producing, -recording, and -mixing. And there are 16 "additional musicians" used.

Maybe it's because the last time the Bennett and Burch were in town I found myself careening down South Fourth Avenue in their back seat, all of us screaming Warren Zevon songs along with the car stereo, that I hear so much of the excitable boy in the songs now. But there are also traces of Big Star, the Lemonheads, E.L.O., Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, 10cc, Guided By Voices and Giant Sand scattered throughout. But as excellent as most of the songs are--and they are--it's the stellar production, with that patented "Wilco sound," that really makes the record bloom.

This time around, Bennett and Burch will be accompanied by a band that includes Denton, Texas' Will Johnson and Scott Danborn, the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, respectively, of Centro-matic, who specialize in warped, rootsy pop songs. The two will play the middle slot in support of Johnson's solo debut, Murder of Tides (Undertow), after Tucsonan Jason Steed, whose batch of new solo tunes rival anything he's written with his steady bandmates in Creosote.

Jay Bennett and Edward Burch, Will Johnson, and Jason Steed perform at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, August 20, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is five bucks. 622-8848 is the number to call.

ON THE BANDWAGON: Local blues-rock trio The Conrads, which features slide-man extraordinare and singer Stefan George, and the rock-steady rhythm section that comprises five-string bassist Jay Trapp and pal-of-R. Carlos Nakai trapsman Will Clipman, celebrate the release of their third disc, Jack of All Tirades this week, with a solo gig at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 17, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Call 798-1298 for extra info.

Arguably the greatest reggae band that wasn't spawned by Jamaica, the UK's Steel Pulse was once one of the preeminent names in the chunk-chunk riddim, before devolving into the too-slick outfit they thought America wanted them to be. In recent years, the band has been listening to its old records, rediscovering the easiest way to make us feel irie: Playing the authentic roots-reggae they thought we weren't ready for.

Steel Pulse performs on Thursday, August 15, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Locals Stuck in a Groove open the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 at the door. For more info call 798-3333.

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