Music hotbeds come, and music hotbeds go. But western Michigan has never been confused for one and likely never will be. Alternating between barren (winter) and insanely pleasant (summer), with no real blight to speak of and lots of clean-living Dutch folks around, western Michigan just doesn't offer much for the savvy tourist. Despite this (or because of it), Grand Rapids' Mustard Plug might be not only the biggest export in the region but also the area's pop music statement for the ages.

The Plug's stock-in-trade is pop/ska/ punk. What makes it work is the sheer naíveté with which the band approaches the stuff, despite having crisscrossed the country umpteen times in the six years since its debut album was released. To look at Mustard Plug on stage, you'd think it had invented the genre, such is the joy its members get from dispensing their wares. Moving from side to side, jumping up and down, running to and fro, making funny faces. And why not? It's fun stuff. Sure, it's simple, but what do you want? Rush with horns?

The band's third and latest CD, Pray for Mojo, was produced by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton, and is chock-full of songs detailing boy-meets-girl teenie angst, the virtues of resisting peer pressure, and even the uncertainties of growing up. No snickering in the back! This is supposed to be fun; a night away from figuring out how you're going to pay the phone bill, or conquer the world, or get in Lolita's pants, or whatever other weighty topics you spend each day contemplating.

Mustard Plug's current bout of wholesome road madness has been dubbed the Winter Wonderland Tour, and each of the stops is a benefit for Toys for Tots. Everybody who brings a new unwrapped toy to the show will get CD samplers not only from Mustard Plug's label, Hopeless Records, but also from the labels of the other two bands on the bill, MU330 and Cooter. The toys collected are then donated to the local chapter of Toys for Tots, so kids right here in Houston will benefit from your generosity. And fun is had by all.

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Chris Smith