A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Community Service Tour passes through town, and Phoenix's Electronica Nation shows up in full force

Not everyone understands electronic music. Those who express their resistance often describe it as repetitious, soulless, faceless and disposable. Such generalities are perhaps understandable given that every category of music has a few superficial characteristics that sometimes go on to define the whole genre. For the uninitiated, The Community Service Tour, which made a stop at Tempe's Club Rio last week, served as testimony to the fact that such generalities are far from the truth. The concert, which featured Orbital, The Crystal Method, and the Lo Fidelity Allstars, was a dream come true for the thump-thump and blip generation. The sellout crowd was proof that even in Arizona's relatively conservative musical environment, electronic music is ready to take hold.

Someone once said that technically, all recorded music is electronic, music transformed into signals and currents via microphones, effects, mixers -- you name it. Whether it's the London Philharmonic Orchestra on vinyl or The Future Sound of London on disc, some part of all recorded music is shaped electronically. It was only a matter of time before the manipulation or processing of sound -- the very heart of audio recording -- would become as interesting as musical composition itself.

This certainly explains the recent popularity of crossover electronica acts such as The Crystal Method. Far newer than the much more seasoned Orbital, the duo of Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan are far from faceless, having garnered radio airplay as well as a reputation for their "rock star" performances. Undoubtedly, a large percentage of the assembled crowd was there to see them.

Crystal Method: Mesmerizing the crowd with its "rock star" performance.
Crystal Method: Mesmerizing the crowd with its "rock star" performance.

The Method took advantage of the attentive gaze of the thousands of eyes by really giving them something to look at. In addition to two towers of flickering high-powered strobes and a row of intellibeams directly behind Kirkland and Jordan, the two leaned into their machines, holding on to them as if they were gripping on to the entire genre itself. The rumbling bass that emerged on songs like "High Roller" and "Keep Hope Alive" likely caused a few ripples in Tempe's new manmade lake.

While the Method is all buttons, synths and sequences, the group has somehow managed to get tighter as a unit, and the crowd was simultaneously spasmodic and mesmerized by their performance. Adding to the energy, Jordan displayed some showmanship with a good deal of keyboard tipping and rocking -- like a guitarist bending notes to squeeze out a little more emotion. Toward the end, just after an extended remix version of "Busy Child," he began lifting it over his head, causing me to wonder if he might start playing it with his teeth. He didn't. He did, however, drop it on the stage and begin thrashing it about like a modern-day Hendrix. For a moment, it even looked as if he might pull out some lighter fluid and set it on fire. He didn't do that, either, but an obviously euphoric Kirkland yelled, "Fuck, yeah! You guys kicked our ass. Next time we're gonna play a much bigger place!"

An obviously moved audience member, Bryan Ford, agreed. "The show was great and the people are great because it's total peace," he yelled. "My only complaint: It needs a bigger place. Crystal was much better than last time. We should have more shows like this."

Next were Phil and Paul Hartnall, collectively known as Orbital, a highly respected outfit from the U.K. The binary brothers are known for innovative and revolutionary technical grooves that transcend the boundaries of euphoric dance music, and a live show that exposes their acute abilities with dynamics, sound and light.

No longer are trippy, high-intensity light shows reserved for rock groups like Rush or Pink Floyd. On stage, this dynamic duo created atmosphere and energy and then pierced right through it with stunning visual presentation. Behind them, an enormous multi-sectioned screen projected rapidly flashing images for an audience that, by this point, seemed to be experiencing a sensory overload.

Phil and Paul, who both wore technician's lamp headpieces, looked like a couple of miners in the darkness, digging for soul. Their sound and performance could only be described as reaching an elusive dimension somewhere between a film score and cerebral ambient communication.

Monday Monday: Although everyone gripes about it, it's actually essential that Mondays suck. Without the threat of work or 8 a.m. classes, partying would most likely continue after the weekend. Needless to say, on Monday nights, there's not much to do -- and watching Monday Night Football or Ally McBeal doesn't count.

Against all odds, Bojo's has had a long and successful run (approaching five years) with a promotion known as Bladder Busters. This little Tempe joint has an inherent collegiate coziness reminiscent of long-lamented bars like The Dash or The Wherehouse. And Bojo's offers something to look forward to at the beginning of an interminably long work week. The gimmick? Beginning at 9 p.m., domestic beers are only a penny. That is, until someone has to hit the rest room. Sure, it seems like a combination between a cruel joke and a Catch-22, but it works. There's a whole heap of drinkers that feel that they're up to the task, and Bojo's packs 'em in.

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