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The second annual New Times Music Awards Showcase is history. And--let's see, how can I put this delicately?--it kicked total ass. Just more than 11,000 people came to the party, most venues were consistently packed, the DJ showcase went off, and, overall, we're feeling about like the girl with the most cake here at New Times command central. Partly because we don't have thousands and thousands of yellow plastic wristbands to rid ourselves of in an environmentally responsible manner. I swear, about two weeks before the festival, those little bastards started to multiply like tribbles. I think they mated in the office at night.

Seriously, though, that fat a bump from the first year of a multigenre, local music festival to the second (the Showcase drew just more than 7,000 last year) buffs the event to a nice, bright afterglow. Hey, good party, man. The only glaring problem was Touch pulling a no-show in the third time slot (of four) at the Mill Cue Club. Bad Touch. No bold type. And, really, no big deal. It's not like there weren't other viable options. At the same time Touch was supposed to be playing and wasn't, Earl C. Whitehead and the Grievous Angels had a healthy crowd crying in its cups of food coloring, sugar, artificial flavor and Everclear just across the street at Fat Tuesday. Big Pete Pearson and the Blues Sevilles painted a packed house at McDuffy's several shades of blue. And Kongo Shock presided over a scene of frenzied dancing at dusk in Hayden Square that got downright pagan. Kongo's set was a clear case of the right band at the right time at the right venue, and its hour of music was peak in all respects.

Point being, one band flaking did not a huge hassle make (except for Cue Club, who got jacked). More bothersome for me was all the kids who got turned away from seeing the DJs at Club 411. A lot of under-21ers were barred from the industrial, punk and hip-hop shows as well. What can I say, except that sucks. But we just couldn't work it out with the City of Tempe to have mixed audiences at more than one venue (Valley Art Theatre outside), and we had to let all the venues sell booze to make their money. Sound. Lights. Space. That shit's not free, know what I'm saying? Still, it was harsh to watch music fans get shut out for being too young. Also, as I sat there at my desk early on a Monday morning all cotton-mouthed and brain-shriveled, I have to admit I'm seriously questioning the wisdom of holding such a music festival on a Sunday night. The key concept here is recovery time. As in need for and lack thereof.

Anyway. Let's roll some more tape: Honeybucket got its groove on early with a fresh opening set at Balboa Cafe. Lead singer Justin Palicki nimbly sidestepped a partial stage collapse with nary a break in his flow at the mike. The sleeper sensation of the fest, though, was Lady J and Blues Ratio, who tore up Beeloe's with a fire-and-ice set of Afro-Cuban-flavored jazz. I was playing venue hopscotch during their time slot, and after bouncing down the stairs from the Owl's Nest--where Hans Olson was churning out eerie, gutsy solo blues to a noisy crowd that seemed more concerned about its hamburgers than his vocals--I wheeled around the corner on Fifth Street and chanced into one of the most glorious live-guitar solos I've ever heard soaring up from Beeloe's. I don't know the Blues Ratio guitarist's name, and I didn't have time to find out, which is a shame, 'cause he is damn good. So good his solo made me howl, and helped the world make sense for a few minutes.

Post-Beeloe's, I popped into Valley Art Theatre, where Godless orchestrated a show that felt like a scene from a Clive Barker story. Seething assaults of industrial rock blasting in a run-down, pitch-black, vintage movie theater that reeks of Pine Sol and popcorn. The only light was a strobe that cast grossly extended shadows of the band members on a drop curtain behind them. Quite effective in sum, actually, and, in truth, Godless was the only band that made Valley Art work for it instead of against. But I wasn't in a bad-acid mood, so I split for the Valley Art outdoors stage, where Fred Green was jamming hard under a hot sun (talk about contrasts). Chronic Future was up next on the all-ages tip, but got the freak-show treatment from the mostly older crowd, who gawked like it'd never seen 15-year-old kids playing tight rock 'n' roll before. The high (or low, depending on your belief system) point of Chronic's set came with lead vocalist Mike Busse yelling "you fucking slut" while a group of prepubescent girls at the foot of the stage screeched like Beatles fans. Chronicmania: Conservative dads, fear for your little girls.

Back inside Valley Art, Slugger powered through a cover of Bikini Kill's "Statement of Vindication." Lead singer Yolanda Bejarano is such an awesome vocalist it almost made it seem all right to watch a punk band while sitting down in a movie theater. In other p-rock news, Bullyrag played its first paying gig ever, cooked well-done with extra volume, to a Ziggy's crowd of mostly thirtysomethings in Korn and Green Bay Packer tee shirts who, by some cosmic grace, totally got into the ruckus. Go figure. Mad At 'Em closed out a punk double-header at Ziggy's, going on right after Bullyrag and drawing a more typical crowd, with lots of punk chicks. Mad At 'Em's singer was reportedly power-puking from the flu in the hours leading up to the show, but still did an expert job. The band's drummer had a newly broken foot and had to switch-hit with his left foot on bass kick, but still managed to boot half his kit off the stage, midsong, and keep going. The unofficial New Times Music Award for "sheer will to rock" goes to Mad At 'Em, no question.

Speaking of Know Qwestion (I know, that's cheesy, but my tongue still feels like I French-kissed a cougar Sunday night, so cut me some slack), the best shot to represent the Valley at the national hip-hop level got a crowd of about 100 at Gibson's jumping with a polished, crisp closing set, despite tough competition from Jesus Chrysler Supercar, a stone's throw away, rocking the house in a sweatboxed Balboa Cafe (KQ didn't get any help from Gibson's, who greedily started to charge a cover about 10 minutes after eight o'clock, festival wristband or not). Of course, throwing stones across Hayden Square is bad, especially when it's populated by several hundred people chilling out on the grass and/or swaying like palm fronds to a meandering, all-acoustic folk-and-reggae set by Walt Richardson and local guitarist Hannes Kvaran. I can appreciate Richardson wanting to try something new after playing reggae for so long--and so well--in the Valley. But, damn, Walt, did it have to be the last set of the night in Hayden Square? A little Morning Star would have gone a long way there and then.

Things were livelier at McDuffy's, where a rowdy crowd clamored for an encore from beatnik rockers Rusty Jones. The largest audience of the day, however, turned out for N17 at Gibson's in the second time slot. At one point, the club was full and there was a "one in, one out" line of 50 people trailing around the perimeter of Hayden Square. N17 put on a lighting-ride live show, with chain-saw-massacre guitars, thunderous neotribal drums and repetitive expectorating by lead signer Trevor Askew, who, by the way, I'd never seen out in daylight before.

Club 411 was also a hot spot. Direct Force DJ Pete Salaz rocked the party with the final of five hourlong sets of dance music. All five of the DJs who performed played excellent sets. The first, R.C. Lair, didn't have much of a crowd until the last 10 minutes of his time, but that was just the bad luck of an early draw. He spun smooth as silk. Kevin Brown kept a good floor going for his whole set. I missed Markus Schulz, but he obviously kept the momentum going and the crowd buzzed. He followed a tough act--Z-Trip--who intelligently played relatively mainstream dance music, which won over the crowd and paved the way for the four DJs to follow. Z-Trip mixed it up, though, with several displays of his scratching skills and a closing mix of Public Enemy and Black Sabbath that merits only one word: sick.

The last clip on my highlight reel comes from Oil's stormy set at Fat Tuesday. It's a three-parter: 1) Lead guitarist Anthony McLain doing a dead-on Gene Simmons impersonation, replete with tongue wagging and Kabuki high ponytail. 2) Lead singer Kirk Harper in general. Harper, a ringer for Dennis Hopper, threatened the crowd with Bon Jovi covers, then sang like he was dredging up the notes from a scary place in his guts, face red, veins popping, eyes rolled back in his head. Cool, man. 3) Several inebriated moshers who took their blue frozen drinks into the pit. Within seconds the slam dancers looked like Smurf farmers after a long day at slaughter.

Well, that's all I got. No offense to bands not mentioned. I bounced around like a pinball, but still couldn't see everyone. Even this report took help--New Times music writers Brendan Kelley, Ted Simons and Leigh Silverman contributed comment and observation. Thanks to everyone who turned out, thanks to all the bands, and th--

What? Oh, the winners. Right. Sorry. Ballots were still being counted at press time.

--David Holthouse


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