Miller Time

With new live-on-radio CD, KZON's Leah Miller delivers the Valley music scene unplugged

It's 2:00 in the afternoon and Leah Miller's still a bit groggy.
In all fairness, the Zone's late-night DJ has a good excuse for her mild case of lethargy. Her graveyard shift at the station means she doesn't get home until six in the morning, and she's rarely asleep before 7 a.m.

Adding to her sense of fatigue is the fact that this is the second day in a row she's had to wake up early. What makes the inconvenience bearable is that both days Miller has spent the early afternoon discussing a project that she's ultra-enthused about, the upcoming CD release of a collection of live performances taped by bands over the last eight months on Miller's Sunday night show, "Leah's Local Zone."

Miller's midnight show is only one of many specialty programs devoted to local music on Sunday night. But what has separated her show from the pack is her commitment to capturing bands live in the studio, warts and all. She began her show last August with a bang, bringing in Pharoahs 2000, who premiered the song "Quitter" with a polished acoustic treatment and a fine vocal by band leader, and ex-Gin Blossom, Robin Wilson.

For Miller, the performance brought her full circle with her college-radio roots at KASR, where she was the first DJ ever to interview the Blossoms ("Doug Hopkins got up in the middle of the interview, said he was going to the bathroom, and never came back"). As impressive as the Pharoahs' set was, though, it took Miller several weeks before she realized what she had on her hands.

"I wasn't bringing bands in every week," she says. "I'd have bands one week, and play CDs the next week. I was just kinda moseying along, I didn't have any set deal. And I said, 'I'm gonna get all the big bands in.'

"The first three bands I had were the Pharoahs, Gloritone and Nine Volt. Right off the bat, because I had three basically signed acts, the performances were just stunning. My engineer, Keith Mak, would set up the bands and hang out, and within the fourth band in, he came to me and said, 'Hey, we've got the Collectibles CD, why don't we do a local Collectibles CD?'"

Though the CD does not employ the Collectibles name (it's titled Leah's Local Zone--Take One), it is in keeping with the spirit of that series, which showcases national acts who stop by KZON and perform on the air. Miller fretted initially that the 17-track collection was overly male-heavy, or that its prominent use of acoustic guitars and muted drumming would make it come off as too mellow. At its best, though, the disc sheds new light on some of the Valley's best bands, and creates a rare sense of intimacy in which you can hear every crack of a singer's voice and every slide of a guitarist's fingers on the fret board.

In particular, Gloritone's gentle reading of "John Wayne" is revelatory, proving how sturdy the song is even when removed from its usual buzz-saw approach. If the rest of the CD can't possibly match up to the standards of the opening tracks by Pharoahs and Gloritone, it's still loaded with pleasant surprises: a harmony-rich performance by the now-defunct Crashbar, a swampy rave-up from Zen Lunatics and the controlled intensity of singer-songwriter Pete Forbes.

The CD will be available only one night, at a special CD-release show on Friday, April 30, at Bash on Ash. The show will feature three bands that are on the CD: the Peacemakers, Pharoahs 2000 and The Pistoleros. For Miller, who has long been an advocate of the local scene, the CD--which benefits the Arthritis Foundation--is the summation of the positive impact she was always attempting to have with her daily programming.

"I was playing local music every day, but I was playing it on the drive-through, at 3:00 in the morning," she says. "For people on the overnights that was great, but it wasn't high exposure for the local bands, although the Beat Angels, particularly, told me that they had a ton of sales thanks to 3:00-in-the-morning airplay. I used to focus so much attention on the drive-through. Now I turn that focus to the local show."

Going Against the Green: In a somewhat bewildering move, the Tempe Board of Adjustments has determined that The Green Room cannot offer live music on Mondays and Tuesdays. The decision was an attempt to appease a small group of neighborhood residents who complained about drainage from the club's patio, garbage problems in the area and excessive volume levels emanating from the club.

These residents, who have had a history of battling Mill Avenue clubs, opposed The Green Room's application for a live-music license when the matter came before the board in February. The board put off a decision for a month, ultimately arriving at the compromise solution three weeks ago.

The decision is infuriating for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the neighbors' complaints are highly dubious. Not only have The Green Room's owners done an exemplary job of insulating the bar to reduce sound leakage, but what little sound does leak out is audible only on the club's east side, while the residents involved live on the west side. Additionally, it's hard to imagine how the club's exceedingly well-mannered crowd could be responsible for massive garbage dumping in the area, and, if the neighbors really had a problem with drainage from the bar, why are we hearing about it now, and not two years ago when the same site was a sports bar called Fumbles?

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