INCOMING MISSILE: Funny songs are like mediocre comedy albums: They might offer up a chuckle or two the first time around, but by the third or fourth listen they've cloyed considerably. Admit it--you found that obnoxious new Offspring song, "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," pretty humorous when it first popped on the radio, but now its endless broadcast prompts you to stick a cassette in the car deck. The problem with songs whose sole intention is to get you to laugh is that they inevitably fall into that dreaded ghetto of pop culture: novelty.

Sound Bites New York's King Missile III (so-called because the band's current line-up is its third incarnation) is all about jokes, but it's one of the few bands out there (along with Ween) that somehow manages to transcend its brand of humor beyond novelty status. Perhaps best known for their 1992 alternative smash hit, "Detachable Penis," the band is the mastermind of acclaimed poet John S. Hall, who assembled the band in the early '80s to provide musical backdrop for his spoken word pieces.

Since that time Hall has perfected his nerdy-kid-on-the-playground-who-doesn't-say-much-but-absorbs-everything persona; in other words, he's got a distinct voice. Whether he's playing a little kid who decides he's never going to play in his beloved sandbox again because "someone took a doodie in (it)," (1990's "The Sandbox"), the angry, repressed office worker instructing people to "Take Stuff From Work" (1987), or the confused Jerry Springer-watching guy who contemplates who/what is and is not gay ("Watching pornography alone is neutral, like eating a sandwich") from the band's newest release, Failure, on Shimmy Disc Records, it's all undeniably Hall.

And while I couldn't really tell you why this stuff doesn't lose its belly-laugh factor after a couple listens like that damn Offspring song, suffice to say it doesn't. It's even often scatological, which represents the second-lowest form of humor in the comedy food chain (the first being puns, of course), but Hall is smart enough to turn the tables and somehow make it all seem--for lack of a better word--kinda highbrow. And perhaps most importantly of all, the songs are genuinely funny.

Come laugh your ass off, and in the process discover how "suckin' a guy's cock can, under certain rare circumstances, be straight," on Wednesday, March 3, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. The show kicks off at 9 p.m. with a set by Missile member Bradford Reed playing a mysterious instrument he invented called the pencilina, and the always-fabulous local powerpoppers, Shoebomb. Cover is five bucks, and you can call 622-8848 with any questions you may have.

HE WRITES THE SONGS: First garnering mainstream national exposure in the mid-'80s on Garrison Keillor's public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Greg Brown fit nicely into that program's acute observations of the seemingly mundane details of life in Americana. He is a songwriter's songwriter, having been covered by Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter (a duet on Brown's "One Cool Remove"), and he received a Grammy nomination in the early '90s for Friend of Mine, his collaboration with like-minded singer/songwriter Bill Morrissey.

His tales, sung in a gravelly down-home croak, reflect the uncommon experiences of common people, the precarious positions we all sometimes find ourselves in, but seldom find the words to express, and the landscape where it all takes place. Like William Faulkner, Bruce Springsteen or Robert Frost, he's a master of subtle details; In "Spring & All" from his most recent release, Slant 6 Mind (Red House Records), a meditation of the past winter's effects on a group of friends, the first verse contains the lines, "More letters, more journals, more poems to burn: Real heat at last./At last my words glow." By the last verse, though, things have unfolded darkly: "Thanks for the letters you sent back to burn. Their smoke is as light, &/as dark, as your touch."

If such sentiments touch you in the least, don't miss Greg Brown's performance on Sunday, February 28, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. with a set from special guest Karen Savoca. Advance tickets are available for $15 at Hear's Music and Antigone Books, or order by phone at 327-4809.

BAND WAGON: Though they've somehow accumulated a reputation as being a "hippie"/jam band over the years, The Mother Hips' new album, the self-released Later Days (following a stint on Rick Rubin's American Recordings), reveals them to fall firmly into the alt-country category in a Gram-Parsons-fronting-the-Jayhawks kind of way. And while they reportedly do improvise in their live show from time to time, these improvisations have gotten them compared (oddly enough) to Sonic Youth more often than the Grateful Dead. Both the live show and the new album have, deservedly, received rave reviews virtually everywhere. Come see why when the Hips hit the stage of Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, February 26. The show starts at 9 p.m. with a set from acoustic guitar/cello duo, Agave, followed by Sand Rubies guitarist Rich Hopkins' other desert rock combo, The Luminarios, which also features ex-MC5 bassist, Mike Davis, and ex-Magnolias drummer, Tom Cook. Call 622-8848 for more info.

The Plaza Pub, located at 20 E. Pennington, branches out this week into the realm of nationally touring bands when it welcomes Deke Dickerson & The Ecco-Phonics to its beautifully remodeled digs. Best known from his previous bands, legendary surf-garage combo The Untamed Youth (which Dickerson formed at the tender age of seventeen) and the acclaimed rockabilly group The Dave and Deke Combo, Dickerson has just released his first solo album, Number One Hit Record!, on Hightone Music. Record incorporates virtually every style Dickerson has touched upon in his lengthy career, from the Western shuffle of "Feelin' Low" to the hillbilly honky-tonk boogie of "Mexicali Rose," with swing, rockabilly, surf and jump-blues tossed in liberally throughout. Head out to the Plaza at 9 p.m. on Friday, February 26, to catch an opening set by Al Perry, who won't be rounding up The Cattle for this one. Call 882-0400 for details.

And finally, if world beat is your thing, you won't want to miss what's being billed as A Night of World Music and Mediterranean Dance this week. Eleven dancers, featuring "Carmen" Evans, will perform traditional Lebanese, Turkish, Gypsy and Folkloric Arabic Dance to the sounds of Brothers of the Baladi, who hail from Portland, Oregon. The Brothers perform a somewhat Westernized version of traditional Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Armenian music, which they've perfected over the course of their 29-year career into what the L.A. Times describes as "a sound that knows no borders." The extravaganza takes place at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, February 26, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are $12, and may be purchased at Hear's Music and Antigone Books. They'll be $14 at the door. For more information call 740-0126. TW

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