Sonny Vincent with Shovel at The District Tavern, Wednesday, July 17

Sonny Vincent is one of the original New York Punks, recording since the late '70s and connected to such legends as Suicide, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, and The Dead Boys. He's never stopped recording or performing and along the way has collaborated with members of the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and the Replacements, among others. He's as talented and captivating as Richard Hell or Johnny Thunders, and it's pretty obvious Paul Westerberg swiped a few tricks from him. How he slipped under the radar is mystifying, but the good news is that he paid Tucson a visit that I, for one, will not be forgetting anytime in the near future.

Vincent rattled his three-piece band through one amazing song after another, most of them under two minutes in length. He commanded The District's tiny stage with the confidence of a seasoned veteran but with the fury that made early punk so thrilling and vital. This unsung hero from the era of anti-heroes made it very, very clear that rock 'n' roll will never die as long as you really fucking mean it.

Of equal importance was Vincent's sound — not the three chord bashers or the beautiful loser elegies he performed — the way he turned his Les Paul (a guitar that everybody and their mother plays) into a serrated shard of glass, plainly illustrating the adage that equipment is unimportant; what matters is the soul. And it bled out in perfect harmony with Vincent's voice: one that survived and flourished to tell the stories many of his contemporaries died for and from. It may only be July, but we just may have experienced the year's best concert.

Under any other circumstances, opening band Shovel would have stolen the show. The Phoenix duo brought back fond memories of the early '90s, when squalling noise-rock actually felt like catharsis, not vacant posturing. The songs were excellent and the performance was mesmerizing. When frontwoman Dusty Rose broke her guitar strings and then subjected said guitar to kicking, throwing and various other abuses, it resonated as a meaningful act because, like Sonny Vincent, it was for real.

These artists also introduced some members of the audience who weren't aware of punk's history and legacy to the living, breathing artifact.

Punk used to save lives. I'm pleased to report it still can.


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