DON'T CRY; IT'S ONLY FIREWORKS: This year's Fourth of July festivities are sure to be a bit more uncomfortable for some of us than usual. While those who support the current Bush (league) administration will undoubtedly flash their red, white and blue like the Crips and Bloods before them, there's a lot of us who aren't feeling so patriotic right about now. Proud to be an American? Sure. Proud of our president's recent actions? In the words of Robert DeNiro, not so much. Independence Day should be about celebrating our differences, but the hawks don't seem to want to believe that we have any different opinions. Remember, you're either with "us" or against "us."

I say fuck it. This weekend, let's all have a good time no matter what side of the fence we're on. Let's celebrate the Fourth of July the way our forefathers intended--by killing a bunch of people and taking their land. Oh wait, I meant to say by getting out there and having a good time, forgetting what the good ol' U.S. of A. means in the majority of the little village that is now our world. We're Americans, dammit! If there's one thing we do right, it's partying. Now let's get out there and show them damn commie bastards--or whoever we're supposed to hate this decade--that we haven't forgotten how to do it right.

CONGRESSIONAL SALUTE: The Most Bang for Your Buck award surely goes to the shindig over at Club Congress, who will put up that beloved parking lot stage out back to maximize your entertainment dollar.

Lotsaslavians everywhere will be proud to hear their former countrymen in the Zsa Zsas will be performing medleys of all their favorite Uh-Merkin tunes, while those local-boys-done-good, Chango Malo, will cross-breed Bad Brains-style growl with twitchy Fishbonesque ska-funk and whatever else they feel like tossing in there. And those are just the headliners. Also performing are the garage slop-funk outfit Pork Torta (and speaking of outfits, what the heck will they be wearing this time around? We're crossing our fingers for diapers made from Old Glory); 520, featuring Clif Taylor, aka Chick Cashman; Good Talk Russ, who remember that pop-punk wasn't always a dirty word; the stratospheric rawk stylings of Camp Courageous; and the world-weary hip-hop hilarity of Cum and Go. Oh, and rumor has it the female rap trio the BLTs will be reuniting for this very special occasion. If you enjoy hearing beats played by way of fine ladies getting their asses spanked--and who don't?--you won't want to miss it.

Oh, and like the merchants say in Nogales, it's basically free. When you pay your $8 at the door, you'll be awarded not only a stamp on your hand that won't wash off for a week, but also $8 in drink tickets. Alcoholics of the world unite!

It all goes down at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 4, at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Questions? They'll answer them at 622-8848.

I SMELL BACON: If you simply can't wait for the Fourth of July proper to get the party started, head east, young (wo)man: City Limits will be featuring a stupendous double-slice of Americana music extraordinaire.

San Diego's Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs have been playing their brand of all-inclusive roots music for more than a dozen years, and their brand-new platter, Cloven Grooves (Swine Song) is, front to back, quite possibly their finest yet. While you can bet the live show will feature the hybrid of Tex-Mex, R&B, country, blues and rockabilly the band has perfected over the years, with a few exceptions (the Tex-Mex of "Bon Ton"; the funky country-surf instrumental cover "Goofin' Around"; a pair of pretty ballads) the new disc is more on the straight-up rootsy country-rock tip, and gloriously, catchily so: "Valleys and Peaks" could easily pass for a long lost CCR B-side; the band's chops are showcased on a cover of Buck Owens' "Country Polka," which is played so fast you have to listen really hard to hear that it actually is a polka; and the album opener "All I Really Want" nicks the melody of Springsteen's "Cadillac Ranch" before erupting into a gorgeous chorus.

Sharing the bill: the Hacienda Brothers, featuring the combined talents of three gentlemen who are each killer singer/songwriter/guitarists in their own right: Chris Gaffney, Teddy Morgan and Dave Gonzalez. There's no telling what the three of them have cooked up together, except that it should be no less than great.

Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs and the Hacienda Brothers perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 3, at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Admission is $7. For more information call 733-6262.

SWITCH HITTERS: It's been a while since we've heard from locals the Red Switch, as they've been taking a brief respite for some R&R (that's rest and relaxation). But this week they're back for some R&R (that's rock and roll), and to celebrate the release of their second EP, the creatively titled The Red Switch 2003 EP. OK, so it's not so creatively titled, but that's only 'cause they let the music do the talking.

The six-songer is the band's first release to feature its current lineup of Josh Levine (singer/guitarist/songwriter), Justin Miller (keyboards, programming), Ernie Gardner (drums), and Billy Price (bass), and was recorded by Musica Obscura's Mike DeCicco. If the band's electric live shows weren't enough to sway you, the disc offers further proof that Levine is seemingly incapable of writing a bad song.

From choppy-chord opener "Some Say," which features a guest appearance by Chango Malo's David Clark on sax, through the last song, "Commodity," which is one of the band's most potent live numbers, every song is a winner. Highlights along the way include the slow-burning nod to the Replacements' "We're Coming Out" (I'm guessing here) on "We're Coming (In)," the '70s amphetamine punk vibe of "Do It Again," and the atypically anthemic feel-good pop of "Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl," a bona fide hit in waiting. Throughout, the disc is jam-packed with hooks--often a few per song--and an underlying element of danger that's missing from too many of the bands labeled as part of the new rock resurgence. Put simply, with reverence for the past and an eye toward the future, the Red Switch is what great rock and roll is.

The Red Switch celebrates the new EP with a CD release party at Che's Lounge, 350 N. Fourth Ave., on Saturday, July 5. Things should get underway somewhere around 9:30 p.m., and as always, admission is free and the drinks are cheap. Call 623-2088 for further details.

LOVE OF COUNTRY: OK, so she's no Cheap Trick (who headlined a similar baseball-park show last Fourth), but country singer Martina McBride likely has as many gold and platinum records as them by now. Beginning in the early '90s as a neo-traditional honky-tonk-meets-country-folk performer, she shot to stardom as most others in country music do these days--by slickening up her approach to echo the country-pop that gets played on the radio. Still, the one thing that's always set her apart from others is That Voice, which, thankfully, is consistent no matter what she's singing. And if you clap real loud I'll bet she'll play "Independence Day," seeing as how it's, um, Independence Day an' all.

Martina McBride performs on Saturday, July 5, at Hi Corbett Field, 3400 E. Camino Campestre. The show begins at 5 p.m. with opening sets from Mark Wills, Aaron Lines, and Dusty Drake. Advance tickets are available for $22 at all Chuy's locations. For more info call 887-1000.

ON THE BANDWAGON: Legendary local psych-rockers Black Sun Ensemble will be celebrating the release of a new album, Starlight, this week. While a review copy wasn't enclosed in the band's press kit, we can tell you that the CD features the most current BSE lineup, which will also perform at the release party: Sun Zoom Spark's Eric Johnson (banjo, guitar), Brian Maloney (saxophone) and keyboardist Bobby Hepworth (who also plays with Greyhound Soul), plus percussionist John Paul Marchand (of Twitch fame), will be backing Prince Master Blaster himself, the stupendously talented guitarist and singer, Jesus Acedo. The party kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 9, in the lobby of Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is free and that number again is 622-8848.

If you plan on hitting the Line of Fire/400 Blows show at Skrappy's on Sunday, July 6, get there early, at 7:30 p.m., to catch Jumbo's Killcrane (a play on Jumbo Skill Crane, those machines at Denny's where you try your luck at rescuing plush toys with a crane mechanism). Hailing from Lawrence, Kan., the band has released Carnaval De Carne (Crucial Blast), which sounds a bit like the Jesus Lizard working out sonic quadratic equations. The last time we saw them--a few years back at Double Zero--we were impressively pummeled into submission. Skrappy's is located at 201 E. Broadway Blvd., and their number is 358-4287.

Singer/Songwriter Julie Gribble, who records under the name Jules, combines folky storytelling with a voice that sounds almost disconcertingly like Natalie Merchant's. She'll open for loud-ass locals Love Mound and Mala Vita at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 3, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. For further details, give 'em a ring at 798-1298.

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