GO WEST, YOUNG BANDEvery year at this time, scores of bands pass through town on their way to and from the South By Southwest Music Conference (SXSW), which takes place this year March 15-19, in Austin, Texas, and every year at this time, a local mover and shaker inevitably suggests that Tucson start its own mini-festival to take advantage of those bands' tour routing. Thanks largely to the efforts of Hotel Congress' David Slutes, this is the year that plan is finally being put into action.
Set to take place on the two nights prior to SXSW, Monday, March 13 and Tuesday, March 14, the West By Southwest Tucson New Music Festival (WXSW) will feature 26 bands at five venues, all at the bargain-basement price of a $7 wristband that provides all access to both nights. (How do they do it? Volume, volume, volume!) Best of all, these ain't no second-tier, rinky dink acts; the list of participating bands is mighty impressive, indeed, ranging from veteran, groundbreaking acts to cult favorites, up and coming critics' darlings to cream-of-the-crop locals. What better excuse to get your ass off the couch on a pair of weeknights?
Here, then, is a complete rundown of acts scheduled to participate:
Monday, March 13:Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. (884-0874): Bearing a growl of a voice that has been compared to Tom Waits', Tom Freund (Los Angeles) is the rare rootsy singer-songwriter who's as musicianly as he is lyrically deft (8:30 p.m.). Co-ed Portland, Ore. duo Talkdemonic uses mostly powerful drumming, electronic textures, and viola--both bowed and plucked--to create soundscapes that are alternately ethereal and lively, and extremely engaging (9:30 p.m.). The Velvet Teen (Santa Rosa, Calif.) utilizes more piano than guitar to deliver what could be somewhat accurately compared to Jeff Buckley fronting, um, some indie-pop band that uses lots of piano (10:30 p.m.). Scout Niblett's (Nottingham, England) almost nauseatingly precious moniker (her real name is Emma) and penchant for wigs belie the fact that she's, at heart, one of the most minimalist punks recording today (take that, Calvin Johnson!), using mostly just drums and her voice to relay eccentric but deceptively simple tales (11:30 p.m.).
Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. (798-1298): OK, stick with me here. The Soft.Lightes (Los Angeles) is the name currently being used by The Incredible Moses Leroy, which is an alias used by Ron Fountenberry. On his latest album, The Incredible Moses Leroy Becomes The Soft.Lightes, Fountenberry sings wide-eyed musings in a Michael Jacksonesque croon, over a catchy backing of synth pop leavened by acoustic guitar (8:30 p.m.). Two of the members of Fountenberry's band comprise El Ten Eleven (Los Angeles), an instrumental post-rock duo that utilizes only drums and effects-heavy bass (9:30 p.m.). Due largely, one suspects, to a democratic approach to songwriting, the quintet Irving (Los Angeles) trades in everything from jangly, bouncy, pop tunes to slighly more menacing fare--with a vaguely psychedelic vein running throughout (10:30 p.m.). Fronted by Peter Case, who has gone on to a solo career as an acclaimed folkie, the reunited The Plimsouls (Los Angeles) were one of the finest purveyors of '80s power-pop, period. Even casual listeners will recognize their three songs that appeared on the Valley Girl soundtrack, the most memorable of which was the hit "A Million Miles Away" (11:30 p.m.).
Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (622-8848): Going with the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Congress is sticking with its wildly successful '80s dance night. Admission is free with wristband.
The Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St. (623-7621): The brother of 311's Nick Hexum, Zack Hexum (Los Angeles) is all about smoothly textured, heart-on-sleeve songs that revel in their sophistication (9:30 p.m.). Mark Matos fronts the ever-shifting congregation of believers known as Campo Bravo (Tucson), whose sideways take on alt-country betrays how many Giant Sand albums Matos has in his collection (10:30 p.m.). Minmae (San Diego) sounds a bit like a more challenging version of Pavement's more country leanings (11:30 p.m.).
Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. (622-3535): Even if it wasn't by default, Thee Okmoniks (Tucson) are the local go-to team for all your fuzzed-out, Hammond-heavy, garage rock needs (8:30 p.m.). Pretty much defining the term "punk rock 'n' roll" in the most positive way, The Knockout Pills (Tucson) is one of this burg's most consistently exciting live bands (9:30 p.m.). zZz (Amsterdam, Holland) is a drums and organ duo that seeks to pummel you with doom and dark comedy (10:30 p.m.). The Dynamite Masters Blues Quartet, or DMBQ (Tokyo, Japan), answers the question: What would the Butthole Surfers sound like playing the blues? (11:30 p.m.).
Tuesday, March 14:Plush: Boasting a reputation as one of New Zealand's most exciting live bands, Cortina (Auckland, New Zealand) has a Myspace page describing it as "a cross between Ministry and Blondie on the bottom of a swamp" (8:30 p.m.). Since it plays nothing close to the fucked-up blues that its label, Fat Possum, is known for, one's gotta guess it's primitivism that landed We Are Wolves (Montreal, Canada) on the imprint. Alex Ortiz rants snottily over a cacophony of analog synth-addled dance-punk, and critics go apeshit for it (9:30 p.m.). Darlings of the blogosphere and contributors to the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack, The Willowz (Anaheim, Calif.) specialize in an engagingly shambolic take on garage rock--riff-rock without the riffs (10:30 p.m.). Take an old Delta blues 78, play it at double-speed through a distortion pedal, and you've got the sound of Bob Log III (Tucson) (11:30 p.m.).
Club Congress: Regularly compared to artists as disparate as X, Big Star, Calexico, and Emmylou Harris, The Bellyachers (Los Angeles) marry country leanings to romantic pop swooning (8:30 p.m.). The Cops (Seattle) perform a brand of catchy punk that pays homage to American '80s underground bands such as The Replacements and Hüsker Dü, and early British punk à la The Clash (9:30 p.m.). Black Mountain frontman Stephen McBean moonlights as ringleader of The Pink Mountaintops, his outlet for lo-fi, psychedelic paeans to all things sex-related (10:30 p.m.). The only local band performing at both WXSW and SXSW, The Beta Sweat (Tucson) approximates what Led Zeppelin might have sounded like if it had grown up in riot grrrl-era Olympia, Wash. (11:30 p.m.).
Vaudeville Cabaret: Cold War Kids (Los Angeles) describe themselves as a soulful amalgam of their influences, which they cite as including Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Billie Holiday, and The Velvet Underground (8:30 p.m.). While The Marked Men (Denton, Tex.) may excel at cramming pop hooks into punk rock songs that tend to hover around the two-minute mark, they couldn't be further away from what gets rightly ghettoized as pop-punk these days (9:30 p.m.). The ever-interesting Golden Boots (Tucson) specialize in a skewed version of psychedelic, desert-fried country--or something like that (10:30 p.m.). Jittery, adventurous, quirky, guitar-centric, harmony-laden indie-rock is the forte of The Joggers (Portland, Ore.), who deserve a wider audience than they've accumulated so far (11:30 p.m.).
The Red Room at Grill: Another installment of DJ (and Weekly contributor) Carl Hanni's Scratchy Records, in which he spins whatever-the-hell-he-feels-like selections from his impressive record collection, with the boast of a "surprise guest" this time around (9 p.m.).
ON THE BANDWAGONDamn if we haven't almost run out of room to inform you of all the other worthwhile goings-on in town this week. Be sure to check out our club listings, but in the meantime here's a short list of highlights:
Mighty ska-punk-funk pioneer Fishbone will be at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, March 10, along with Chango Malo and Mankind. Doors open at 8 p.m., and admission is $15. For more info log onto hotelcongress.com or call 622-8848.
Portland, Ore. shoegaze revivalists The High Violets drop into Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Saturday, March 11. The show begins at 9:45 p.m. with openers Lagoon and Mission Statement. Admission is a five-spot. Call 798-1298 for further details.
Clearly influenced by Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello, The Flamin' Groovies and '60s garage rock, Seattle's Boss Martians push the limits of power-pop on Sunday, March 12, when they open at 9 p.m. for The Knockout Pills, The Dear Johns, and The International Playboys, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Call 622-3535 for more information.