MISCELLANEOUS SUNTRACKS

AZMC '91: PLAYING FOR KEEPS Ahhh . . . there's nothing like a music conference. Musicians of every size, taste and hair style steal into town. Music-business people--everyone from writers and deejays to promoters and record-company executives--fly in and schmooze themselves silly.

During the day, everyone drifts in and out of panel discussions debating vital issues, like how you can wire the band van together or which music lawyers can be trusted. At night, the artists play in what are optimistically known as "showcases." Held at clubs, theatres or practically any space that will hold a crowd, the showcases continue for several nights running.

Limited to 30 minutes at most places, bands play with the idea that record-label talent scouts, artist managers and booking agents are in the crowd taking notes. If a conference is successful, a band or two will sign a record deal. Everyone else will come away enlightened and exhausted.

November 6 through 10, that scenario was played out in the Valley as the first Arizona Music Conference and Showcase flapped its wings and got off the ground. Headquartered at the Westcourt in the Buttes resort, AZMC '91 featured two days of panels and three nights of showcases. There were 22 venues scattered across the Valley which played host to band showcases. Most clubs featured five to six bands per night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The following is a sampling of the weekend's showcases as seen through the now-bleary eyes of the Sun Tracks staff.

ROSIE FLORES Arizona Center
November 7

Perhaps the most prestigious act gracing the conference was L.A. roots-rocker Rosie Flores. And perhaps no participant was treated more shabbily.

Flores found herself placed inexplicably in the middle of Arizona Center on Thursday evening. Her nowherelandish, postdinner, preparty 8 p.m. slot drew a couple dozen semicurious shoppers. Adding injury to insult was the conference's failure to deliver a promised drum kit. Obliged to make do, the band's percussion section consisted of a tambourine, a cowbell and a pair of sticks.

Rosie could have pouted, but instead she and her band riveted the little gathering with selections from her latest work After the Farm, as yet available only on the Swiss label Red Moon Records. The music gods and lawyers permitting, these superb sides--filled with Rosie's rich brand of gritty, down-home rock and soaring ballads--will soon show up on Hightone Records.

After her set, Flores was gracious, but bewildered by the treatment she received.

"Well," she said with a smile, "I at least hope my name was helpful to them."--

BRILLIANT FOOLS 3RD FLOOR
Hayden Square Amphitheatre
November 7

The Fools and the Floor are both pop-alternative bands. That's where the similarities end. Led by ex-Gentlemen After Dark guitarist Robin Johnson, Tucson's Fools is yet another guitar band that finds no shame in mining that seemingly endless vein of pop licks, the Byrds. The Fools like their pop sweet--lots of strumming and very little rocking. And though they're more potential than substance at this point, they do have a future. Johnson is a strong front man with a voice, and the band has a couple of tunes that are a cut above, like the closer "Goodbye."

If pop bands don't dig into the Byrds legacy, they usually end up gravitating toward the English model. The members of Tempe's 3rd Floor are Anglophiles whose lead singer James Toro goes for the look (black shoes, white socks), the voice (thin, lightheaded ramblings) and, of course, the hair (the Jesus Jones-inspired art of flipping long bangs) of the English-pop idiom. Unfortunately, the group didn't do as well at emulating its mentor's music as the Fools did. There is some talent here--the band's lead guitarist John Brantley, for instance, was strong--but the group's original material lacks personality, and the stage show is a compendium of 120 Minutes-derived moves. Will someone please tie up those blond bangs? --

SPINNING JENNY Minder Binder's
November 7

The highlight of Spinning Jenny's set at Minder Binder's wasn't the band's considerable power-pop stylings or the rougher touches contributed by newly acquired guitarist Freddy Gildersleeve.

No, the ultimate moment in an otherwise mixed performance was delivered by singer-guitarist Stephan Easterling. Full of enthusiasm, he blindly rushed to the front of the stage and accidently conked himself in the head with his microphone.

Now that's entertainment.
Everything else was kind of ragged. The addition of Gildersleeve is a plus in that he provides punch to the band's twangy "twee" tendencies. But energy and abandon are two different animals, and at times the Jennys seemed to let their newfound gusto get out of control.

Even so, cool songs like "Back in the Life" and "John the Gardiner" stood up well, and the band's increasing cohesiveness as the night wore on suggested good things to come from this East Valley band.--

MARK NESLER Toolies Country
November 7

Bless them, AZMC's framers resisted putting Dallas country singer Mark Nesler in the Sun Club.

The tall, swarthy Nesler wrapped his cool baritone around George Strait songs while band members picked and fiddled their way through a taut set of similar two-stepping and shuffle-friendly favorites at Toolies Country. Nesler passed the mic and the spotlight--while never relinquishing leadership--to others in the band, permitting each to strut his or her stuff.

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