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FOXY MUSIC

As anyone who's been to an event at the Fox Tucson Theatre since it reopened nearly two years ago can attest, the joint is a fine addition to downtown. After sitting vacant since 1974, the Fox was purchased by the nonprofit Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation. Following a six-year, $13 million renovation, the theater reopened on Dec. 31, 2005, with a performance by Bruce Hornsby.

At the time, the foundation was planning on hosting a multitude of events--from concerts to conventions, from film screenings to business conferences--and predicted an extremely busy slate of activity. While some of those things have happened, the one weak spot has been concerts. During the months of August, September and October of this year, peak touring season, only three live performances took place at the Fox--and two of those were by standup comedians. Which is really a shame, since the room is absolutely gorgeous and features a top-of-the-line sound system.

Enter the folks at downtown's other renovated theater, the Rialto, and Phoenix-based promoter Charlie Levy's Stateside Presents, who have partnered up to do their part to remedy the situation. (Full disclosure: The Rialto's general manager, Curtis McCrary, is a Weekly contributor.) While the Rialto can accommodate bigger and slightly more unruly crowds, the booking team there also realized that they could present mellower, more intimate shows at the more upscale theater just down the street.

The Rialto and Stateside will bring singer-songwriter Marc Cohn to the Fox next month, but this week, the team presents its first Fox performance--Iron and Wine.

When Iron and Wine began, it was really just the performing name of Sam Beam, a South Carolina native who had relocated to Florida. Beam's songs were whisper-quiet folk meditations, rendered in lo-fi, intimate, home-recorded fashion, melancholy but not depressing. Beam's childhood friend Ben Bridwell--who was then in Carissa's Wierd, and now fronts Band of Horses--was so impressed by his buddy's music that, in a roundabout fashion, he got Beam in touch with Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman. Beam sent the label two discs' worth of tracks, recorded entirely by himself in his home studio, and the label ended up releasing a good number of them, as is, on Iron and Wine's first album, 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle.

An EP of leftovers from those original tapes, The Sea and the Rhythm, was issued in 2003, followed by Beam's first foray into a real recording studio for the full-length Our Endless Numbered Days, released in 2004. Both of those discs continued in Beam's by-now-trademark hushed vein, and his popularity grew tremendously when his cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" was included on the Garden State soundtrack.

But it was the 2005 EP Woman King where Beam started to mix things up. Though it seemed to hover below a lot of fans' radar screens (the curse of the EP, perhaps?), the songs on Woman King were the equal of what CinemaScope did for films: widened it. For the first time, Iron and Wine sounded like an actual band, and the songs were arranged to include all sorts of bells, whistles, percussion, violin, banjo and vocal harmonies.

Later that same year, Iron and Wine collaborated with Tucson's own Calexico for the seven-song EP In the Reins (Overcoat), which was followed by a co-headlining tour of marathon shows to support it. (The tour's opening performance, at the Rialto, lasted 4 1/2 hours, including the openers.)

Earlier this year, Iron and Wine issued a new album, The Shepherd's Dog, on Sub Pop, which continues in, and expands upon, the full-band mode. The opening song, "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car," even toys with our expectations of what the band's music sounds like these days, beginning with an intentionally lo-fi section of guitar strumming before kicking into widescreen. It's a hypnotically jaunty gallop of a song, one of nearly nonstop highlights found here. "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" features a percolating rhythm sound that reminds of the David Essex chestnut "Rock On"; "The Devil Never Sleeps" weaves a barrelhouse piano into '60s-inspired psychedelic pop; and "White Tooth Man" even finds Beam singing relatively full-throated (for him, anyway), a marked change from his Nick Drake-esque whisper. But there are still plenty of songs that find him in that mode, too, and it's something of an accomplishment that among the dense arrangements, the quietness of his voice doesn't get lost in the mix.

One can only imagine what those arrangements will sound like within the walls of the Fox--that is, until Iron and Wine perform them there, on Monday, Nov. 26. The all-ages show begins at 8 p.m. with openers Califone. Advance tickets are available at the Fox box office, 17 W. Congress St., for $25. They'll be $26 at the door. For more information, call 547-3040.


THAT '80S VIBE

With a Sand Rubies CD-release party and a tribute to the late Rainer Ptacek both going down at Club Congress this week, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's the '80s all over again. And another show at the venue this week featuring a pair of '80s rock icons won't do much to dispel that notion.

Johnette Napolitano and David J have a few things in common. The former was frontwoman for the '80s/'90s goth-tinged L.A. rock band Concrete Blond, who scored hits with "Joey," "Dance Along the Edge," "Tomorrow, Wendy" and "Still in Hollywood." As a member of Bauhaus and, later, Love and Rockets, David J was one of the primary founders of British goth rock as we know it today.

While David J (nee David J. Haskins), who embarked on a solo career following the breakup of Love and Rockets, hasn't released an album since 2003's Estranged (Heyday), earlier this year, Napolitano released her first proper solo album, Scarred, on Hybrid. It's a fine effort that showcases her smoky, hungry vocals, and the 10 songs that Napolitano wrote or co-wrote stand up to those of her former band. (There are also two covers: a spare, atmospheric take on Coldplay's "The Scientist" and a revved-up version of the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties.")

Johnette Napolitano and David J perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., next Thursday, Nov. 29. Doors open at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $17 at hotelcongress.com; they'll be $20 at the door. For further details call 622-8848.


ON THE BANDWAGON

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for the following fine shows, also in town this week: The Winks, ...Music Video? and the Drowning Men (who will appeal to fans of the Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Talking Heads) at Plush on Saturday, Nov. 24; the John Butler Trio at the Rialto Theatre on Monday, Nov. 26; and Captured by Robots!, Evil Beaver and Flagrante Delictico at Club Congress on Wednesday, Nov. 28.

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