LESSONS IN CONTROLED CHAOSJust as the monsoons come rolling in, the summer's musical drought continues (though it should be noted that local promoters say the fall will bring an abundance of fine shows--patience, my friends).
So, leave it to a pair of local CD-release parties and a visit from The World's Greatest Songwriter Ever (as well as the two shows written about in our feature articles this week) to provide a bit of a salve for the summertime blues.
Featuring at least one former member of the now-defunct Gorillas Behind Bars, local trio Mostly Bears is composed of singer/guitarist Brian Lopez, bassist Geoff Hidalgo and drummer Nick Wantland, all of whom could be comfortably described as hirsute. In case you haven't been paying attention, the band is currently one of Tucson's most buzzed about, and their debut EP Only Child (Funzalo) shouldn't do much to silence the chatter.
Comprising four songs (and clean versions--or, in Mostly Bears parlance, "f#ckless versions"--of two of the tracks), the EP was mostly recorded with Mike Prado at his Big Block Studios prior to the band's signing with locally based Funzalo Records, which ended up releasing it. What's rather remarkable about Mostly Bears, given their already swelling fan base, is that their music isn't the most accessible stuff in the world. Sure, it's more accessible than that of The Mars Volta, to whom the Bears are inevitably compared since both play modern, heavy prog rock and have lots of hair. And it's worth noting that the band created that aforementioned buzz based on their live performances, which are energetic, dizzying and cathartic--a lesson in controlled chaos. Only musicians this proficient could pull off the complicated music of Mostly Bears without making it sound ponderous.
Which leads to the question: How does it come across in recorded form?
The answer: A lot better than one might expect. The opening title cut is a perfect distillation of the Mostly Bears M.O.: The song begins quietly, with subdued drums, a staccato bass and a few plucked guitar notes that echo the vocal melody, expertly crooned by Lopez. It picks up a little steam (and its first hook) in the next section, with Lopez's "la la la"s and "whoa"s, before returning to a modified version of the opening part, this time with woozy slide guitar flourishes and a growing sense of menace. Lopez gets a serious vocal workout, screaming as tunefully as is possible; before you realize what's happening, the real hook smacks you in the face: "It's a fucked up world, now it's coming after you." It's nearly as cathartic as the band's live show.
"The Unassuming One," for some reason, reminds me a bit of a proggier version of the late D.C. band The Dismemberment Plan crossed with Pearl Jam and Radiohead--a pretty random mix, to say the least--before an atmospheric chaos takes over at the end. "Leda Atomica" showcases a kinder, gentler Mostly Bears: all acoustic guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies--it's a love song to a "sweet atomic thing," after all--while "People's Distinctive Travels" (title no doubt inspired by A Tribe Called Quest, if little else about it is) splits the difference between the quiet and loud, with Thom Yorke-inspired vocals and a guitar part that somewhat echoes Pink Floyd's "Money" as it swells, crests and recedes.
Only Child is a rather auspicious debut, one that should do nothing to sully Mostly Bears' still-untarnished standing as one of Tucson's best new bands.
Celebrate the release of Only Child when Mostly Bears perform a CD release party on Friday, July 20, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Opening the all-ages show at 9 p.m. is Austin, Texas' Ghost of the Russian Empire. Admission is $5. Call 622-8848 for more information.
Although it's been available since at least April, the members of Bread and Circus are just now getting around to celebrating the release of their debut album, Spare Me Over (SlowBurn). The album began as the work of singer/songwriter/guitarist John Axtell, an audio engineer who owns Signalhouse Recording studio, and ex-Dharma Bums drummer Sam Donaldson, but was eventually rounded out by the addition of guitarist/singer Eric Johnson (Black Sun Ensemble, Sun Zoom Spark) and bassist Joe Yearego (Los Federales), as well as a number of guest contributors.
Spare Me Over is one of those albums that sounds timeless: It infuses traditional countrified desert rock with elements of folk, rockabilly, blues and psychedelia, with the shadows of Bob Dylan and Neil Young hovering over it in equal measure. Plus, Axtell is a fine songwriter and literary lyricist. "Miss Me" is a jaunty, galloping, "you're gonna miss me when I'm gone" ditty ("I guess time is a river that rolls to the sea / And the sea is a sky for the stars in the trees"), while "My Devil" is a Stonesy take on Faust that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Beggars Banquet.
Of the handful of down-tempo tunes found here, "Salt" stands out as a moody slow-burner; the gorgeous "Radar" benefits from some fine piano work; and "Juanita" is an epic, gospel-tinged retelling of the immaculate conception. Elsewhere, "Astor Place" is a drunkenly giddy, absurd sing-along ("She got kicked in the Astor Place, she fell down with the powder on her face / Woke up in flames on Avenue A, took up a collection and cleaned the whole plate off") complete with handclaps and horns. The bonus track "Buy Something" is a tossed-off critique about consumerism.
Spare Me Over doesn't cover any new ground, but it doesn't need to; it treads the ground it covers splendidly.
Bread and Circus perform a rare live show in celebration of the release of Spare Me Over at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Saturday, July 21. Ghost Cow and Twang Tango will also perform, with music starting somewhere around 9 p.m. For further details, call 622-3535.
THE LEGEND RETURNSGood news for Bob Dylan fans: The Greatest Songwriter Who Ever Lived returns to Tucson this week to perform at AVA at Casino Del Sol, just another stop on his Never Ending Tour.
Dylan's last show at AVA, in October 2002, was notable for a few reasons: It marked the beginning of a period during which the inscrutable Dylan almost exclusively played the keyboard instead of guitar (he did play the ax during the acoustic segment of the show, but not once during the electric portion); and the set list for the show was unusual, even by Dylan's standards, including four rare cover songs: the Stones' "Brown Sugar," Neil Young's "Old Man," and a pair of Warren Zevon songs, "Mutineer" and "Accidentally Like a Martyr" (from which Dylan lifted the title of his umpteenth "comeback" album, 1997's Time Out of Mind). And, finally, it was the last great show Dylan performed in Tucson.
His stop at the Tucson Convention Center Arena last year, which also fell during his keyboard phase (at that show, he didn't pick up a guitar all night), was rather unremarkable in comparison to the AVA show. (It should be noted, too, that he played 20 songs at the AVA show, versus only 14 at Tucson Arena.) But, then, that's part of what going to see Bob Dylan has always been about: You pay your money, and you take your chances.
A couple of signs point to this week's appearance being a good one. First, there's his history at AVA. Who knows? Maybe he just feels comfortable there. I certainly wouldn't presume to know how much of a factor location plays in the equation of a good Dylan show. Second, it appears that he's back to playing mostly guitar during live performances, so hopefully the time off has energized him a bit. If those factors are enough to sell you on picking up a ticket, you'd better act quickly: As of press time, all reserved seats for the show are sold out, with only general-admission lawn seats remaining.
Bob Dylan and his band perform at AVA at Casino Del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road, at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 24. Lawn seats are available for $39.50 at avaconcerts.com or by calling (877) 840-0457.
ON THE BANDWAGONLong Beach Shortbus, an offshoot of the Long Beach Dub Allstars, which itself was an offshoot of Sublime, steers into The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave., on Saturday, July 21. Skitn opens at 8 p.m., and admission is $12. Call 623-3200 for more info.
If you're a regular at Club Congress' BANG! BANG! dance nights every Saturday, you might want to plan ahead and get tickets early this week. In addition to regular DJs Matt McCoy and Dewtron, two-thirds of Le Tigre will be guest DJing at the shindig. Under their Men moniker, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman will be spinning indie-rock, old-school dance jams and mashups guaranteed to get your ass moving. Advance tickets are available online at hotelcongress.com for $7. They may be more at the door, if any remain. Doors open at 9 p.m., and Club Congress is located at 311 E. Congress St. Questions? Call 622-8848.