UPON FURTHER LISTENINGS ...
Some albums are showers, and some are growers. Which is to say: Some albums instantly grab you on first listen, while others tend to reveal themselves upon further listenings. The trick is providing both pleasures at once—and Birds and Batteries' 2010 album, Panorama, did that for me.
I'd heard the Bay Area band's 2006 debut album, Nature vs. Nature, and dug it, but it's Panorama that I've been returning to regularly for the last couple of years. It still gets better with every listen.
Bandleader, singer and songwriter Michael Sempert, who is also a gifted arranger and producer, likes to mix things up a bit for each release, it seems. As I once wrote in this column, 2009's Up to No Good EP was "an exploration of the synth-funk of the '70s and '80s with some Scary Monsters-era Bowie experimentalism thrown in the mix," while Panorama was "an homage to California and the bevy of songwriters who, whether from the state or not, are associated with it."
Meanwhile, the band's latest, Stray Light, which was released earlier this month, continues the band's tradition of integrating retro-futuristic synths and keyboards with the organic sounds of guitar, bass and drums, though it bounces around a bit in terms of its sources of inspiration.
Opener "The Golden Age of Dreams" is a gorgeously plodding tune that owes its psychedelic overtones to the phasing effect that begins the song, as well as alternately tinkling keys, and synths that could have been lifted from an Asia album. "Let the Door Swing" is held together by an insistent bass line, '80s pseudo-funk synths and a vocal melody that subtly burrows itself inside your head. "Love Is Coming Back," meanwhile, is a wistful song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.
I'll admit that I don't enjoy Stray Light as much on the first few listens as I did Panorama. Then again, maybe my perception has been swayed by time: A few listens versus a couple of years of listening isn't really a fair comparison.
I should probably also mention that the band is fantastic live, and will only enhance one's appreciation of them.
Check out Birds and Batteries when they perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Saturday, Aug. 18. They'll perform in between headliners the Electric Blankets and openers The Cordials, who get things rolling at 9:30 p.m. Cover is a mere $5. For more info, head to plushtucson.com, or call 798-1298.
WHAT ABOUT BAD RAYFIELD?
In their heyday, Wichita, Kansas' Split Lip Rayfield was one of the best live bands around. Their shows at 7 Black Cats in the late '90s and early '00s are the stuff of legend. The group used bluegrass instruments (including a one-string bass fashioned out of the gas tank of a 1978 Mercury Grand Marquis), but played so goddamn fast and hard that it made your head spin. Speedgrass, punkgrass, whatever you want to call it, Split Lip came on like a fucking hurricane.
One of the band's members, Wayne Gottstine, left the band for a spell in the early aughts, but returned when another member, Kirk Rundstrom, was diagnosed with cancer. Rundstrom died in 2007, and the band continued for a while without him. But things were never quite the same.
Split Lip Rayfield may have never existed at all if it weren't for Austin's The Bad Livers, founded in 1990 by Danny Barnes. The band was rooted in bluegrass, but merely used that as a jumping-off point to explore everything from jazz to Cajun music, blues to metal. In today's anything-goes climate of genre-mixing, it may sound like old hat, but in the early '90s, no one was doing what the Livers were. The band broke up around the turn of the century, with Barnes continuing to perform in a variety of settings, including a solo career, from his new home base in Seattle.
Now comes The Split Livers, a collaborative project between Barnes and Gottstine. The pair has an album planned for future release, but for now, they're taking it to the streets to perform classics by both of their former bands, and to road-test new material.
Expect one hell of a party when The Split Livers perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Aug. 18. Doors open at 7 p.m., and cover is $8. Questions? Head to hotelcongress.com/club, or call 622-8848.
FROM A BYGONE ERA (OR TWO)
If last week's Duran Duran show at AVA didn't sate your desire to relive the music of the 1980s, the venue has got another show on tap this week that just might.
The Lost '80s Live tour features eight bands who scored basically one to three hits during that decade. You'll recognize some of the acts; others, maybe not. But anyone of a certain age will surely recognize all of the hits.
On the bill: A Flock of Seagulls ("I Ran [So Far Away]," "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You," "Space Age Love Song"); John Waite (as a solo artist, "Missing You," but here's hoping he pulls out some classics by his '70s power-pop band The Babys); When in Rome UK ("The Promise," a song you'll recognize by its killer chorus, if not its title); The Motels ("Suddenly Last Summer," "Only the Lonely"); Naked Eyes ("Promises, Promises" and their killer version of Bacharach and David's ([There's] Always Something There to Remind Me"); Animotion ("Obsession"); Gene Loves Jezebel and The Escape Club.
Expect short sets loaded with hits when Lost '80s Live pulls into AVA at Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road. The show begins at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18, and advance tickets are available for $20 to $40 by going to casinodelsol.com or calling (800) 344-9435.
Or, if '60s, '70s and '80s funk is more your thing, AVA's got you covered there, too. The night before the '80s tour takes over the venue, the George Clinton and the Masters of Funk tour will have you getting up for the downstroke and tearing the roof off the sucker. In addition to legendary funk pioneer George Clinton, the night will feature performances by The Bar-Kays, Sugarfoot's Ohio Players, Confunkshun, The Dazz Band, the Mary Jane Girls, Slave and Cameo. Some of these bands are, of course, missing integral members these days, but how much will it matter when you're dancing your tuchus off?
George Clinton and the Masters of Funk begins at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 17, at AVA at Casino del Sol. Advance tickets are $25 to $55, and you can use the same info as above to purchase them or get more info.
In the spirit of Jack White producing albums by Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson in order to revive their careers, Jimmy Cliff (who arguably didn't really need any help) teamed up with Rancid and Operation Ivy veteran Tim Armstrong for his fantastic new album, Rebirth, released in July. Expect to hear tunes from that album as well as classics from the reggae legend when he performs at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m., next Thursday, Aug. 23. Tickets for the all-ages show are $32 in advance, and $35 on the day of the show. Head to rialtotheatre.com, or call 740-1000 for more info or to order tickets.
Lisa Otey and Friends kick off a run of shows at Z Mansion, 288 N. Church Ave., this week. Each show will feature music by Otey as well as a guest performer. The first two shows, on Monday, Aug. 20, and Tuesday, Aug. 21, will feature Otey's mom, Gay Otey, and Diane Van Deurzen. The guests for subsequent shows will be Anna Anderson on Monday, Aug. 27; Naim Amor on Monday, Sept. 10; Diane Van Deurzen on Monday, Sept. 24; and Liz McMahon on Monday, Oct. 1.
All shows begin at 7 p.m., and reserved seats are available for $15 via lisaotey.com or by calling 370-5912.
ON THE BANDWAGON
There's not enough room for me to rattle off all the great shows happening in town this week, so be sure to check out our listings for more. Here are some highlights: Champagne Champagne and Sims at Club Congress on Sunday, Aug. 19; Vicky and the Vengents and The Mission Creeps at Sky Bar on Saturday, Aug. 18; Y La Bamba and Tracy Shedd at Solar Culture Gallery on Sunday, Aug. 19; Civil Twilight and Voxhaul Broadcast at Club Congress on Monday, Aug. 20; Grieves and Budo at Club Congress on Wednesday, Aug. 22; Kyle Bronsdon at Plush on Wednesday, Aug. 22.