People who complain there's no culture in Phoenix have obviously never been anywhere near Phoenix Convention Center or the Hyatt Regency downtown during Phoenix Comicon (now an annual Memorial Day weekend event here). I sat around the Hyatt for nearly four hours last night, and in addition to the hordes of the undead, I saw Elvira (whose boobs still look like they're levitating), four Dr. Who's gathered around their custom TARDIS (time machine) motorcycle, actor Nicholas Brendon (Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) buying apple juice in his pajamas, and Darth Vader driving a pedi-cab.
Inside the Hyatt, I also saw some great live shows, courtesy of a trio of local bands: pop/rock band Halocene, psychobilly group Dead Man's Curse, and Tempe-based Japanese pop trio Toybox.
played their set in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt early (6 p.m. sharp), and consequently, there were only about 40 people in attendance, all sitting down in chairs in sporadic packs throughout the dark and vast ballroom.
Still, singer Addie Nicole greeted the audience like she was Paul Stanley, and we were a packed house at Madison Square Garden. "HELLO! ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? WE...ARE...HALOCENE!" She was bursting with energy, dancing and bouncing all around the stage, whipping her hair from side to side, and singing the band's poppy, hard rock songs with high-pitched youthful vigor (she is only 18). But that probably comes from Halocene having opened for bands like Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy in large venues with large crowds.
The band was tight and played well, and the mix was good (props to the sound dude dressed as a Ghostbuster). Nicole introduced a lot of the songs in Halocene's set with "We've never played this one live before," but for the most part, nearly every song sounded fine-tuned. One of the songs that will be on their upcoming CD, Can You Hear Us Now?, was particularly good. Titled "My Addiction," it started with a simple, steady, and slow drum beat; exploded into its chorus; then gave way to a sparkling pop guitar solo. Nicole tried to get the scant crowd singing along, but it wasn't happening.
There was one song in Halocene's set that didn't sound half as good as the rest. It was some weird jam that started with the guitar player singing/muttering a rap song I vaguely recognized over a souped up, sloppy ska guitar riff, which meandered into Nicole singing "Peanut butter and jelly on a baseball bat" to the tune of Lynryd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," which suddenly crashed into the theme from Batman. It sounded totally schizophonic, but whatever, it's Phoenix Comicon.
Dead Man's Curse played on the same stage, in front of Halocene's still-hanging banner, at 7 p.m. At the start of their set, the audience had grown to about 70 people, but as the trio ripped through several of their raw, high-octane psychobilly tunes, the ballroom started to fill up -- thanks to the impending presence of Elvira, who was hosting the Zombie Beauty Pageant after the band's set.
The trio sounded good. Front man "the Killer" wasn't much of a singer (he shouted most of the lyrics), but he had this beautiful Gretsch guitar, with a leopard print guitar strap and matching leopard print Marshall amplifier, and he made it sing, with all kinds of reverb and tremolo. Upright bass player Psycho Mike demonstrated his skills, plucking notes lightning-fast and slapping away at his contra bass like a man possessed.
Standout songs included "Creature Feature Show" (though it could stand to lose some of Killer's howling and screaming); "You Give Me the Creeps," with its bluesy, woozy guitar riff and stalking waltz beat; and "Look What the Bat Dragged In," which featured such a fierce, chugging low-end rhythm that it got some dude dressed in a top hat with deer antlers on them out of his chair and up dancing like a fool.
But my personal favorite was "I'm Going Home With You Tonight," which Killer introduced as "a party song." To me, the song sounds like a drunken encounter between George Thorogood, and The Cramps. It's all slithery, gritty guitar riffs and deep, throaty, jack be-bop singing. When Killer sang "Friday night and I just got paid/I wanna get drunk and I wanna get laid," everybody screamed their empathy.
Toybox performed their brand of Japanese pop punk in the Phoenix Ballroom on the second floor of the Hyatt at 8:30. There was a line of about 60 people waiting to get in by 8:15, consisting mostly of young, female anime fans and tweener Japanophiles in brightly colored wigs, ornate kimonos and dresses, and carrying plastic swords.
The trio sounded like a typical garage/pop-punk band to me. A lot of their songs employed the standard four-chord, 4/4 time of many punk songs, and singer/bassist Yo basically did a lot of shouting. A few songs were more sophisticated and included rock 'n' roll, finger-tapping solos from guitarist Naoto. But Toybox got the girls dancing, and screaming, too -- especially when Yo took off his shirt. At that point, about 200 people were packed in the ballroom, and in an instant wave, dozens of cameras and cell phones went up in the air. Later, Yo asked a screaming, giggling girl in front of the stage "Why don't you take your shirt off? Just kidding."
My favorite song from the set was "Run," the lead track on Toybox's CD, Stay Alive. It has a '50s rock-type bomp amplified by electric guitars. The audience clearly enjoyed it, too, as several anime and manga characters joined hands with pandas and kangaroos to do the twist.
Last Night: Halocene, Dead Man's Curse, and Toybox at Phoenix Comicon
The Crowd: Friends of the bands, zombies waiting for Elvira, and screaming tweeners, respectively.
Overheard in the Crowd: "You don't do sorcery. It is not allowed." (Presumably a gaming geek.)
Personal Bias:I'm a total geek.
Random Notebook Dump: "It sounds like an *NSync show in here" (during Toybox's set).