Saturday, Nov. 23

On one of the coldest nights of the season I headed over to Toxic Ranch, the long-running record store catering to those with a taste for underground sounds. Toxic is closing its doors at the end of the year, but in the meantime it's keeping the party going and serving up weekly in-store performances.

I did some time at the record store back in the late '90s, and I can tell you the most fun I had working there was at the in-store shows. In-stores always bring out a great crowd, and last Saturday night was no different. Neon-coiffed girls rubbed shoulders with bearded loners, curious passers-by bummed smokes from sneering rockabilly dudes and three bands played mucho entertaining tunes for the near-capacity crowd.

Up first was L.A.'s Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel. The four-piece played a short set of psychedelic rave-ups that would have sounded right at home at the London Fog and Whiskey a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in the hazy late '60s. Faulty microphone be damned, Hammond organ player/vocalist Thomas Dolas' shrieks and yelps were all that mattered over the band's fuzzy and slinky sounds. Who needs a guitar player anyway when Dolas is channeling Ray Manzarek's mojo?

Phoenix's Good Friends Great Enemies filled the second slot with a set of quirky tunes. The band members, whom I affectionately named Napoleon Dynamite, Liberal Arts Professor, Animal Mother and Almost Famous, played a set that reminded me of the Flaming Lips covering Weather Report, or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, their often-shimmering sound was neatly contrasted by the keyboard player's jazzbo leanings. This is a band that I imagine plays better to a bigger room, and maybe that's why the bass player/vocalist's dramatic fall to the ground at the end of the set felt flat.

Tucson's own Freezing Hands rounded out the night. With a microphone Scotch-taped to the stand, guitarist/vocalist Travis Spillers set the band off on a near-30-minute set of bouncy and catchy tunes. The band pulls out all stops, and their Animals-meets-Buzzcocks sound isn't stale one bit. I can't tell you what's more endearing: their cover of "Oh Yoko!" or watching Spillers' two sons wearing colossal-sized Vic Firth headphones staring intently at the band. The kids are all right!

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