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ROBYN RETURNS

Honorary Tucsonan (or is that just wishful thinking on our part?) and--as long as you talk to the right people--music legend Robyn Hitchcock hasn't been to Tucson since March 2005. That may not seem like a long time, but considering Hitchcock has enjoyed several extended stays here in recent years, playing a show at Club Congress each time, it seems like forever.

When he was last here, Hitchcock was touring to support Spooked, his 2004 debut on Yep Roc, recorded in Nashville, Tenn., with Americana darlings Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The album was a sparse affair; at the time, I wrote: "While Hitchcock is as British as they come, and Welch/Rawlings just as American, the pairing works splendidly, finding Hitchcock stripping a batch of fine new tunes (and one Dylan cover) down to their barest essentials. While longtime fans might bemoan a lack of Hitchcock's trademark surreal imagery and humor in many of these songs, if they're bummed about it, they're missing the point. Call it mature, if you must, but if anyone's earned the right, Hitchcock has."

That quote reminds me of a conversation I once had with Robyn, in which I posited the theory--and if I recall correctly, he agreed--that most songwriters, as they age, lose the ability to write a decent song. I argued that there were but a handful of onetime great songwriters who could still write a decent song once they hit 50. At some point in the conversation, I realized that the guy I was talking to was Robyn Freakin' Hitchcock, most of whose songs I love regardless of what period of his career they come from, and who is indeed past the half-century mark. I backpedaled long enough to tell him that I considered him among that handful, and hoped I didn't sound disingenuous in doing so. (I was, after all, being honest.)

From his days with The Soft Boys, through his albums with his backing band the Egyptians, to his pared-down solo work, Hitchcock has always veered from one recording situation to another. But his latest album was still rather unexpected. Recorded in Seattle in two stints, Olé! Tarantula (Yep Roc, 2006) finds Hitchcock rocking harder than he has in years. Backed by a band whose core is Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin--in Hitchcock-speak, "3/4s of the Minus 5 and half of R.E.M."--there are also plenty of guests, including Morris Windsor (Soft Boys, Egyptians), Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger), Chris Ballew (Presidents of The United States of America), Kimberly Rew (Soft Boys) and Ian McLagan (The Faces). With its whimsical lyrics--simultaneously haunting, sad, funny and surreal--and its jangly guitar-pop vibe, it sits nicely alongside the Egyptians phase of his career, even if it wasn't recorded with them.

Those who attended his last Congress show will surely remember the Magnum Force-inspired "(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs," which was written during one of those extended stays here, and I would wager made its live debut at that show. Same goes for the infectious, Dylanesque, horn-abetted title song, which includes a return to the sensical/nonsensical lyrics for which he has become known ("Furry brown legs and a spicy goatee / If you see Gina won't you kiss him for me") and which Hitchcock says in his press kit is "about where babies come from."

Elsewhere, there's "'Cause It's Love (Saint Parallelogram)," a nifty collaboration with XTC's Andy Partridge, the early-Pink Floyd/Beatlesque "Adventure Rocket Ship" and the album-closing "N.Y. Doll," an elegy to the late New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane. If anyone was actually disappointed that Spooked didn't sound like vintage Robyn Hitchcock (and once they heard it, chances are good they weren't), that same someone will be mighty pleased with what he or she hears on Olé! Tarantula.

Hitchcock is currently on tour with the core members of the band that backed him on the album (Buck, McCaughey, Rieflin), but because he's staying in town for a brief spell, this week's Tucson show will be a solo one--unless, that is, he decides to enlist some locals to perform with him beforehand, which is rather likely.

Robyn Hitchcock performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are $8, and they'll be $10 on the day of the show. For more information, call 622-8848.


GRUNGE MEMORIES

I always resisted the notion that grunge was anything but a marketing term, but Portland, Ore.'s Red Fang has convinced me otherwise, simply by sounding exactly like they belong to that era, and thereby making me nostalgic for it. Suddenly I'm remembering these things: I used to absolutely love Tad (hell, still do). I once drove to Phoenix to see Soundgarden open for Guns N' Roses. Thanks to a know-it-all roommate, I fell in love with Nirvana when Bleach was released. The second show I ever saw at Club Congress was Screaming Trees opening for fIREHOSE in 1988 (the first was They Might Be Giants, when it was still just two Johns and a boombox--thank you for both, fake ID).

But Red Fang is more than a mere grunge retread. There are more abrasive elements here (think Big Black or Black Flag), as well as tremendous musicianship--one of the band's members is formerly of Last of the Juanitas, a trio who once resided in Tucson and would regularly blow audiences away with their complex riffery and ESP-like interplay. If this was 1992 instead of 2006, these guys would be putting out albums on Sub Pop or Touch and Go. Since it's not, they'll be opening for The FANSS (and since we're not a family newspaper, that stands for The Fuck All Night Super Stars) on Monday, Nov. 6, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Things get underway at 9 p.m. with Monday Mayhem courtesy of DJ Metal Mark. Questions? They've got answers at 622-3535.


R.I.P. CELEBRATION

Hot on the heels of All Hallows Eve, Many Mouths, One Stomach presents a costumed affair at the Rialto Theatre this week called Dance of the Dead. Local bands, performance artists and dancers--including Dambe Project, Tom Walbank, Pearl Handled Pistol, Black Cherry Burlesque, Midriff Crisis, Mizu Desierto and Carpetbag Brigade--will all take part, and a contest will crown a King and Queen of the Dead. Doesn't sound artsy enough for ya? Then we'll toss in the artist-made altars that will be placed around the theater, as well as the Ancestors Project, according to the Rialto's Web site "a continuous stream of community submitted images of deceased family and friends" which will be projected on a wall throughout the proceedings.

It all goes down starting at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3, at the Rialto, 318 E. Congress St. All ages are welcome, and tickets are $11 in advance. For further details, call 740-1000.

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