TAPES IN THE MAIL

And you thought Ticketmaster was evil! Hey, just because it wants to add a ticket "service charge" that's almost as high as minimum wage--just ask Eddie Vedder, he's plenty mad--the 'master ain't all bad. It's sponsoring the second annual Ticketmaster Music Showcase on Saturday at Minder Binder's in Tempe, featuring locals Feel, Refreshments, Dirt Farmers, Azz Izz and Bloom. A lot of industry types are supposed to be there, too. Call 966-1911. The mailbag of music is swollen like a blood-engorged tick, so let's jump right in to everyone's favorite feature, local reviews.

Kicking things off is a Scottsdale outfit with the rather clever name of Grassy Knoll, and Woody Harrelson's father is not listed on the credits. The band's bio informs us that Knoll plays "something called natural rock," going on to explain that this is a "loose, traditional song structure reminiscent of the early to mid-'70s." Well, loose it is. If it got any looser, we'd be talking freeform jazz in some spots. Knoll is passionate, but droning, flat vocals and third-rate Strawberry Alarm Clock licks do not an interesting listen make. Call 994-1456.

While Man Dingo may not be a breath of wholly fresh air--you might catch whiffs of Green Day, Hsker D or even good ol' Generation X--the band's Ifive CD on the Dr. Strange Records label out of lovely Alta Loma, California, is an absolute pleasure. It's raw, direct and jammed full of anthemic punk rawk. Let's face it, this is a pro package, with fantastic, Charles Burnsesque cover art of a woman being drowned (suitable for framing, if you pick Ifive up on vinyl). Though the label is out of state, the recording was done right here at what used to be the Groove Factory, now the more austerely named Phoenix Recording Company, under the tasteful engineering ear of Steve Naughton. There's at least one great single on this album, a track called "Drop"; it's one of those rarities that has "mosh pit" and "whistleability" written all over it. As if that weren't enough, any band that can pull off a line like "Kill me now before I throw up everything I ate" is okay by me. No phone number.

I swear this is not ego talking, but one way to get instant points off for being either lazy or stupid or both is to send in review tapes to a music editor who hasn't been here for a year. In other words, neither Serene Dominic nor myself is Robert Baird, okay? Hey, guess what--there's someone right here who did just that! And his name is Paul Voudouris. Believe me, if I liked Paul's music, I'd give it an honest, appreciative review. But I don't. This is adult contemporary of the smarmiest order, albeit very professionally done. Here are a few interesting facts from his bio: Voudouris' hometown is Athens, Greece, he has a "hollow body guitar" player in his band named Zirque Boner, and he's sold "more than a quarter-million units throughout the world." Maybe someday he'll sell some albums instead of all those damn units! Call 204-2103.

Tempe's Ant Farm chooses to begin its eight-song cassette with an instrumental jam titled "Slinky" that goes nowhere and is not in any way conducive to continued listening of the tape. Apparently, whichever Ant Farmer writes the lyrics gets to sing the songs, a rule that's way too democratic for most bands, but here it doesn't much matter, as neither singer is too red-hot. The vocals of Rob DeFriese are too reedy for my taste (though Morrissey fans will probably dig 'em, especially on the Smithslike "The Game"), and John Chavez's exaggerated delivery borders on comical. Though even Henry Rollins would have trouble selling trite lines like "We're moving/And we're discovering/We're uncovering/The truth and the lies/The evil you despise . . . we're grooving." Call 229-6691.

Simian alert! This is the part of Screed where I review bands with the word "Monkey" in the title:

If I gave out dimes to people who called me up to pimp their bands, Aaron Casey of Monkeyboy would have about seven bucks. Which may not seem like a lot of dimes, but it sure is a lot of phone calls. Don't get me wrong, persistence is a virtue, and the band's six-song tape ain't too bad, either. 'Boy does a lot of gut-wrenching, in-yer-face vocals over some fairly generic guitar rock that conjures up stuff like Quiet Riot and White Zombie. Live, Serene tells me, is where the band shines. He's seen it. Casey's roaring vocals, a bit heavy-handed on tape, make all the difference onstage while he claws his shirt and perspires. Rock. Call 926-3610.

Oooh, yeah, baby. Wise Monkey Orchestra is back with a wonderfully produced, four-song CD sampler from its upcoming Time Capsule album on the local Primary Records label. It's all about groove with this band, but the thing that keeps me into it is I can't figure out if the feel is black nightclub circa '71 or classic, feel-good Frisco hippie vibe. Tasteful horns, a bass player with talented fingers, and vocalist Alley, who can go from Phoebe Snowisms to sassy, funk-rap sex kitten (check out "Eager to Please"), complete the picture. Get down. Call 1-619-699-3298.

There are four young men in Phoenix named Jamie, Brew, Mega and Dan; together they are the Swooping Monkeybats. And, as they say in Spanish, es muy bueno. Yes, this five-song slab of 33-and-a-third vinyl is great stuff, absolute power trash from some musical netherworld between the Cramps and Seattle's almost-legendary Mummies. There's not enough straightahead punk to make this release serious (i.e., dull), nor do things ever get completely into the realm of comedy. But these boys do wear their late-show influences on their sleeves with songs like "It Came From the Lake," "Left to Die" and "Tortured Faces," and a vocalist who sounds a lot like a pissed-off Jerry Lewis (astute observers will note the B-side of the label is a portrait of Tor). It doesn't get much shittier than this, and I mean that in the best possible way. Write P.O. Box 16592, Phoenix, AZ 85011-6592.

Wait, maybe it does get shittier! Take a listen to Mondo Guano's single (it goes 45 rpm), featuring the works "Deadwood" and "Theme From Return to the Fatherland." The former is a big, loud, wobbly thing of a song; it's got a rhythm as insistent as a broken washing machine stuck on rinse. Both songs sound like Doo Rag is supplying the back-up. In its own way, this music is kind of neat, or it could just be a test of how much you can take. Write 337 South Sixth Street, Tucson, AZ 85701.--Peter Gilstrap

Ever since grunge made it okay for head bangers to sing about the crud buildup on their toothbrushes, it's hard to say what passes for heavy metal. But here are two authentic gothic horror heavy-metal bands you'll have no trouble distinguishing from the flannel brigade.

Let's start from the bottom up, with Tempe's X Division. The Drab Four--Bruce, Dave, Dusty and Marc (no last names)--arbitrarily switch tempos from ponderous, lumbering dinosaur thuds to galloping warrior beats, but never gain in either direction. On the long and ponderous "Deja Vu," nothing ever seems to happen, over and over again. The closest common denominator to lead vocalist Bruce would be Jim Ignatowski from Taxi if he woke up on a burning bed of coals. "I don't believe in a higher being/I am my own religion," he howls on "To Each His Own." Maybe he ought to take up his own collection plate and invest in a clue. Call 990-9037.

You'll have better luck with Phoenix's Crushed. This four-song CD has an intriguing Max Ernst woodcut on the cover--a half-woman, half-spider creature spreading her six legs for a sleazy sheik. No songs about six-legged, two-timin' women here, just good, ol'-fashioned compositions about serpents' skin, drowning victims, cemeteries and the lighter side of the dark side. It's all professionally performed, with Mark Lauer's vocal delivery walking a fine line between Eddie Vedder and Al Jolson. You even get Grand Funkish block harmonies on most choruses. No phone number.

Scottsdale's Tripping With Grace has a full-length CD teeming with the kind of self-conscious artiness its name implies. Mike Shannon and company seem stylistically stuck in the early '80s, with songs that recall the Fixx ("Clairvoyant Skies"), Limahl ("Edge of You") and Boingo before it lost its Oingo. TWG saves the best song for last. "Twice As Nice" dumps the claustrophobic keyboard sounds for some nice acoustic and mandolin interplay; it's a direction TWG should explore further. Call 482-3815.

A few months back, Glass Heroes sent us a tape that was more than two years old. This new tape, Liars, Cheats n Thieves, brings us up to date, sort of. Like a punk preservation society, Keith Jackson and the boys continue to make music you once could have heard at Max's Kansas City any night of the week. The cassette even has a caricature of Glass Heroes patterned after the Ramones' Road to Ruin LP. The lads from Queens may have stopped screaming about the poor state of radio, but these guys never will. "It's been 16 years and there's still nothing on the radio" goes the chorus of "Turn It Off." The most progressive thing here is the title track, which sounds like the Clash. If you'd like to see a Dead Boys tribute album performed live or just want to hear songs with sewer references, phone in for the show schedule. Call 460-1821.

Phoenix's Tea & Sympathy, on the other hand, appropriates Aerosmith's sound so accurately, you can almost picture the group's lead vocalist getting Steven Tyler's scarves caught in his mouth. Whatever the inspiration, this brisk demo contains two prime slabs of raunch and roll, with "All to Me" the standout. Could be a good live act to spy. Call 274-6763.

"Every damn thing except back-up vocals by Amos Chip," boasts the liner notes of Mr. Chip's CD So Many Ways. It's an impressive showcase for this multi-instrumentalist from Tucson. The emphasis is on mellow instrumentals with a few vocal turns, unlike his Welcome to Club Dread cassette. These instrumentals are a little more up-tempo and a lot more bizarre. One question: If Amos Chip plays live, how many people does it take to haul all this musical equipment around? Call 792-8360.

The Burnlackers have a maturity and polish that doesn't turn up too often in a scene filled with college kids who just picked up their instruments. Here's a pop band with country instrumentation and a bluesy singer; somehow, it all works. Ms. Sara Temple has a fantastic voice that recalls Bonnie Raitt and Lone Justice's Maria McKee. Just listen to "Taken," the Loretta Lynn-meets-Sonny Boy Williamson track that opens the band's five-song tape Laughter, and see if you don't agree. No phone number.

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