Some beat-up trash cans, discarded chlorine buckets, a couple of old laundry baskets and an overturned metal dog dish may look like a heap destined for a Dumpster, but the Can Crushers see something different: the makings of a perfect drum set.
Chances are, anyone who frequents Centennial Hall, the Tucson Convention Center or Tucson Electric Park has encountered the Can Crushers. The duo has made a habit out of camping out outside Tucson's major entertainment venues and greeting exiting crowds with a crash, bang, clang that--oddly enough--sounds like music.
Drawing inspiration from novelty drumming acts like STOMP and the Blue Man Group, the Can Crushers march to the beat of a different drum--literally. Using household items in a makeshift drum set, the pair draws a crowd every time they set up on the street--whether it is an audience of sophisticated symphony connoisseurs or some revved-up hockey fans.
"My boys adore them," said Pam Vandivort, who had trouble dragging her two sons away from the music after a Tucson Sidewinders game at TEP. "The boys love seeing them at the end of the game."
The Can Crushers are celebrating their five-year anniversary this year, not bad for a street act that had some rocky beginnings.
Matt Abney, 22, started the group with a classmate after graduating from Canyon del Oro High School in 2001. The two had played in CDO's band together, and after making a big splash at a summer-camp talent show with their trash-cans-as-drums routine, they decided to take the show on the road.
First stop was the Tucson Mall, which they were promptly kicked out of within five minutes of setting up. However, it's worth noting the pair raked in $20 in donations in those five minutes, according to Abney.
Realizing shopping mall acoustics might be problematic, Abney took his act elsewhere, and while he got some odd looks at first, he says there soon came to be an unspoken understanding between the Can Crushers and local entertainment hot spots.
Abney's original partner in the Can Crushers moved on before they started to be recognized and was replaced by now-23-year-old Matt Koski.
Abney met Koski during his freshman year at the UA. Both were on the Pride of Arizona's drum line; yes, they play the real things, too.
After spending a grueling year in marching band together, Abney and Koski decided to hang up their uniforms and "hit the cans" at UA football games instead.
"We figured out that we could play (after) the football games and actually make money doing it," Abney says.
The Can Crushers collect about $40 in donations every time they play, Koski says. These days, the duo is also hired for private gigs around town, and they make some extra cash selling their CD, Jam Tram. Most of that money has either gone toward new drumsticks (a pair of sticks rarely lasts a show) or school expenses.
Koski is a senior at the UA, studying music business. Abney graduated this year with a degree in elementary education, but he plans to stay in Tucson and work as a teacher while continuing to play with the Can Crushers.
Abney, who student-taught at Butterfield Elementary School, says Can Crushers performances always receive rave reviews from the kiddie crowd.
"All the kids I work with think I'm a rock star and want my autograph," he says with a laugh.
Abney says he hopes the Can Crushers can inspire young children to take up drums or get involved in music in some way.
The Can Crushers' repertoire includes a combination of original musical stylings and classic favorites, including a comic rendition of "Wipe Out," complete with vocal sound effects. Samples of their music are available online at www.myspace.com/cancrushers.
The Can Crushers gained a third member, Stuart Smith, last year, but he has been on hiatus from the group to pursue other passions.
"He went to France, because he fell in love with a girl out there," Abney says. "But he'll be back this summer."
With three members, Koski says he hopes the Can Crushers can continue reaching larger audiences.
"We have a stage show in our imaginations," he says.
When Abney's not crushing cans, he writes music and plays the coffee-shop circuit with his guitar. He also plays in the local band August Rein. Koski plays with August Rein as well as funk band Cosmic Slop and the pop/metal band Pymander.
However, it's the Can Crushers performances that get the guys recognized and that reach the most diverse crowds in town.
"The crowds change, and the reception changes," Abney says. "It never gets boring for us."