DISCO MONSOONAmericans tend to serve up their nostalgia trips in 20-year cycles: witness the current exhumation of all things '80s, with the possible exception of parachute pants (which certainly must be just around the corner, in ironic hipster fashion, natch). Thus, the '90s saw the retread and fetishization of the 1970s, especially the musical form known as disco--once so despised that when Steve Dahl blew up stacks upon stacks of disco records at Chicago's Comiskey Park in between games of a White Sox doubleheader in 1979, a full-on anti-disco riot ensued, forcing the second game to be cancelled. More importantly, what the Stones' concert at Altamont was to the peace and love vibe of the '60s, Dahl's Disco Demolition was to the '70s--i.e., the end.
But that didn't stop disco nights from springing up at every dance club in every town in the '90s. And while disco's heyday may have passed us by for the second time, that's not about to stop disco acts from eking out a living on nostalgia tours (coming soon to a casino near you!). This week brings one of those tours to Tucson.
The Disco Mania tour comprises once-mega-platinum acts KC and the Sunshine Band, The Trammps featuring Earl Young (which means Young is the only remaining member), Martha Wash and Evelyn "Champagne" King.
Headliners KC and the Sunshine Band were lumped into the disco movement largely because they came along in the '70s, and because you could dance to their music. But go back and listen to that music again, and you'll hear what is essentially a groove-based, horn-heavy R&B band; which is to say, the music holds up far better than most disco acts. It's also easy to forget just how huge these guys once were: Though the disco era was replete with one-hit wonders, the group scored no less than five No. 1 singles: "Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty)," "Get Down Tonight," "That's the Way (I Like It)," "I'm Your Boogie Man" and "Please Don't Go." Other notable hits included "Boogie Shoes," "Yes, I'm Ready" and "Keep It Comin' Love," which hit No. 2 on the pop chart.
As ubiquitous as it was, it's hard to believe that The Trammps' contribution to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack--king shit among disco albums--"Disco Inferno," which forever etched the anthemic cry of "burn, baby, burn" into our collective consciousness, never even hit the Top 10 (it peaked at 11). Like KC and his boys, the group leaned heavily toward R&B, emphasizing soulful harmonies that earned them something extremely rare for a disco act: critical praise.
You may not recognize the name Martha Wash, but you know at least two of the songs to which she lent her considerable vocal talents (even if you despise them both, as we do). As half of the '80s duo the Weather Girls, Wash scored a hit with the gay-club anthem "It's Raining Men." (Bonus bit of useless trivia: The song was co-written by Paul Shaffer.) She later went on to perform vocal session work, most notably for C+C Music Factory's 1991 hit "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," though you may have never known it: She was uncredited and replaced in the music video by a model, due to her less-than-svelte figure.
Though she continued to have success on the R&B charts through the late '80s, Evelyn "Champagne" King is best remembered by the masses for her first hit, "Shame," which hit the Top 10 and was recorded when she was only 16 years old.
Disco Mania hits Casino Del Sol's Anselmo Valencia Amphitheatre, 5655 W. Valencia Road, at 7 p.m. next Thursday, Aug. 12. Advance tickets are available for $60 (gold circle), $45 (pavilion) and $30 (lawn) at all Ticketmaster locations, online at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 321-1000. For more information, call 883-1700 or visit avaconcerts.com.
WEAR A BELTMention Minneapolis in the mid- to late-'80s to most music fans, and the first thing they think of is The Purple One. But that time and place were also host to a burgeoning underground rock scene that included bands like The Replacements and Soul Asylum (before they jumped the shark with 1992's Grave Dancer's Union) that grafted indelible melodies onto a combination of punk and their earthy Midwestern roots (rock). It was a simple, straightforward sound that remains timeless; somewhat inexplicably, it isn't one that's mined much these days.
Grand Champeen may not be from the Midwest--they're based in Austin--but their sound would have been right at home in Minneapolis in the '80s. And like the aforementioned bands, they've largely earned their considerable reputation based on their rousing live shows. We caught 'em in their hometown at this year's South By Southwest, where they charmed the pants off the masses (in one case, literally) with a show-closing trio of choice covers: Alice Cooper's "Long Way to Go," Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song" and the Stones' "Rocks Off."
Miss Grand Champeen at your peril when they open for Greyhound Soul at 9:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover is $4. For more information, call 798-1298.
CREEPY COOLBest known as the voice behind new wave combo Wall of Voodoo, whose "Mexican Radio" can be found on any '80s compilation worth its salt, Stan Ridgway possesses one of the most distinctive voices of the last 20 years. His vocal style might sound a bit nerdy if it weren't for the fact that there's a certain creepiness to it, too, which serves his material well. Ridgway's songs are more like short stories ripped from the pages of pulp fiction books set to music than they are songs. And as great as Wall of Voodoo were (they certainly deserve better than the one-hit-wonder status bequeathed upon them), Ridgway's solo material, from his first album, 1986's The Big Heat (which contained gems like "Drive She Said," "Pick It Up and Put It in Your Pocket" and the title track) to his latest--this year's Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs (RedFly)--is even better. With shady gangsters with bad intentions and femmes fatale with a taste for danger lurking at every turn, Ridgway's songs are the sonic storytelling equivalent of the best that film noir has to offer.
Stan Ridgway performs next Thursday, Aug. 12 at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Mark Insley opens the show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $10 at the venue, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 321-1000. For more information, call 733-6262.
ICE CREAM ASSAULT?The Starlite Desperation's bio compares them to the Gun Club, the Scientists, Devo, Misfits and the Stooges, and--minus the Devo thing, anyway--the bio gets it right, for once, as the band sounds an awful lot like a mishmash of all those groups. As evidenced by the band's new EP, Violate a Sundae (2004, Cold Sweat), driving, fuzzed-out guitar riffs; tightly compressed drumming; singer/guitarist Dante Adrian's tuneful howl of a voice, which was custom-made to sing this kinda stuff; plus a certain seaminess (that's where the Gun Club and Misfits come in) all add up to what the Von Bondies are attempting (aside from the '60s girl group influences) and manage to trump it.
The Starlite Desperation perform Wednesday, Aug. 11 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Openers Young Heart Attack and Love Mound kick things off at 9:30 p.m. Admission will run you a fiver. Questions? That number again is 798-1298.