The New Drakes, The Swim, The Downtown Saints

The Hut, Saturday, Feb. 10

Tucson's nightmarish 12-day winter has finally ended, and so springtime brings us wildflowers, flesh-revealing clothing and Major League Baseball spring training.

Like with a baseball team, a band's popularity is measured by the venue size, location and crowd where they play. However, with bands, this is determined by the public's fleeting tastes rather than skill. Hitting that high note or knocking a solo out of the park won't impress in an empty hall. Last Saturday, The Hut pitted newcomers against their elders in a musical matchup--replete with good-natured shit-talking--with each band proving their relevance and mettle.

Openers Chris Holiman and the Downtown Saints, now a trio, performed songs off the near-completed forthcoming CD Here Comes the Breakup. Holiman's not too worried about making the team, or, in this case, the scene, holding back the release until next fall. The former frontman for '80s desert rockers River Roses, Holiman plays jangly rock that bounces more than ever, though like a pitcher with a trademark windup, his minimal-note solos are still present, combining the Edge's simplicity with Rainer-influenced improv.

The Swim, recent transplants here via Prescott, have quickly gotten heads turning (and bobbing) with their tight, infectious, shiny-happy indie-pop. The fresh-faced quartet played a majority of their debut, We're Green, including "Sawmill Song," a surprisingly touching ode to ex-couches, and "Jumbled Papers," a tune that could easily replace Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" as a nightly drunken bar-jukebox sing-along.

The Swim has two singers who can actually sing--two more than most bands. (Later, another trash-talking singer jealously quipped, "I played the '80s back in the '80s," unintentionally displaying his ignorance about current musical trends--ever heard of The Shins?)

The New Drakes (renamed after a dozen-plus years) didn't disappoint their longtime fans, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles for the show (as did one Drake). They closed with desert classics such as "Bunny," "I Did That" and "Horizon," which sounded like a Physical Graffiti medley.

As a scout, I'd immediately sign The Swim to a multiyear contract; the veterans showed enough spunk to warrant year-to-year deals. Meanwhile, that smack-talker can warm the bench while he studies up with a UA freshman's iPod.