Friday, June 12

Tucsonans tend to take their sweet time getting to live shows. I know this, because I'm the dork who's always first in line. Therefore, I was shocked when I arrived at Plush last Friday, and the back room was abuzz with at least 70 people before the show began. Perhaps this was a sign that the opening band, Sketching in Stereo, would blow my mind.

I knew nothing about these young gents from Phoenix—and now I fear I know too much. Each song of theirs could play over the closing credits of any blockbuster superhero flick: They churn out glossy, generic, arena-ready rock. Keyboardist Chris Romero provided creative bass-y flourishes and seemed to be their glue. Perhaps if super-polished lead vocalist Rob Howlett would've explored his emotional depths with a screamo freak-out, it would've gotten my attention; alas, everything was done strictly by the book. They're stellar musicians, but they seem to have boxed themselves into a narrow, industry-compliant niche. I look forward to a future Sketching in Stereo mold-busting performance.

Mr. Gnome consists of vocalist/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer Sam Meister from Cleveland. Their original indie-rock sound wildly fluctuated between simplicity and complexity. Barille's voice wavered magnificently between innocence and angst, and her sometimes-frenetic, sometimes-subtle guitar work was superb. Every bit of loud, jarring fuzz, and every note that lingered delicately in space didn't seem the least bit contrived. Although it's clear Barille and Meister are thorough in their attention to detail, there's clearly room for improvisation, depending on what kind of night they're having. Barille stated that they almost had to cancel the gig due to her voice giving out—and there's no way the audience would've known if she hadn't clued us in.

Local pop-rockers The Runaway Five bring an energy to the Tucson music scene that is contagious. It's never easy to follow an act as stunning as Mr. Gnome, but they've been in this position many times, sharing the stage with an impressive list of local and national acts. There's a reason for this: They deliver the goods. Lead singer/guitarist Zach Wolfenbarger emoted with both voice and instrument, and Sarah Allen added spirited electro grooves on her keyboards. Catch them when you're able.