The members of local rig-rock trio Flathead are beaming. Guitarist Greg Swanholm and drummer Vince Ramirez grin profusely and chide each other as they hurriedly load equipment into the back of a car parked behind the Bash on Ash in Tempe. Even bassist Kevin Daly, a 20-year veteran of various Valley stages, looks flush with excitement. His normally measured tone is bright, even chirpy, as he thanks a stream of backstage well-wishers.
Daly's post-gig euphoria is understandable. The group has shaken off the dust from a lengthy lacuna to play a set that's easily the highlight of the annual New Times Music Showcase.
A tight yet rowdy 45-minute turn has left the throng of 500 fans and friends at the Bash in a state of near frenzy. Their cheers lure the band back for the only encore of the event. After a pair of furious twangers, the show culminates in a shower of beer bottles and glasses hitting the stage.
Zoom forward six weeks. Daly's voice is far more somber as he explains his unexpected departure from Flathead, just one of several recent changes which, at the very least, has cast a pall of uncertainty over the future of the band.
Daly joined Flathead in 1997, replacing original bassist Ruth Wilson. After his arrival, the group briefly went as D-Liar before reverting to its former moniker. Daly ends his run with the group after nearly three years, one album and hundreds of gigs.
Part of his decision was spurred by the band's recent inactivity. With the exception of the Music Showcase set (and a May gig at Long Wong's), Flathead has been on a six-month performing hiatus. The layoff was chiefly the result of a serious hand injury that precluded Swanholm from playing regularly for much of the winter and spring. The band had also spent parts of the break intermittently working on tracks for its third album, a follow-up to 1999's Play the Good One.
In the meantime, Daly, Ramirez and Rumble Cat Rich Merriman revived their psychobilly side project, Grave Danger. The group -- which is fronted by a guitar-playing Daly -- has been winning raves and a growing following for its over-the-top live performances and Dick Dale-meets-Satan shtick. In addition to Grave Danger, Daly is a member (along with Nitpickers Dave Insley and Jeff Farias) of neo-country collective the Trophy Husbands. Both groups are readying their debut discs for release this fall.
Daly decided to cut ties with Flathead after returning from a European vacation in early June.
"When I was in Italy, I took a week off -- I didn't think about work, I didn't think about music, I just relaxed -- and my mind was clear when I came back," recalls Daly quietly. "I thought, "Why on Earth record another album with [Flathead]? If Greg and Vince are going to continue with the band regardless of whether I left, it would just be dishonest for me to keep going along with it. I figured this would be a good time for a break, rather than going in and doing more work and then pulling out."
As it turned out, Swanholm was thinking along those same lines when he and Daly met at the beginning of this month.
"He was blunt," says Daly. "He said, 'I haven't enjoyed playing out for a long time. And it's not like I'm leaving you [and Ramirez] in a lurch, because you have a lot of other stuff going on.' He told me he has some songs that he wants to record, that he wants to keep Flathead going in a sense, but that he wants to take his time with the album. He's also got a really successful [computer programming] business going and that's something he also has to devote a lot of time and attention to. So that was basically it as far as being a regular 'band' in my mind."
Daly says he has no regrets, save for a slight sense of disappointment at not having taken what has arguably been the Valley's most exciting roots band to a higher level of national prominence.
"Otherwise, we had a great run, a fantastic run," he says.
While he concedes that Daly's departure is a "big change," Swanholm is quick to add that the split is "totally amicable as far as I'm concerned."
"Kevin is pursuing the Grave Danger thing, and they're doing really well," he says. "As far the band goes, we've always had an open-door policy. Kevin has a new lease on life playing guitar and loving it. That's what he's about now. He's found his thing."
Swanholm says that in addition to the three rough tracks that Flathead has already completed, there are 10 others he and Ramirez (who will continue playing with both Flathead and Grave Danger) plan to flesh out before going into the studio next month.
At this point it's not clear who will replace Daly in the studio, though it seems likely that the bass parts will be provided by a session musician. (One early rumor had former rhythm slapper Wilson rejoining the band, possibly for a one-off gig, something that Swanholm flatly denies ever considering.)
The new disc, like Play the Good One, is being produced by Clarke Rigsby at his East Valley Tempest Studios. Unlike Flathead's first two albums -- both of which were essentially recorded live -- Swanholm wants to draw out the process this time around.
"It's kind of like making a record now, as opposed to going in there and just banging 'em off -- which is a great thing to do. But we've done that twice. On this one we're going to do it another way."
Swanholm predicts the bulk of recording will be completed by October, with the album release likely to happen early next year.
As for the acute tendinitis, which forced the band's recent interlude, Swanholm thinks a continued break will prove to be a good thing for both his condition and the group's music. "This way I can work on constructing songs without having to worry about playing a bunch of gigs."
But without Daly, and with no permanent replacement being considered, does this mean the end of Flathead as a live outfit? Ramirez, for one, is uncertain. "I don't know. Technically we're a band, but we won't be playing out. What that means for us, I can't say."
While he's adamant that Flathead will soldier on as a working unit, Swanholm is less certain of when the group might return to the stage. "I think there will be something going on," he notes. "We're going to have to follow up the record with some kind of live performance."
If timed with the album's release, that could mean nearly a year would pass between gigs, the kind of protracted absence that could threaten even the most stable outfit.
"I hope that Flathead's not really going to come to an end," says Ramirez with a sigh. "I still want to play with it and keep on developing it. I hope that it will continue. I'm pretty confident it will."
Grave Danger is scheduled to perform on Thursday, June 29, at Long Wong's in Tempe, with Über Alice. Showtime is 9 p.m. The group will also perform on Friday, June 30, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, with Über Alice, and the Impossible Ones. Showtime is 9 p.m. DJ Relief: A bit of sad news this week as Modified is hosting a July 4 benefit concert for Len Sobeck, better known to Valley dance aficionados as DJ Len. Sobeck has been fighting a lengthy battle with cancer. A former Stinkweeds employee, Sobeck left Phoenix several years ago for Los Angeles, where he became a well-respected figure in the local electronic community. Though the lineup is still coming together, a number of high-profile Phoenix and West Coast DJs are expected to perform. The event will also include an auction, with several turntablists donating their prized vinyl to the cause. Items from retailers including Swell, Liquid Clothing, Stinkweeds and L.A.'s Vinyl Fetish will also be up for bid, with all proceeds going to help with Sobeck's medical expenses.
The Len Sobeck Benefit Concert and Auction is scheduled for Tuesday, July 4, at Modified. Showtime is 7 p.m. On the Roadhouse: Look for the Arizona Roadhouse to fill part of the void left by the closure of the Balboa Café. The Tempe brewery took over Balboa shows from Deke Dickerson and Jack Ingram last month. Now the venue confirms it will host a July 14 set from ex-Green on Red rocker Chuck Prophet, as well as a rare dual bill of Mekons Sally Timms and Jon Langford on August 2. Roadhouse owner Sean Kelley adds that the club will increase its national bookings, with other possible performances from former Plimsoul turned folkie Peter Case as well as alt-country icons Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Buckner. Open Up: This week's concert schedule features a quartet of shows boasting opening acts to rival their headliners. Friday's Delta 72 bow (see the story on page 90) at Nita's Hideaway will probably challenge for Valley show of the year with a bill that not only includes the Philly organ grinders, but also local boys Les Payne Product and Canadian surf/country/garagers the Sadies. The Toronto-based Sadies released their sophomore album, Pure Diamond Gold, on Chicago insurgent country label Bloodshot last year. The always nattily dressed combo also backed legendary Detroit rhythm and blues merchant Andre Williams on 1999's Red Dirt.
Nita's Saturday, July 1, set, headlined by Tucson experimentalists COiN, features an early slot from Atlanta's amazing Forty Fives. Another Vox 'n' roll outfit, the band makes its third pass through town in less than a year. This time the Forty Fives will actually be flogging copies of their long-delayed debut, Get It Together (Ng/Artemis), a record we still love despite the fact that it boasts a cover sticker endorsement from the Arizona Republic.
On Monday, Beantown power-poppers the Push Stars (who recently placed a cover of Steely Dan's "Bad Sneakers" on the soundtrack to the Jim Carrey flick Me, Myself & Irene) will play in advance of Big Fish Pub headliners the Samples.
The Sadies are scheduled to open for Delta 72 on Friday, June 30, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m. The Forty Fives are scheduled to open for COiN on Saturday, July 1, also at Nita's Hideaway. The show begins at 9 p.m. The Push Stars are scheduled to perform on Monday, July 3, at Big Fish Pub in Tempe, with the Samples. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. Taylor Made: Here's a sure entry for the "Strangest Concert Bills of All Time." This week, the Fort McDowell Casino hosts The Thunderous Third, a pre-Fourth of July celebration being held on Monday. The event will include special musical performances by the Lettermen, Bobby Vee and Taylor Dayne.Taylor Dayne?
The first two artists seem a natural pairing. After all, Vee made his career in the wake of Buddy Holly's death with a string of infectious, if thoroughly innocuous, singles ("Take Good Care of My Baby," "Rubber Ball," "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes"). These are songs that even in 1960 seemed destined to spend eternity being played and replayed on cool oldies radio.
The Lettermen, a wholesome BYU-bred vocal trio, similarly enjoyed success in that fruitless early '60s period sandwiched in between the birth of rock 'n' roll and the coming of the British Invasion. That was, of course, before their ill-fated 1978 Some Mormons album and tour, where they were harshly criticized for the record's misogynistic lyrics and their use of a 75-foot inflatable phallus as a stage prop. Wait, maybe that was someone else entirely.
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But exactly how did Long Island dance-pop diva Dayne get teamed with these perennial blue-hair faves? Did casino promoters sit down and think, "Hey, how about Bobby Vee, the Lettermen and . . . Taylor Dayne! Yeah, perfect!"? Whatever the process, such logic is simply beyond Bash & Pop's grasp.
Rumors are rampant, however, that the show will culminate in an all-star encore with the Lettermen and Vee joining Dayne for a rendition of "With Every Beat of My Heart."
Food and drinks will be available, and there'll be plenty of free parking with shuttles to and from the casino all night long. But be advised, there will be no cameras, video or sound equipment allowed into the venue -- part of an effort to crush the growing cottage industry that's sprung up on eBay surrounding the illegal sale of Bobby Vee bootlegs.
The Thunderous Third, featuring the Lettermen, Bobby Vee and Taylor Dayne, is scheduled for Monday, July 3, at Fort McDowell Casino. Showtime is 7 p.m.