Sunday, Jan. 24

Opening for Exene Cervenka, Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan, et al., reinforced the notion that Tucson has created its very own genre.

All it needs is a name. Anyone?

Abhorred by bands and overused by music writers, genre labels nevertheless help identify movements and encourage their growth. Lopez and Sullivan's work deserves encouragement, as does the loose collective of excellent musicians who performed with them. The players mix and match in each other's projects, including those of Andrew Collberg and Sergio Mendoza. Collberg sat in with Sullivan for a song on Sunday, and Mendoza played keyboard in Lopez's band, which Lopez started to give a home to his songs that don't fit the rock mold of Mostly Bears.

The sounds of Lopez and Sullivan are substantially different. On Sunday, Sullivan's was distinguished especially by the wracked passion of his vocals, inevitably evoking every flavor of Tom Waits, while Lopez plied his irrepressible romanticism, as reflected in his cover of Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon."

Neither had the woozy character of Molehill Orkestrah, the avant-garde eclecticism of Flagrante Delicto, or the extreme confidence and experience of Calexico. But like those others, Lopez and Sullivan make music that sounds like a bazaar of the cultures that influence our borderlands. Both variously evoked tempos instantly recognizable as common to Latin dancing, and both created an orchestral sound larger than its parts—Sullivan using a horn section, Lopez featuring cello in his more intimate outfit. Both reflected the diversity of Mexico's own heritage, with its Spanish influences flavored by Arab conquest and Eastern European gypsies. Mexico' s German immigrants brought the polka so often heard in mariachi, but in Sunday's sets, Germans were heard in references to the cabaret music of the Weimar Republic and the later, theatrical work of Kurt Weill.

The openers made Cervenka's crew seem modest, and her songs simple, but the effect merely increased her already considerable power. In an acoustic quartet, the punk economy of her lyrics heightened their emotional incisiveness in lines like, "You know how reality gets / early in the morning," from one of two new songs. Most of the set highlighted selections from her new album, Somewhere Gone.

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