In addition to being one of the nicest guys in rock, San Francisco's John Vanderslice is many things: a veteran of pop experimentalists MK Ultra; owner and operator of Tiny Telephone, an affordable analog recording studio that boasts an impressive roster of house engineers that includes Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists), Scott Solter (Spoon, Okkervil River), J. Robbins (Dismemberment Plan, Jets to Brazil) and Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Low)--sort of the Wavelab of the Bay Area; the prankster behind the "Bill Gates Must Die" lawsuit hoax from several years ago; one hell of a songwriter and pop craftsman; and reviver of the maligned concept album.
Yep, Vanderslice is a big fan of thematic records. Most, if not all, of his solo albums have fallen into this category: Time Travel Is Lonely (Barsuk, 2001) is the story of a guy isolated in Antarctica; 2002's Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (Barsuk) is exactly what its title suggests; and each of Cellar Door's (Barsuk, 2004) dozen songs was inspired by one of his favorite films.
Last year's Pixel Revolt (Barsuk), however, was a bit more complicated in scope. The album--a musical collaboration with the aforementioned Solter, and a lyrical collaboration with The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle--was originally intended to be a treatise about his disgust with the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, but while it was being written, Vanderslice fell in and out of love. The final version encompasses the time-worn themes of love and war, and the loss that often results in both, in entirely unexpected and non-clichéd ways.
"Exodus Damage," for example, incorporates the name of an arcade game ("Dance Dance Revolution") into its chorus as it explores conspiracy theories about Sept. 11: "So the second plane hit at 9:02 / I saw it live on a hotel TV, talking on my cell with you / You said this would happen, and just like that, it did ... An hour went by without a fighter in the sky / You said there's a reason why / So tell me now, I must confess / I'm not sick enough to guess." It eventually becomes a plea for that "one person (who) could solve everything" (that's where the love part comes in). Despite its lyrical complexity, and thanks to a gorgeous melody and an arrangement that incorporates treated tabla drums, pipe organ, vibraphone and "mellotron vocal choir," it also happens to be one of the most infectious songs on the album. Welcome to the difficult but rewarding world of John Vanderslice.
Opening the show is Laura Veirs, a Seattle-based singer-songwriter who's been releasing albums since 1999, but whose Year of Meteors (Nonesuch), released last year, finally garnered her the attention she deserves. The album--itself a concept album of sorts, about traveling--expertly demonstrates the cleverness that only comes with hyperliteracy. Veirs' voice, meanwhile, somehow manages to combine the melancholy of Cat Power's Chan Marshall with the emotional detachment of Suzanne Vega.
John Vanderslice and Laura Veirs perform at 9:45 p.m. on Monday, May 8. Plush is located at 340 E. Sixth St. Admission is $8. For more information, call 798-1298.
Two years ago, the band was again slated to play a Tucson show, this time at Plush. Again, the gig was cancelled, reportedly due to disharmony within the band's camp, though it's not too difficult to surmise the root of that disharmony.
According to just about anyone who's ever had to work with him, Mark E. Smith--who for all intents and purposes is The Fall (he's the only constant member since the band's inception, in 1977)--is a complete bastard.
There's a reason why ex-Fall members number in the 40s. For a recent article in the Guardian Unlimited, Dave Simpson attempted to track down every one of them, and the people he met told some rather disturbing stories: a guitarist who was fired when he hit Smith back, after Smith slapped each band member following a sub-par gig; a keyboard player who lasted one day, but revealed that Smith warmed up for gigs by barking like a dog; an early bassist who had a chair thrown at him by Smith. Nervous breakdowns, schizophrenia and at least one suicide--all are part of the legacy of The Fall.
So why should we care? Why should you spend your hard-earned money on a guy who's that much of an asshole? Because The Fall have rightly earned their place in rock history as one of the most influential bands to come out of the British punk scene. Because, as imitated as they are, no one sounds like The Fall. Because without The Fall, there would be no Pavement, Franz Ferdinand, Sonic Youth or any band with barked lyrics and/or angular guitars. Because British DJ John Peel, whose impeccable taste in music was legendary, called them "the band against which all others are judged." Because after almost 30 years, they're still at it. And because this week brings what may be your only opportunity to see them live.
The Fall are, um, scheduled to perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Saturday, May 6. The Talk open at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $18. They'll be $20 on the day of show. For further details, call 622-8848.
You love them; you despise them; you have wet nightmares about them: For the first time in more than a year The Zsa Zsas will mangle all your guilty pleasures in honor of Cinco de Mayo at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 5 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Opening the fiesta at 9 p.m. are Juan Pablo and Electroshockbox. Cover is $6, and that number again is 622-8848.
The very same night, Friday, May 5, Tom Walbank and the Ambassadors will work their brand of Delta-blues hoodoo on you at Nimbus Brewing Company Taproom, 3850 E. 44th St. Things get kickin' at 8:30 p.m., and admission is a fiver. Call 745-9175 for more info.
Impossible Shapes frontman Chris Barth moonlights as Norman Oak, described as a lo-fi project that connects the musical dots between Syd Barrett and Hank Williams. He'll be at ITL Coffee Shop, 415 N. Fourth Ave., on Sunday, May 7. Opening the show at 8 p.m. are Golden Boots, who promise the use of enjoyment-enhancing 3-D "Lazovision" glasses for each audience member. Admission is free, with a recommended donation for the out-of-towner. Call 624-4411 for more info.
Finally, the Diamond Center in the Desert Diamond Casino, 1100 W. Pima Mine Road, continues its pursuit as the home for wayward, kick-ass rock bands from the '70s and '80s as The Go Go's arrive on the premises at 7 p.m. next Thursday, May 11. Advance tix are available for $25, $30, $35 and $50 at the box office at either Desert Diamond location, by phone at 393-2799 or online at ticketmaster.com. They'll be $5 more on the day of the show. For further details, call 393-2700.