FROM STATES TO SANTA
Thanksgiving has come and gone, which means we're all being inundated with Christmas music, whether we like it or not. Just as holiday bargains arrive earlier each year, so, too, do a thousand different versions of "Joy to the World." Still, each holiday season, throngs of musicians head out on tour with their Christmas-themed concerts. With the music itself being so inescapable, why would anyone actually pay to see this stuff?
Well, some people, myself included, actually like Christmas music (though I would do just fine only hearing it for the last couple of weeks before the actual holiday, thanks). And sometimes, those shows aren't just one performer's rote takes on holiday classics.
One of the earliest Christmas concerts to hit town will also likely be one of the most interesting, inventive and entertaining we'll see this season.
Sufjan Stevens doesn't do anything half-assed. Sure, we're still waiting for his concept albums about the other 48 states—Stevens recorded two albums, Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003) and Come on Feel the Illinoise (2005), each devoted entirely to its titular state, and claimed that he planned to do one for each of the remaining states. (He later backed off that claim.) Those two albums are nothing short of masterpieces—musically rich, detailed explorations of an alternate history of each region. Both of those albums were released on Asthmatic Kitty, a label he co-owns, as is all of his musical output.
Which matters for this reason: What label would allow one of its artists to release not one, but two box sets of Christmas music, as Stevens has done? The first, Songs for Christmas, arrived in 2006 containing 42 songs, both originals and classics, on five CDs; stickers; a sing-along book; a pair of short stories by Stevens; an essay by Rick Moody; a poster of Stevens decked out in full X-mas regalia; and more. Its follow-up, Silver and Gold, was released on Nov. 13 and similarly contains five EPs of music; an 80-page book; temporary tattoos (emo Jesus! Japanimation unicorn!); and a DIY Christmas tree ornament. Like I said, the guy doesn't do anything half-assed.
The music itself ranges from original song-sketches that others might have filed away to some of the most gorgeous takes on holiday classics you're likely to hear. Stevens' fragile, beautiful voice helps. It's goofy; it's reverent; and it's quite a trip. With Stevens' penchant for theatricality, you can bet that the holiday-themed show he brings to town this week will be all that and more.
Kick off the holiday season properly by attending the Sufjan Stevens Christmas Sing-Along: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice, which takes place on Monday, Dec. 3, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Sheila Saputo opens the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $20 and available at rialtotheatre.com or 740-1000. Use the same info for questions.
FORMING NEW ALT-ROCK MEMORIES
Formed in the summer of 2011 and containing former members of Sleeping Violet and Flashing Amber Lights, Tucson five-piece In Repair releases its debut album this week.
Self-produced and recorded, and mixed by Bradley Torrison, Souvenirs (self-released) harks back to the '90s age of post-grunge, after the wave of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden soundalikes had passed, but when driving, distorted riffs and earnest, yearning vocals were still in vogue. Although the band doesn't sound much like them, it's probably a safe bet that fans of Foo Fighters and Incubus will dig In Repair.
Souvenirs—14 songs in 50 minutes—if a tad long, is surprisingly cohesive. Too often, debut albums tend to sound samey (especially over 50 minutes), but the songs on In Repair's debut, while all in an alt-rock vein, are remarkably diverse. Album opener "Consent to Treatment" is what its title suggests, a song about addiction; while the lyrics could be lifted from a Tool album, the charging (not-so-moody) guitars suggest otherwise. "Lather, Rinse, Repeat" surfs on a nifty three-note lead-guitar part, and benefits from a too-short middle section in which the lyrics are simultaneously sung and spoken. At just longer than two minutes, "Square Peg, Round Soul," a burst of punk energy with double-time bass-drum blasts, is one of the best songs on the album.
Elsewhere, "Better Than Me," a nice exercise in soft-loud dynamics (something the band excels at), contains a soaring chorus, but the softer parts sound a bit forced, or over-earnest, or something. But the acoustic closer, "Car Crashes and Cancer," fares far better on the soft parts (which is to say, all of it). Though it doesn't sound much like punk rock, Souvenirs is a fine debut album influenced by bands that were influenced by punk.
In Repair will celebrate the release of Souvenirs with a CD-release show at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., next Thursday, Dec. 6. The band will perform in between headliners Signals and openers Sleep Trigger, who begin the night at 9 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information, head to plushtucson.com, or call 798-1298.
CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED CAJUN PUNKS
Punk rock has infiltrated a number of musical genres that one would never associate with it. The Pogues brought punk to traditional Irish music; Gogol Bordello merged it with gypsy music; and now there's the Lost Bayou Ramblers, who bring punk energy to Cajun music.
Actually, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have been around since 1999, when Lafayette, La.-based brothers Louis and Andre Michot, whose father and uncles toured the world playing traditional songs as Les Frères Michot, formed the band. The Ramblers initially took after them, playing traditional acoustic Cajun music (which they continue to do), but somewhere along the way, they forged their own sound, a stomping, bass-drum-heavy, fiddle-and-accordion-led twist on the traditional music, updated for modern ears. As such, it will please both fans of the traditional stuff and those with modern tastes.
Each of their six albums has garnered wild-eyed praise, and the band has been nominated for a Grammy. Listening to their latest, Mammoth Waltz (Bayou Perdu), it's easy to see why. You won't understand most of the lyrics on Mammoth Waltz—they're sung in Cajun French—but it won't matter. Nor will it matter if you've got any BeauSoleil albums on your iPod. The band's music is so infectious, it doesn't really matter what you normally listen to; you will love these guys. If you don't believe me, ask the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, Dr. John, or Scarlett Johansson (yes, that Scarlett Johansson), all of whom have guest spots on Mammoth Waltz.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers ramble into Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave., for a show on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Ramblers will perform at 6 p.m., followed by a set by Tony and the Torpedoes at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 at the door. For more details, head to boondockslounge.com, or call 690-0991.
ON THE BANDWAGON
We've run out of room to tell you about all of the other great stuff happening this week, so be sure to check out our listings section and our music blog, We Got Cactus, for more details. In the meantime, some highlights: How to Dress Well, Beacon, and ... music video? at Solar Culture Gallery on Saturday, Dec. 1; Doug Stanhope at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 1; The Audacity, Big Eyes and Lenguas Largas at the District Tavern on Wednesday, Dec. 5; POG benefit featuring Kaia Chesney, Algae and Tentacles, Ghost Writer and gHosTcOw at Plush on Wednesday, Dec. 5; Tiësto College Invasion Tour at AVA at Casino del Sol on Wednesday, Dec. 5; Math the Band, Jaime J. and The Gym Clique (brilliant name!) at Solar Culture Gallery on Tuesday, Dec. 4; Pinups for Pets benefit for Tucson CARES animal rescue featuring live burlesque and performances by Rattle Rockin' Boys and the Black Sleep at Surly Wench Pub on Saturday, Dec. 1; Tinsels cassette-release party with Tom Grrrl, S.L.F.M. and Cypress Estrada at Tucson Live Music Space on Tuesday, Dec. 4; Zion I at The Hut, next Thursday, Dec. 6; DJ BL3ND and 2ToneDisco at The Rock on Friday, Nov. 30; Pacific Air and Blondfire at Club Congress on Sunday, Dec. 2; Authority Zero and Fayuca at The Hut on Friday, Nov. 30; Dream Sick, St. Ranger and Secret Meetings at Sky Bar on Saturday, Dec. 1; Hollywood Hate, Sabertooth Snatch, Sorry State and Vanish Twin at the District Tavern on Friday, Nov. 30; Impending Flip CD-release at La Cocina on Wednesday, Dec. 5; Mynx, Gay Kiss and Man Bites Dog at Tanline Printing on Saturday, Dec. 1; Blue Christmas: A Holiday Salute to the King at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 1; Black Jackalope Ensemble, Boreas and Union Pacific at La Cocina, next Thursday, Dec. 6.