TUCSON FINALLY GETS SPIRITUALIZED
Live-music fans living in Tucson must accept at least a slight form of diminished expectations: There are certain acts that will never perform here—bands that one expects to need to drive to Phoenix, or maybe even Los Angeles, to see. Maybe the band is just too big, and they demand enough money per performance that Tucson audiences would never accept the high ticket prices that would accompany such an act. Maybe the band rarely tours, and when it does, it sticks to those bigger, primary markets.
The latter has been the case with Spiritualized, who will perform in Tucson this week for the first time since its inception in 1990. The band emerged out of the ashes of Spacemen 3, a drone-rock band that embraced minimalism and drug references in equal measure. The core of that band was the duo of Pete Kember (aka Sonic Boom) and Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman), and when they broke up, Pierce quickly assembled the first version of Spiritualized, which kept some of Spacemen 3's qualities intact, but messed with others.
Like Spacemen 3, Spiritualized keep basic song structures to a minimum: Three chords is plenty. There are also still plenty of drug references in the songs, but Spiritualized adds doses of the sacred to the profane in the form of allusions to Jesus and gospel, or—dare I say—spiritual elements: choirs, for example. And then there are Pierce's arrangements and production, which can transform a three-chord song into something else entirely—a countermelody here (check out the title track to 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen ... We Are Floating in Space, in which one of the melodies somehow morphs into "Can't Help Falling in Love" by song's end); a gospel motif, string section or horn chart there.
If that's your sort of thing, Spiritualized have never really made a bad album, and their seventh and latest, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light (Fat Possum, 2012), continues in that tradition. Pierce has tinkered with the basic formula before, giving 1995's Pure Phase completely separate mixes in the left and right channels, for example, but on Sweet Heart, he chooses to perfect the formula rather than toy with it.
Most of the album is slow or midtempo, which is consistent with the Spiritualized M.O., but it opens with one of the band's faster-paced songs, the nine-minute rocker "Hey Jane," which achieves transcendence without the gospel choir. But that's not indicative of what's in store on the rest of the album, in which the pace is slowed to what we've come to expect from Spiritualized. If it contained a few more layers of guitars, the Eastern motif of "Get What You Deserve" might resemble the shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine. With its gorgeous string build-up, "Too Late" could be a track from a mid-'90s Mercury Rev album.
In other words, Pierce's genius is taking a song constructed quite basically and adding layer upon layer of flourishes that render it something full and beautiful—deceptively simple yet gloriously complicated.
Spiritualized perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Friday, May 18. The all-ages show begins at 8 p.m. with an opening set by Nikki Lane. Tickets are $22 in advance, or $25 on the day of the show. For more information, call 740-1000, or head to rialtotheatre.com.
THE EVOLUTION OF MORRISSEY
Morrissey, the legendary British solo artist and former singer-songwriter for The Smiths, seems to visit Tucson every five years. He performed at the Rialto in August 2002, and the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall in 2007. This week, he returns to the Music Hall—five years later, on perfect schedule.
A funny thing happened between those two aforementioned performances. At the Rialto show, he still seemed to be trying to outrun his Smiths legacy, performing only a couple of songs by his former band. But by the 2007 show, he seemed more comfortable—looser, even—as he dodged fan after fan charging the stage to give him a hug, offer him a flower or propose marriage. He also divvied up the set list not quite evenly between solo songs and Smiths classics. It was something of a greatest-hits set, and the devoted listeners hung on every move by the charismatic frontman.
Let's face it: As far as a catalog of songs goes, Morrissey's is tough to top. Straddling the line between the morbid/melancholy and the intellectually hilarious, Morrissey's songwriting has influenced a generation or two that came after him, but no one has yet come close to approaching a perfect Morrissey song (no matter how hard The Decemberists may try).
I won't predict what will be on the set list when Morrissey returns this week, but it doesn't really matter. His fans are slavishly devoted, often following him on tour like alt-nation Deadheads, and you can bet they'd be in attendance even if the show were being touted as "Morrissey performs Kill Uncle in its entirety."
Morrissey performs at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 23. Kristeen Young opens the all-ages show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets range from $39.50 to $127.50, plus service charges, and are available through Ticketmaster or at the venue box office. For further info, call 791-4101.
SUPPORT MORE LOCAL RADIO!
A local group has been getting its ducks in a row to start a low-power FM radio station (LPFM) in downtown Tucson. One of the group's founders, Jason LeValley, says that the station is intended to be housed within the Access Tucson building, which will allow radio and TV simulcasts of live performances and such. This is all dependent on the Federal Communications Commission's approval of a license for such a station, of course, but LeValley reports to us that "it's safe to say that we are way ahead of the curve in terms of being able to submit an impressive application. With a little luck, we will be on the air in early 2013."
Ask the folks at KXCI FM 91.3, and they'll tell you that even with a bare-bones operation such as theirs, you need an infusion of cash to keep the station on the air—which is why there will be a benefit show for the LPFM station this week.
The event will take place at 10 p.m., Friday, May 18, at La Cocina, 201 N. Court Ave. Headlining the bill will be Holy Rolling Empire, whose singer, Orin Shochat, will be making his last performance with the band as a Tucson resident (he's moving to Los Angeles; the band will continue, but expect local shows to become far more rare). Blind Divine and The Wolfgang will perform at the benefit prior to HRE. Admission is a suggested donation of $5. For more information, head to lacocinatucson.com, or call 622-0351.
The third installment of the quarterly series ChamberLab—for which composer-musician Chris Black asks local musicians who perform other styles of music to compose chamber-music pieces, which are then performed live once—arrives this week. The composers this time around, in addition to Black, are Marco Rosano, Dante Rosano and Benjamin DeGain (Discos). And, hell, when was the last time you went to a show in which a contrabassoon was a primary instrument?
ChamberLab returns to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Saturday, May 19. Doors open at 8 p.m., and cover is $5. For more info, head to hotelcongress.com/club.
While it's certainly accurate to call the legendary Taj Mahal a bluesman, it's also hard to name another blues performer who has infused the style with as many outside influences over the years—something of a rarity for the blues. But check out his catalog, and you'll find diversions into jazz, reggae, gospel, African and Latin influences. He may not be a purist, but he's still one hell of a bluesman.
Taj Mahal performs at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St., next Thursday, May 24. The show begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets, available at the venue's box office or online at foxtucsontheatre.org, range from $28 to $86. For more information, call 547-3040.
ON THE BANDWAGON
We've run out of room here, so be sure to check our listings for info about other great shows this week, including performances by Rebecca Gates and the Consortium; Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars; Lil Flip; Pennywise and Guttermouth; Khaira Arby; The Shondes; Cumbia Machin; Twiztid and Kottonmouth Kings; Heather Hardy and the Lil' Mama Band and TJ Swan; and lots, lots more.