• On a mini-tour of a dozen dates across North America and the crowning glory of the Coachella Festival in May, the newly re-formed Pixies are pushing west with a technical vengeance, offering a new anthology DVD this Tuesday and a series of "instant gratification" live CDs sold after every night's show.

Opening acts for major concerts are hit-or-miss affairs - they're often just résumé-builders for the undercard bands, because most of the audience is still going through the security check - but here's a piece of advice: Do not miss The Mars Volta at Sunday's A Perfect Circle concert at The Mark.

• Who says powerful things can't come in small packages? Three new books have just been released in Continuum's "33 1/3" series, waxing profound on three more five-star albums - The Velvet Underground & Nico from 1967, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures from 1979, and Prince's Sign "O" the Times from 1987.

On Sunday, I wasn't looking forward to entering darkened Centennial Hall for the closing concert of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra season. I was thinking it would be a better use of the day to stay outside. But after an afternoon of relaxing, introspective music, I was better able to enjoy the sunshine-filled day.

• With a vibe that recalls the historic Live Aid concerts, last November's benefit concert in Cape Town, South Africa, for AIDS-related social work is getting the royal treatment this Tuesday by Warner International and Rhino Records.

• It looks like the meek will inherit a record deal, with underdog rising star William Hung getting the last laugh. The booted and humiliated American Idol contestant releases his debut album this Tuesday, ready to snuggle up to a place in music history next to other tone-deaf releases by Mrs.

• Everything's gone cover crazy as tributes and twisted takes dominate this week's new releases, but one cool compilation is doing it in a slightly different way. This Tuesday the Norton Records imprint releases two more seven-inch 45s in its series of split singles covering early songs by the Rolling Stones, with wicked label art that mocks the band's classic London Records era.

• Call me a heretic, but in the past I've never been much of a fan of Jerry Garcia's guitar playing with the Grateful Dead. Lordy, Lordy, take me down and dip me in the river of forgiveness. This Tuesday the Acoustic Disc imprint releases another collection of the late artist's recordings with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman from the 1990s, and I'm simply bowled over by the six- and four-string interplay between the two.

Guest conductor David Effron turned toward the audience, ran his hand through his slightly wild gray hair, leaned forward for the opening Star Spangled Banner, and an afternoon of dramatic music and conducting began.

Beats as Folk

The first time a person hears Jewel's latest album, 0304, the likely reaction will be something along the lines of "What the hell?"

The singer-songwriter, who broke through in 1995 with an acoustic guitar and her mega-hit debut Pieces of You, has made a dance pop record.

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