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ROCKTOBER: OUT LIKE A (DRESSED-UP) LION

Friends, Tucsonans, rock fans, lend me your ears: I come to praise Rocktober, not to ... well, I suppose to bury it, too. Yea, this harvest season has been a cruel mistress, though a rewarding one, with its puking frat boys at the Fall Club CrawlTM, its wading through tykes at the open-air Blues Fest, its underattended shows at BAM Fest and its wallet-draining sheer massiveness of musical goodness. Before we send it off, be warned: There are still several days left this month, and with them, yet another festival, albeit a relatively small and manageable one. This one stresses quality over quantity, so those with a few ducats left to spend and a couple of nights to spare, read on, friends, read on.

We're talking, of course, about the Nightmare on Congress Street Block Party, a joint venture between Club Congress and the Rialto Theatre, which features nine acts on two stages, over the course of two evenings. Let's have a look-see at what we're getting ourselves into here, shall we?

Day One, on Friday, Oct. 27: The Rialto's got Gomez headlining, with Matt Pond PA handling opening duties.

Gomez are a British quintet whose debut album, 1998's Bring It On (Virgin), won that year's prestigious Mercury Prize, edging out such fine albums as The Verve's Urban Hymns and Massive Attack's Mezzanine. They make the trip across the pond with an intact fondness for blues 'n' roots Americana, but their real ace in the hole is the unique voice of singer Tom Gray, an unmistakable thing of sandpapery soul (there are two other singers in the band, but Gray's voice is the most distinguished). And while previous releases have flaunted their ability to combust at just the right moment, their latest, How We Operate (ATO), tones things down a bit. It's a relatively slow-burning affair that puts the spotlight on Gomez's songwriting skills and crisp arrangements. It may be the band's most cohesive album yet, as it flows seamlessly from banjo-inflected shuffles ("Hamoa Beach") to bouncy but wistful guitar-pop ("Girlshapedlovedrug"). The ragged edges of previous albums may be gone, but it's easy to envision How We Operate expanding upon the band's already devoted, if cultish, fan base.

The band Matt Pond PA, led by a guy whose name is Matt Pond, but who now reside in Brooklyn, N.Y., began life as a chamber-pop outfit but have evolved into something different with each album they release. Their latest is last year's Several Arrows Later (Altitude), which is as informed by the jangly pop of bands like Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins as it is the indelible melodies of '60s pop-rock. There are still traces of the band's past ("It Is Safe" prominently features cello), and there's a slightly darker edge at work here than those earlier comparisons would suggest. Highly listenable, good stuff.

Day One at Club Congress packs the one-two punch of Greg Dulli's Twilight Singers (read all about 'em in this week's feature article) and up-and-comers Stars of Track and Field. The latter is a Portland, Ore.-based trio who take their name from a Belle and Sebastian song. Their first full-length album, Centuries Before Love and War, was released early in the summer, and is the first of a three-album deal with heavy-hitter Wind-Up, home to current chartbusters Evanescence and formerly the (thankfully) now-defunct, godawful Creed. Centuries combines shimmery, big guitar sounds with wistful vocals, and an electronically enhanced sheen that fills in the gaps left by their departed bassist. It all somehow comes together as a moody whole, even if it probably won't become the type of chart success that Wind-Up might be expecting.

Day Two, on Saturday, Oct. 28: It's a triple bill of rootsy acts at the Rialto tonight, with the Gin Blossoms, Shawn Mullins and Pat McGee.

The headliners from Phoenix, of course, put Arizona desert rock on the map and on the charts in the early to mid-'90s, with their earthy, jangly string of pop hits (will you ever be able to get "Hey Jealousy" out of your noggin?). Beyond the lack of chart success, things pretty much remain the same on the group's new album, Major Lodge Victory (Hybrid, 2006).

It's tough to believe, but Shawn Mullins has been releasing albums for about the last 15 years, though he didn't garner much attention until 1998's Soul's Core (Sony) went platinum on the strength of the single "Lullaby." His most recent album, the acclaimed 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor (Vanguard, 2006), finds the singer-songwriter branching out a bit into various musical idioms beyond his usual folk-pop fare, including Celtic and gospel.

Opener Pat McGee used to front Virginia-based jam-rockers the Pat McGee Band, but these days, he's flying solo--but with a band backing him up. Confused? Don't be. His music couldn't be more middle-of-the-road-accessible to fans of local radio station The Mountain. But it's also mighty generic and bland.

Day Two at Club Congress, meanwhile, should be quite the nostalgia-fest, with The English Beat headlining, and The Zsa Zsas warming things up.

Along with Madness, The Specials and a host of lesser bands, The English Beat were one of the first and best bands of the British second-wave ska revival in the late '70s and early-to-mid-'80s. They were notable for their relative sophistication, fusing the blue-eyed soul vocals of Dave Wakeling with the deft and gritty toasting of Ranking Roger, and scoring some hits along the way, including "Mirror in the Bathroom," a cover of "Tears of a Clown" and "Save It for Later." Sadly, Ranking Roger is no longer with the band, though his spot has been taken over by a member of The Specials. As for who makes up the rest of the band these days, your guess is as good as mine. But Wakeling will be there, and he'll have a hell of a catalog of songs to draw from.

Meanwhile, the brothers Sucrose of The Zsa Zsas must be mighty pissed to not only have to share their stage, but to be relegated to opening status. The outrage! The egos! The accents! The ridiculous medleys of cover songs you hate to love! Expect all this and some mighty belly laughs during The Zsa Zsas' set.

Doors open at both venues on both nights at 7 p.m., while music should get started around 8 p.m. Advance tickets for Day One, which entitles you entry to both venues, are available for $12 at the Rialto Theatre box office, 318 E. Congress St. Tickets for Day Two can be purchased there, too, but they're $15 in advance. If you're feeling especially adventurous, there is a limited number of two-day passes available for $20 at the Rialto, or at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Events at the Rialto are all-ages, while the Congress portion is limited to those 21 and up. For more information, call 622-8848 or 740-1000. Oh, and in case you haven't figured it out by the name Nightmare on Congress Street, the whole shebang is Halloweeny, so don't forget to dress up.


ON THE BANDWAGON

Holy crap, we seem to have blown our load--and most of our space--on that whole Nightmare thing, which doesn't leave us much room for other stuff. With apologies to everyone else, here's some other good stuff going down this week.

Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios celebrate the release of The Horse I Rode in On, their latest album chock full of songs that give desert rock a good name, released on Hopkins' own San Jacinto imprint, with a CD release party next Thursday, Nov. 2, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Their set will be sandwiched between openers Walter Morciglio and Fernando Ferrer and headliner Jose Saavedra; things get rolling at 9:30 p.m. Cover is $5. Call 798-1298 for further details.

Portland, Ore.'s Danava is a hirsute foursome whose self-titled debut album (Kemado, 2006) is a lesson in complex, hypnotic heaviousity straight outta 1975. I'll bet these guys are amazing live, and you can decide for yourself on Sunday, Oct. 29, when they hit the stage at 11 p.m. at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Headliners Witchcraft follow. Call 622-3535 for more info.

Oh My God, the formerly guitarless accessible art-rock trio from Chicago, is no longer guitarless nor a trio. They've recently added a guitarist, and reports from the band's keyboardist, Iguana, promise a new, improved version of the band, who were pretty dang awesome to begin with. They'll be at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., along with Chango Malo and The Provocative Whites, at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1. $7; 798-1298.

Finally, one last reminder to local bands that the deadline for submissions to participate in this year's tenth annual Great Cover-Up hits this week. All submissions must be received no later than midnight on Sunday, Oct. 29. The event is slated for Thursday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 9, at Club Congress. All the info you could possibly want is available at online.

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