Live Wire

Nita's Hideaway
January 21, 1997

"Welcome to the rock show," Supersuckers singer/spokesman Eddie Spaghetti exhorted a packed house from behind his "rock-star shades." Looking a lot like Andy Kaufman in a cowboy hat, Spaghetti kept the absurdity level high throughout his band's roller-coaster set of hillbilly hard-core. "Here's a song about growing up in Tucson, Arizona," he shouted before barreling through a breakneck version of "Seventeen Poles." That cut was closely followed by an unrecorded tune called "Hot Like the Sun," a tribute either to Hades or the brain-frying temperatures of the band's hometown--take your pick.

Early in the show, a Supersuckers banner unfurled behind the stage, displaying the band's name in dripping, blood-red letters. The sight sparked several headbanger, two-fingered signs of the devil and inebriated cries of "Yeah! Satan!" Yet the Supersuckers--whose self-penned bio claims a fondness for Beelzebub and "the basic tenets as established by the Nuge"--proudly wear their preoccupation with the Prince of Darkness and heavy-metal heroes with all the sobriety of underwear over pants (any band that boasts song titles like "Sweet N Sour Jesus" can't be all evil).

To their great credit, the entire Suckers front line ended nearly every song with guitar necks hoisted above their heads at 90-degree angles. During the final moments of the band's signature song, "Born With a Tail," the group looked like it had just hopped off the cover of a Scorpions live album.

This weren't no arena show, though. Witness the temporary sonic blackout that occurred when some barfly spilled his gin and tonic on the soundboard. "I didn't graduate from college, but that thing is broken," cracked Ed, gesturing at the stage-left monitors. Also, the usual ring-around-the-rosy roughhousing in the mosh pit turned ugly when some malcontent standing just outside the action sucker-punched a mosher who jostled him, laying the guy out like a welcome mat. The deckee's friends stepped in, but Nita's bouncers deftly ushered the altercation outside in a matter of seconds. After a brief scuffle in Nita's courtyard, the troublemaker broke for his car, procured a handgun and began firing wildly in the air. The crowd migrated back inside and the doors were quickly closed, just as the strains of "Hell City" began to flame on the stage.

--Serene Dominic

The Promise Ring
Nile Theater
January 20, 1997

In the Nineties, genres are fracturing like O.J.'s cover story, and punk is no exception. "Emo" is the newest punk spin-off, welcomed by p-rock kids as older, tired hybrids like pop-punk lose their panache. A sublevel of hard-core, Emo is defined by start-stop timing tricks, violent volume shifts and the intensity of emotion--authentic or otherwise--Emo bands dump into their vocals (hence the name). Emo songs typically switch from soothing and melodious to thrashing screams of anguish and back at least once, using short bursts of silence to emphasize the song's point, whatever it might be.

Milwaukee's The Promise Ring is one of the more accomplished Emo bands, rising from the ashes of several other quality acts, including math-Emo (now we're getting really technical) progenitors Cap'n Jazz. The crowd at The Promise Ring's January 20 Nile show was predictably young--you could count the people who looked older than 24 on both hands. As a skateboarding video played on the TV screens mounted on the walls, the Emo kids adopted their obligatory corpse poses. The closest thing to dancing on the floor was a few heads nodding rhythmically and scattered fist clenching, but the crowd screamed its appreciation after every song.

The Promise Ring stuck to the more excitable songs in its repertoire, but even the continuous bouncing onstage couldn't break the kids up front outta stoic mode (the butt-rock anthems someone at the Nile saw fit to Poison the air with between sets didn't help the energy). The band went for melody over torture, keeping its set less angst-ridden than sensitive and wistful. Turbulence kicked in whenever the twin guitar leads threatened to lapse into ambiance, but the aggression was always kept on a short leash.

The highlight of P-Ring's set was "A Picture Postcard" off the Falsetto Keeps Time seven-inch, a slow, passionate, lovey kinda song ("So don't forget to kiss me, if you're really going to leave. Couldn't you take the second bus home?"), while the least impressive track was a lackluster new song tentatively titled "My Favorite Song." The band's set was kept short to leave plenty of time for headliners Texas Is the Reason, but it was obvious from the number of people who bailed at halftime that, for these kids at least, The Promise Ring was the reason.

--Brendan Kelley

January 23, 1997

Did Tricky Kid come out to play? Less than three weeks into his first American tour with superstar bona fides, British postrock demigod Tricky took a Tempe stage to answer that query for the 650-plus club kids, rave DJs, promoters, jazz heads, rock stars, UHF magazine fashion plates and other assorted scenesters who made Gibson's the place to be last Thursday night (obscure surf-rock vets The Astronauts earned Cannery Row the runner-up spot just a few blocks away).

The show was sold out and then some, and just before 10 p.m., a bouncer started barking the bad news to the approaching throngs. Dozens turned away at the door chilled in the concrete mini-park of Hayden Square, checking out A Guy Called Gerald spin hip-hop beats through the open club doors and hungrily eying the will-call line for anyone with a connection that might get them inside. Surprisingly, there seemed to be no scalpers.

Jeru the Damaja was a no-show in the support slot, so Tricky went on promptly at 10, shrouded in the same murky, blue and deep-maroon lighting that rendered the feverish, mahogany-skinned beat hero and his female foil Martine as shadows for most of their two-hour set. Maybe it was just an image thing, or perhaps, more nobly, Tricky prefers to keep the live focus on his music and be heard, not seen. Either way, the kid came to play, and he brought a few friends with him--a monster, four-piece band (guitar, bass, drums and boards) that Tricky used to warp his studio tracks into a fresh dimension.

The set list was roughly a 40/60 respective split of material from Tricky's first two albums, Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension, spiced with at least one cut off his side project Nearly God. Some of the tracks, including Maxinquaye's spooky opener "Overcome" and Public Enemy cover "Black Steel," were relatively easy to recognize by the distinct loops and samples at their core. Others were barely discernible, hyperextended versions of their recorded selves. The finest of these was the last song of the show, a massive version of "Vent" from P-MT that Tricky, Inc., drew as a long (10 minutes and change), delicious crescendo. At the climax, a rapid-fire red light strobed the stage as Tricky went into a spasm, gripping the mike stand until his arms shook and seething the word "breathe" over and over.

Despite a tight set, Tricky's appearance in the Valley turned into more of a party than a concert. The progenitor of trip-hop failed to grace Tempe with an encore--a treat he claims to reserve for only the most attentive of audiences, which the Gibson's crowd was not. The outdoor balcony was often packed tighter than the main floor, as was the star-studded upstairs bar area (Marilyn Manson was in the house, along with members of Sepultura and Trunk Federation). The see-and-be-seeners treated Tricky's dank, narcotic beats as a soundtrack for conversation, occasionally closing in to check out a track, but mostly concentrating on the social event more than the artist. It was hard to miss the ironic juxtaposition between them and the captivated rave girl in silver lame who couldn't get a ticket, but watched the show from atop a concrete bench in Hayden Square. Unlike the cramped insiders, she could dance to beats and a live band that were many fathoms deep.

--David Holthouse


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