(KeyArena, 4:30 pm) Either Seattle has moved back up the food chain or alt-rock's heavyweights have slipped, because this year's Deck the Hall Ball seems like a veritable who's who of late-'90s modern rock luminaries. Beck, Bush, AND the Foo Fighters? Who headlines? Do they flip a coin? Check SoundScan? Subtract points for hanging out with Courtney Love? In reality, it doesn't matter who headlines because odds are good that Beck -- with his funky grooves, well-developed sense of the absurd, and increasingly wacky flamboyance -- is going to steal the show. -- Barbara Mitchell

(Crocodile) See Live Preview.

(Sit & Spin) The key to a good tribute night is picking an artist who not only writes great songs but also has a catalog so deep that the audience is capable of being surprised -- and then finding the right people to interpret that material. Tonight's Elvis Costello tribute scores on all counts. With a line-up that includes members of Harvey Danger, Goodness, the Nevada Bachelors, and Super Deluxe, Costello's work is in good hands -- and it should be interesting to see who plays what, not to mention which songs go untouched. -- Barbara Mitchell

(Pacific University in Forest Grove, OR) One of the predicted signs of the pending apocalypse is that powerful forces shall enter into unholy alliances in order to lead us down the path to doom. Well, I got your unholy alliance right here: easy listening meets Wiccan worship. That's right, the label that brought you Yanni is now touring the country in celebration of the winter solstice, undoubtedly with the intent of imparting those subliminal "kill on New Year's Eve" messages to the masses. It's a New Age indeed. -- Nathan Thornburgh

(Breakroom) Chokebore opened for Nirvana, but the reason I really, really love them is not because they have "cred" (which they obviously do), or that they rock (ditto), but because they're one of the only bands I've ever witnessed who have a singer who yodels AND does backflips. Not that they wouldn't be a great band without those attributes, but it's always good to stand out.... -- Barbara Mitchell

(Owl 'n' Thistle) I don't know about his backup band, but Mick Overman himself is certainly a maniac of sorts. His show at the Owl 'n' Thistle is smack in the middle of a string of 34 gigs in 34 nights on the road, part of a larger trip that has left the small, earnest bars of the Pacific Northwest saturated with his slide guitar and carefully-considered songs like "The Goddess Is a Rocking Babe." -- Nathan Thornburgh

FRIDAY 12/10

(Breakroom) If you're searching for a healthy dose of bone-crunching, head-banging riff-rock, you've hit the mother lode, 'cause Fu Manchu are coming to town. The band's second album is so full of monster riffs that you won't even notice there aren't real songs propping them up. Who the hell cares about songs, anyway? Fu Manchu have distilled rock 'n' roll back to its primitive essence -- guitars, drums, bass, more guitars, and sung/shouted lyrics about cars and stuff. -- Barbara Mitchell

(Crocodile) There are many folk singer/songwriters out there, but not many of them get invited to the Crocodile, and fewer still get invited back. Yet Sexton's here for two nights, proving again that he can fight through the overproduction that Atlantic Records -- his new label -- used to spike his last album. Which is to say, with nobody besides the Croc staff to mess with the knobs and buttons, Sexton's natural charm and melodic girlie voice should reach you in all its unfiltered glory. -- Nathan Thornburgh

(King Cat Theater) With marketing savvy in spades, the members of Wu-Tang have made a considerable mark on American culture: from Wu-Wear, to a restaurant, to a PlayStation game. Even a constant like geography has been altered, for chrissakes, since the Wu renamed Staten Island "Shaolin." The mastermind behind the Wu-Tang dynasty is Rza, who has mused, "I feel like I'm the hiphop Mozart," and produced the breakthrough Enter the 36 Chambers, in addition to many of the Wu members' solo projects. His last solo brain child was Bobby Digital, a hiphop superhero who has powers by virtue of a cyber connection ignited when Rza smokes an elixir called "honeydip." Bobby Digital has plans for a movie and a comic book, and, if we're lucky, honeydip cigs. -- Brian Goedde

(Graceland) Normally, I'd caution against any band with an accordion player. (There's a reason someone named an album Welcome to Hell -- Here's Your Accordion, after all.) But Sanford Arms weave the instrument into their songs tastefully, perfectly augmenting the sense of melancholy that seeps into Ben London's songwriting. With the line-up now solidified (and including former Hammerbox/Anodyne guitarist Harris Thurmond, among others), expect great things -- and possibly even a couple of new songs. -- Barbara Mitchell


(Graceland) How can we find the words to tell you what we need you to know? We're blushing. We've met someone else. It's... well... Carissa's Weird. We weren't expecting it. I mean, it's all been so sudden. We saw them at the Breakroom and it was like, oh, fireworks, electricity, and instant chemistry all in one. They were so coy, so retiring at first, but we persisted and now we're all going to Graceland. We can still be friends, right? -- Erin Franzman

(Hi·Score Arcade) One of the things I like about Modest Mouse is that their music leaves plenty of spaces to get lost in while listening. Though they resemble Modest Mouse only slightly -- and quickly -- the AUTOMATON Adventure Series offer that same kind of space to roam around in. The music meanders one way while the vocals seem to be running miles ahead, and somewhere in the middle you're left just standing there, taking it all in. The band is celebrating the release of their album futura transmitta at the Hi·Score, a small arcade that tonight should feel as wide and uninhabited as the moon. -- Kathleen Wilson

(OK Hotel) Zen Guerrilla have been through the ringer to get where they'll be tonight: From the hell that is North Jersey, to Philadelphia, then finally to San Francisco, where Jello Biafra was the first big name to really like them. Come to think of it, he's the only hotshot to really like them, but that will soon change. Sub Pop just signed them and their thrice-fuzzed dissonant rock, whose great, meaty walls of feedback are garnering fans as we speak. -- Nathan Thornburgh

(Gibson's) Everyone knows that boredom and frustrated adolescent hormones have produced the greatest rock and roll of our times, and the Catheters have enough of both to make their live shows a great spectacle of energy and pose. -- Erin Franzman

(Showbox) Me'shell Ndege'Ocello has one of the most recognizable voices and bald heads in popular music today, but she's got substance to go with her shine. Long before her first small hit "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," the singer/bassist had chops that set her far apart from the multitude of image-based acts. As a result, she was able to survive her freak run-in with success (Mellencamp's "Wild Nights" duet) by working on her core music and messages. Despite peaks and valleys in the fickle public's interest, Me'shell will continue to produce music that's true to her own call. -- Nathan Thornburgh

(Showbox) James Maddock's songs are calibrated to make you feel wistful, dreamy, and a little cheerful. His folksy, stripped-down lyrics are calculated to make you hearty, crunchy, and a tad pensive. His slightly husky voice is designed to make you feel settled, peaceful, and maybe a little horny. His band, Wood, is meant to make a bunch of money for James and his parent entity, Columbia Records. So you can either get their songs at the Showbox or just stay at home with the Dawson's Creek compilation, marveling at the industry-generated tears welling up in your eyes as James wails "Staaaaay Yoooooou." -- Nathan Thornburgh

(Baltic Room) Phelps' recent album Blackbird has been inundated with accolades, and if you need me to tell you that pairing him with Marc Olsen makes one of the most solid bills you could find, then you haven't been paying attention. -- Erin Franzman

(Tractor Tavern) Two-time national banjo champion Tony Furtado rolls into town for a folksy showdown with Seattle's hardest working roots band, the Hanuman Trio. They might all try to paint a friendly face on the event, but I know that as soon as Hanuman's Paul Benoit flexes his bluegrass guitar muscle, the normally mild-mannered Furtado will be just dying to get up there and wipe the stage with Paul's upstart stylings. My prediction: Furtado's 5,000 notes-per-second wins in a hotly contested four-round battle. -- Nathan Thornburgh

(Kalakala Ferry, 2555 N Northlake Way, 10 pm, $12) See Stranger Suggests, page 53.

(King Cat Theater) For more than 20 years, mandolin master David Grisman has captivated audiences with a blend of jazz, bluegrass, and folk music from all over. Highly personal and uncompromising stylistic melanges like these are typical of great musicians, and David's "Dawg" music has certainly earned him a unique place in history. However, it's also obscured the fact that he can play it straight with the best of 'em, such as Scottish guitar legend Mark Taylor, a Django-inspired virtuoso and former Stephane Grappelli collaborator. If you dig gypsy-styled takes on jazz standards, welcome to the promised land. -- James Kirchmer

SUNDAY 12/12

(Tractor Tavern) Press Release of the Week: "Mark Erelli recently won the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Contest for 1999. Established over 25 years ago, this contest helped launch the careers of such important artists as John Gorka and Robert Earl Keen." Do I need to say it? -- Erin Franzman

MONDAY 12/13

(Tractor Tavern) The name "Freebo" may sound more fitting for a Teletubby than for a full-grown rock and blues bassist, but don't let that stop you from appreciating the man behind the fuzzy name. Mostly, Freebo gets props for being Bonnie Raitt's most consistent tour and studio musician through the years when Raitt was a booze-soaked castoff in the music business. But she got back on her feet in the '90s, and Freebo, for his part, is trying to break out of the background with his own solo style: a soft-edged, gentle blues. -- Nathan Thornburgh

(Last Supper Club) In town for the holidays (prior to his upcoming tour with Fiona Apple), local bass phenom Keith Lowe is keeping very busy, and has once again hooked up with his Crack Sabbath crew for your Yuletide pleasure. Those familiar with this project know that it makes for a great party, as they usually start off with drinkin'-friendly jazz -- and finish off shows with relentless funk workouts. -- James Kirchmer


(Crocodile) For some reason, many musicians seem to be under the impression that they get to take the holiday season off. Selfish bastards!! Nothing makes me appreciate the sublime pleasure of good music -- and strong drink -- like spending time rubbing elbows, etc. with cranky shoppers, or facing the prospect of "quality time" with my family. Thank goodness for Rusty Willoughby, who will be providing a respite from holiday madness by delivering a set of his lovely pop tunes. -- Barbara Mitchell


(I Spy) Well, it's not soul music but it's what we've got here in Seattle, and the able and talented musicians in Maktub are smooth enough to pull it off. -- Erin Franzman

(Stadium Exhibition Center) Jason Priestly has directed a documentary about the Barenaked Ladies, probably to prove that despite their lukewarm, middle of the road music, the Ladies are just the nicest Canadians you could ever hope to meet in the entertainment business. Much nicer than that Alanis, and the only ones to give Michael J. Fox a run for the Miss Congeniality award. -- Erin Franzman

( Long before Public Enemy or Eric B and Rakim made it big in America, their albums and singles were in the top 10 of the British pop charts. The reason for their success was London's early obsession and identification with the hiphop streaming out of New York City. And this is what the music of the Freestylers is all about; it attempts to express, as authentically as possible, London's initial preoccupation with New York hiphop. They are British B-boys in the truest sense, with their clues coming from the days when drum machines ruled the sound of hiphop. This is the show to go to if you want to pop, smurf, or break. -- Charles Mudede

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