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Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Saturday, April 19
In late 1994, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion performed at Tucson's landmark underground rock venue, the Downtown Performance Center. Back in those prehistoric days, you'd find out who was scheduled to play the DPC by using a telephone to call the space's ancient device known as an answering machine, where prerecorded messages, updated weekly, would list upcoming concerts. The DPC hosted shows by heavyweights like Fugazi, Royal Trux, Archers of Loaf and Greg Ginn. Even a little-known act at the time by the name of Green Day played.
One week, around the time the Blues Explosion's classic album, Orange, was released, the answering machine at the DPC said that the band's imminent show would be "the show of the decade." It was.
Frontman Jon Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins performed with an overwhelming intensity and physicality that was not only unique in its era, but also at a level from which myths are made. The Blues Explosion introduced funk, soul, and rock 'n' roll rhythms to a generation of indie and punk kids at a time when showmanship and dancing were decidedly unfashionable. At this particular event, dancing by audience members was not negotiable; it was involuntary. It was, and still is, the best concert I have ever seen in my 36 years.
I've seen the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion several times since then: Club Congress in 2002 and again last year, to name just two. No show by the New York band is ever less than excellent. And though none were as profoundly revelatory for me as that appearance in 1994 at the DPC, that may very well be because lightning typically doesn't strike the same person twice.
The Blues Explosion return to Club Congress on Saturday, April 19, and who knows, it could be the best show you'll ever see.
Monday, April 21
You're 55 years old, you have natty dreadlocks well down past your ass, you recently awoke from a life-threatening diabetic coma, you haven't had a sniff of cocaine or a sip of Budweiser since 1989, and you were once the lead singer of not one, but two, legendary West Coast hardcore punk bands. What do you do next?
If your name is Keith Morris, and you were the frontman for Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, you start a new band and get back in the van. That's exactly what Morris did in 2009, a year after he slipped into a diabetes-induced coma a week before he was scheduled to perform with members of Tubronegro at a festival in Oslo, Norway.
On the rebound, Morris formed punk supergroup OFF! with drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket from the Crypt), guitar player Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides) and bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross). Since then, they've released several EPs, a live album and one full length (Wasted Years, the band's second studio album, is scheduled to be released Tuesday, April 8). Not one song is longer than two minutes; the average OFF! track is over before you have time to take a few swigs of beer.
Live, they're simply a blistering barrage of pure rock 'n' roll fury. I've caught them four times now and each show was better than the last. The band stomps through tracks like "King Kong Brigade," "Rat Trap," "Jeffrey Lee Pierce" and "Toxic Box" in record time; I've always said the perfect punk show should last no more than 30 minutes. Wipe 'em out and leave 'em wanting more!
Wednesday, April 23
Beck—the loser-proclaiming, two-turntable-playing, cold-brained, "Sexx Laws" defying, sea-changing guero—is back in a big way for 2014.
On Morning Phase, his 12th album and first record of all-new material in six years, Beck sounds like he skipped over the last decade, producing the same kind of swirling melancholy that marked 2002's Sea Change.
Songs like "Blue Moon" and "Waking Light" are soft but oh-so-well layered, perfect headphone listening, with Beck's trademark sound-collage production blending disparate elements in perfect balance. Catch the preview clips from Beck's Saturday Night Live and Tonight Show appearances for proof of how well his band brings these intricate and lush compositions to life (no word yet on whether Father John Misty will reprise his backup singing on tour).
Now a rarely touring musician, the 43-year-old Beck tends to stick to performances at larger festivals and 2014 is no different. His show at the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday, April 23, is just one of four dates on a minitour built around Coachella. And of the 16 performances Beck has scheduled for all of 2014, the Rialto is by far the most intimate venue—Santa Barbara, Calif.'s Arlington Theatre is next closest at 2,000 seats and most of the rest are festival slots.
So whether you caught Beck's last Tucson show—the lauded June 2006 sold-out Rialto gig that opened with a video of marionette versions of Beck and his band clowning around town—or somehow foolishly missed it like I did, this one is gonna be a treat.
Thursday, April 24
It may be more prescient than bold for the Men to call their latest album Tomorrow's Hits.
The one-time noise-punk band from Brooklyn, N.Y., has toned things down, incorporating blues, soul and classic-rock swagger into a singular sound that's had critics buzzing about Open Your Heart (2012), New Moon (2013) and now Tomorrow's Hits (all on Sacred Bones).
Wild, loose and restless, the Men just may have hit their creative peak on Tomorrow's Hits and are in the middle of a two-month tour that brings them to Tucson on Thursday, April 24, performing at 191 Toole.
The album's eight songs sound like an alternative history of classic rock, punk and alternative, each one a lively and rousing song as the band jumps around stylistically.
"Get What You Give" opens slowly with a jangling guitar riff, then kicks in like a 1980s college radio jam, reminiscent of later Replacements or the West Coast psychedelic bands of the same era. With its exuberant horns, "Another Night" sounds like a lost track from the early, jam-prone, Bohemian-soul days of the E Street Band.
"Different Days" builds around a steady punk bass groove, a lost slacker anthem with a chorus that rests on a single angst-ridden line: "I hate being young." "Sleepless" is a jaunty piano-driven track that almost could've come out of Dylan and the Band's Woodstock basement, with its rolling drums and harmonica outro, while "Pearly Gates" is a full six minutes of helter-skelter blues-rock.
What's most remarkable about the Men is how the band's music spans eras, blending 30-plus years of influences together, setting seemingly incongruous styles and eras next to each other and not only making it work, but reveling in every bit of their new concoctions.
Trampled by Turtles
Monday, April 28
The versatile Trampled By Turtles are a bluegrass band for all seasons, appealing to fans of traditional Appalachian picking, contemporary folk, the jam-band circuit and those who like their acoustic music performed with a punk-rock edge.
After forming in 2003 to get a break from their rock bands, the members of Trampled By Turtles soaked up old fiddle songs and traditional folk and bluegrass tunes, and within a year all those rock bands had called it quits. Since then, the Duluth, Minn. quintet have worked on original tunes and taken on the lives of road warriors, touring their way to national prominence. Trampled by Turtles headlines at the Rialto Theatre on Monday, April 28.
The band's fifth record, Palomino (released in April 2010 on BanjoDad Records) hit No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart and remained in the top 10 for a remarkable 52 consecutive weeks.
For their follow-up, Trampled by Turtles mellowed a bit, led by the gorgeously haunting single "Midnight on the Interstate" and the slow-burn ballad "Alone," which they performed in their television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman. Stars and Satellites, released in 2012, was a crossover hit, debuting at No. 32 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 11 on the Alternative chart. It hung around the Bluegrass chart for 78 weeks.
"Musically, we wanted to step out of our comfort zone; the border of which, I believe, defines any creative endeavor," guitarist Dave Simonett says on the band's website. "I like to think Stars and Satellites is the result of us continuing the search for our own voice and a step in the growth of a band that, at the very least, still loves to play together."
Trampled By Turtles' latest release, Live At First Avenue, was recorded during a three-night stand in Minneapolis to celebrate the band's 10th anniversary.