Best Alternative Rock
They may look and play like it, but the Beat Angels aren't really under the illusion that it's still 1979. They just don't think rock 'n' roll has gotten any better since then.
"The way we look at it, there's this certain spirit that was handed down to us by the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, the Stones, even early Cheap Trick," says lead singer Brian Smith. "That spirit is missing in today's rock 'n' roll."
Live, the Angels are a flashy cocktail of rock-star pageantry, gin-soaked sentiments and three-minute slices of serrated-edge power pop. Also, the band's recently released debut album, Unhappy Hour, leaves no doubt that Smith is the sharpest lyricist working in the Valley. His noirish literary world is inhabited by a rogues' gallery of elegant losers that would do Raymond Chandler proud.
This band's only weakness is that, if you've seen one Beat Angels show, you've more or less seen them all. But there's a lot to be said for riding the same roller coaster three times in a row, let alone once a month. It just has to be worth your while, as this band unquestionably is.--David Holthouse
Jesus Chrysler Supercar
Jesus Chrysler Supercar is a clever band--clever name, clever songs, clever album art. The cover of JCS' six-song CD Superior (released last January) depicts the famous touching of the fingers of God and Adam in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece "The Creation of Adam." The reproduction is exact, except for one thing--God has a ring of car keys dangling from his finger.
Spawned in a grueling four-day, four-night recording session at RedHouse studios in Lawrence, Kansas, Superior was produced by Chainsaw Kittens board runner Ed Rose. It's a six-pack of loud, dual guitar, modern rock songs colored in varying shades of grunge and hard-core. The band is often compared to Soundgarden, and the band doesn't particularly like that.
"We incorporate different sounds and experiment a lot," says vocalist Mitchell Donovan Steele. "We like to reach a bit." Named Best Grunge Band by New Times in last year's Best of Phoenix supplement, Jesus Chrysler also holds the distinction of being the local band that once briefly topped Alanis Morissette on ASU college station KASR's request charts. "We gave Alanis her start," quips Steele.--Marsha Mardock
If one good turn deserves another, then it should be One's turn soon.
This Tempe-based band sent a demo to Mercury Records last year and got a call from the label's president, who wanted to see the band live. "We told him we could line something up soon, maybe in a week or so," remembers guitarist Jamal Ruhe. "He told us he was coming out tomorrow."
The band managed to squeeze in a half-hour opening slot for the Refreshments at Gibson's. The label honcho saw the show and offered One a deal on the spot. While he was at it, he decided to stick around and talk to the Refreshments, too.
The Refreshments have since become stars on Mercury. One is still waiting. The band's debut for the label was recorded last fall in Memphis and mixed last month in L.A. It's ready to go, but there's one small problem. Mercury has a new president now. "He's yet to jump on the One bandwagon, so to speak," says Ruhe.
And so One waits for its album-release party by honing its jazzy, funky pop on Tempe audiences. The One sound is led by Ruhe's impish sister Shamsi, who pairs a startling set of pipes with a whirling-dervish stage presence.
"My sister and I were raised in the Bahai faith," Jamal says. "Our songs don't necessarily have a spiritual or moral message. We write songs about the human condition. But we use our background as a frame of reference."--Ted Simons
Seven Storey Mountain
"Triangles mean trouble," the abstract sculptor Louise Bourgeois once said, alluding to the dynamic tension inherent to a shape where each of three opposing sides falls against one another for support. That same something's-gotta-give dynamic applies to the best trio in the Valley--Seven Storey Mountain.
Seven Storey makes the most of its three indispensable members. Guitarist Lance Lammers doesn't really slash the cones of his amplifiers to get that gigantic, buzz-guitar tone--it just sounds that way. And between Lammers' ferocious, white-knuckled playing and bassist Jesse Everhart's power-chording on the bottom end, SSM's guitar-and-bass tag team splits the rhythm-guitar chores quite nicely, thank you. Toss in Thomas Lancier's volatile precision drumming and you've got all the tension of lighting up a smoke in a dynamite factory.--Serene Dominic
Big Pete Pearson and the Blues Sevilles
Four years ago, Sky Harbor International Airport issued a promo calendar with pictures of a dozen Phoenix landmarks on it. One of them was Big Pete Pearson.
Talk about a mainstay--Big Pete was a veteran of the Valley blues scene before there even was one. During the '60s, he shuttled back and forth between here and his native Texas, keeping the blues high-profile in South Phoenix at a time when the music was out of popular favor here. He also served as the original vocalist for Driving Wheel, back in the days when Warsaw Wally's was the only blues club in town.
Pressed to classify his style, the humble Big Pete allows, "I'm more of an urban blues than that Chicago blues. Chicago blues has a boogie beat, but urban blues is like the late '40s, early '50s. It's got a more upbeat shuffle to it."--Serene Dominic
Dr. Fish Blues Band
James Preston Price, a.k.a. Dr. Fish, has been a Phoenix blues and R&B fixture since the '60s when he performed in the legendary Soul Keepers. In the '80s, Fish hit the road as musical arranger and sideman to Little Milton, but soon came home to Phoenix to run his own band and resume his job as organist for his church.
Fish plays sax, guitar, trumpet and keyboards, but these days he's primarily the vocalist for his nine-piece blues band, described by one blues veteran as "the perfect chitlin-circuit groove band." The Fish ensemble employs elements of R&B, jazz and soul, but gospel touches everything it does. Fish calls his music "modern-day blues."
"It's jazz-oriented," he says, "but we're not hung up on any one style." Fish numbers Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and James Brown among his influences, but it's "Brother Ray" Charles and B.B. King who have most directly inspired the Phoenix blues composer. "B.B. King is the nicest person in the biz," says Fish. "And he's a good friend."--Matt Golosinski
Chico Chism and Hans Olson
Although veteran bluesmen and solo artists Chico Chism and Hans Olson often share a stage, they're not so much an actual band as they are the odd couple of the Valley blues scene.
Olson is an exceptional guitarist and harp player who over the past 25 years has gigged with everyone from Muddy Waters to Brownie McGhee. Olson's gritty, spare guitar style perfectly complements his resonant baritone, and his multi-instrumental abilities make him a fascinating one-man band.
On the flip side, Chism is a wiry little guy with his own share of street cred who spends most of his time bashing away at a drum kit adorned with the horns of some large mammal.
While Chism and Olson approach their craft from quite different angles--the guitarist is subdued and quietly passionate, the drummer comes on like a Vegas showboat--the friction between them more often than not makes for an exciting set. It's hard not to want to smack Chism sometimes when he repeatedly exhorts the crowd to "par-dee!" but there's no denying he can play some drums. Chico's got the blues deep down, where it counts, and he sounds damn fine behind the kit on one of his smoldering, 12-bar strolls like "High Rise Blues."--Matt Golosinski
Patti Williams and Delirious
Soul mama Patti Williams has an outfit hanging in her closet that she says "brings out the diva" in her. It's a gold-sequined, off-the-shoulder blouse that tops off a black-velvet skirt "with a very deep slit."
Not that the clothes make the singer in this case. Williams has been honing her three-and-a-half-octave range since she was 3 years old. She says her first interest was gospel, which she learned by singing as a soloist in church and listening to her grandmother's Ernie Ford and Mahalia Jackson records. Today, Williams knows more than 300 songs, and her material spans the genres of soul, jazz and blues. Comparisons to Aretha Franklin are inevitable but not out of line.
Williams says the key to her honey-dipped vocals is meditation before singing. "I like to relax and go with the vibes I pick up from the audience," she says. "That's what I thrive on."--Leigh Silverman
Best College Rock/Pop
Call the Chimeras "another Tempe band" and they'll probably thank you for the compliment.
"The camaraderie of Tempe bands goes a lot deeper than music," says singer/songwriter Lawrence Zubia. "It's about people who care about each other."
Lawrence's brother and bandmate Mark agrees: "It would be the same if we all played out on 59th Avenue and Olive, but then it would be, 'They're just another Maryvale band,' or, 'Oh, that jangly Maryvale sound.' The clubs who pay us to play live music just happen to be on Mill Avenue."
Former members of Live Nudes, the Zubia brothers formed the Chimeras in early 1993 along with original Gin Blossoms guitarist and songwriter Doug Hopkins, who died in December of that year. Recently, the band released its self-produced debut, Mistaken for Granted, to local critical acclaim. The Zubias' father was a mariachi musician, and the new disc captures a spacious pop sound peppered with blues and traditional Mexican folk.--Laurie Notaro
Once a disheveled musical aggregation fueled on beer and dissatisfaction, the Piersons have grown into--uh--a disheveled musical aggregation fueled on beer and dissatisfaction. But now this punchy pop band has a sense of purpose and a new disc, Humbucker (Epiphany), to rally for.
Lately, the boys have been treating every Piersons show like it's a fight on the front line--the band even has set lists now. Sitting in the audience, though, the feeling you get is less military precision than loosely choreographed street brawl. "If I had a spare guitar to smash every night, I would," boasts bandleader Patrick "Patti" Sedillo.
Bassist Scott Moore describes the Piersons' sound as "too pussy for punk and too punk for pussies." Longtime Piersons manager and Mill Avenue Mafia godfather Charles Levy recently quit the band three weeks into a West Coast tour. "They pooped in my shoes, they shaved my head, they made me practice ancient Chinese rituals," Levy says. "When they started eating all my food, I knew it was over."--Serene Dominic and David Holthouse
Serene Dominic and the Semi-Detached
Serene Dominic? Semi-detached?
Dominic Salvatore Salerno is anything but detached from the local music scene. He fronts at least two bands, of which the Semi-Detached--Jim Speros (keyboards), Frank Hanyak (drums) and Charles Seeley (bass)--is the most viable. He lends members of his band to other local groups. He helps design the CD booklets for local discs. And he writes features and reviews about musicians for New Times.
Not bad for a guy who moved to town three years ago. Dominic was an equally ubiquitous presence in New York City circles in the late '80s/early '90s as a founding member of the Holiday Slides, a band that worked the same Big Apple rooms as Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors and alterna-diva Joan Osborne, who sang back-up with the Slides before going solo and hitting it big.
Dominic went solo and hit it semi-big in 1990 by releasing a boxed set titled Box City: The Compleat Bastard--Serene Dominic. Dominic packaged the new songs like they were vintage recordings from the '60s, hoping record companies would assume his new stuff was old stuff from a long-gone rocker. His reasoning: "Major labels would much rather deal with a dead artist than somebody who's going to make trouble and maybe throw up in their reception area."
Such chutzpah defines the Serene Dominic persona, but he backs it up with some of the best nervous pop songs Elvis Costello never wrote. "Master of My Only Emotion" stands out any way you hear it--and there are a number of ways to do so: The seven-inch single was released last year on Atlanta-based Worrybird Records, is featured on the recently released local-music compilation Exile on Cameron Harper Street, and is one of nine new tunes on Dominic's upcoming Heathens of Vaudeville LP, also on Worrybird. The best way to hear the song, though, is live, with Dominic, bedecked in his trademark fedora, attacking the chords like a man who missed his medication.--Ted Simons
Curse of the Pink Hearse
Self-described as a band of "real gone, trashy, psychobilly delinquents," Curse of the Pink Hearse is the brain child of one Marco Polo Saldana--a rockabilly berserker with a big black pompadour and the attitude to match.
With Saldana on slap bass, Che Meth playing guitar and Uriah Peralta on standing drums (a la the Stray Cats' Slim Jim Phantom), Curse of the Pink Hearse plays original music inspired by teenagers-gone-rotten torch tunes of the '50s.
"We don't really play country," Saldana insists in a heavy Spanish accent. "We play more '50s trash rockabilly. We are pretty primitive. We like to roar our songs and make them as weird as we can."
CPH's stage show often outshines the band's musicianship. Saldana is famous for frenetic dancing (the singer has created whole routines to go with the Hearse originals "Crazy Legs" and "Crash Boom Bam"), and punctuates his vocals with well-timed maniacal screams.
"Screamin' Jay Hawkins is my inspiration for screaming," the Curse singer says. "When I'm dancing and I get so tired, I get energy from it. It's like a rule in rockabilly that you have to scream once in a while."--Marsha Mardock
The year is 1979. In Overgaard, a small northeastern Arizona town near the Mogollon Rim, a group of high school buddies stops listening to the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynryd long enough to learn a few chords and start jamming.
Seventeen years later, Mogollon is still at it, playing traditional country and Southern-rock covers and originals, along with the occasional tribute to Pink Floyd.
"Right now, we're a little more on the rock edge than we used to be," says lead singer Dwane Moore. "All the rockers are going to country right now, and everyone who has been mainstream country is going on the rock edge, which is a nice deal because everybody is meeting in the middle."
Moore says it was lead guitarist George Brunson's dad, country musician Andy Brunson, who encouraged the group of friends to grow a band with country roots. Brunson Sr. occasionally joins Mogollon onstage to play guitar above his head, Hendrix-style.
"He always told us, 'Don't just stand there and play music, anyone can do that,'" says Moore. "He taught us showmanship."--Marsha Mardock
The Superstition Band
Superstition Band co-lead singer/songwriter Jordan Snow says that for local country acts, it doesn't always pay to be original.
"In Arizona, if you're an alternative rock band, you're expected to play original music," she says. "But in the country community, it's not like that at all. The expectation is that they're going to recognize every song you play as a radio tune. We try to get people to change their view of that as much as we can."
The Superstition Band's refusal to bow down before the altar of Top 40 hasn't hurt its critical acclaim. The band had been together just over a year when the Arizona Country Music Association voted it Band of the Year for 1995. Also, Snow received the Female Vocalist of the Year award, co-leader Richard Marx was named best male singer and pedal-steel guitarist Rob Hale took top honors in the instrumentalist category (Hale also plays harmonica, Hammond organ and dobro).
Songs to listen for include the catchy cheatin'-heart number "The Truth Is" and "Radio Queen," a lively two-stepper that spotlights the Superstition Band's lush harmony vocals.--Marsha Mardock
There are many ways to get a band started. For Kongo Shock, it was as easy as the spin of a bottle.
This Phoenix-based ska band came together three years ago as an outlet for some local musicians looking to jam in an informal setting. "We'd all get together and go out to the desert to drink beer and play," explains guitarist Bob Noxious. "Before leaving, we'd spin something. Whatever direction it pointed was where we'd go. And we'd just keep going until we found a secluded place to play."
The music of the band that morphed from those impromptu confabs is an update of old-time ska, the jumpy, older relative of reggae. Mr. Noxious, along with fellow Shockers Dave Neal (trumpet and vocal), Shorty Huerta (trombone), Bart Applewhite (bass and percussion) and Jimmy Boom (drums), cranks out derivative but engaging dance music fueled by a casual, almost chaotic ambiance. That sense of impending, good-time anarchy is especially evident on the band's self-produced CD Dick Triple Flip, which was released last year.
Kongo Shock has plans for a Rocky Mountain tour through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah later this spring, and then a major summer swing up the West Coast.
At least that's the plan. Who knows where it'll wind up if things spin a different direction?--Ted Simons
Polliwog the amphibian is tiny. Polliwog the band is not. With a flush horn section and four to six other instruments (depending on who shows up), this musical collective sports funk-derivative, heavy-groove dance music that can be relaxing or invigorating--depending on the listener's mood. Those with a penchant for undulating like a wild child will not be left at the altar, but the sit-and-nod crowd is covered as well.
Guitarist Travis "skinnier than a praying mantis and worth his weight in dynamite" Brinster formed the core of this band two years ago with percussionist Dan Williams and sultry lead singer Tiffany Sullivan.
Polliwog took the name for its new CD, More Soul Than a Rabbit Factory, from one of Chico Chism's irrepressible onstage non sequiturs. According to Brinster, the band poured every last ounce of its energy, and money, into the ten-song collection. "All the sacrifices you could possibly imagine, we made," he says. "But it's worth it to capture that full a sound."--K. Denino
Suite No. 3
"The life of our music is all the different sounds and different peoples we have," says Suite No. 3 guitarist Medi. "That's our mark--the influence of so many cultures." Here's the breakdown: Medi, the guitarist, is Iranian. The keyboard player is Russian, the percussionist is German, and the bassist and drummer are American Heinz 57. And that's just the core group--Suite No. 3 also plays with a rotating pool of rappers, singers and horn players. Trying to nail down this band's sound is like trying to stuff a peacock in a pigeonhole. Acid jazz, hip-hop and ethnic folk are obvious influences, along with rock and funk.
Whatever it is, the Suite No. 3 sound was good enough for the Dallas Cowboys (or at least their entertainment director), who hired the band to play the team's Super Bowl victory party at the Buttes. Reba McEntire was in the house, but evidently she wasn't up for jamming. Just as well.--K. Denino
Dave Cook and Intensity
Bandleader and self-taught drummer Dave Cook has been the Pied Percussionist of traditional jazz in Phoenix for more than 35 years. Cook is currently at the helm of three ensembles--the 15-piece Atlantis Big Band; a Chicago-style quintet called Intensity; and the New Vanguard, a straightahead bebop five-piece. Each band takes a different path to the same destination--the smoky, late-night world of jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
"We try to do tunes by the great masters," says Cook. "And also tunes by underacknowledged composers. The music we play is analogous to a bridge. You must cross over this bridge if you are to have an awareness and understanding of what real jazz is about."
And what real jazz is about, says Cook, has little to do with guitar distortion. "Let me put it this way. A friend of mine says fusion is a misnomer, because they didn't put the 'con' in front of it. What we play is traditional, classical, mainstream jazz."--Marsha Mardock
This contemporary jazz sextet takes its name from a character on the '60s sitcom Bewitched. True to form, the band concocts a potent instrumental brew of jazz laced with R&B, rock and Latin.
Dr. Bombay was founded in 1992, and its debut album, Temperate Zone, came out last January on Intersound Records. A follow-up is under way. "We're trying to get into more of a funk thing with the newer tunes, more of an urban sound," says drummer Steve Hargrave.
Outside the Valley, Dr. Bombay has taken its up-tempo blend before festival audiences from La Jolla, California, to Cocoa Beach, Florida, headlining and opening for acts like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Spyro Gyra.
"When you're from out of state, people treat you differently. You get limos and fancy food and everyone does everything for you," says Hargrave. "Then I fly home and on Monday morning I'm out in the backyard scooping dog crap. Here, we're just the local boys."--Marsha Mardock
Nuance Jazz Trio
This atypical jazz trio draws from a whirlpool of styles, including standard and contemporary jazz, bebop, world beat and even European gypsy folk. Oh, yes, the group also sings--in Spanish and in English.
Each member of Nuance has compiled an impressive resume: Devon Bridgewater, who plays trumpet and electric violin, studied jazz at Harvard under Dizzy Gillespie and Yo-Yo Ma; electric and acoustic bassist Dennis Sexton has worked with Mose Allison and Herb Ellis; and Stan Sorenson (electric and acoustic guitars) has backed up Ella Fitzgerald and Jeffrey Osborne, among others.
Nuance's first CD, angular, was recently issued on Standen Records. Dominated with originals that play connect-the-dots with the group's scattered array of styles, the album also contains innovative takes on Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis numbers. Live, listen for the '30s-style jazz original "Sneaky Swing," a prime example of how this band brings classic jazz sounds into a modern context and makes it work.--Leigh Silverman
Whether it's pumping out four-alarm salsa or deep-groove funk, Barrio Latino has a flair for turning flat-footed yuppies into dance-floor Gumbys. This combo's varied musical turf ranges from Latin contemporary to R&B, jazz and regional Mexican. The band has a deep playlist of 250 tunes, and a typical Barrio set might see this well-schooled, high-energy quartet segue a spicy, Caribbean salsa beat into a bilingual Stevie Wonder medley, then thunder into a rendition of Kool and the Gang's "Get Down on It."--Leigh Silverman
Carmella y Mas!
Fronted by Latin diva Carmella Ramirez, Mas!'s smooth Caribbean pulse sways like a coconut palm on a white-sand beach. Performing a rum punch of Spanish and English tunes, ranging from "Oya Como Va" to "My Funny Valentine," Mas! dips gracefully in and out of Latin and jazz stylings.
Ramirez was born in the South Phoenix barrio and grew up on the west side. While other kids her age were hanging out at 7-Eleven, Ramirez says she was pouring through her parents' record collection, soaking up as much big-band and Latin jazz as she could. "Tito Puente and Celia Cruz were my guides," she says.--Leigh Silverman
Joseph and Hispano
Check out a Joseph and Hispano show, and you'll learn what Joseph Monyer's fans have known since 1987--this guy is a Tex-Mex party animal. Monyer caters to third- and fourth-generation Mexican Americans who grew up listening to traditional Mexican music alongside '70s and early '80s R&B. He sings in both English and Spanish, and his debut album, En Mi Corazon, has sold more than 3,000 units in Arizona and New Mexico. The recording clearly displays the lively playing of Monyer's seven-piece band, jamming behind the singer's cool, confident tenor.--Leigh Silverman
One part pristine goth-metal, three parts atonal modern rock, the dark aggression of Crushed is fueled by musical tension that never resolves, always keeping the listener on edge. Built in 1993 from splinters of the Phoenix metal bands Undertow, Heavy Easy, Flesh Serpents and Dead Idol Sect, Crushed couples the heaviness of White Zombie and Prong with the haunting melodic stylings of Dead Can Dance.
"We carry a big stick," says guitarist Mike Hallard, "but we don't just beat you over the head with it. We carve it and decorate it first." Crushed's lyrics are of the flesh--love and death are dominant themes--but its songs resound with a lofty mysticism that most metal bands in the Valley can't hold a black candle to.--Leigh Silverman
N17 shows are like modern warfare--precise, brutal and loud. Be prepared for a full-scale digital onslaught, replete with distorted explosions, battering guitars, strobes, smoke and the machine-gun rattle of singer Trevor Askew's chilling cries.
Produced by Neil Kernon (Queensryche, Peter Gabriel) and seething with visions of the Apocalypse, this three-year-old industrial band's sinister new album, Trust No One, would make a suitable score for a WWIII documentary. As it is, two tracks off the disc, "Virus" and "Creation," are included on the soundtrack to Writer's Block, a slasher flick released last fall. By the way: The band took its name from the Greek terrorist organization November 17. So don't forget your flak jacket--or your earplugs.--Leigh Silverman
Attitude. Soul Grind's got it, and this high-octane, funky metal-core act wants you to groove in ways your mama never let you. Conceived in Mesa in the fall of '91, Soul Grind has issued three primal outpourings on plastic--One Band's Perception was released in '94, followed the next year by Love at Zero and, most recently, the hard and heavy, groove-oriented A Whole Can of Whoop Ass. Since its inception, Soul Grind has held down opening slots for Tool and Rage Against the Machine.
Soul Grind's leader, the bald and barefoot Michael Brandt, commands a stage with the unruly bellows and whispers of a man gone mad. Backed up with finely shredded guitar chords, thunder-gun bass and a percussionist who flays his skins, Brandt whips up a frenzy of sweat, heat and aggression. If this band doesn't wake you up, you're dead.--Leigh Silverman
Zig Zag Black
When original Zig Zag Black guitarist Mike Venell died two years ago, the band's remaining members were on the verge of tossing in the towel. But they persevered, recently issuing a comeback album of extraordinary power--Dose, which premiered in February to a packed house at Hollywood Alley.
A follow-up to the band's 1993 self-titled debut album, Dose is an easy swallow. On it, the band abandons the sledgehammer sound for a more careful, melodic approach. "We decided to put everything that had happened behind us," says Zag's newly appointed ax man Mark Morrell. "Our ambition became to quit selling beers and start selling records."
A first-generation punk, Glass Heroes front man Keith Jackson carries on the tradition of 16th-note knuckle merchants like Chelsea, the Dead Boys, the Clash, Sham 69 and Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers with his don't-call-it-postpunk group Glass Heroes. If there's a Punk Preservation Society charter, meet the Chairman of the Bored.
"The power and glory of these bands, and so many others, is the reason we play our music," writes the imposing Les Paul lugger on the J-card of an early demo tape. "It's what we are, and what we will always be."
For solid evidence that old-school punk is alive and well in the '90s, look no further than one of the Heroes' juggernaut live shows. Or merely browse the band's Web page (http://www.primenet.com/robroy.htm). The site gets hundreds of hits a day from little skate punks surfing the oi oi oi infobahn, and is linked to international punker home pages for bands from the Buzzcocks to U.K. Subs.
Glass Heroes has songs on two import-only compilation albums that are harder to get than Nancy Spungen on the phone (ordering through the Web is your best bet), but the band is poised to make a proper CD debut later this year. Until then, why not heed Jackson's friendly advice, "get outta your clique," and go witness some Heroic action.--Serene Dominic
Let's play multiple choice: Mandingo is a) a tribe in the upper Niger River region of Africa; b) a Phoenix punk band; c) a narcotic Mediterranean root that shrieks when you pull it. The correct answers are "a" and "b." The root that shrieks is mandrake, not Mandingo. And this is one band that's happy to uproot. "We like to play as many different places as humanly possible," says Shane Addington. "This summer we're starting our tour in Amsterdam."
Mandingo's drummer pauses to consider the possibilities. "Yeah, we're definitely looking forward to that."
The band's upcoming European tour is a perk from Dr. Strange Records, which customarily sends bands overseas in support of sophomore albums. Macho Grande, Mandingo's second Dr. Strange full-length, is scheduled to come out in June. Recorded late last year at indie-rock luminary Steve Albini's home studio in Chicago, Grande contains Mandingo's longest song ever--a cover of the 1972 U.K. Subs single "Limo Life" that clocks in at just over three minutes. Former Subs and Revolting Cocks front man Terry Bones puts in a cameo on the track--lending no small chunk of old-school punk cred to a band that prefers the label "melodic, hard-core garage pop."
Now what was that line about a rose by any other name?
Since I Was 6
It hasn't been that long since two of the guys in this band were 6. Lead vocalist kp! (really, we checked) and the band's drummer, Clint, are 18 and 19, respectively. Bassist Mykey Six and Jimmy the guitar player are both on the downside of 20, but they won't say how far.
Mykey will say that, contrary to popular belief, punk rock isn't all about rage. "It's not all angry. It's just real. It's the rawest form of rock 'n' roll there is. The kids aren't dumb--they know when something is real. We play all-age shows at the Nile, and we don't get spit on because we mean what we do."
Live, SIW6 sets range from covers of the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Fear to originals like "Deserama," a pop-ish ode to the notorious motel on Van Buren.
"We all trade off writing, and I think that's why the younger kids like us," says Six. "Usually, they only hear bands that play crazy, destructive stuff."
kp! says he writes about everything from political scandals to just drinking beer. "I've experienced a lot of different surroundings and environments," he says. "I'm the kind of person that absorbs information."--Marsha Mardock
In a genre where he who stands still becomes labeled "old school" overnight, the Brothers Grimm are making heads spin continually. Three years of being acclaimed as the apogee of Phoenix rap have certainly paid off for Dave and Jamal, known as DLB and No Doz, respectively. They've opened for the cream of the current hip-hop crop, everyone from Onyx to Cypress Hill to De La Soul to Souls of Mischief, as well as playing at Lollapalooza in 1993. Currently, the Brothers G are negotiating a deal with Le Face Records, Babyface and L. Reed's custom label, also home to Toni Braxton and the Goodie Mob.
Those changes have instigated yet another Brothers Grimm makeover. The last tape we sampled of the Brothers G came on like one big dose of psychedelic jazz. Of particular note was "What R U Sayin," sort of like a retooled Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine over a bed of ethereal flutes and percussion. According to DLB, "We've gotten away from the alternative House of Pain/Cypress Hill sound and we're more straight back East hip-hop now. And we dropped one of our members, the other white guy."
DLB has learned that, as far as record labels go, you've got to be able to hit somebody with a 12-inch that's going to be able to be pushed to radio right off the bat and do well in all the urban clubs and markets. In the meantime, a 12-inch DLB recorded before the Le Face deal will be out in the record pools very shortly, as will DLB's production work for J.C. (a.k.a. Styles and Jiz, Southside Boys), another local artist inking a deal with Le Face. It's a safe bet that Phoenix's future in the hip-hop marketplace is looking decidedly Grimm.--Serene Dominic
P-Body spins the beats, Cappuccino and Cash flow the lyrics. And Know Qwestion as a whole goes coast to coast to try to bring Phoenix a hip-hop flava to call its own.
Like East Coast rappers, this trio trains the spotlight firmly on the lyrics, which are damn fine. Cappuccino is true to his name--smooth but with a kick just when you need it. He's the better of the two KQ rappers live, but Cash wields the sharper pen, dropping clever pop-culture references and incisive rhymes like a B-52 carpet bomber.
The similarity to East Coast rap ends there, however. Because in place of that school of hip-hop's stripped-down, boom-bap sound, P-Body favors lush, melodic instrumental tracks and deeper beats. The deejay also plays live bass on all of his cuts. "We're very street, but we're not gangsta," he says. "We steer clear of all trademarks except our own."--David Holthouse
You can say this much for the Weirdoz: They don't lack confidence. "We ain't limited by nothing or nobody," says Weirdoz beat master Cipher. "We're tighter than any group that has come up here, and any group that has come up here came up behind us. They have their own style, but we're on the top and they just follow us. And they know that, too."
Weirdoz rappers J-Boogie and Butter Fingaz write all their lyrics individually, then blend them together for a continuous flow. "We don't do any of that political or socially relevant rap," says J-Boogie. "We just want to get up there and show off our skills." The Weirdoz are easily the most hard-core hip-hop group in Phoenix, and Cipher says his taste in beats and lyrics runs straight toward that old gangsta shit. "I like the Dogg Pound, yeah, but not the Fugees. We like Snoop and 2-Pac [Shakur]. That's what we're into. We like to really blow it up."--David Holthouse
Grant Man and
Grant Man is one of the few people in Arizona able to convincingly end a conversation with "You have a beautiful day, mon. Jah Rastafari!" Man's sincere exuberance carries over into his rootsy reggae music, making it sound borne of the islands rather than Scottsdale.
Warm, uplifting and soulful, Grant Man and Island Beat is the Valley's most legitimate straight reggae act, even though Terry Slew, the quintet's bassist, is the only bona fide Rastafarian (Man was raised in Liberia, Africa).
One of this band's best qualities is its ability to vocally harmonize over bright, highly textured orchestrations. This interplay is particularly evident on "The System Is Poison," a call to resist the moral bankruptcy of Babylon. Several of the band's other songs recall the soft sensuality of Jamaican crooner Gregory Isaacs, or Bob Marley in a lighter mood.
Playing under the motto "Let love be at the forefront of all," Island Beat comes off as inspirational but not hokey, blending a roots earnestness with traces of modern R&B/funk for positive, exotic vibe.--Matt Golosinski
The Rastafarmers call their melange of reggae, blues and funk "Desert Rat Reggae." The band prefers festivals and community events to the club circuit, and is wildly popular on several of Arizona's Indian reservations. The Rastafarmers also frequently volunteer their time for causes like Youth at Risk, where they teach children the musical rudiments in a massive jam session.
The 'farmers have a formidable rhythm section in percussionist Ernesto Mansanedo and bass player Keith Jennings--whose low-end excursions pack a visceral wallop and clearly serve as the band's foundation. But it's the newest Rastafarmer, Ben Molina, who brings the most surprising ingredient to the mix with his harmonica. Reggae harp? Hell, why not? Another player to look for is Erick Stevens. At six-foot-seven with blond dreads, the guitarist known as "Big Yella" should be hard to miss.--Matt Golosinski
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Walt Richardson and Morning Star
Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Walt Richardson has assembled a talented quintet that serves an effervescent blend of African, Latin and Caribbean music, tinged with American pop rock.
Recently scaled down from a seven-piece to five, Morning Star has ditched the keyboards that alternately lifted the group's songs to buoyant heights, or drenched them in enough chordal syrup to make Yanni fans wince.
In addition to Richardson's sweet, smooth voice and snappy guitar, Morning Star showcases Emilio Santiago's first-rate percussion. Thematically, Richardson's lyrics are entrenched in the reggae tradition of preaching peace, love and a combined effort to battle the hatreds that divide us.
Strongest when it avoids drifting into unnecessary extended jams, this band's music generally falls into the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" category of slick, cruise-ship-style reggae. Expect to smile and sway, ultimately losing the battle to keep your rum and Coke in the glass and off your clothes.--Matt Golosinski