CLOSE TO COACHELLA—BUT NOT TOO CLOSE
In Tucson, we've gotten used to being the recipient of touring acts stopping in town for a gig on the front or back end of the South by Southwest festival in Austin each March; frankly, we're pretty spoiled by it.
This year, a similar thing is happening in April. For the first time, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival has scheduled its annual gathering(s) for two consecutive weekends—basically the very same acts are playing each weekend—and bands need a place to play in between those weekends.
The festival's organizers have also placed an embargo on those acts performing within a certain distance of the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., where Coachella takes place. Whereas bands might normally just head over to Los Angeles to pick up a couple of shows, they're not being allowed to. Which, for us, means tons of great acts playing at Coachella will be performing in Tucson over the next couple of weeks. (Coachella begins this weekend.)
Here are some highlights to look forward to this week.
RETURN OF THE HOSE
As far as band-origin stories go, fIREHOSE boasts one of the most bittersweet.
From 1980 to 1985, San Pedro, Calif.'s Minutemen were one of the most challenging, inventive bands in the American punk scene, even though punk was just one small element of what they did. They were lumped in with the hardcore and punk bands of the day—Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets—but it likely had to do with the fact that they shared a record label, SST, more than anything. The Minutemen—singer-guitarist D. Boon, bassist-singer Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley—merged funk and jazz with their punk tendencies (along with lyrics that were funny, heartbreaking and political, often at once), and managed to sound unlike any other band before or since.
It all ended in December 1985, when Boon drove his van off Interstate 10, outside of Tucson, in an accident that claimed his life.
Watt and Boon had grown up together and were literally closer than many blood siblings, so Boon's death just plain broke Watt's heart. Rumors circulated at the time that Watt was giving up music, because he simply couldn't bear to perform without Boon next to him.
Those rumors apparently didn't make their way to Ohio, where a devout 21-year-old Minutemen fan named Ed Crawford heard something very different: that Watt and Hurley were auditioning guitarists to form a new band. Crawford apparently called Watt on the phone and asked to come audition; Watt broke the news that there would be no new band. Undeterred, Crawford drove all the way out to California to try to convince Watt and Hurley to give him an audition.
It worked. fIREHOSE formed in 1986, releasing their debut album, Ragin', Full On (SST), that same year. They'd go on to release two more full-lengths on SST before signing with Columbia, which released their last two albums. The band broke up in 1994.
fIREHOSE were certainly not the Minutemen 2.0. They emphasized rock (while still retaining some of the stranger jazz and funk elements of the Minutemen), and as such, never garnered the fan base or influence of the Minutemen. But for those of us who grew up on this stuff, word that fIREHOSE is playing its first shows in 18 years is fantastic news, indeed. Why now? Who cares? The devout don't want to hex it with details.
fIREHOSE performs at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., next Thursday, April 19. The Monitors open at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $12; they'll be $15 on the day of the show. For more information, call 798-1298, or head to plushtucson.com.
CRITICS' DARLINGS UNITED!
As far as critics' darlings go, you can't do much better than the double bill of St. Vincent and tUnE-yArDs at the Rialto Theatre this week—one of only two bills the acts will share on their current tours, thanks to some creative booking by the Rialto folks and the proximity of Coachella to Tucson. And for once, the hype is deserved in both cases.
Both are quirky indie-pop-rock acts fronted by incredibly talented women—but that's pretty much where the similarities end.
Annie Clark, who leads St. Vincent, is an effortlessly gifted guitarist, and it's a joy to watch her fingers snake up and down the fret board, often playing complicated runs while turning in vocal performances and arrangements that are unpredictable, but always sound rather perfect in design—alternately sad, sexy and brutal, and always with heart on sleeve. The indicative opening couplet of "Cheerleader," from last year's Strange Mercy (4AD), her third album: "I've had good times with some bad guys / I've told whole lies with a half-smile." Oh, yeah, and she's been known to occasionally betray her punk roots by pulling out some covers in her live show, most notably a scathing 7 1/2-minute take on Big Black's "Kerosene."
The brainchild of Merrill Garbus, tUnE-yArDs released its debut album, BiRd-BrAiNs, in three or four separate versions, including a handcrafted limited-edition version; a re-release on 4AD once the label caught wind of what she was doing; and another version that added four additional tracks. But it was with her second album, w h o k i l l (4AD), for which she added bassist Nate Brenner (BiRd-BrAiNs was basically a Garbus solo album), that garnered attention from not only critics, but fans. The critics have stuck with her, too: w h o k i l l earned her the top spot in The Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop Critics' Poll, likely the most widely respected poll of its type.
BiRd-BrAiNs was the pastiche of a restless performer who integrated found sounds, field recordings, ukulele and other oddities into a patchwork of sound via loops and home digital-recording methods—and w h o k i l l lost none of the charm of the first album, even as it was recorded in a proper studio with additional musicians. It was the sound of a performer coming into her own.
Live, she's an absolute joy to watch, scrambling around to hit the correct looping trigger and making it look easy to remain in motion for nearly an entire set. She incorporates so many different sounds and genres into the mix that it's nearly impossible to describe her music—there are plenty of world-music sounds and percussion, some hip-hop here, some folk there. If you ever hear someone lament that there's no new ground to be broken in music, I recommend putting on a copy of w h o k i l l. It's some of the most original music out there right now, and I, for one, have never heard anything like it.
St. Vincent and tUnE-yArDs perform an all-ages show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 17. Advance tickets are a bargain at $19 in advance, and $22 on the day of the show. For more information, call 740-1000, or check out rialtotheatre.com.
ON THE BANDWAGON
There's so much more great stuff this week that I implore you to check our listings sections, as I've just scratched the surface. In the meantime, some highlights: the return of Garbage at the Rialto Theatre on Monday, April 16; Mike Doughty at Club Congress on Sunday, April 15; James at the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday, April 18; the season opener of AVA at Casino del Sol with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Robert Cray on Friday, April 13; Community Food Bank Benefit Concert with Amy Rude, The Cordials, Leila Lopez, Shaiken and Molly Kollier at La Cocina on Tuesday, April 17 ($5 cover or two nonperishable food items); Borgore at Club Congress on Wednesday, April 18; Tech N9ne at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, April 13; Second Saturdays all over downtown on Saturday, April 14; Country Thunder USA music festival in Florence, Ariz., from Thursday, April 12, through Sunday, April 15 (more info at countrythunder.com).