If there's an argument to be had against the idea that the last innovation in rock and roll music happened in Brooklyn art spaces in 2002, opposition is probably going to be hard to come by in Tucson these days. Merging '80s electronics, garage rock, and '90s indie rock aesthetics seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, and judging by the popular vote, it apparently still is. With this in mind, Tucsonans Algae & Tentacles, Dream Sick, and Mellow Bellow are forced to live and die by the quality of their respective work, not innovation.
Mellow Bellow, a mostly electronic three-piece, played a short set of pleasant reggae and its more experimental variant, dub, but was weakened by budget line synthesizers and bass-less soundsystem drum machine beats. It was difficult to wade through their songs when it was unclear whether they were taking an ironic piss on Jamaican forebearers such as King Tubby and Mad Professor, or they were inspired ama-tourists. At their best, Mellow Bellow adhered to the hypnotic bass lines and tinny percussion of early '80s postpunk dub. But more frequently, they resembled an NAU electro-drum circle.
Algae & Tentacles have received quite a bit of underground local praise for their primitive racket within the confines of the vocal, guitar, and drums format. Singer/guitarist John Melillo has an exceptional voice capable of brash, New York punk-rocking and a gorgeous falsetto, going back and forth between the two styles to great effect. He also has the songs to back it up, from garage-y stomps to forlorn blues. Drummer Hannah Ensor pushed, punctuated, and filled the dance floor with her perfectly executed minimal beats. Make no mistake, though, Algae & Tentacles are more about songs than performance, and the fact that this show was their cassette release party was the proof.
While Algae & Tentacles possessed the songs, the electricity generated by Dream Sick was undeniable. Their set was noisy, unhinged, and abrasive, and when their passion smashed into their instrument abuse, the result was sublime rock and roll. Did it matter when the drummer missed that cymbal crash, or their singer hit the microphone a second too late? No, of course not. What counted was that they believed in their overwhelming train wreck of yelling, screaming, and shoegaze-inspired guitar terror.
While offering nothing new, these three new-traditionalist bands left the art in Williamsburg, ignored the brain and shot a bull's-eye at the body.