When the band came into existence about four years ago, it was called The Crowd. They eventually released a debut EP, Secret Serpents, under that name. But after a while, an old Orange County punk band made it known that The Crowd's name was theirs, and that if Tucson's The Crowd harbored any hopes of playing gigs in California, they'd better find a new name. Thus, The Crowd became the Holy Rolling Empire and played their first California shows. They also got to work on the follow-up to Secret Serpents, which they hoped to release just a few short months after the name change.
That was about two years ago. This week, the Holy Rolling Empire finally release Gigantis, the group's long-delayed, debut full-length album.
While The Crowd was one of those bands that seemed to appear fully formed out of nowhere, with a fine EP as a calling card, the extra time that the Holy Rolling Empire put in on the recording of Gigantis nonetheless is there for the hearing. The HRE has always traded in a sound that combined '60s influences from the likes of The Who and the Beatles--specifically the blues elements of the former and the pop and psychedelia of the latter--with a thoroughly modern sensibility derived from indie rock. That hasn't changed on Gigantis, but the songs are more evolved and ambitious than those found on the EP. In other words, it won't disappoint those who have been wondering what the hell was taking so long.
Recorded with both Nathan Sabatino and Harvey Moltz, Gigantis opens with "If You Can't Beat It, Fuck It," which sounds an awful lot like the late Elliott Smith--if he had shot himself with Vitamin B12 instead of heroin--being backed by The Beatles. "Robot Command Band Jam Bandstand Band Man the Band," which follows, starts in ballad mode, allowing singer Orin Shochat to show off his croon, which is substantial enough to make sentiments like, "Because you know I'm underpaid, and I sold, I sold your stereo," actually sound romantic. But before you know it, this slow-burner of a song has built to a crescendo, drops out, then builds even bigger, before ending abruptly--all in less than five minutes. This leads straight into "Bipolar Bear Mania," another Beatlesque number, in which the vocal and guitar melody on the verses are one and the same. (See: "I Want You [She's So Heavy]" and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun.")
The band's members are not only fine players able to handle the difficult arrangements on display here; they also provide the songs with flawless, soaring harmony vocals that complement Shochat's voice extremely well. Look no further than "Space Crime Continuum" or "Mostly Bananas," among other songs, for proof. A lot of these numbers have been played live for a while now, including "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," whose relatively unfussy arrangement makes it probably the most instantly accessible song on the album.
The Holy Rolling Empire has always been a band that has shied away from facile hooks and 4/4 time signatures in favor of complex arrangements, and Gigantis is no exception. It's easy to be impressed by the album on first listen, but it'll take a few spins before it starts to penetrate. Listeners willing to give it enough attention to get to that point will be justly rewarded.
Gigantis was released on March 3, and the band will host a CD-release party at 8 p.m., Friday, March 6, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., featuring a killer lineup of opening acts: Mostly Bears, Transfer, The American Black Lung and The Otterssey. The show is open to those 18 and up, and attendees have two choices for admission: $6 gets you into the show, while $10 gets you admission plus a copy of the CD. For more information, call 622-8848.
Stick around, and head into the main room in back at 9:30 p.m. for a Mudhouse Records showcase that will feature the stompin' blues of Tom Walbank, the desert-fried country warbles of Golden Boots and the blazing country rock of Fourkiller Flats. It'll cost a mere $5 to migrate from the front of the club into the back. Questions about either show will be answered by calling 798-1298.
Additionally, this month the location will also try on a Friday night show for size: Quincy, Gaza Strip and The Tangelos will play the Shrine at 8 p.m., Friday, May 20.
Admission to each show is $6. For more info, head to shrinersrock.com, or call 407-6324.
Best known for his impressions of Gene Simmons, Sam Kinison and Christopher Walken, among others, on Sirius XM's The Howard Stern Show, comedian Craig Gass will be recording a comedy special and companion live album when he performs at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Saturday, March 7. The all-ages show begins at 7:30 p.m. with opening stand-up sets by Jason Stewart and Courtney Cronin. $21 and $23; 740-1000.
Von Iva, aka Zooey Deschanel's band in the Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man, who juxtapose soulful vocals against a chilly backdrop, will return to town on Saturday, March 7, for a show at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Opening at 9:30 p.m. are Brooklyn's Semi Precious Weapons and Tucson's R'Cougar. $6; 798-1298.
Triple-A singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson, who can thank none other than Perez Hilton for his career's ascendancy, will perform at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., on Friday, March 6. Locals Crossing Sarnoff open the all-ages show; doors open at 7 p.m. $13 in advance; $15 day of the show; 629-9211.
One of the few current emo bands to garner decent reviews from critics, Chicago's The Academy Is ... take their Snakes and Suits Acoustic Tour to the stage at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., next Thursday, March 12. The all-ages show starts at 7 p.m. with This Providence and Evan Taubenfeld. $12; 622-8848.
Acclaimed alt-folkie Laura Gibson will arrive at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Friday, March 6, in support of her brand-new album, Beats of Seasons (Hush). Opening the all-ages show at 9 p.m. are the lovely Musee Mecanique and Naim Amor. $7; 884-0874.
A few days later, on Tuesday, March 10, that same venue will play host to the highly regarded electronic music artist Eliot Lipp. Michna opens this all-ager at 9 p.m. Solar Culture is located at 31 E. Toole Ave. $8; 884-0874.
Native American healer and recording artist Tony Redhouse will perform selections from his latest CD, Deep Within (2008, self-released), at Borders, 4235 N. Oracle Road, at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 7. Admission is free, but proceeds from CD sales will be donated to The Haven, a local women's rehab center; 292-1331.
R.I.P., Paul Harvey.