RECOMMENDED AUSSIESA big part of the fun of attending a music festival is discovering a great band you have never heard of, merely read about, or had a friend recommend to you. A couple years ago, my friend Jenny, who has impeccable taste in music, art and pretty much everything else, raved to me about a band that she had heard on Seattle's KEXP (she lived in Tucson at the time, but missed her native Seattle enough to listen to the admittedly awesome station online). All she told me about them was that they were from Australia, had lots of people in the band and wrote impeccably crafty pop songs. I kept forgetting their name, and she kept reminding me it was Architecture in Helsinki.
Based solely on her recommendation, I caught 'em in March 1994 at a stuffy, second-story club at South by Southwest, in Austin. I squirmed my way to a spot close enough up front to have a decent vantage point of the stage, with the added bonus of a corner of a table to scribble notes. Once settled, I realized that Rolling Stone big shot David Fricke was standing right next to me. For kicks, I asked him how he pronounces his last name. He was friendly enough, but shielded his notes on the show like a nerd in high school trig. Whatevs, dude. Fricke went on to praise them wildly in the mag that Wenner built, and I got excited when they scheduled a show soon after at Solar Culture. I was equally bummed when they cancelled. Just like Jenny turned me on to them, Soundbites would like to return the favor to you, the reader with fine taste.
At that show I saw in Austin, the eight members of the band (we might as well call 'em an ensemble, huh?) switched instruments after pretty much every song, each of which swerved around from section to section--a dose of dancey pseudo-funk here, a swell of gorgeous chamber pop there; a dollop of bhangra plopped in the middle of an electro-quirk tune. And, while Architecture in Helsinki's latest album, In Case We Die (Bar/None, 2005), encompasses all that and quite a lot more, it's also just a bit more sugary than I remembered that live show being. On my first couple listens, it was just too twee, too damn cutesy.
I'm happy to report that I've since come around. Make no mistake, it is twee as hell, but it's also complicated enough that I've gone back to it repeatedly. In Case We Die is full of songs that turn on a dime, but instead of trying too hard to impress with math-riddled chops, each turned corner brings is its own hook, all payoffs in winsome detours.
Architecture in Helsinki performs at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Friday, June 24. The all-ages show begins at 9 p.m. with a set from locals Bark Bark Bark. Admission is $7. Call 884-0874 for more information.
WONDERS WITH ONE HITUnfortunately, Musical Youth is remembered for one song, and one song only. 1982's "Pass the Dutchie," a cover of the Mighty Diamonds' ganja celebration "Pass the Dutchie" (released only a year prior), became a worldwide sensation, and holds the distinction of being the first reggae song to hit the Top 10 in the U.S. It's a no-brainer inclusion on '80s compilations to this day--not bad for a pack of teenage Mancunians.
But those who bought the band's debut album, The Youth of Today (MCA), know that there were plenty more treasures to be found beyond the Big Hit Single. If not as instantly addictive as "Pass the Dutchie," songs such as "Heartbreaker," "Never Gonna Give You Up," and the title track showed a well-rendered and impressive range of styles collected under the reggae umbrella. While Musical Youth has been recorded in the musical annals as a one-hit wonder, it deserves better; The Youth of Today is a truly great album.
Hell, I was enamored enough with it to be one of the few Americans to fall for the follow-up, 1983's Different Style (MCA), though that one suffers from the cheesy production that would hex so many otherwise decent '80s albums, as well as a somewhat misguided pop slant. But I still get "Whatcha Talking 'Bout," penned by Stevie Wonder especially for the band, stuck in my head from time to time, out of nowhere. That's gotta count for something, right?
The reason I'm babbling about Musical Youth is because two original members--primary singer Dennis Seaton and keyboardist Michael Grant--have reformed the band, and will perform in Tucson this week. Lacking Kelvin Grant (Michael's brother) and the rhythm section of the Waite brothers (bassist Patrick died in the mid-'90s of natural causes while awaiting a trial on drug charges), the duo collaborated on a song with Pato Banton last year and are reportedly working on a new album.
Check out Musical Youth, 2005-style, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Saturday, June 25. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show also includes sets from the Reggae Revolution (Pato Banton's backing band for the last 15 years) and Apache Indian. Advance tickets are available for $23.50 at the Rialto Box Office, Twelve Tribes Reggae Shop, CD City, and all Bookmans locations, or online at www.rialtotheatre.com. For further details, call Twelve Tribes at 620-1810.
LOCAL EXCLAMATIONLocals Fukuisan Go! graduate into the realm of Local Bands That Have a CD Out this week, with a party held in honor of the quintet's release of Hello Monkey Moo! (Fukuitunes). Yes, they love exclamation points, and yes, they comprise a bunch of people you've seen in other bands, playing under pseudonyms. But their combination of roots-rockabilly, surf-rock and British invasion-inspired pop is better than you'd expect, given the gimmick.
While most of the songs here merge some combination of the aforementioned styles ("Tasty Salmon Bake" and "The Water"--in spite of the annoying "Twist and Shout" shout-out on the latter--are particularly successful), some distill things down to the essence of one particular genre. But why bother with a surf instrumental stretchingly called "Surferado" that pays homage to (or mocks--it's not clear) the Eagles, when you can crank out a truly kickass power-pop tune like "Space Caveman"? Elsewhere, "Go!" sounds like the Stray Cats backing a funny spoken-noir tale that Stan Ridgway might have cooked up (yes, that's a compliment).
While there's no denying that Hello Monkey Moo! is a more than promising debut that will appeal to a wide range of tastes, sometimes you just want a band to relax and settle into one thing. I realize it all comes down to taste, but my fingers are crossed for less rockabilly and more spot-on pop songs next time around.
Fukuisan Go! are part of a quadruple local bill at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 24, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., that also includes headliners The Year (formerly The Year of Acceleration), and openers The Wyatts and La Cerca. Cover is $4. Find more info at www.hotelcongress.com or by calling 622-8848.
ON THE BANDWAGONEric Elbogen is a Brooklyn-based bedroom-pop songwriter who records under the name Say Hi to Your Mom. His latest album, Ferocious Mopes (Euphobia, 2005), breaks no new ground, but it's a winning collection of literate, gloomy but punchy guitar-pop songs that articulate the isolation of living in a bustling city and having no one to come home to.
Say Hi to Your Mom performs on Friday, June 24 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. with opening sets by Quincy and Summer at Shatter Creek. Cover is $4. Call 798-1298 or head to www.plushtucson.com for details.
Guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke teams up with former Phish bassist Mike Gordon this week for what should prove to be a rather dynamic pairing. Doors open at 7 p.m. at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, June 29. Tickets are $35 (reserved main floor seats) and $27.50 (reserved balcony seats), available in advance at the Rialto Box Office and www.rialtotheatre.com. Call 740-1000 for further info.
Finally, Soundbites is saddened to report that Vic Chesnutt's scheduled appearance for this week, at Club Congress on Saturday, June 25, has been cancelled due to a family illness. As gi-fucking-normous fans of Vic, we can only cross our fingers that his promise to reschedule the date will be fulfilled. Anyone who has heard his latest album, Ghetto Bells (New West, 2005), will surely agree.