STORMY WEATHER: Staying in Tucson for the summer, one tends to look for the small rewards around town as a means of battling the heat. Relief this season comes from two old reliable sources of joy: Monsoon Madness and the Plaza Palomino Courtyard Concerts series.
Now in its sixth year, the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association's Monsoon Madness features local performers of all genres playing at the Winsett Outdoor Performance Center, a rather highfalutin title for that funky little stage at 316 N. Fourth Ave., the one right next door to TNT on the Avenue. Shows run from 7 to 10 p.m. every Friday, and the series kicks off this Friday, June 1, with performances from Audio Gusto and Forgotten Lore.
The rest of June's schedule is: Vanessa Zuber & Epic Friends and Glimpse on June 8; Roth d'Lux and Interlocking Grip on June 15; Ozlo, solo and with The Grooves on June 22; and Molehill on June 29. Best of all, Monsoon Madness is always free. For further details call 624-5004.
The Plaza Palomino Courtyard Concert series will also launch its fourth season this weekend. The series attracts (mostly) touring bands that play (mostly) roots and world music to its outdoor digs at Plaza Palomino, at the corner of Fort Lowell and Swan, every Saturday night at 8. This season's highlights include Barbarito Torres from the Buena Vista Social Club on June 16; contemporary Celtic music from Vancouver, B.C.'s Mad Pudding on July 7; zydeco master C.J. Chenier on August 4; and a bluegrass hootenanny courtesy of Peter McLaughlin's Frog Mountain on September 1.
This weekend's kickoff also serves as a CD release party for locals Leon Kittrell & Statesboro, who are celebrating their new disc, The Blues Come Over Me, which is only the second album the band has released in its career (the first was 1989's self-released Next Step, currently out of print), and which was recorded last year at Jim Brady studios. Kittrell spent years working as a session drummer (Jackson 5, the Temptations and Stevie Wonder, to name but a few) and vocalist (as part of a session backing-vocal ensemble that also included Luther Vandross, Rita Coolidge, Jeffrey Osborne and Brooks Honeycutt); he specializes in smooth, blues-inflected, soulful R&B, the likes of which you just don't hear much anymore. There's not even a remote attempt to update the band's classic sound to suit a post-hip-hop era, and it's all the more refreshing because of it.
Leon Kittrell & Statesboro open the Plaza Palomino Courtyard Concert Series at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 2. Advance tickets are available for $12 at Antigone Books, Brew & Vine, City Grill, Hear's Music and Enchanted Earthworks; they'll be $15 at the door. For more information or to charge tickets call 297-9133.
SEEING RED: For several reasons, one of the niftiest little venues in town is the Red Room at The Grill. For starters, you can never be sure who's gonna be set up and playing in the long, intimate room on any given night; the place has seen action from the likes of Steve Wynn (while he was in town recording his just-released album, the excellent Here Come the Miracles), Fanchon, La Cerca, and John Convertino and Howe Gelb (who also recently sat in with Latin jazz combo Libre de Grasa). The Red Room's intimacy is also one of its greatest virtues, as bands often are forced to experiment with their sound in order to make the venue work in their favor (turning the amps down considerably, for one thing).
One of the last bands one would expect to find there, heavy-as-bricks power trio Love Mound is conducting its own sonic experiment this week at the venue. For one night, the band will rename itself Wood Mound and play all-acoustic versions of Love Mound tunes. Witness the transformation at about 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 31 at the Red Room at The Grill, 100 E. Congress St. Admission is free. For more info call 623-7621. The band will also play two electric shows this weekend, the first at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 1 at the Cup Café in Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (622-8848), and the second at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 at XS, 536 N. Fourth Ave. (903-0999).
HERE DRUMS THE GROOM: With drummer Bill Richardson residing in California these days, shows from Spacefish and X-Old Ladies, the two bands for which he pounds the skins, have been few and far between as of late. But with Richardson in town this weekend to get hitched on Saturday, fans of both bands should be sated by a celebratory show featuring both bands, plus special guests, the night before the wedding at Che's Lounge. It should be a blowout indeed. (Hell, Spacefish once treated fans at a show to gourmet omelets, specially prepared by professional chefs, and that wasn't even a special occasion.) Best of luck in your new married life, kids.
Spacefish and X-Old Ladies, plus special guests, play at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 1 at Che's Lounge, 350 N. Fourth Ave. Admission is free. For more information call 623-2088.
SWEET DREAMS: Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor is simply dreamy in every way, three dreamy guys and three dreamy gals performing deceptively simple, dreamy pop orchestrations.
The band began life as a trio, and it was that configuration that released the band's debut album, Marlborough Farms, on Park 'n' Ride Records in 1995. Since that time, the trio has grown into a six-piece and has released three acclaimed albums on Merge. The latest, Argyle Heir (2001), documents the group's gorgeously pastoral mini pop symphonies. More Burt Bacharach than Brian Wilson, the Transistor recalls the ambiance that Stereolab brings to the table (though the two sound nothing alike) coupled with the fey pop sensibility of Belle and Sebastian. Dreamy.
The Ladybug Transistor performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. The Lucksmiths, from Melbourne, Australia, open the show. Admission is $5 at the door. For more info call 884-0874.
KNOCKOUT KNOCKOFFS: Three-quarters of the members of L.A.'s Boxing are former Arizonans, and much of the band's new debut full-length (an EP, Slow Moving Arrows, was released in 1998), Dig the Final Time (Robert Barry Construction Associates) was written while songwriter Josh Kasselman was living here in the Old Pueblo. The album, released May 22, showcases a band that can't seem to find enough sources to pilfer from, yet, like mid-era Guided By Voices, which it most strongly resembles and which also owes a serious debt to its influences (not to mention both bands' preoccupation with lo-fi production, short songs, and phony British accents), Boxing retains a sense of identity throughout.
"Candy Bricks & Similar Tricks" features a descending guitar alongside a seriously infectious sing-song chorus before finishing off in jangle-guitar bliss, all in two and a half minutes, no less. "Pale Circulation" is pure juiced-up, garaged-out Bowie, while "Green & Gray" sounds like a meeting between the Velvet Underground and Pavement at the top of its choogle.
Boxing supports Chicago's Evil Beaver and Tucson's own Infinite Beauties at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. The event begins at 7 p.m. with a sell-off of artwork from local artist Raquel Heiny. For more info call 670-9202.