MARDI PARTY: March 4 marks Fat Tuesday, the culmination of Mardi Gras, which in New Orleans means, "Show me your boobalas and I'll give you some crappy beads." But, alas, even if you didn't make it to ol' N'awlins this year, there's plenty of fun to be had right here in the desert. Just keep the liquor off the streets and the boobs in the shirts, and nobody goes to jail. Call it Fat Tueson. Or don't. Either way, here's the deal.

In the tradition of the always fabulous local Dia de los Muertes parades, the folks at FAMA (Fourth Avenue Merchants Association) are hoping to start a new tradition for Fat Tuesday each year. This year's inaugural event begins at 5 p.m., at the Winsett Outdoor Park Stage, 316 N. Fourth Ave., with a performance from the lightly cajun-seasoned Ponticello. From there, all hell breaks loose. Loads of performers--Dixieland jazz from the Olive Street Stompers; craftily bastardized zydeco, courtesy of Black Leather Zydeco; bellydancing by Hadia Sahara; and more--will perform, both at the Winsett stage and at Magpies Pizza, 605 N. Fourth Ave.

And we haven't even mentioned the art-freak parade yet (that means you, dressed up all funny-like, less'n you gots somethin' else to do on a Tuesday evenin'), which will kick off just after a performance from Tucson Puppet Works, scheduled to start at 6 p.m., at Winsett.

P.S. Fat Tuesday falls on March 4 this year. Y'know--Tuesday. So, like, that's when you should show up. Questions? Pick up your telephone and dial 624-5004.

PINBALL WIZARD: When you're talking rock operas, there are pretty much two validating points of criteria: is it sufficiently (read: completely) overblown, and, does it rock? By that yardstick, one of the greatest rock operas ever, The Who's Tommy, will be performed as part two of Plush's ongoing series of inviting local bands to tackle the 4 LP/2 CD drama that is rock opera-dom. (The first installment was a reportedly killer throw-down of Jesus Christ Superstar.) Though we wouldn't rule out guest appearances, the all-over-the-map, officially scheduled performers are the Jons, Greyhound Soul, Shoebomb and the Bunko Squad, all brought together by a deaf, dumb and blind kid, physically abused by his Uncle Ernie, and psychologically abused by his parents. Naturally, he becomes the world's greatest pinball player-cum-cult leader. Heal me, indeed.

Tommy will be performed at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Admission is five clams. Call 798-1298 with questions.

I CAN SEE FOR MILES: Best known for his raw, stellar guitar playing in the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Judah Bauer's other band, 20 Miles, makes a local appearance this week. While past outings have been as a duo with his "musically unaccomplished" brother Donovan, the band's latest, Keep It Coming ... (Fat Possum, 2002) features Judah and a mile-long list of collaborators taking a slinkily throwback, and often laid-back, approach to blues, as filtered through the catalogs of the Rolling Stones and, to a lesser degree, the Velvet Underground (and, occasionally, his JSBX bandmates). Though Bauer's voice is nothing to write home about, its flat warble ably suits the songs on Keep It Coming, easily the best 20 Miles album yet.

Discovered busking on the streets by Morphine's late leader, Mark Sandman, tourmates Mr. Airplane Man are a guitar, drums, and vocals duo whose second album, Moanin' (2002), resides on Sympathy for the Record Industry, the same label that brought the world the White Stripes. Beyond the fact that both play a brand of down and dirty garage-blues, the two bands don't have much in common. Moanin' showcases a more straightforward, lo-fi approach to bluesy grit than the Stripes, who have actually practiced the art of the pop hook in recent years. Mr. Airplane Man sticks to the approach of early PJ Harvey instead; what starts out sounding like a big fat blur on first listen, becomes a thing of raw beauty and nuance on the third. As Prince once put it, "There is joy in repetition."

20 Miles and Mr. Airplane Man perform at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $6. Call 622-8848.

COUNTRY LOVIN': A student of perennial L.A. scenester Chuck E. Weiss, Eleni Mandell made her name in a neo-lounge stylee, but with her latest album, Country for True Lovers (Zedtone), she turns to its titular style, while further enhancing her street cred. Though her press kit is littered with comparisons to Patsy Cline (aren't all female country mavericks?), her sultry ballads remind these ears more of vintage Cowboy Junkies than anything. If that doesn't pique your interest, here's a hosanna for you literate types: The New Yorker once called Mandell "perhaps the best unsigned musician in the business."

Eleni Mandell performs at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, March 3, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover is $3. Call 798-1298 for more info.

NEW BORNS: Cleveland/NYC trio Birth has garnered gushing praise across the board from press and fans alike for its dynamic fusion of organic drum 'n' bass and adventurously funky improvisational jazz. Comprising Joshua Smith (saxophone and live electronic processing), Jeremy Bleich (bass) and drummer Joe Tomino, the band, which last appeared in town in 2001 as part of the Zeitgeist concert series, boasts a fan base that includes jazz-heads, indie rockers and electronica junkies.

This time around, Birth performs an all-ages show at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Sunday, March 2. Locals El Creepy open at 9 p.m., and admission is $7. For further details call 884-0874.

NOT A PALTRY CAUSE: Though we don't have full details on this next item, we always try to go with the credo that benefit shows merit special mention, so here's what we know at press time. A portion of proceeds from the inexplicably named The Poultry Party: A Benefit for the Living will go towards burial costs for the recently deceased Matthew Pike and toward a liver transplant for 4-year-old Connor Hoil. The all-star benefit will include performances from the Bunko Squad, Cathy Rivers, Electroshockbox, Great American Tragedy, Greyhound Soul, Negative Spaceman, the Therapists, Tom Walbank & Doug Smith, and Truck, and will be hosted by one Loosey Bowels & Co. Additionally, there will be a raffle for loads of original fine art and prizes (including CDs and a $100 gift certificate from Black Rose Tattoo).

The Poultry Party gets underway at 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. For further details call 622-8848.

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