Ready To Play

THEY'RE READY TO play and play and play. Joe Rush and Todd Hammes are present and accounted for both live and in all-out digital. The charismatic duo hits the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 23, at the Southwest Center for Music. And their new release, Three Hours with Pete, is rockin' complete.

Music This is powerful, ambitious music. Rush, known to Tucsonans as a personable, precise performer and exceptional lyricist, joins with rhythm's own Todd Hammes in the Southwest Center's big room. Sadly, it appears this will be one of the last popular acoustic concerts to grace that space. Fortunately, it's going to be a memorable show.

Rush and Hammes are center-stage stars individually. Each has gone through academic as well as personal growth in the last years, and watching the changes has been both a challenge and a joy for audiences. Rush has dared to try on different presentational hats--first as a coffee-house-style artist, later in the more electric-oriented trio "Joe Rush and Right Now" and companion recording Play and Play and Play, and recently finding an energetic fit with Hammes. Every period has had unique vigor, but audiences are sure to agree this incarnation is particularly magical.

Hammes is a gift to rhythm, pounding it out with passion and complexity. His Percussion Plus series has combined some of Tucson's most distinct musicians in a monthly exploration of improvisational intrigue. He also plays for the Tucson Symphony, and is appreciated as a gifted teacher. Rush, whose day job is playing piano for the University of Arizona's modern dance department, brings an entirely different voice to his guitar-based songs.

"I consider myself more like Nirvana than Tracy Chapman," says Rush, a thoughtful, philosophical man with a quiet sense of humor. We met on a rainy Saturday, along with Hammes and Pauline Young, who has acted as Rush's manager for many years. Rush's contemplative attitude is a bit different from Hammes' more tongue-in-cheek approach. "Dude," Hammes tells me, "we're going where there is to go." He hums the Star Trek theme before making an early exit for a performance. "And I'm gone."

With Hammes' fun self out of the door, Rush confides that the relationship has been a "big influence on writing and performing--more than he (Hammes) realizes. He's an integral part of the show. Up to one year ago it was my thing. Now it's something bigger than the two of us."

It's an honest observation. Many fans have seen the chemistry heighten between these two vastly different but equally talented players, and the experience is nothing short of intense. Over the last few years the accuracy of the arrangements as well as the verbal, visual and musical give-and-take has found a cadence that many never reach: The practiced becomes spontaneous.

It is in part the positive response that Rush and Hammes have received that has led to the desire to do a special concert--apart from their typical coffee-house venues such as Cuppuccinos. The CD is an extension of this, intended to capture the Rush and Hammes dynamic, which in digital form is, according to Rush, "a snapshot of what we do well."

Recorded almost entirely live by Pete Fine, this 10-song offering is the first time the Rush and Hammes names appear with equal prominence on a recording, a testament to the commitment between them. The disc is a combination of long-standing Rush favorites such as "Leap of Faith," and somewhat more recent tunes including the anthem to commitment "I'm Here to Stay." All of the arrangements are straight-forward, with Rush's precise acoustic guitar and lead vocals textured by Hammes' sometimes gentle, other-times pounding djembe and tasteful backing vocals. A few additions of subtle shakers or other rhythm touches appear here and there. This is to-the-point communication, feeding a population hungry for original thought and sound.

Young describes the evolution of the CD: "When it became clear that the duo was a great show...I began talking about the need to get a demo. Joe and Todd hooked up with Pete Fine and recorded four songs live.

"The recording sounded so good, was so easy and so fun for the guys, they kept going. When it was done, it turned out to be cheaper to make CDs." So here it is--Three Hours with Pete. Well worth a listen. A personal favorite is "Drop my Skin:"

I wish I could walk outside and drop my skin/

I wish I could turn my life over and start again/

well I'm losing interest in all the things I've been/

I wish I could walk outside and drop my skin.

Reading through a collection of spirited reviews and interviews spanning the past six years, and speaking heart-to-heart with these warm and hardworking artists, I have to wonder what the hell is standing between this palpable energy, unnerving talent, positive audience response and a whole lotta fame?

Both of these men have dedicated their lives to the academic study and expression of music and have combined that with vision, responsibility, and the perfection of a sound that is certainly far superior to much of the wholesale average available in popular music today.

"I wanna sign that contract and work my ass off." Joe proclaims. "I want to get to know Todd so well I hate him." Rush is ready. Hammes is ready. But something is obviously blocking the road to a more equitable relationship with the music business.

The gridlock is not from fans. "Our fans are so kind, so complimentary," says Joe. And he's right--a more varied and devoted following you will not find.

The problem, it appears, boils down to finding a good booking agent and support from a major label.

"We're looking for our Brian Epstein," says Rush. "We need more people on board to make it happen."

Joe Rush and Todd Hammes perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 23, at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. Advance tickets are available for $4 at Hear's Music, 2508 N. Campbell Ave. Tickets will also be available for $5 at the door. For more information call 881-7314. TW

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