It's hardly a news flash that all-ages shows are a hassle for clubs in this state. Recent history suggests that local bars strongly associated with all-ages events, from The Heat to Electric Ballroom, are all the more likely to wind up on the wrong side of state authorities, particularly if the music tends to fall on the intense side.
But the obstacles facing all-ages shows in Arizona recently became much greater with the passage of a law prohibiting any contact between those who are over and under the drinking age of 21. The passage, found in Section 16 of H.B. 2442, states that bars may admit under-21 patrons only if they are kept in a designated part of the club, and even then only "if the designated area is separated by a physical barrier and at no time will the underage persons have access to the area in which spirituous liquor is sold or consumed."
Clearly, the law is designed to keep the under-21 crowd from mingling with those of drinking age for the purpose of getting an older friend to purchase some of the spirituous stuff for them. The problem is that the statute regulates what should be voluntary, and makes it harder than ever for the underage crowd to have a good time at a local music venue.
Alexis Gilmore of CAP Concerts, which promotes many punk-rock shows in the Valley, recently cited the new law as a major reason why it's become more trouble than its worth to put on all-ages shows at local clubs. To a great degree, CAP gets around this problem by placing many of its shows at the Nile Theater, which doesn't serve alcohol. For other music locales, it's a bit dicier. The wording of the law would have you believe that a club with rest rooms near a bar area might just have to build separate loos for the younger crowd, lest the kids be in too close proximity to some of those 21-and-over urinals. It's pretty ludicrous, but hey, this is the Arizona Legislature we're talking about.
For a local band like techno-industrial quartet Radio Free America, which relies on an under-21 crowd, it's a bit like being held up without a gun. After some unpleasant gig experiences at bars like Balboa Cafe, the band had recently decided that it would only play all-ages shows in the future. Now, as the group readies for its first show at Boston's since the law took effect, it faces some logistical hurdles.
"On the left of the stage where the entrance to the beer garden is, they have a fence all the way around and in front of the bathrooms and they've got the entire back of the stage fenced off so that 21 and under can't come around to the bar area at all," says Eric Seven, singer for RFA. "They can't even get cokes. It's tough, 'cause we're gonna be playing to people through a fence. So we're gonna have to figure out a way around it. So we're gonna go wireless, anything we can do to interact with the crowd."
The so-called "barrier law" just seems like a way of using the chilling-effect factor to destroy something while pretending that you didn't destroy it. All-ages music options were sufficiently scarce in the Valley before the law. If the state has its way, they'll be heading for extinction.
"The state says that people were breaking the law," says Al Nichols of Boston's. "So why don't they go after them, rather than applying this carte blanche? That's the problem I have with it."
Tech Heads: In spite of H.B. 2442, Radio Free America is enthusiastic about its upcoming headlining gigs at Boston's. The group, which can boast of having more sound and light equipment than most large touring bands, looks upon the show as a chance to pull out all the visual stops, something that RFA has generally hesitated to do when it's been stuck with the opening slot.
In addition, the group is using the show as a good excuse to build premillennial hysteria as high as it can possibly go.
"We're carrying on a millennial theme," Eric Seven says. "We're all tech heads and we've all taken up the cause of the millennial problem with the computer bug, 'cause people don't seem to be taking it very seriously."
It doesn't take long to realize that the band members take their highly polished electronic sound very seriously, but fortunately they're not at all mirthless about themselves. With tongue planted in cheek, Seven bemoans the fact that his group can't match the flamboyant behavior of local peers like Victims in Ecstacy (partial to ladies garments) and BLESSEDBETHYNAME (dedicated to pre-show animal sacrifices).
"What do we do?" Seven asks rhetorically. "We don't wear dresses and we don't kill chickens, but we work really hard and we get a good sound."
The band's allegiance to technology is probably well-founded. After all, three-fourths of the band (Seven, bassist/keyboardist Daniel Koerner and guitarist Tim Elas) actually met in an Internet chat room, and hit it off before realizing that they were all musicians. By that point, Seven, who had formed RFA in his native Florida as a solo recording project, was living in Kentucky, and he was surprised to find that Koerner was based in Louisville.
"We just hooked up as friends," Seven says. "He was in a band at the time and I was doing RFA on my own and I'd made a demo. They broke up and I said, 'Hey, let's get together, and he said, 'Love to, but I'm moving to Arizona.'"
Koerner's reason for relocating? Possibly a long-held fascination with the romantic mystique of the desert? Not quite. "I said, 'I'm moving to Arizona to find a chick,'" Koerner recalls with a laugh.
The Phoenix transplants teamed with Elas in September '96 and immediately followed a tack contrary to most bands'. Before they had played a single gig, they began recording their debut CD, figuring that by the time they started gigging, they'd be nearly ready to spring some product on their audience. The result of those recordings, the 23-track CD killjulie sounds like what it is: a fully formed concept executed with considerable skill. The disc gives away Seven's fetish for the music of his youth, British synth bands like Depeche Mode and OMD, as well as the poppy glamour of early Duran Duran. At the same time, pulsating tracks like "Girlfriend for a Day" show off enough Trent Reznor-inspired industrial harshness to make the group a favorite of the goth kids who used to storm the now defunct Atomic Cafe.
Clearly, this is music built for the studio, but RFA (which now includes former band sound man Mason Thorpe on drums) insists that these songs can be delivered live, without the group coming off like a bunch of wonky computer programmers.
"There's not a lot of difference between what we do and what, say, N17 does," Seven says. "We play to a DAT, and because we're electronic, there's some stuff we just can't do, but we do as much as we can. It's a matter of practice. I think we have to practice more than the average band 'cause we play with a computer. It's a lot more demanding than free-form. Free-form requires talent, but I think this takes more discipline."
Radio Free America is scheduled to perform on Sunday, December 27, at Boston's in Tempe, with Digital Free Loner Boy. Showtime is 9 p.m.
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