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Alejandro Escovedo

When Alejandro Escovedo takes the stage Friday at the Continental Club, it will be like watching Douglas MacArthur stride through the water on his return to the Philippines. For some of us die-hard fans, it might even rival the oft-predicted but not yet realized return of a certain fellow whose initials are JC.

After spending the better part of two years battling hepatitis C, Escovedo is taking a few steps out of Austin, and Houston is lucky enough to be one of the stops. Escovedo and Houston have a long and warm relationship. It’s been exactly a year since local music journalist Tim O’Brien organized a benefit for Al at the Continental that featured Joe Ely and tons of Houston musicians. Benefits of this sort occurred all over the country, and along with the profits from Por Vida, a two-disc tribute CD featuring Esco-vedo’s songs, a considerable amount of money was raised to help counter his outlandish medical bills.

I have no idea what kind of band Al is bringing with him to the Continental. It could be a simple rock and roll combo. It could be more of a chamber ensemble; hell, it might be the full Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra. Who knows? But this is certain: You’ll hear a set of originals that are as good as American music got in the last 20 years. And you’ll probably also hear a couple of Mott the Hoople songs and at least one Iggy Pop, too.

And if you look around the crowd, I’m sure you’ll see more than a couple of tear-stained faces watching the triumphant return of one of America’s greatest artists and spirits. -- Greg Ellis Friday, December 17, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.

The Unicorns, with the Fatal Flying Guilloteens and Animals of the Bible

Music as peculiar as that of the Unicorns deserves to serve as the soundtrack to an equally strange pastime. Personally, I enjoy driving in heavy rain and synchronizing my windshield wipers at top speed with their song “Tuff Ghost” and then switching them to the next-lowest speed for the following song, “Ghost Mountain.”

As you can see, the Unicorns have a little something for everyone. Able to casually drop words like “genuflect” into their songs, make bitingly clever wordplays (“bone-camarrow”) and command us to “make with the penance, repent on the double!” they are ideal listening for language nerds. Their glittery, ass-shaking pop quality shines through in tracks such as “Jellybones,” “Les Os” and “I Was Born (A Unicorn)” and makes them accessible and fun for the less serious listener. Even so, they certainly don’t leave behind fans of bizarre and arrogantly pretentious music: Both the Unicorns’ album and live performance have a cooler-than-thou air that would be unforgivable if they weren’t so clever and entertaining.

Strangely enough, this tour date in Houston is the only North American stop after their Australian tour, and amid rumors of a breakup, it’s quite possibly the last chance to see these endangered creatures. Expect nothing less than a lively and unpredictable show from a band whose album is a death-themed journey from fear to acceptance, with plenty of ghosts and mythical beasts in between. -- Kate Richardson Tuesday, December 21, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.

Guitar Shorty

Houston-born blues singer-slinger Guitar Shorty knows the ups and downs of the music business all too well. He was off to the races as a teenager; before the age of 20, he recorded a handful of singles (including one with Willie Dixon) and served in the road bands of Ray Charles and Guitar Slim. But even though he gigged steadily through the ’50s and ’60s, Shorty and his fiery brand of blues were never able to break through. A long doldrums followed, but he did have one bizarre gig in 1978: He appeared on The Gong Show and won first prize for playing guitar while standing on his head. (He still does that, and it’s just one of several acrobatic moves in his stage show.)

Shorty’s comeback began in 1991, and since then he’s released seven full-length records. The newest is Watch Your Back, his debut for venerable blues label Alligator and his most rock-oriented and aggressive release. Incidentally, the 65-year-old is also something of a footnote in rock history as the brother-in-law of Jimi Hendrix, having married the legend’s sister in the early ’60s. Long before the LSD-soaked headbands and ex-tended Woodstock solos, a young Jimi would go AWOL from his army base to catch Shorty’s show. “He’d stay in the shadows watching me. I hear my licks in ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Hey Joe,’ ” Shorty says today. “And Jimi told me the reason he started setting his guitar on fire was because he couldn’t do the back flips like I did!” -- Bob Ruggiero Friday, December 17, at Cactus Moon, 22250 Eastex Freeway, 281-446-2202.

 
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