GLORY DAYS: Lately it seems a lot of longtime Tucsonans miss the old days of the local music scene. Maybe it's the net effect of Al Perry moving away and the last Chick Cashman extravaganza taking place within a few months of each other, but everyone seems to be romanticizing the past glories this town has seen.
Let's face it: there used to be a trash-art aesthetic here, a sense that anything could happen at any time, and it wouldn't seem out of place. It might've taken the form of Gay Night madness at Club Congress (recently rumored to make a comeback), witnessing an impromptu performance by a marching Crawdaddy-O while eating a late dinner at The Grill, or the parents-are-out-of-town-so-let's-get-drunk-in-the-basement vibe of the late, great Airport Lounge. I've heard from a lot of people lately that something just seems to be missing.
Maybe we just tend to romanticize the past, to give it more attention in retrospect. I've found myself bragging to recent Tucson transplants about the long-gone Downtown Performance Center, and the anxiously awaited Toxic Tater Tot, which printed the lineup there for the coming month. We're talking stellar booking, like Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Yo La Tengo playing within days of each other. But I have a feeling that, (and not too many) years from now, the recent Modest Mouse show at the Rialto will be as "historic" as the famed Jon Spencer Blues Explosion show at D.P.C several years back.
Hindsight, my friends. The present can never objectively compare with the past. Admit it: you look back at your high school years somewhat fondly, but for nearly everyone--popular or unpopular, jock, computer dork, cheerleader, Chess Club president, class president, music geek--it was the most awkward, painful time of our lives.
The solution? Not to get too Stuart Smalley on your ass, but can't we just celebrate the things that are right in our humble little music scene, and all work a little harder to invent some cool madness of our own instead of relying on people like Clif Taylor to supply it for us every damn time?
Luckily, there are things that are really great in this town right now. Steven Eye has taken his D.P.C. idealism to a new venue--the Solar Culture Gallery. The new space is the closest thing this town has to a galvanizing focal point right now. Eye regularly books interesting, stimulating and overlooked touring bands, and manages to team them with an amazingly like-minded local act time and time again, as cheaply as he possibly can, for an all-ages audience. Who else in this town has the huevos to book three touring acts in one week in the dead of summer? Thanks, Steven! And now for those three shows:
Fans of cult favorites Mr. Bungle will surely be familiar by now with Secret Chiefs 3, a mostly instrumental band made up of the three core members of Mr. B (sans Mike Patton). A few years back they wrapped a sizeable and fervent crowd at Club Congress around their fingers, with a sound like a dark-alley brawl between Ennio Morricone and some wanky prog rock, with whacked-out forays into Middle Eastern noise. (Not a soul emerged unscathed.)
Now they're back for what they've deemed The Theatrum Of Suprasensory Universes Tour 2000, to promote their most recent release, the live Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Flame, released last year on the Web of Mimicry imprint. Joining them are similar noise terrorists Estradasphere.
Hailing from Santa Cruz, CA, Estradasphere floats in a galaxy mostly ruled by twisted gypsy-circus jazz, though they're certainly not adverse to segueing into a cheerleading chant or death-metal pile-up to make sure you're paying attention (which, rest assured, you will be). Also on the bill is San Francisco's Seemen, who integrate robot performance art into their stage show.
The wackiness ensues at 9 p.m. Friday, June 16, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Tickets are $10 at the door, and you can call 884-0874 for details.
TUNED-UP TAMMIES: While we're talking about things right with the music scene--The ballots are in, counted, and ready to be announced in the Seventh Annual Tucson Area Music Awards ceremony, a.k.a. the TAMMIES. The event, which is free to all, once again this year focuses on blazing live performances by local artists, with awards for Tucson Weekly readers' favorite acts announced in between.
This year's 10-for-the-price-of-nothin' performances include alt-poppers Shoebomb; Lost Highway (a new collaboration with guitarists Teddy Morgan and Mike Hebert); the funky N'awlins stylings of Voodoo Square; Rich Hopkins' desert rockin' Luminarios; the Ed Friedland Quartet, featuring jazz bassist extrordinaire Friedland; Tejano masters Latino Solido; folk-blues singer/songwriter Stefan George; new jam-groove band Leisure Ride; alternative/hip-hop combo Size 5; and the Latino rock and blues of The Lowride.
The event kicks off at 8 p.m. sharp on Wednesday, June 21, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Ten bands, free for all ages?! C'mon! Call 798-3333 for more info.
CROWN JULIE: I was a huge fan of the lo-fi scene that went down in the early to mid-'90s. The idea of people like Liz Phair and Lou Barlow sitting in their bedrooms recording songs on a crappy four-track--songs so acutely personal it felt like they were never meant to be heard by outside ears--made for great art. The music felt like a discovery, the personal becoming socio-political by virtue of the fact that it helped us recognize anyone's dirty secrets aren't so different from our own after all. And though you could argue the other way, I believe the tape hiss added a welcome sense of voyeurism to the proceedings. As I said, the sense that we were never meant to hear this stuff in the first place.
Pretty soon though, every jackass with a four-track started to believe getting that sound was the same thing as being a masterful songwriter--never mind the evidence that many couldn't string a sentence together or play a G chord to save their lives. Which made it even sadder when truly gifted artists came along and were criminally ignored, if not by critics, then by the all-consuming public.
One such band was Nova Scotia's Eric's Trip. Maybe it was just that Americans, with notable and inconceivable exceptions like Celine Dion, shy away from anything from Canada. Who knows. The fact remains that Eric's Trip released at least a couple of albums' worth of bona-fide, scuffed-up gems of songs that were, by turns, folky and loud, distorted and quiet, innocent and defiant, beautiful and abrasive. For the uninitiated and interested, 1993's Love Tara (Sub Pop) is a good starting point.
Somewhere around 1996 the band officially split up and splintered into other temporary units like Elevator To Hell. Bassist and singer Julie Doiron went on to release a sparse solo album, Loneliest In the Morning, on Sub Pop in 1997, as well as an occasional single under the moniker Broken Girl. Her newest release is a collaboration with Ottawa troubadours The Wooden Stars, with the appropriately titled Julie Doiron & The Wooden Stars released domestically on Tree earlier this year.
This time around Doiron's songs are couched in a more traditional, singer/songwriter backed by a band realm, as opposed to her previously bare-bones approach. And in turn, those who were put off by the directness (a charge similarly leveled at Lisa Germano) will surely find more to grasp onto here, as Doiron's still-subtle appeal is undeniable.
Doiron appears along with Giant Sand-man Howe Gelb and Wise Folk Malcontent's Andy Gardner at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Cover is $5, and that number again is 884-0874.
HEAVY STUFF: The dual-bass and drums combo Two Ton Boa, from perennial indie hotspot Olympia, Washington, is fronted by one Sherry Fraser. Does that name sound familiar? If so, give yourself three points in today's Useless Pop-Culture Trivia contest.
Acoustic rockers Marcy Playground named a song after her on their debut album of a few years back, and then went on to cover one of her songs, "Comin' Up From Behind," for inclusion on the soundtrack to the movie Cruel Intentions. The song, in its original TTB version, is one of the highlights of the band's self-titled debut EP, released in February on Kill Rock Stars.
A slinky, sexy Tin Pan Alley-meets-burlesque teaser, the tune is somewhat of an anomaly juxtaposed against the other four, most of which are darker and further utilize the amazing range of Fraser's voice. The latter can appear as an ethereal apparition before swooping into a ferocious soar. Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, the shrieks never degenerate into shrill, and the plodding but augmented soundscapes provide ample backing for the Voice. Reportedly, the CD is but a mere shadow of what we should expect from the live show. Powerful stuff.
Check out Two Ton Boa and local melodic plodders Unified Field Theory at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, at--you guessed it--Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Five bucks will get you in, and that number--tattoo it on your arm--is 884-0874.
BAND WAGON: As part of the Third Annual Plaza Palomino Courtyard Concert Series, local blues diva Vicki Tama and Steel Ribbon present a musical tribute to Janis Joplin and Santana at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at Plaza Palomino, at the corner of Fort Lowell and Swan roads. Advance tickets are available for $12 at Hear's Music, Antigone Books, Brew & Vine, and Enchanted Earthworks. They'll be $14 at the door. To charge by phone or for more information, call 297-9133.
Santa Cruz, California-based blazing blues guitarist James Armstrong makes a return appearance this week at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at the Boondocks, 3360 N. First Ave. Advance tickets are available at the club for $7. They'll cost $10 at the door, and you can call the friendly folks at 690-0991 with any further questions.