THANK DISNEY FOR THIS ROCK BAND
At a time when folk-rock or anything remotely Americana-sounding has a jump on most other artists on the Billboard charts, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals could hardly have timed their ascent any better.
Not that you'll find any "Hey! Ho!" chant-alongs among the band's five albums – but you will find the Nocturnals laying down a tightly made fabric of all variety of blues-based music: swampy blues rock, funky blues, Southern blues, Memphis soul. They provide a fine bed for Potter's gritty vocals, which by turn remind of Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, and Bonnie Bramlett; and her Hammond B3 playing adds plenty of sexy slink to the proceedings.
Potter's story will be familiar to anyone who follows young female singer-songwriters these days. Though she and her music sound like she came from the South, she was actually raised in Vermont by parents with a killer record collection, which they shared with their daughter willingly. She began playing in clubs in her teens, and while playing an open mic, met drummer Matt Burr, who was attending the same upstate New York university as Potter. The pair formed Grace Potter and the Nocturnals after adding musicians to fill out the sound and got to work writing songs.
They released a pair of albums on their own label, Ragged Company, and built a local fan base before major labels came calling. They eventually signed with Hollywood Records, which (aside from counting Queen among their roster of artists) was essentially a label Disney started to provide a home to its tween sensations once they grew up a bit: The label has released albums by Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and the Jonas Brothers. The pairing has worked – or not worked so well, depending on how you look at it.
Of course, the label upped the band's profile, leading them to sell more records and become something of a household name. In return, and who knows whose decision this was, the group has worked with ever-bigger producers and smoothed out its sound considerably – a move that only widened the band's appeal to Ellen watchers and their ilk. Oddly enough, at the same time the group has become a favorite of the jam-band scene. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are not hurting in the game of casting a wide net with their music. Oh, and they've also been touring non-stop and working their asses off to get to this point: In between the release of their 2010 self-titled album and last year's The Lion The Beast The Beat, the band released two live albums and a Christmas EP, not to mention an iTunes live session.
It's an age-old story – talented (and let's face facts, beautiful) young singer builds a grassroots fanbase, major label listens to the music and looks at the numbers and realizes they can make her a star by smoothing out the rough edges and making the music more palatable to a wider audience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In the case of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, it most certainly has.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals perform an all-ages show at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Tickets are $26 for general admission on the floor in advance, or $28 on the day of show. Reserved seats in the balcony are $31 in advance, $33 on the day of show. There will also be additional non-reserved seating on the floor. Find out more at rialtotheatre.com or by calling 740-1000.
WASH YOUR MOUTH OUT WITH SOAP
In the early '70s, a New York rock band was looking to get attention for itself. They decided to wear face paint and wear ridiculous costumes unique to each member in attempt to craft an alter ego for each one. Even better, they added tons of pyro to their shows, with one member even breathing fire and spitting fake blood. These guys were not subtle. Not at all.
So when it came time to give the band an attention-grabbing name, among the options tossed around was Fuck. But these guys were out to get huge, to make a shit-ton of money, and in the early '70s especially, they realized that calling themselves Fuck would probably do more harm than good. They settled on Kiss, and things seem to have worked out just fine for them.
It's fair to say Kiss would never have become KISS if they had called themselves Fuck, but in the years since then plenty of bands have further pushed the band-name envelope. In the '90s there actually was a band called Fuck. And once you realize a mostly-'90s band called itself Anal Cunt, well, all bets were off. A band could call itself anything, really, as long as it realized that a potentially offensive name would limit its commercial appeal even before some listeners had heard a note.
Which brings us to the Portland, Ore.-based Starfucker. Like Kiss and Fuck, Starfucker's music is not offensive. On the contrary, much of it is rather beautiful, combining beats with electronic and organic instruments to arrive at a dance music that you don't need to be in a club to appreciate. Starfucker makes pop songs, pure and simple – and good ones. As they've gotten more popular over the years, they've considered undergoing a name change at least twice – having a song placed in a Target commercial seemed to up the urgency – but they eventually went halfway and settled on calling themselves STRFKR whenever necessary. (These days they seem to use Starfucker and STRFKR interchangeably.)
Will it matter? Tough to say. But anyone staying away from the band's music due to its silly name doesn't know what s/he is missing.
Starfucker performs at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Tuesday, June 4. Wampire and Feelings open the 18-and-over show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 on the day of show. For tickets or more info head to hotelcongress.com/club or call 622-8848.
I've written extensively about Detroit metal-rap duo Insane Clown Posse over the years (are they really dumbasses, or are they dumbasses like a fox?), and people either love them or hate them, so I won't spend more time discussing them here. If you're a Juggalo, you'll be at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Saturday, June 1, sucking back Faygo. If you're not, you'll likely be watching the line at the Rialto form around noon and making fun of the Juggalos from afar. Moonshine Bandits and Kung Fu Vampire open the all-ages show at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are $36 in advance; they'll be $2 more on the day of show. More info is at rialtotheatre.com or 740-1000.
Local instrumental surf-punk legends the Boogie Nazis will reunite for a one-off show at Toxic Ranch Records, 424 E Sixth St., tonight, Thursday, May 30. The free, all-ages show starts at 5 p.m. with opening sets by Man Bites Dog and another band yet to be announced at press time. Call 623-2008 with questions.
ON THE BANDWAGON
DJ Dirtyverbs presents El Tambo with Chicha Dust and Quita Penas at Club Congress on Friday, May 31; acclaimed bebop jazz guitarist Joshua Breakstone at Old Pueblo Grille on Sunday, June 2; Ethan Steigerwald, Morgan Manifacier, and The Modeens' Cristina Williams (solo) at Plush on Wednesday, June 5; blues singer-songwriter Gina Sicilia with Heather Hardy and Sabra Faulk at Boondocks Lounge next Thursday, June 6; Intocable at the TCC Arena on Saturday, June 1; The Black Lillies and Heather Hardy at Plush on Monday, June 4; Brick Mower and Logan Greene Electric at The District Tavern next Thursday, June 6; local instrumental ska supergroup The Vexmen at Plush on Saturday, June 1; Greg Bennick (spoken word), Focused Minds, Young Turks, and Wrong Idea at Tucson Live Music Space on Sunday, June 2; Shurman at the Red Garter Bar and Grill on Wednesday, June 5; Run Boy Run and Jared & the Mill at Club Congress on Wednesday, June 5; Justin Valdez y Los Tortilla Makers and Dirty Dice at Surly Wench Pub on Saturday, June 1; World Music Night with K-Bass and Farfina Musiki featuring Planet Jam, Robert Linden, and Djian Tia at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, May 31; Led Zeppelin tribute band Whole Lotta Zep at Club Congress on Saturday, June 1; The Zoo Incident at Plush on Friday, May 31; Texas Trash and the Trainwrecks at The Bashful Bandit on Friday, May 31; 8 Minutes to Burn at Sky Bar on Saturday, June 1; the Leila Lopez Band at Playground on Friday, May 31; The Wolfgang, Creating the Scene, Eastern Shore, and In Search of a Word at The Rock on Saturday, June 1; Weekender, Riverman, Complex Houses, and Big Bad at Tucson Live Music Space on Tuesday, June 4.