Tuesday, Dec. 1

"Who fucking planned this? / They should be fired / Can't you finish one thing / before you start another?"

That lyric could be about the last couple of years in downtown Tucson, but it's actually a cry from the heart of Phoenix regarding construction of the light-rail system. The words inspired in the Plush audience an unfamiliar sense of empathy for our brethren from the north. We might reflexively regard Phoenicians as homogeneously cretinous, but these Haymarket Squares guys are different. With such small steps, revolutionary roads are traveled.

No Tucsonan could diss our capitol city with such zesty panache as the Haymarket Squares. They know the place that much better. Top-shelf venom coursed through a new song about Sheriff Joe, but throughout the set, the band's premium, metro-Phoenix snaps filled the room with knowing chuckles.

Fortunately for their prospects outside of Arizona, most Haymarket Squares songs focus on more universal themes: one part war, a couple parts religion, and one part activist smörgåsbord (environmental, food and animal cruelty; the economy; solidarity).

Chicago's Haymarket Square is notoriously the site of an 1886 labor rally that anarchists turned into a riot when police tried to shut it down. Several people died. The echoes of that event were very much alive in what the Haymarket Squares call their "Punkgrass for the People."

Parachute instructor and band founder Mark Sunman got the idea for the band when he bought a mandolin and started listening to '90s anarchist punks This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb. It wasn't clear if he's ever heard of Bill Monroe, though. About the only link to bluegrass was acoustic instrumentation, including upright bass, banjo and mandolin.

Such change-the-world folk hasn't been heard much since Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, except by punk rockers. The Haymarket Squares honored the first principles of punk: velocity, volume and the virtue of D.I.Y. (Example: They made CD covers by hand from recycled beer cartons.)

Band members reported, by the way, that the light-rail mess has turned out well. They say it's contributing to the growth of a pretty cool scene. Perhaps a few Tucsonans should trek up there and show some solidarity with the handful of like minds.


More by Linda Ray

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