IDENTITY CRISISLike many facets of the music industry today, "Modern Rock" radio stations like our own 92.1 KFMA-FM (or, in its own parlance, "New Rock") is in a state of flux. When such stations began popping up across the country--roughly in the early-to-mid-'90s, when Nirvana broke big, and the suits realized they could reel in some bread off punk(ish) rock, after all--the playlists were dominated by "alternative rock," one of the most meaningless terms ever invented for a form of music. Such forgotten bands as Marcy Playground, Deadeye Dick and Deep Blue Sunday ruled the airwaves, and the kids were just happy to hear something other than hair metal bands emanating from their radio speakers.
But then a funny thing happened. Alternarock's 15 minutes were up, so the same stations turned to nü-metal and, later, pop-punk bands, becoming a sort of repository for anything loud. These days, though, the buzzword is "indie-rock," as gauged by a sold-out Coachella festival, the success of the Garden State soundtrack and the fact that Seth Cohen's favorite band is Death Cab for Cutie (who obliged the shout-outs by performing on The O.C. ). Which leaves stations like KFMA trying to figure out what it exactly is, not unlike its largely adolescent listeners.
The playlist for KFMA these days reveals a pretty serious identity crisis. Is it a pop-punk station? Bands like Unwritten Law and Green Day might have you believe so. But there's still some nü-metal left over in the form of Mudvayne and Slipknot. Indie-rock is there, too, with bands like the Arcade Fire and Hot Hot Heat getting considerable airplay. The problem here is that these stations can't appeal to everyone, try as they might.
All of which brings us to this year's annual KFMA Day, a day-long mini-festival that the station has curated for the past several years. This year's lineup is somewhat of a hodgepodge of all these styles. In addition to Unwritten Law, you get Sum 41, Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday, The Format, Mates of State (?!) and, er, Billy Idol, making for the most schizophrenic roster of bands ever to play the Day. It almost seems like the station has devised the lineup in order to conduct market research in an attempt to see which bands the crowd warms up to most. Only time (and perhaps crowd response) will tell which direction the station will take from here.
The gates at the all-ages KFMA Day open at noon on Saturday, May 7, at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Road. Advance tickets are available for $30 with no service fee at all Domino's Pizza locations. For more information, including lists of "Stuff you can't bring" and "Stuff you can't do," log onto www.kfma.com.
JANGLE-PUNK INVASION?If you've ever picked up a British music magazine, chances are you've seen coverage given to bands that are apparently huge in their native U.K., but never managed to make a dent in the collective American psyche. There are myriad reasons for this, from a lack of promotional funding in the United States to the old standby that certain bands are just "too British" to translate. Who knows exactly why The Wedding Present have never really gotten their due in America, even though they've hit legendary status overseas?
Just like The Fall, another band that never really translated here--essentially Mark E. Smith and whomever he surrounds himself with in any given year--the same goes for The Wedding Present, whose leader and only constant member, David Gedge, founded the band 20 years ago. During the course of its history, The Wedding Present have dabbled in Ukrainian folk songs; spent 1992 issuing a new single each month, many of which contained covers of such diverse artists as the Monkees, Neil Young, and Isaac Hayes (the singles were later compiled in two volumes called Hit Parade); and have been produced by the likes of Steve Albini and Steve Fisk. But they've become best known as a "jangle-punk" outfit, which essentially means their brand of lovelorn pop songs sometimes has a jagged edge to it.
The Wedding Present's latest album is Take Fountain (2005, Manifesto), their first in 8 years, following Gedge's immersion in his side project, Cinerama. The good news is that it's a fine release, full of lush near-chamber-pop passages that often explode into frenzied, soaring guitar excursions. In other words, the band's combination of downtrodden romanticism and swagger remains intact. The bad news, then, is that American audiences still won't care, which is a shame. One gets the feeling these guys could break here, if they'd only get the proper exposure.
Expose yourself to The Wedding Present next Thursday, May 12, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The Organ open at 9:45 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $10 at www.virtuous.com; they'll be $12 on the day of show. For details, call 798-1298.
A DUDE WITH STORIES TO TELLCowboy-folk troubadour Ramblin' Jack Elliott is a throwback to an earlier time, an enigmatic singer-songwriter whose history is long and storied. At this point, it's difficult to parse exactly what is fact or myth, but here's a quick list of stories told over the years: Elliott once showed up at Woody Guthrie's house and ended up staying for two years; he was a huge influence on a young Bob Dylan in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s, and later toured as part of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue (though Dylan has for some reason distanced himself from Elliott since); Jack Kerouac read him the entire manuscript of On the Road before it was published; he performed for James Dean in a Hollywood parking lot; and years after serenading a group of British schoolchildren on a train platform, one of those kids told him that the experience prompted him to buy his first guitar. That kid was Mick Jagger.
Only in the last 10 years has Elliott shaken off the "obscure folk hero" tag and begun to gain the recognition he deserves. His engaging story-songs have won him a Grammy (Best Traditional Folk Album, in 1996), and in 1998, he was awarded the prestigious National Medal of the Arts.
Experience a slice of living history when Ramblin' Jack Elliott performs an early, non-smoking show at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, May 11. Howe Gelb opens at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more info call 622-8848.
ON THE BIG BRINK?Canadian-born Ana Egge is a young singer-songwriter who has been slobbered over by fellow artists and critics since her first album, River Under the Road, appeared in 1997. And while she hasn't become a household name, she has toured with the likes of Richard Thompson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jane Siberry, George Jones and Shawn Colvin. Her latest album, Out Past the Lights (2004, Grace/Parkinsong), may make waves, after all. It's full of neo-folk character sketches and heart-on-sleeve songs that resonate, and her somewhat smoky voice is strong and ethereal at once. Her collaborator Jason Mercer co-produced Out Past the Lights with Egge, and they've added subtle touches that raise it beyond typical stripped-down folk fare. Perhaps Austin Chronicle writer Raoul Hernandez described it best: "Gillian Welch produced by Robyn Hitchcock rather than the other way around."
Ana Egge performs at Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave., at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 6. Mitzi Cowell will also be performing, and tickets cost $12 in advance, or $15 at the door. For further details, visit www.rhythmandroots.org or call (800) 594-8499.
ON THE BANDWAGONWarsaw began life as a college ska band in the mid-'90s before taking on an Irish flair. Though local performances have become increasingly rare, they'll share the spotlight with always-entertaining jazzbo opener Ozlo on Friday, May 6 at The French Quarter, 3146 E. Grant Road. Call 318-4767 for more info.
If you thought the triple bill of Los Lonely Boys, Ozomatli and Calexico was tailor-made for a Tucson audience, you were right. The show, set to take place at Casino del Sol's AVA Amphitheater, 5655 W. Valencia Road, on Sunday, May 8, has been sold out for weeks. If you absolutely must see the show, you'd better have deep pockets: One eBay scalper was asking $110 for a pair of lawn tickets at press time.