A TALE OF TWO CITIESLet's face it: Phoenix sucks.
Tucson, on the other hand, rocks. It's as simple as that, really.
Tucson, while growing far too fast to handle the growth (and handling it poorly by, say, building out when we should be looking toward infill), is still a great size--small enough that it can often feel like a smallish town, but big enough that there's plenty of stuff going on to keep a person busy. It's got a great arts and music scene and a generally friendly vibe. Chances are, if you're reading this, you've chosen to live here, and that decision was no accident.
By contrast, the Phoenix metro area is a soulless, wannabe Los Angeles whose urban sprawl makes Tucson look like Mayberry--which is how many Phoenicians view Tucson anyway. Phoenix is largely populated by cheeseballs who place it into show-me-the-new-money status along with Dallas (quite possibly the worst American city--at least that I've ever visited).
Why, just last weekend, the ladyfriend and I headed north to The Valley of My Ass, er, of the Sun, to visit my immediate family, who for some unexplainable reason seem to enjoy the place. They live pretty far north in the metro area, and when we went to leave (finally!), we found that Interstate 10 eastbound was closed. No warning, no detour signs, nothing. Just closed. Thank god for cell phones and brothers-in-law, 'cause I hopped on the phone to get directions as to what the hell to do. Sam told me where to go to get on the highway a bit farther south, and guess what? It was closed there, too. Again, no detour signs.
This happened a few times, confusing even him, and he's lived in Phoenix almost his entire life. After being cut off a couple of times and narrowly avoiding at least two accidents, he guided us to Tempe, and we finally caught I-10.
What do people without cell phones and local guidance do? I imagine some of them eventually give up and just stay there. How else to explain why people live in Phoenix? (And let's hope that Stephen King never gets word of The City That Wouldn't Let Visitors Leave.)
Still, there are some good things about Phoenix. Like I said, my family lives there, and I like them just fine (some of my favorite people now reside in hell, too ... ). Against all odds, the city has managed to revitalize its downtown far quicker than Tucson has, even though we've been working on it far longer. And these days, after a rather long period of dormancy, Phoenix is actually churning out some decent bands.
The folks at Club Congress and Phoenix's Modified Arts are seeking to heal the divide. To that end, those venues are this week kicking off a summer-long series they're calling Hands Across the Gila: The Big Merge (a reference to the growth of Tucson and Phoenix eventually impinging upon one another, until it's one giant water-sucking megalopolis--or, as I call it, The Day I Find Somewhere Else to Live). The series amounts to a cultural exchange of sorts, for which two Tucson bands and two Phoenix bands come together to perform at Congress on Friday night, then at Modified the following night. It's an ambitious, utopian endeavor, to be sure, but as long as the bands are good, we're not gonna complain. And the crop of bands for the inaugural installment is, indeed, good. (Plus, it's a win-win for the bands, who often find themselves unable to get gigs in their neighboring city--a nice opportunity for them to expand their audience outside of their hometowns.)
In the Tucson corner, we've got Golden Boots, who sound something like what The Band might have sounded like if they existed in a post-indie world, and the George Squier Orchestra, a co-ed, retro-futuristic, quirky pop outfit that doesn't play live often enough. In the Phoenix corner, say hello to Lonna Kelly and the Brokenhearted Lovers, who split their time between haunting, hushed ballads and swampy country romps, and feature a namesake frontwoman whose smoky, sultry voice will send shivers up and down places you didn't know existed on your own body. And then there's Fatigo, a pack of oddballs who approximate what They Might Be Giants would sound like had they grown up a couple of hours away from the Mexican border instead of the Canadian one.
The healing begins at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 25, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is a fiver. For more information, call 622-8848.
MORRISSEY'S BACKMorrissey seems to grace Tucson with his presence every 4 1/2 to five years. His last performance here was at the Rialto Theatre in August 2002.
As all you math wizzes out there have probably already guessed, this week, he returns.
The man born Steven Patrick Morrissey, in Manchester, England, spent half of the '80s fronting The Smiths, widely regarded as one of the most important British bands in rock and pop history. It was during those years that he perfected his trademark croon and lyrical abilities--literary, even for a scholarly Brit, and alternately mopey and hilarious (often depending on what sort of mood you're in when you hear them). With a crack band that included current Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr, The Smiths created music so enduring that it doesn't sound the least bit dated 20 years later. (Last year, in an interview at SXSW, Morrissey admitted that The Smiths had turned down a $5 million offer to reunite for a performance at Coachella.)
And it was 20 years ago that The Smiths broke up, with Morrissey's solo debut released the following year. His solo career has been a bit more spotty than his work with The Smiths, who managed to never jump the shark. After releasing his first four albums on Sire, which also hosted The Smiths, Morrissey's next two releases came out on two different labels (almost never a good sign). By the time he played at the Rialto five years ago, Morrissey found himself without a label, in the midst of a seven-year dry spell of new releases. Still, he had new material, which he performed at that show, and most of which eventually appeared on his 2004 "comeback" album, You Are the Quarry (Attack/Sanctuary). Last year, he released his latest, Ringleader of the Tormentors, on the same label.
If that last Tucson gig is any indication, the guy still turns in masterful performances to an audience so devoted, it borders on cultlike. And, if concert ticket prices are any arbiter of cultural currency, his star has risen again: The Rialto show seemed a bit pricey at the time, at $30; tickets for this week's show are $45, $55, and $85.
Morrissey performs next Thursday, May 31, at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. with an opening set from Kristeen Young. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at 321-1000.
ON THE BANDWAGONJeez, we're running out of space already? And I was just getting started! OK, then, here are a few more shows that I wish I had the space to cover with more depth.
Middian, Minsk and Black Hell make up a triple-bill of psychedelic punk-metal mindfuckery at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m., Wednesday, May 30. $7 cover; 622-3535 for further details.
Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., hosts the Hellcat Records Tour at 7:30 p.m. sharp on Sunday, May 27. The tour features a diverse lineup including psychobilly headliners the Nekromantix, punk rock courtesy of The Heart Attacks and Societys Parasites, and a bit of ska and reggae from Westbound Train. Advance tix for this all-ages show are $12; they'll be $14 at the door. 622-8848 for more info.
Endearing guitar-and-organ garage-rockers The Willowz headline a show at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Tuesday, May 29, that also features opening sets by two excellent local bands, Mostly Bears and The Provocative Whites. Things get started at 9:30 p.m., and cover is $6. 798-1298.
And, when you check our club listings for other action happening this week, be sure to take a gander at the offerings at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave., which hosts a plethora of fine shows including appearances from Mark Insley, The Mother Truckers, No River City and Major Lingo.