While the term "desert rock" has recently come to connote slow, heavy rock music of the variety practiced by the likes of Queens of the Stoneage forebearers Kyuss (so described because they, and other bands of their ilk, threw illegal generator-powered parties out in the desert), Arizonans have a far different definition of the term than does the music press.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-'90s, desert rock bands--whose sound resembled Neil Young's slightly twangy, guitar-dominated crunch, albeit with more of a pop bent--were as pervasive in Arizona as saguaros. Outside of our fair state, Europeans caught on first, rabidly hunting down just about anything they could get their hands on with the word "Arizona" on the record jacket. In the United States, the genre peaked when Tempe's Gin Blossoms spun the formula into multi-platinum sales. But in between, there was a few bands that met with a fair amount of success on a national scale.

In what's being billed as a Desert Rock Revival, two of those bands--Tucson's Sand Rubies and Tempe's Dead Hot Workshop--perform this week, along with Al Perry and the Cattle, representing the more country-centric variety of the form, and the Downtown Saints, featuring veteran Chris Holiman, whose '80s outfit, River Roses, were fine desert rock practitioners.

The Sand Rubies began as the Sidewinders, releasing a fine debut album, Cuacha!, in 1987 on San Jacinto, the band's own label and--becoming the first of the desert rock crop to be picked up by a major label--were later signed to RCA, who released the band's next two albums. Later still, after the group was threatened with legal action over their name, Polygram released the Rubies' self-titled album. Though they aren't officially together as a band anymore, they've reunited umpteen times over the last several years, even releasing a live album, called, oddly enough, Live (San Jacinto), in 1997, and a pair of albums in 1998, on the Contingency label: Return of the Living Dead, a collection of new material, and Sidewinder Sessions, a collection of songs dating back to their beginnings.

Though Dead Hot Workshop toiled in local clubs starting at roughly the same time the Sand Rubies and the Gin Blossoms did, it took the success of the Blossoms for major labels to take note. Atlantic released the band's major label debut, the River Otis EP, in 1994, and a full-length, 1001, followed the next year. Since then, they've broken up, re-formed with varying lineups, and gone on several hiatuses. Last year, they began playing out regularly again, and this week's show is only their second Tucson gig in almost five years.

Relive the glory days of desert rock at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 18, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is a mere five bucks. For more information, call 622-8848.


Over the years, Chicago's Milemarker has established itself as one of the more unpredictable bands in the rock underground, veering within the course of an album in wildly divergent directions: An art-punk experiment follows a looped electronica track, which follows a catchy punk rock rave-up. Challenger is a Milemarker splinter band that includes that band's guitarist/singer Dave Laney and bassist/singer Al Burian, as well as drummer Timothy Remis. Their critically acclaimed debut album, Give the People What They Want in Lethal Doses, released in February on Jade Tree, is reportedly a much more straightforward power-punk crop of songs than those found on Milemarker's albums, and has been consistently compared to the smart but visceral work of Husker Du.

When revered indie rockers The Dismemberment Plan laid their squiggly, funky punk grooves to rest last year, a nation of backpack-wearing emo kids wept even more tears than usual. Fortunately for them, the band's singer/guitarist/songwriter Travis Morrison has kept the flame lit by launching a solo career. Though he's yet to release any material beyond some posted MP3s at his Web site, Morrison clues us in on what he's been working on this week when he opens for Challenger.

Challenger and Travis Morrison perform an all-ages show on Sunday, June 20, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Locals Able Was I open at 9 p.m. For further details, call 884-0874.


In case you hadn't heard, Club Congress has been holding free showcases of (mostly) local bands each Tuesday night for a month or two now under the banner Congress Libre. This week's event doubles as a tour sendoff for avant-funk noiseniks Sugarbush and Galactic Federation of Love (creatively described by one band member as "Herman's Hermits meets Richard Hell and the Voidoids"), both of whom are embarking on a "US tour of America." The night triples as a CD release party for Galactic Federation's new EP, In You (Soild Gold). It quadruples as the triumphant return of bling-blingin', jet-settin', whiskey drinkin', lady-killin' hip-hop duo Cum & Go. Added bonus: an opening set by a band called Chinese Telephones that we've never heard of.

It all goes down at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is free. That number again is 622-8848.


Contained in a rather elaborate press kit from San Francisco's The Slow Poisoners were a set of wacky band trading cards, a pretty damn awesome comic book called Ogner Stump's One Thousand Sorrows, penned by one of the band's members, and a handwritten letter which reads, in part, that the band's Tucson show is "the last date on our tour out to Paducah, Kentucky and back. Why Paducah? We got some fan mail from a gal (who) wanted to cover some of our songs so we're coming out to show her how they're played ... We were once a trio but we got in a fight with our bassist on our last tour--in Albuquerque--and we haven't seen her since. Route 66 is littered with mutineering musicians!"

But what about the music, you ask? Well, it's a thoroughly enjoyable spattering of quirky but wholly accessible art-pop with absurdist lyrics that recalls the sonic stew of Ween with the sensibility of Robyn Hitchcock, who remarked upon hearing the group's first album, "I like the yellow one."

The Slow Poisoners open for Great American Tragedy and Killing California at 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 20, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Cover is $4. Questions? Ring 'em up at 622-3535.