Any band that wins an award for Best Inexplicable Band in its hometown weekly is bound to be at least interesting; and while I don't profess to have any great knowledge of Denver's local music scene, after a couple spins of DeVotchKa's 2001 release, SuperMelodrama (Dago), it's safe to say the band would win the award no matter where it resided.
The band promotes itself as a "Mariachi-Polka-Punk" outfit, and while it's true all three elements are present and accounted for (the punk element weighs lightest), the tag only sells the band short (inexplicable, remember?). The six-piece outfit uses violin, accordion, theramin, trumpet, sousaphone, banjo, upright bass, Afro-Cuban percussion, clarinet, and yes, even guitar, along with Nick Urata's impassioned, angsty wail, to produce a virtual car wreck of sounds: Gypsy music careens into classical chamber music, Slavic melodies give way to juke-joint jumpin' rockabilly, and Latin flavor morphs into border ska before your very ears, but it's all covered by an umbrella of good old American pop-rock. Imagine, say, the Flaming Lips playing world music, or even better, Camper Van Beethoven circa 2001 with more authentic ethnic elements, and you're in the vicinity of what to expect when the band hits town this week.
Check out DeVotchKa at 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 13, at Plush, located at the southwest corner of Fourth Ave. and Sixth St. For more information call 798-1298.
The very same night brings us a fantabulous double bill of Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire and Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts.
Bird is perhaps best known as a former violinist for Squirrel Nut Zippers, but he's just released his third solo album, Swimming Hour, on Ryko. And while his previous solo outings have flaunted his staunch front-porch traditionalism, the new disc veers all over the place. Opener "Two Way Action" is a delicious slice of ebullient pop sing-along-ism, with boy-girl harmonies and a violin break to die for; "Why?" suggests Jeff Buckley wrapping himself around a smoky, slow-burning blues tune (indeed, Bird's gorgeous voice recalls no one so much as Buckley); "Too Long" is another boy-girl duet, this one a done-me-wrong country song as filtered though a Beatlesque whimsicality and complete with ragtime-era piano; and the whole shebang is topped off with a lilting ode to--of all things--Greenland ("Dear Old Greenland").
In addition to paying her cutting her teeth in the underrated early '90s outfit The Jody Grind, and as a onetime member of the Rock*A*Teens, Kelly Hogan has released a pair of solo discs, as well as putting in guest vocal appearances on albums by John Wesley Harding, Alejandro Escovedo, The Mekons, Chris Mills, and Will Oldham & Rian Murphy, amongst others. There's a reason why all these folks wanted her on their records, and that reason can be summed up in two words: her voice. She possesses a jaw-dropping alto that can't escape its twang, regardless of whether she's taking on sultry crooners or toe-tappin' two-steppers, and thus, she enriches every project she works on.
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire and Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts appear at 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 13, at Solar Culture, 31 E .Toole. Admission for the all-ages show is $7 at the door. Questions? Call 884-0874.
MARCHING BAND: As leader of his band, the Bluesbreakers, perhaps no one has done more to popularize the British-bred tradition of melding American blues and rock than John Mayall. While he was already into his thirties when he began the Bluesbreakers in the mid-Sixties, he took young, prodigious musicians into his fold, molding them into the legends he knew they were meant to be. You might have heard of a few of 'em: Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie; any of these starting to sound familiar? But along with this tradition came another: just as Mayall was eager to take young talent in, he was just as apt to give the same talent their walking papers. As such, Mayall's Bluesbreakers has had more lineup changes over the years than Joan Rivers had facelifts. Still, Mayall, up in years now, has continued to tour the globe with a pack of flashy musicians in tow, and this week it's Tucson's turn to witness the current incarnation.
Touring in support of his 44th album, Along For the Ride (Eagle), which boasts guests appearances from Billy Gibbons, Jonny Lang, Steve Miller, Billy Preston, Steve Cropper, and many others, in addition to Green, Taylor, Fleetwood, and McVie, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers will appear at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, at Backstage, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Advance tickets are available for $15 at the club, Zip's University, by phone at 1-800-965-4827, or online at ticketweb.com. They'll be $20 at the door. For more information call 733-6262.
STAYING VOCAL: A few years back at the TAMMIES Awards presentation, the only act performing that night that I hadn't heard previously was one of those that wowed me the most (only lending credence to the fact that Tucson is chock full of undiscovered talent waiting to be heard). The group was comprised of seven guys. That's it, seven guys; no guitars, no drums, no nothin'. It was Catacoustic Groove, a local a cappella ensemble, and though I can't recall most of the songs the gents performed that night, I do remember being completely blown away by their rendition of Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." But the most astounding thing was watching seven guys literally fill the vastness of the Rialto Theatre with nothing but the sweet, sweet sound of their voices. The boys have been holed up in recent months working on their new self-released CD, This New Place. While it can't compare to the live experience, it's a lovely little slice of traditional Motown R&B as filtered through the soulful voices of seven dudes. I have a low tolerance for cover bands of any sort, so rest assured that even if your exposure to a cappella music begins and ends with Bobby McFerrin, these guys will floor you.
Before embarking on its first European tour, Catacoustic Groove celebrates the release of This New Place with a performance at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 11, at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone. Cover is $4.
KARMIC REUNION: Fish Karma has been wreaking havoc on audiences in Tucson and beyond for as long as I can remember. Part folk-punk, part caustic social commentator, and part stand-up comedian, Karma's got a brand new bag of tricks on his brand-spankin'-new CD, Lunch With The Devil (Deep Shag). Produced by his buddy Al Perry, the disc expands upon Karma's former folkie status (taking clues from his other outfit, The Tribulators, perhaps?), by plugging in on a number of tunes here. Opener "Poodlecide" could pass--at least instrumentally--for a latter-day Jonathan Richman nugget, though I don't recall Mr. Richman ever passionately intoning that, "All poodles must die!" Elsewhere, the question "Should I Shop or Should I Die" is thoughtfully posed by a guy who's "lost the will to live, but not the urge to shop"; Eighties metal icon Ronnie James Dio is toasted on "Dio Rocks!"; and "An Artist's Lament" is a Fugs-meets-Sam Kinison-style rant against, um, everything. Well-pointed criticism, indeed.
The irreverent Fish Karma celebrates the release of Lunch With The Devil when he opens for Al Perry and the Cattle at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 11, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $5. Call 622-8848 for more information.