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OH DONNAS: The Donnas got their start, roughly 10 years ago, as the world's most faithful Ramones tribute band, even though they didn't actually play any of that band's tunes.

Their most recent album, Spend the Night (2002, Lookout), their most, uh, mature effort to date (what are they now, 22?), has catapulted them into quasi star status, with last week's appearance on Saturday Night Live capping off a year dedicated to attempting to answer the musical question What would a Runaways tribute band sound like, if it had an Ace Frehley worshipper playing lead?

Clearly, the Donnas have graduated somewhere, and that fact's not lost on whoever's (somewhat inexplicably) throwing the promotional bucks after them these days. Still, we'd much rather see the fat promo being spent on the Donnas than any teen pop goddess of the week. It's just always a little bittersweet when your kids don't need you to pack their lunch anymore.

Openers OK Go, from Chicago, ape everyone attempting "quirky pop" that you've ever heard: "Get Over It" is Cracker with synths; "Don't Ask Me" is Weezer covering "Walking on Sunshine"; "You're So Damn Hot" is Weezer covering the Cars; you get the idea. The band's self-titled debut album (2002, Capitol) should be really enjoyable (we're normally suckers for this sort of stuff), but somehow smacks too strongly of its we've-gotta-appeal-to-everybody vibe to really realize its goal. They probably should have honed their craft on an indie for a few years, but they've merely skipped straight to the bus. Some time in a van would do 'em some good.

The Donnas and OK Go perform at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 28, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $13 at Toxic Ranch, all Zia locations, and the Rialto box office, or online at Call 798-3333 for more info.

GET BANGED: In a perfect world, the Bangs would be as heavily promoted as the Donnas are right now. Fans of the early Donnas albums will find a lot to like in the group, an Olympia-based band that appeals more to those weaned on indie punk and Cheap Trick than AC/DC and Andrew WK. The Bangs specialize in sharp, short shocks: catchy pop songs, played underneath a veil of punk attitude, and embellished with handclaps. It's big fun, and it doesn't sound like they're trying quite as hard--or playing up the jailbait factor as much--as the Donnas to get there. Plus, they're still charging single-digit fares to boot.

The Bangs appear at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Friday, January 24. The Okmoniks and Our Cure The Rocketship open the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $6. For details call 884-0874.

THE BUCK STOPS HERE: It's OK, admit it: You miss those tribute nights we used to have a few times a week, dontcha?

Time was, just a few months back, you couldn't escape from tribute show fever: piles of local bands covering everyone from Neil Young and Bob Dylan to Dexy's Midnight Runners and Wham! (the latter "tribute" being in my pants; bummer you had to miss it).

This week honors a country giant: Buck Owens was the Robin to Roy Clark's Superman for a generation that grew up on Hee Haw, but he was oh so much more. Go look up "Bakersfield" in your dictionary and you're likely to find a photo of Mr. Owens. Or better yet, give that research a li'l kick in the pants by filing into Plush this week and seeing a slew of your local pals covering songs made famous by the man. Mark Insley will host the Tucson Salute to Buck Owens, which will also see Al Perry, Gila Bend, Cathy Rivers, Teddy Morgan, Maebelle, Love Mound and the Trophy Husbands tipping their hats to the man.

The hootenanny kicks off at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, January 29, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover should be pretty cheap, but if you're worried about it, call 798-1298 for the 411.

SOMETHING FISHY: "Polyethnic Cajun slamgrass" outfit Leftover Salmon, one of the most accomplished and enjoyable groups on the jam band circuit is, like most current jam bands, best experienced live, and the band's 2002 release, the cleverly titled Live (Compass), is proof of that. 'Cause, you see, it's not really all that great. It's a mere attempt to explain why this band is so good onstage, without really providing any meat, any spine chills, to back it up. If you really want to know why Leftover Salmon is as highly regarded as it is, you'd be best served by just plunking yer money down for a ticket and settling in for the ride.

Sadly, since its last Tucson appearance, Leftover Salmon has endured the death of its banjo player, Mark Vann (who does appear on Live). No word on who's replaced him, except that you can bet the guy plays like a mofo.

Leftover Salmon, along with opener Sunday Afternoon, performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E, Congress St. Advance tickets were $12, but expect to pay a few bucks more at the door. Questions? Call 798-3333.


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