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Tour Buddies 

Birdmonster and Division Day team up to challenge alternative-rock conventions

Think of the current concert tour by buddy bands Birdmonster and Division Day as a nightclub-bound version of tag-team wrestling, albeit one with more tuneful music, fewer histrionics, much less Spandex and just as much sweat.

For the second time, the Los Angeles-based Division Day and San Francisco's Birdmonster have joined forces to play a two-month series of live dates, which'll bring the two foursomes to Tucson for a gig at Plush on Friday, Aug. 18.

Although the bands share many important similarities--all members are 25 or 26 years old; each group has been playing together only a few years and each is touring with an independently released, convention-challenging new album--they employ distinct, though complementary, alternative-rock sounds.

The music on Birdmonster's recent CD, No Midnight, is tough, angular and punk-explosive, not unlike a combination of Mission of Burma and Fugazi. Guitarist-singer Peter Arcuni directs tumultuous emotions into the listener's synapses via knotty melodies.

With Beartrap Island, Division Day explores unpredictable sonic textures arranged around the melancholic songs of keyboardist-singer Rohner Segnitz. The sound is introspective and delicate, with occasional excursions into cathartic noise and hypnotic shoegazer strumming.

In recent interviews, members of each band elaborated.

"Birdmonster is a little more raucous and rough and tumble," said Division Day guitarist Ryan Wilson.

"They certainly bring that out in us, too. We're a little more reserved, or at least I am. They're kind of freewheeling and spacious and frayed. We have those qualities about us, but in very small doses. When Division Day plays shows with them, we play with a little more of the reckless abandon that they have."

Said Birdmonster's Arcuni: "I think that Division Day, especially in their live shows, are a rock band that captures that emotional energy well, but they take it in a little different direction than we do.

"They tend to be a little more electronic and experimental than we are, with more keyboard sounds. We love playing shows with them, because they are so extremely beautiful and really fun at the same time. Birdmonster might be a little more jangly, and (Division Day) might have a few more acoustic elements."

Division Day (yes, the band is named for the Elliott Smith song of the same title) formed about four years ago when some of the members met in college. But they've been playing with this lineup for about two years, Wilson said. Already, Division Day has self-released two previous discs.

Arcuni said Birdmonster came together a little more than two years ago. They released one EP before No Midnight, which is their full-length debut.

Since they decided to tour together for a second time, it's pretty clear the bands thrive on playing shows together.

Said Division Day's Wilson, "We definitely like playing together, and it's not like a case of one-upmanship. It's first and foremost a sense of friends getting together, where they both enjoy each other and enjoy pushing each other in a good way."

Birdmonster is slated as the headliner for the gig at Plush, although that isn't always the case. "On the last tour that we played with them, we would trade off taking the first and second slot," Wilson said.

The lineup will be a little different in Tucson, because the Brooklyn-based psychedelic pop band The Horns of Happiness is also on the bill.

Nevertheless, both Division Day and Birdmonster always dig each other's sets, Arcuni said. "Each band will always watch the other's sets, which is sometimes rare among bands on the same bill, especially if you're playing with the same band every night."

And when the feeling is right, things can get collaborative, Arcuni said.

"We started participating in each other's sets, which is really fun. That's where it started getting great. We tend to do it in unannounced. I'll have an idea for a background vocal of some sort on one song and just jump up and do it."

The same free-for-all attitude goes for Division Day, said Wilson. "Sometimes, one of us will grab a tambourine and jump on stage at the end of the night, to make it special not only for the band members but for the audience.

"We'll come up and sing (the Birdmonster tune) 'Alabama' with them. Sometimes, they'll come up and play with us or just shake their butts on stage. Obviously, you want to do it when it's appropriate. It can be cheesy when it's not done right. We're not trying to make it a variety show."

Curious listeners might wonder if Division Day typifies the spirit of Los Angeles music, and if Birdmonster is emblematic of a San Francisco sound, but the members of the groups demur on that point.

"I can only speak for ourselves," said Birdmonster's Arcuni. "I don't view Division Day as an L.A.-type band. I don't know what that is, as a matter of fact.

"For (Birdmonster), though, making music is ... well I love San Francisco, and I think right now is a groovy time for San Francisco music--people are all doing interesting and exciting things, and it's the kind of environment where it's OK not to be doing the current popular thing. But it's a loose musical community, and I don't think there is a typical San Francisco sound."

How about Division Day? Wilson: "I would say yes and no. Yes, because there's not really a way you can take the city out of you. You are the music you're making.

"No, in the sense that we're not really bands that come out of a sort of scene. We're not parts of a collective or bands that are sharing members, not really a part of a circle of groups that are similar in sound."

The musical philosophies of the two bands are well aligned, though.

Speaking for both bands, Arcuni put it succinctly. "What we try to do with every show is play it like it's our first and our last show, just be totally present. We really are trying not to overthink stuff."

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