Andrew Jackson Jihad on Downtown Phoenix

Sean Bonnette has a theory concerning time, space, and the area of Phoenix that city planners officially refer to as the "Central Business District."

"I have this idea — I've had it for six months now — that 'Central Phoenix' and 'Downtown Phoenix' are two totally different places, but they exist on top of each other," he says. "Like Conspire and ReBAR exist right next to each other but they're in totally different places."

Chatting with Bonnette, the singing half of local folk-punk duo Andrew Jackson Jihad, at a booth around the corner from the "Salad Wagon" at the Original Hamburger Works on 15th Avenue, it's not difficult to understand why he sees a coffee shop/art gallery/anarchist library on Roosevelt Row and a hip new bar down the street selling $9 cucumber martinis on separate planes of existence.

Andrew Jackson Jihad: Downtown's proudest denizens.
Stephanie Carrico
Andrew Jackson Jihad: Downtown's proudest denizens.

Location Info

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Trunk Space

1506 Grand Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Andrew Jackson Jihad is scheduled to perform on Thursday, January 27, at the Trunk Space.

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Folks from the 'burbs don't always and immediately see the distinctions as clearly as a resident like Bonnette, a bespectacled, thickly bearded 25-year-old who grew up skateboarding in the west-side parks around Cortez High and who has made a living working a suicide hotline since graduating from ASU. But they're definitely there.

"CenPho" is for self-proclaimed social media gurus who bitch about how far they have to ride that fixie from their house near SideBar to the nearest Whole Foods. Then there's "DTP" (Bonnette's acronym), a place for urban bohemians who hang out in the grubby galleries along Grand Avenue, buy groceries at Ranch Market, and try to chat up homeless people wandering down their street when they've got a minute. Geographic neighbors, cultural strangers.

Bonnette's upright-bass-playing bandmate, Ben Gallaty, likes the theory, too. The 27-year-old Gallaty — tall and thin like the piñon in his native Chino Valley, though far too graceful to rightly be called gangly — strongly prefers his bubble of the multiverse.

"It's a little rough around the edges, but that's what I like about it," says Gallaty. "Let's put it this way: There was a lot of gunfire on my street on New Year's Eve. Of course, we were setting off Roman candles in the street, so it goes both ways."

Ben may have best encapsulated his viewpoint on the city, and life in general, in a letter to the editor of this publication — both Gallaty and Bonnette are vociferous readers of local media, a habit they probably picked up working together in the coffee house where they met — responding to a 2008 cover story about downtown hipsters and their fancy fixed-gear bikes.

"I feel that the 'Pedalphiles' article (Benjamin Leatherman, July 24) failed to cover two aspects prevalent in the Valley's fixed-gear culture: Fixed-gears are stupid, and their riders are elitists," his screed began. "Riding bicycles is fun. Many of the people riding fixed-gears are good people. Fanaticism and elitism are grotesque. Please don't let your diet or vehicle identify you."

That's the same impassioned spirit that led Bonnette to respond to a column I wrote about Modified Arts re-imagining itself as a gallery by screaming "Fuck Martin Cizmar and fuck New Times!" on stage at a local music festival.

I wasn't offended, and fixie riders shouldn't be, either. Bonnette and Gallaty are proud and steadfast defenders of their Phoenix. That same passion is probably a big part of the reason their acoustic but aggressive band, Andrew Jackson Jihad, has become the quintessential downtown act in their six years together. And why they're poised to take the next step.

AJJ sounds a little like a stripped-down version of Against Me! Their most recent record, 2009's Can't Maintain, has a dozen raw, powerful songs that aptly convey the vibe of their Phoenix. Listening, it's like you're right there in DTP — even if you're sitting in CityScape, the heart of CenPho. It's a record every bit as definitive of a time and a place as anything the Valley has ever produced. AJJ has toured the country and Europe on those songs, playing venues as large as The Troubadour in L.A. and recently signing with a well-connected booking agent. Now, they're deciding among labels to release the album they're currently recording.

Can't Maintain is a feisty record, to be sure, with songs confronting absentee fathers, alcoholism, and mental illness. And critics. Take "We Didn't Come Here to Rock," a sarcastic response to a bad review (and one of the few tracks amped up with electric guitar and drums). The heart of the song is a minute-long burst of melodic fury, with another minute of artful noise (Gallaty enjoys making noise music at home but considers it too indulgent for official release) tacked onto the end.

"We didn't come here to rock / We only came to disappoint you / Because deep down in your cunt / That's exactly what you wanted us to do," Bonnette sings. "You wanted to lead you on / You wanted us to bum you out / So you can build us up / And you can knock us down / If that's what gets your dick hard / Telling people they're bad at making art."

Just like the multiverse in CenDownPho, though, the band's work has layers. Righteous anger and generous use of profanity give way to wrenching love for fellow man on tracks like "Guilt: The Song," in which Bonnette sings shamefully about his own lack of benevolence: "I was driving on vacation/ And I saw something I hadn't seen in years / The man was seizing / On the pavement flailing / And I did nothing / A white dressed woman carried him off / I didn't lift a finger / I didn't stop my car / I just kept on driving / I didn't help that man at all / And I hope he forgives me."

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5 comments
David Jackman
David Jackman

Nice article boyz, I couldn't agree more with the two downtown/central phx dimensions. If only we could be more like "other cities" and bring them together instead of this cliquiness. Perfect example: 2nd st/washington area where Bar Smith is. You have the white electro-hipster scene and then the Latin club/hip hop scene literally right next door. Neither party would dare even nodding their head's at one another, and no one wants to mix and match cuz everyone's so damn comfortable with their own scene. That, to me, is part of why this city does not have a "central" mentality and real cultural "core". It's the high school "cliquiness" that still permeates... Why? Maybe it's cuz most Phoenicians are from somewhere else, or just that we have caught the infectious california syndrome somewhere along the way of building our city. it's like this "beverly-hills-rollin-in-my-expedition-that-i-didnt-buy-now-let's-go-only-where-we-know-and-kick-it-with-out-clique-and-make-fun-of-other-groups" isolated attitude... I'm not trash talking my city. I love my city, I just want to point out what I think are some challenges that we need to overcome to make it even greater. I actually have been seeing things get much better... people are really branching out and 2011 is the year for us, no doubt! Now I just want to start seeing college kids feeling accepted at Conspire or Trunkspace and anarchist-punks chillin' at Casey Moores or Martini Ranch (i know that's scotts/tempe, but whatever) with no issues... long way to go (:

by the way, great set the other night at Rhythm Room!

-Jackman

dave mcullough
dave mcullough

VIVE LE AJJ!

In my book, Ben & Sean are solid folks.

Thedrunkenscoundrel
Thedrunkenscoundrel

I watched the local music scene die here 10 years ago-at least the venue part anyway-the bands are still around. Hopefully a diverse downtown culture will promote a more long-lasting scene in the future. There will always be clique-ish behavior, but if the two Phoenixes can co-exist it will help draw more attention and more support. I often bash the Valley, but it is the fact that the growth in sprawl has watered down our culture, self-identifying is the first step in building a community that can survive and thrive and enrich everyone's quality of life.

chris
chris

"freelance consultant types trying to scam up some dough for designer cocktails in "CenPho." -- 2nd best quote ever

Johnstooks
Johnstooks

"Fixed-gears are stupid, and their riders are elitists," Best quote ever...

 

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