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Tonight: Lady Gaga, B.B. King & Buddy Guy, Alejandro Escovedo & the Sensitive Boys, Frazey Ford, Empire of the Sun, RUSH

"If it's true that 'Alejandro' represents Lady Gaga's super-obvious bid at her own 'La Isla Bonita'--and there's no doubting that it does--then consider this: Where Madonna took four years to go from her first big hit to her Latin-crossover jam, Gaga's only taken two; that's a remarkably speedy ascent, even when you take into account how completely the Internet has overhauled the worldwide starmaking process. Judging by reports from the road, Gaga's current arena show--the Monster Ball, as she calls it--suits a diva of her proportions, with backup dancers, numerous costume changes, a flame-throwing piano and what Rolling Stone described as 'a fountain of blood.' Oh, and a new song, too, in the form of 'You and I,' which sounds like it was inspired by the singer's duet with Elton John at this year's Grammys Awards. New York's trash-glammy Semi Precious Weapons open." At the Staples Center tonight and tomorrow night.

-Mikael Wood

Elsewhere:

"The blues are certifiably American music's single most critical style, and this showdown between BB King and Buddy Guy -- two of the idiom's most visionary elders -- should generate high-tension voltage enough to galvanize even the squarest of Bowl season-ticket holders. These cats may have aged, but don't think that's sapped a pair of formidable egos. While each played vastly influential roles in developing and popularizing the blues, the differences in their respective approach, execution and aesthetic are damn-near adversarial. King, who rose from Beale Street anonymity over 60 years ago to achieve unparalleled international renown, brings his trademark stinging, spare, jazz-informed sound, a marked and dynamic contrast to the Louisiana-born, Chicago-toughened Guy's exquisitely tore-down roughneck funk. Pitting Buddy's naked rampage against BB's elegant restraint qualifies as nothing less than an exhilarating tutorial in modern blues style, one perhaps best characterized as a clash supreme." At the Hollywood Bowl.

-Jonny Whiteside

"The Austin singer-guitarist Alejandro Escovedo straddles two seemingly opposing worlds of rock & roll. On the one hand, he's been managed for the past two years by industry heavyweight Jon Landau, and mainstream rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter supply guest vocals on his latest album, Street Songs of Love, his first on the major label Fantasy Records. On the other hand, Escovedo's roots are firmly planted in punk rock -- he got his start in San Francisco in the late 1970s with the proto-punk oddballs the Nuns -- and, even as he's evolved into a respected Americana songwriter, he's had his biggest impact in the underground scene. The two worlds collide on Street Songs, which was produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, Morrissey), who also helmed Escovedo's previous CD, Real Animal. While he's capable of penning gorgeous ballads, the best tunes on the past two albums are those that draw directly from his primal punk past, such as Real Animal's cautionary Sid Vicious ode, "Chelsea Hotel '78," and the new CD's seedily glittery "Tender Heart." The more middle-of-the-road tracks are certainly well crafted -- especially thanks to lead guitarist David Pulkingham's soulfully snarling licks -- but Escovedo is too good of a performer to be settling for so much Springsteen-style banality. Still, with such a deep and rich back-catalog, he and the Sensitive Boys should have plenty of ammunition in reserve for tonight's show." At the El Rey.

-Falling James

"Frazey Ford moves beyond the rustic Americana style of her band the Be Good Tanyas to summon up a newfound soulfulness on her debut solo CD, Obadiah (Nettwerk). The Canadian singer claims to be influenced by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, and new tunes like "Bird of Paradise" have a nicely mellow retro-soul feel. The musical backing is polite instead of fiery, but Ford's tremulous vocals give the sleepy songs some real personality. Her lonely quaver imbues Bob Dylan's oft-covered "One More Cup of Coffee" with an eerie quality, and it's that weirdly enchanting singing style that sets Ford apart from most folkies. The catchiest original track is "Firecracker," whose clucking banjo line recalls the roots-country rambles of the Be Good Tanyas." At the Hotel Café.

-Falling James

"While most artistic reinventions leave fans scratching their heads or pointing the finger, the transformation undergone by Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele makes perfect sense. In another life, Steele was the Dylan-voiced singer of Perth folk-pop weirdos the Sleepy Jackson. That band's second and, for the time being, last album Personality found Steele refining his mad eclecticism into Brian Wilson-worthy grandiosity, with his voice layered 30-fold atop orchestral, synth-embellished rock. Is it any surprise then, that his next move was to team with a dance producer (Pnau's Nick Littlemore) and trade in the acoustic guitar for the headdress of a pop deity? That last reference was to the bizarre dome-piece Steele's been wearing onstage and in interviews, which looks like it was made for a Thai princess' coronation ceremony. But again, there's a certain logic here. The duo's debut album, Walking on a Dream is filled with the kind of worldly genre-less hits that MGMT used to trade in, and their live show is an elemental extravaganza built around the universal theme of solar worship." At the Music Box. Also playing Thursday and Friday.

-Chris Martins

Also: Old school Canadian rock band RUSH will be playing at the Gibson Amphitheatre.


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