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Monday Night, March 13: Solar Culture

Somehow, I completely forgot about the very first West by Southwest (WXSW), a Tucson-style pre-South by Southwest, since so many bands drive through here on their way to Austin, Texas. I showed up to Solar Culture only expecting to see the wigged and British Scout Niblett, so I was a bit startled to discover swarms of people inside Solar Culture, and three bands on the bill before Scout.

Tom Freund took the stage first with just an acoustic guitar, doing your standard white-boy country-esque singer-songwriter thing--about as interesting as CNN. But mid-song, a drummer and a lap steel player hopped on stage; three songs in, Freund added a harmonica to the mix; five songs in, he switched to upright bass, went backward in musical history and played the blues; and by the last song, he was soloing on a mandolin through a wah-wah pedal.

Despite the surprising fun of Freund's set, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to see two more bands, Scout Niblett and still be conscious for work at 6 a.m. New musical festivals that seek to bring more people downtown and more national acts to Tucson always get my vote, and usually my full attention and attendance ... just maybe not on a Monday night.

Tuesday Night, March 14: Club Congress and Vaudeville

At Club Congress, I arrived in the middle of The Cops' set; suddenly, it was Seattle, circa 1991. The band's grunge/punk riffs á la Mudhoney were rocking everyone except the angsty Brit I met in the lobby, who told me he was bored, hated America and that "in Britain, we have bands that can actually play." After The Cops, the Pink Mountaintops brought several tambourines on stage and played the sort of '60s-revival, droning-rhythm stuff that seems to be so hip with the kids these days--you know, tribal rhythms, out-of-key chants, long hair, ill-fitting clothes, and did I mention the tambourines? After the jangling got to be too much, I left for Vaudeville to see Portland, Ore.'s The Joggers. They do the dance-beat thing, but they also do the mid-'90s Orange County punk rock thing on top of it, all while covering Yes' "Long Distance Runaround." The songs were long, layered, decadent and energetic. So, while it was no SXSW, WXSW at least gave Tucson a taste of the real thing: so many bands, so little sleep.

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