The Cars started playing Boston clubs in 1977 and stopped for good 10 years later. So they're gone, but not forgotten. Scads of bands, many of them local, have feted the Cars with an album called "Tribute -- Substitution Mass Confusion." There are 21 songs, including the Millions' "You're All I've Got Tonight," Doug Powell's fuzzed "Candy-O," and Jon Auers (of the Posies) doing "Misfit Kid." "It's cool, pretty neat, humbling," says former Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes. Did he see those songs as coverable way back when? "To a certain degree, yeah," Hawkes says. "It wasn't something we were aware of when we were doing it." Of the tribute album, he says, "I like what Damone does -- 'Just What I Needed' with a female singer; Spiraling does a great version of 'Bye Bye Love.' " Those are faithful to the arrangements. A few aren't at all, like the acoustic guitar in Butch Walker's "My Best Friend's Girl." Tonight four of those acts -- Spiraling , Bleu, the Argument, and the Cautions -- play a record release party at T.T. the Bear's. The 18-plus show starts at 9; tickets are $8. Hawkes and former Cars drummer David Robinson are expected to attend.
10 Brookline St., Cambridge, 617-492-0082.
Ain't no sunshine
Tom McRae is a 32-year-old English singer-songwriter-guitarist who moved to Los Angeles last year and then said, "This sunshine is driving me crazy," prompting him to put up curtains and sequester himself in darkness. He's anticipating an East Coast tour and looking forward to the region's "cynicism and culture." McRae, nominated for a Mercury Prize (England's Grammy equivalent) for his self-titled 2001 disc, has embarked upon a residency tour, which starts its Boston run at the Paradise Lounge tonight. (He's solo tonight; he expects to be with a pianist next Thursday and a pianist and cellist for the last gig Feb. 24.) McRae's second album, "Just Like Blood," is a lush, complex, often melancholic work that recalls Nick Drake and Peter Gabriel. "The reason I'm drawn to sadder songs is happiness is so ephemeral and hard to pin down," he says, "and the emotions that linger longer in the mind are the sadder times." McRae didn't just sprout up from nowhere. He says he played for six years in bands "playing bad pop music, making as much noise as we could and trying to attract girls. We changed our name every few weeks." Susan Enan opens the 18-plus 7 p.m. show. Tickets: $8.
969 Commonwealth Ave., 617-562-8814.
Dancing in the dark
There's truth in titling, especially regarding "Voices in the Dark: 3 Plays by Samuel Beckett." The three plays at the Devanaughn Theatre, a cozy, brick-lined spot in the bowels of the Piano Factory building, are "Krapp's Last Tape," "Ohio Impromptu," and "Cascando." They're all dimly lit, and the middle play is in near-claustrophobic darkness. These lesser known works are directed by David J. Dowling, founding member of the Theatre Cooperative in Somerville. He put up Beckett's "Endgame" at the Theatre Cooperative and caused the Somerville Journal critic to praise its "atmosphere of the bleakest joy." Something similar might be said here, though we're not sure we'd reach as far as "joy." The three plays star George Saulnier III (who talks and mutters with a version of his younger self via tape recorder), Jason Myatt, and Brian Quint (one reads, the other listens). Of interest to us -- as Go! is a musically attuned theatergoer -- is an original score by none other than David J., who scored "Ohio Impromptu." Cost: $15-$19.
791 Tremont St. (rear of building off Northampton St.), 617-247-9777.
Last chance for agitprop
Back in 1977, the Buzzcocks' Steve Diggle barked out "Harmony in My Head," singing, "The neon signs that take your eyes to town/ Your thoughts are chosen, your world is advertising now." Do you think Ron English can relate to the bitter humor of that song? English has devoted a portion of his life to culture jamming (or "subvertising") and has done such things as taking a billboard promoting Apple computers (with its "Think different" slogan) and plastering Charles Manson's mug on it. Since he began his, uh, career in the early 1980s as a college student, English has created more than 1,000 illicit billboards -- he's jabbed
465 Huntington Ave., 617-369-3306.
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