What are the odds that two up-and-coming Seattle bands would each play a free show on successive nights in Tucson? This week, I'd give you even money.
First up, on Tuesday, Dec. 7, the Starlings set up shop in the lounge at Plush. The trio—Joy Mills, Tom Parker and Aimee Zoe Tubbs—is currently working on a full-length follow-up to its 2008 album, Marveling the While. An early 2010 release is expected, but in the meantime, the group has issued a limited edition, self-released EP called Gravity.
Give that EP a listen, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Starlings have shared a bill with the Avett Brothers. Both bands play country-tinged pop songs on instruments often associated with bluegrass (though the mandolin figures far more prominently in the Avetts' music), and drums are utilized only about half the time. And, as with the Avetts, the songwriting and vocal harmonies are the real stars here.
The opening song, "Untitled," could have come straight from I and Love and You were it not for Joy Mills' lovely voice harmonizing with Tom Parker. (Parker's voice even recalls that of Scott Avett, and not in a bad way.) It's also possibly the only song on the EP that incorporates electric guitar. Mills' voice is more trad-country, and it shines brightly on songs like "Apple Tree" and the spare "Aloysius," the latter of which isn't difficult to imagine finding on a Neko Case album. The upbeat sing-along "Blue Dog" is the lone political song here, and one of the highlights, with Parker talk-singing his way through lines such as: "Turns out the American dream / has always been a Ponzi scheme / Give me your money if you want to have more / There's a couple rich men to a million poor."
The Starlings perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., at 9:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 7. Admission is free. For more information, call 798-1298.
The following night, fellow Seattle-ites Grand Hallway will attempt to cram into the Red Room at Grill. It won't be easy: The self-described orchestral pop group is eight members strong. The second Seattle band to perform in Tucson in three weeks whose two-word name begins with "Grand" (Grand Archives recently played at Plush), Grand Hallway is led by singer-songwriter Tomo Nakayama, whose voice is pitched high enough to occupy that space somewhere between the obviously male and the obviously female. This summer, the group self-released its second full-length, Promenade, which followed another album and an EP. The trio of songs from Promenade streaming on the band's MySpace page make the group's live show sound awfully promising.
"Raindrops" is the one that will likely draw you in right off the bat. It starts off with some gently finger-picked guitar and a couple of piano chords backing Nakayama's gentle voice—recalling what would happen if Simon and Garfunkel teamed up with Pinback before picking up enough steam that it reminds one of those sadly uplifting songs that Arcade Fire does so well. It is, in a word, gorgeous. "Blessed Be Honey Bee" is almost as good, a sweet, sweeping love song highlighted by strings, pedal steel guitar and a Beatles-esque chord change that makes good on the "orchestral pop" tag.
Catch Grand Hallway in the cozy Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Dec. 8, while you can. It's a safe bet they'll be playing in a larger room next time around. Tucson's dangerbunny starts the night off at about 10 p.m. Admission, as always, is free. Call 623-7621 for further details.
Regular readers probably know I'm not the biggest fan of KFMA FM 92.1, but I'm also willing to give credit where credit is due: The station was one of the first in the country to play Cage the Elephant, the Bowling Green, Ky.-based band whose popularity has skyrocketed as 2009 has progressed. If KFMA is one of your presets, you probably know the group's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," which merges acoustic blues slide guitar with rap vocal phrasing à la Beck's "Loser." If you like that song but haven't heard the rest of the album, chances are you'll dig it, as well as the band's live performance this week.
Even as the group culls elements from a variety of genres—blues, rock, rap, funk, swamp rock, punk—on its self-titled debut album (RCA/Jive, 2009), it retains a sound of its own. "Tiny Little Robots," for example, recalls a Jack White song, but it doesn't exactly sound like the Raconteurs or White Stripes. "In One Ear" merges stomping blues riffs with hip-hop-influenced vocals, but it doesn't sound like Led Zeppelin or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "Lotus" reminds of Arctic Monkeys ... well, OK, an awful lot, but you get the idea. So they're not the most original band to emerge this year, but you could do a lot worse than a fun, young, energetic band that clearly loves to rock.
Cage the Elephant performs an early all-ages show at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9. Admission is $10, and the number to call with questions is 622-8848.
Parasol Project, the local arts and performance organization whose hands seem to be all over recent events around town, will host a two-night salute to the time-honored tradition of the one-man band.
Tonight, Thursday, Dec. 3, the group will screen One Man in the Band, a 2008 documentary on the subject that had its West Coast premiere at the Tucson Film and Music Festival in October. The film begins at 7 p.m., and admission is free—as is the popcorn. All ages are welcome.
The following evening, Friday, Dec. 4, the fun continues with the self-explanatory A One-Man Band Fest, which will feature performances from Al Foul, Mosquito Bandito, Becky Lee and Drunkfoot, Al Perry, Jimmy Carr, The Tambourines, Bee Bones, Special Head and Parasolo. The evening's proceedings begin at 6 p.m. and run until around midnight. Admission is $7 and is open only to those 21 and older. Both events will be held at Parasol Project, 299 S. Park Ave. More information is available at parasolproject.com.
Lisa Otey's Owl's Nest Productions, which is celebrating its 15th year, closes out 2009 with the Fifth Annual Boogie Woogie Blowout, in which four pianists perform tunes on two pianos. This year's participants are Sue Palmer, Wendy DeWitt, Doña Oxford and Otey. Each will perform a solo set and a duet set, as well as a grand finale in which all four perform on a single piano.
The show hits Green Valley's Community Performing Arts Center on Friday, Dec. 4, Phoenix's Rhythm Room on Saturday, Dec. 5, and Pima Community College West Center for the Arts for a matinee show on Sunday, Dec. 6. For further details, head to lisaotey.com.
As part of its Tribute to Albert Maysles, the legendary documentary filmmaker, the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., will screen Gimme Shelter, the chilling documentary chronicling the Rolling Stones' concert debacle at Altamont, at noon on Sunday, Dec. 6. Two bonuses: The screening just happens to fall on the 40th anniversary of the concert, and Maysles himself will be present for a meet-and-greet an hour before the film begins. For more info, head to loftcinema.com, or call 795-0844.
Be sure to check our listings this week for information about the following: Tucson Kitchen Musicians' Association Holiday Concert/TKMA Benefit for the 25th Annual Tucson Folk Festival; For the Love 3: The Casa de los Niños Benefit Concert; Doug Stanhope; Tim Wiedenkeller Band; Breathe Carolina; 92.9 FM The Mountain's Winter Wonderjam with Train, Five for Fighting and Ryanhood; The Faceless; Manheim Steamroller; Sara Evans' Christmas show; Triple Double Band, Ethos and Vine St.; Holy Rolling Empire, Four Five Six and Dead Western Plains; Peachcake and Feel Good Revolution.
Finally, please note that tickets for JohnJay and Rich's Strictly Tucson Phooson featuring 3OH!3, Jason Derulo and Justin Bieber, at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, Dec. 4, are completely sold out.