The Night of the Living festival is a "celebration of the weird," built around bands that either don't play Tucson frequently, if at all, or those with roots here.
Ben Schneider, the festival's main organizer since it began as a single-night event in 2013 at Old Tucson Studios, says Night of the Living has evolved along the way to find the best fit in terms of size and venue, but the main aim has always been to expose deserving bands to a larger audience.
"I use the fest as an excuse to lure bands that I believe in," he says. "We like to take risks with music and I always think of the fest as an introduction to the bands for a lot of people."
After one year at Old Tucson and two centered at La Cocina, the festival this year expands to three days and moves to 191 Toole, where for the first time it can be adjacent to the All Souls Procession route and offer indoor and outdoor stages right beside each other.
"I wanted to compact the space," Schneider says. "When it was at La Cocina, it still seemed spread out to me and it seemed hard to wrangle. What I like about 191 Toole is the outdoor stage can be right next to the indoor space and it made much more sense to me. Being close to the All Souls Procession is always key."
Weekend passes are available for $30, but individual day tickets are available as well: $10 for Friday, $25 advance and $30 day of for Saturday, while Sunday's show is free.
"The idea was to make the whole weekend really cheap so you can check out a bunch of bands you've never seen before," Schneider says. "That's been the important thing to me, exposing more people to this music that I believe in and people who make this fest happen believe in."
The festival kicks off Friday with Burger Records Night, bringing a host of bands affiliated with the stalwart Orange County garage rock label: Peach Kelli Pop, Death Valley Girls, Shivas, The Sloths, Guantanamo Baywatch, Feels, Gooch Palms, Part Time, Melted, Patsy's Rats, The Resonars, Lenguas Largas, Vajj, Hammered Satin, The Fly Traps and The High Curbs.
Saturday features a mix of locals and larger touring bands: Big Freedia, The King Khan and BBQ Show, Reigning Sound, David Bazan, Shannon and the Clams, Nobunny, The Seth Bogart Show, Mike Watt and the Secondmen, Paint Fumes, Sasha Go Hard, Audacity, Foxx Bodies and Lando Chill.
Sunday night again combines locals and national touring bands: Purling Hiss, CFM, Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout!, The Kevin Dowling Fitness Hour, Asian Fred, Big Bitch, Headlock, Golden Boots, ShoodaShookit, Snake Snake Snake, Lil Bobby Jr and the Junes, The Rifle and the Daycones.
Planning for this year's festival began with Schneider's own personal wishlist and the garage-punk Reigning Sound, formed in Memphis in 2001 by Greg Cartwright of the Oblivians.
"I'm a huge fan of Reigning Sound, so it actually started with them. I got them to come out especially just for the fest. That's been on my checklist for bands for a long time so to be able to make that happen is what inspired the rest of the lineup," Schneider says.
Matt Rendon of The Resonars came up with the idea for the Burger Records Night. "The idea was to make it like a SXSW showcase and have just one band after another, either the top up-and-coming Burger bands or the ones that haven't really hit yet."
Sunday's lineup brings the return of Schneider's former band, Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout!, one of Tucson's most popular (and wildest) live bands for a while, though it's been about five years since they've played an official show, Schneider says.
Purling Hiss is touring in support of High Bias, the ferocious new album released Oct. 15 on Drag City. Frontman Mike Polizze says the new record features big riffs as usual, as well as some wild cards for the band.
"It's been a great vibe and I feel like it's a full on power-trio album. It's got some punkier vibes to it, it's still weird and psychedelic and it's just been fun," he says, pointing to the almost 12-minute album closer "Everybody in the USA" as a particular high point for the band. "I think that I really wanted to have sort of a triumphant ending, guitar heroics at the end of the album and showcase the band. The last song halfway though is a normal structure and then it's a noise jam, guitar freakout."
For King Khan and BBQ Show, their latest album is a reunion as well. Having played music together beginning in the late 1990s when they were teens in Montreal (as the Spaceshits), the duo recorded three albums and caught the attention of Lou Reed (who picked them to perform at a festival in Australia) before a bitter and very public breakup in 2010.
Khan and BBQ got together again last year in Berlin (over absinthe and weed) and recorded Bad News Boys, which perfectly blends the infectious melodies of doo-wop with the raw and gritty edge of garage rock, with songs like the lovelorn "Alone Again" sharing space with the wildly juvenile "D.F.O." (which stands, of course, for the shouted chorus of "diarrhea fuck off.")
"It's such an important part of life to discover the savage part of your soul and we definitely help young people achieve a certain level of crazy," Khan says. "I think it's really a social responsibility for us to bring this noise to the masses and keep things nasty and keep things primitive."