TAPES IN THE MAIL

All right. Before we dive into the always controversial and titillating world of local reviews, let me tell you this: I went to see rockabilly shouter Robert Gordon at the fine establishment that is the Rockin' Horse the other night. Some of you were there, too, a handful of Gordon fans and the just plain curious. After a strong set from Flathead, Gordon's back-up band came out and ran through a few oldies to prime us, I assume, for stepping back in time to that golden era of rock. Then ol' Bob hit the stage, leopard-skin tux coat, cummerbund, heavily greased pompadour and trademark ears sticking out. He sang his hits, strong of voice but apparently weak on rehearsal; he cued the band repeatedly. I stayed for about 45 minutes, became bored, got out of there.

Then, a few days later, I received a fax from Tucker Woodbury, owner of the Horse. From the fax: "You might be interested to know that you witnessed the worst concert performance in Rockin' Horse history." Apparently, from what my sources tell me, Gordon left the stage after 55 minutes (he'd been contracted to do 90), at which point the dressing-room door was set upon by disgruntled fans. Gordon's booking agency not only canceled the rest of the tour after the Phoenix "show," but dropped the hiccupping has-been from its roster. Now here's the important part: Woodbury, right guy that he is, wants me to tell you that ticket stubs to the Gordon show can be used at any show for the remainder of the year. Allow me to recommend Tab Benoit and Sleepy LaBeef on September 8. With that excitement out of the way, it's showtime!

The second cut on Horace Pinker's CD Power Tools, "Punker Than GBH," contains this line: "Things are so retro now everyone has a favorite decade/I just can't decide/Hippies and Sixties disco and Seventies punks worship the early Eighties/I just can't decide."

Well, you don't have to listen terribly closely to realize these boys--bassist Bryan Jones, drummer Bill Ramsey, singer/guitarist Scott Eastman--are telling the truth. The four-year-old Tempe band works admirably under the torn, ragged umbrella of good ol' punk rawk, but it lets plenty of other elements slip through the holes. Bits of speed metal and thrash, even a little raw power-balladry on the hooky "Bottom Line" (there's even a guy doing background vocals!).

Pinker has just returned from a three-month tour of Europe, and has numerous stateside trips under its belt; this is one local band that can't be accused of never getting off of Mill Avenue, God bless em! Tools shows Pinker to be a first-rate punk band, or whatever you want to lump it into, with the requisite Tommy-gun rhythm section, Evinrude guitars and scream/shout/wail vocals. Right arm. Call 1-713-520-6669.

I forget how that nursery rhyme goes. You know the one: "Monday's child is full of crap, Tuesday's child is an idiot. . . ." Something like that. Anyway, my lack of knowledge leaves me unable to decipher the true inner meaning of what the band Thursday's Child is all about, but this much I can tell you: The Child sent in a three-song tape that's strong, no-frills alternative rock. Minor-key stuff, good songwriting, complete with some interesting dynamics. Vocals properly morose and snarling (though in the song "Martyr," staying in key seems a bit of a problem). Also, the young men of Child are all juniors at Saguaro High School; by the time they graduate, they could be a force. Call 443-3325.

From a new band named Shut Eye Smile comes a live tape of surprisingly decent quality, recorded at Gibson's. Things pretty much center on singer/guitarist/harmonica player (harmonicist?) Aaron, who has a mellifluous voice that--and I'm not just taking a cheap shot here--reminds me of Elton John phrasing like Eddie Vedder. The tunes are midtempo, big on storytelling lyrics--a kind of Gin Hot Workshop amalgamation. Call 858-9557.

And I Am knows what it's doing. If awards were given for clarity of vision and professionalism--and sometimes they are--this band would win hands down. The music AIA makes is alternative, heavily textured, lightweight, KZON-ready rock, the kind of stuff Sting has been churning out the last few years. And damned if any of the tracks I heard couldn't stand up next to anything the ex-Police man has done (check out the catchy "War on the Inside" if you don't believe me). Excellent production, and perfectly heavy-handed vocals from singer Peter Forbes. That's a compliment. Call 759-9427.

I reach into the mailbox, and what do I come out with? A tape from a band named Screamin' Seamen. What could this sound like? Far from the punk-joke band that you might expect, SS is a balls-out, driving guitar band, kind of like what X turned into after its first album. There's a spastic jerk of the head to Sabbath (or is it the Allmans?), which the Seamen more than get away with on the appropriately titled "Jamin Hard." Listening to this stuff makes me want to be in a dark, smoky bar on my fifth beer. But then I always . . . just kidding! Call 969-4269.

As Glendale's D.J. Richie Rich's Can't Find the Beat tape begins, Richie offers an original blend of needles-scratching-vinyl mixed with hip-hop. He's smooth, but the D.J. would be better off finding a new M.C. Vocalist M.C. Blackjack's lyrics come close to spoiling the tape; they're simple, unmotivated and dated. On the flip side of the tape, things brighten up a bit. Without M.C. Blackjack hitting you over the head, Rich is left alone to create his own mix of scratched beats and quality bass lines. Write to P.O. Box 2533, Glendale, AZ 85311.--Danielle Hollomon

Most local bands' idea of "dedication" is finding one group to emulate and then copy it up the wazoo. Tempe's Tao Overstreet chooses the less-traveled road by taking on several different styles--metal, rap, tribal punk--all at once. A&R people hate it when groups hop musical genres as often as Tao does on its Misunderstood CD, but the good news is that the band pulls off everything it sets out to do. Exceptionally well.

Each of the band's three singer-songwriters exhibits a healthy balance of wit and humour. The most hilarious moments belong to Page Davis, who makes insightful observations about "Teenage Plastic Surgery" (Her big nose bothers her like a disease/She wants nostrils like a Pekingese") and what it's like to be a "Has Been." Who can resist this tender tale of a washed-up, fortysomething musician who assures his 18-year-old trollop that he's several years younger than Keith, but many, many years younger than Mick?

Guitarist Bee Sanders' dead-on Perry Farrell impersonation is another real hoot, and "Strange" is as hooky as Jane's Addiction's best-loved material. But since the Farrell bit appears again several times more throughout the CD, the mimicry is less an homage than it is a hard habit to curb. That he's good enough to fool most listeners is still high praise, indeed. It might take you some time before you can understand Misunderstood, but it's certainly a fun jigsaw to figure out. Easily the most impressive self-produced CD (ditto for the packaging) that's come across the desk this year. Call 1-800-522-6939.

Another budding talent from Tempe is Potato. Band members Sweet, Au Gratin, Bug, Blight and Baked (what? no Fries?) sound like they've all been served up with an abundance of exotic mushrooms. The late-Sixties jamming, coupled with the most bizarre lyrics this side of Captain Beefheart (Do place a diaper way upon me now--do lose that face, Greenwich Village, creepy mime!"), are sure to throw less-adventurous listeners for a loop. What does it all mean? Who knows? Is it self-indulgent? Most certainly. Be sure and look out for Potato cooking live. Write to Vector Productions, P.O. Box 27184, Tempe, AZ 85282.

Mesa's Mastermind is a hard-rock ensemble that patterns itself after Rush and Journey, but without the distinctive, head-splitting vocals. Keyboardist Mark Lamp's voice is pleasant, but carries the emotional commitment of the 1910 Fruitgum Company rather than the heavy corporate rock the band is leaning toward. In fact, "Even Steven" sounds like heavy-metal bubblegum, a possible clue to a future direction. The track that shows off the band's musicianship in the best light is "Tym Piece," a grandiose yet sophisticated instrumental. Call 780-0283 after 4 p.m.

Speaking of good musicianship, Tempe's Primitive ID sports a crackerjack rhythm section. Against this solid backbone is singer Stephen Jones, whose phrasing often sounds like Natalie Merchant three octaves down. "Round My World," from the band's CD Resolutions, will sound like the uptempo material from Merchant's thankfully defunct group, 10,000 Maniacs. "Popsong Resolution" will remind you of Joe Jackson, but only because the band rips off "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", then has the cheek to include an uncredited verse of that New Wave staple before returning to an infinitely less catchy chorus--I'm not the strength you think you need." Like lonely jocks down at the bar who keep telling their troubles to people who haven't asked, Jones and alternate vocalist/guitarist Al Inteso keep rummaging over their failed relationships, wondering what went wrong. Maybe if they were a little more, well, interesting. If you ignore the lyrics, Resolutions is not half-bad to listen to. Maybe new girlfriends for Al and Steve and several kegs of beer might help the band get "ID" together. Write to P.O. Box 25694, Tempe,

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