WXSW TO AND FROM SXSWAh, Tucson in March. Can you smell it? No, not the blooms on the bushes, but the sweet, sweet smell of tires meeting pavement, courtesy of vans full of bands making their way to Austin, Texas, for yet another round of South by Southwest, the biggest dang music conference in the whole U.S. of A.
Those stanky tires are a harbinger of good music for you, lucky Tucsonan, for they represent all the bands who must pass through our burg on the way to Austin. As Mike Watt once put it, if you ain't playin', you're payin', so we're treated each year to several dozen or so bands looking for a gig on the path to Texas. In other words, Tucson = gas money.
Concert promoters in town got hip to this a couple of years ago and decided to make their own little mini-festival out of it. West by Southwest, they call it. And though it may boast the most confusing schedule of any music festival in the whole dang country, it's pretty tough to bicker with what you get for your money.
Here's the deal: Four venues--Club Congress, Plush, Solar Culture Gallery and The Hut--will host more than 40 bands over four nights. However, those nights are broken up over two weeks. So, for the next two weeks, Monday and Tuesday, March 10 and 11, and March 17 and 18--the two nights of the week that scream "rock 'n' roll"--officially constitute West by Southwest. Admission is a mere $8 wristband each week (so, $16 if you attend both weeks), which allows you to float around from venue to venue as you please. Here's what to expect.
Monday, March 10:
Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St.: The Hotel Cafe Tour, a traveling showcase for on-the-verge singer-songwriters, will feature sets from Ingrid Michaelson, Cary Brothers, Greg Laswell, Kate Havnevik, Jessie Baylin and Jim Bianco, starting at 7 p.m. All ages are welcome.
Plush, 340 E. Sixth St.: The Cops (11:30 p.m.), Mahjongg (10:30 p.m.), The A-Sides (9:30 p.m.), Division Day (8:30 p.m.).
Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave.: Old Time Relijun, Beach House, Papercuts. Starts at 8 p.m.; all ages are welcome.
Tuesday, March 11:
Club Congress: The Heavenly States, Oslo, Gil Mantera's Party Dream, The Swim. Starts at 8 p.m.
Plush: Slim Cessna's Auto Club (11:30 p.m.), Marianne Dissard and Matt Mitchell (10:30 p.m.), Brian Kenney Fresno (9:30 p.m.), Shannon Curtis (8:30 p.m.).
The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave.: Juke Joint All Stars, Pistolera. Starts at 8 p.m.
Wristbands are available at all participating venues. Questions? Here are those numbers: Club Congress, 622-8848; Plush, 798-1298; Solar Culture Gallery, 884-0874; The Hut, 623-3200.
YOU'LL SUFFER FROM THE FALL-OUT IF YOU DON'T GOEven aside from WXSW, Tucson is lousy with awesome shows this week. Keep reading, music lover, as I attempt to get to as many as possible. But you might not have even heard of the bands that will play the show that I predict will be the best of the week.
Do you like rock 'n' roll? OK, then do as I say and nobody will get hurt: Go see The Fall-Outs and Unnatural Helpers on Wednesday, March 12.
The Fall-Outs are the best Seattle band you've never heard of. While they've been active since the '80s, they've largely been a part-time effort and have only released a trio of albums: The Fall-Outs (1992, Super Electro), Sleep (1994, Super Electro) and Summertime (2004, Estrus). I became aware of them upon the release of the latter, which made its way onto my Top 10 list of favorite albums of that year. The band's music is a bit tough to describe, because in doing so, they tend to appear a bit ordinary: They're a straight-up punk-influenced rock 'n' roll trio. (See what I mean?) But they write such great songs, and play them with such fervor, that they're anything but ordinary. "Jolty, jaunty post-punk guitar-pop" is how I described them when Summertime was released, and I'll stand by that, I suppose. This is the first time they've made their way to Tucson, and it would behoove us to give them a hero's welcome.
Openers Unnatural Helpers are younger, punk-er but similarly minded Seattlians. (Yes, I made that up.)
Trust me on this one, people.
This Seattle twofer hits Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12. Admission is granted for the low, low price of $5. Call 622-8848 with questions.
ROMANTIC AND MISANTHROPICFor more than 15 years, Bill Callahan released music under the name Smog, which was later altered to (Smog). With the release of EP A River Ain't Too Much to Love and full-length Woke on a Whaleheart (both on Drag City), he began using his own name.
This year marks 20 years since the first Smog recording was released. In those days, Callahan engaged in home-recorded sound-collage fuckery, but he's come an awful long way since then.
His songs are often a rather odd combination of romantic and misanthropic. One song instructed his wife to "dress sexy at my funeral." On "Your Wedding," he sang, "I'm gonna be drunk / so drunk / at your wedding." And, if it's at all possible to sum up the witty sad-sackery that was Smog, a good place to look is at two '90s songs "A Hit" and "Be Hit," which were issued a couple of years apart. Here's what I wrote about them several years ago: "The former is the charmingly self-deprecating one with the loping groove, a sharp, albeit tongue-in-cheek tally of his lowly role on the rock totem pole: 'It's not gonna be a hit / So why even bother with it? ... I'll never be a Bowie, I'll never be an Eno / I'll only ever be a Gary Numan.' The latter is the exact flipside, a devastatingly simple and brutal treatise on the crippling and lingering effects of abuse, still couched in the darkest of black humor: 'Every girl I've ever loved / has wanted to be hit / And every girl I've ever loved / has left me / 'cause I wouldn't do it. ... It seems my sensitive touch / can be given by / any old schmuck, all right now.'"
To be sure, he's not for everyone. His baritone and awkward mannerisms can be off-putting. But for anyone who can see beyond such things, he's no less than his generation's version of Leonard Cohen.
Bill Callahan performs at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Friday, March 7. Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg opens at 9:45 p.m. Admission is $10. Call 798-1298 for more info.
SO NOW WE ALL KNOW THAT STEPHEN'S BEEN WATCHING 'THE VIEW'Fresh off a reunion performance on The View (yes, that The View) with her former Moldy Peaches bandmate Adam Green (and subsequent admission from Barbara Walters that she doesn't "get" the Moldy Peaches), Kimya Dawson returns to town this week.
While previous Tucson appearances might have had folks asking, "Who's Kimya Dawson?" and, "Moldy what?" this time around, she'll be greeted as the woman behind the most unlikely Top 10 album of the year, in the form of the Juno soundtrack. She could easily draw crowds these days to warrant an appearance at a more on-the-radar venue, but Dawson is keeping it real by performing at Dry River Collective, described on its Web site as "an autonomous group of individuals working to create a community based on sustainability, cooperation and self-sufficiency. We promote education and direct action to resist all forms of oppression and hierarchy." (The site also reconfigures the "A" on A Mountain to look like the symbol for anarchy.) It doesn't get much more real than that.
Kimya Dawson performs along with the Jeff Lewis Band, Great Job, Iji, and Angelo Spencer on Sunday, March 9, at Dry River Collective, 740 N. Main Ave. Things get underway at 8 p.m. Admission to the all-ages show is a suggested donation of $5 to $10. For more info, head to dryriver.org.