Another year, another local music extravaganza, another Sunday afternoon gauntlet to run. But there was something different about New Times' 2001 music showcase, the sixth annual version. There was a definite sense that we'd really made it. Sure, we've always had good attendance and rabid participation, but something was special this time round. Like bigger, nationally known festivals -- say South by Southwest or CMJ -- we finally saw a large number of non-sanctioned, alternate and shadow showcases trying to gravy train off our humble event. From the Knot Known Records-sponsored bash, to East Coast Subs' rock bill to any number of side-street buskers, there were a lot of people trying to jump on our coattails.
But forget the stragglers; the 40 official bands performing held more than enough promise. While this showcase was the easiest in memory to navigate, at best we still could only hope to view maybe half the acts. Thanks to a little bit of initiative and a good pair of cross-trainers, we got to see a whole lot more. A bad back and sore feet notwithstanding, we offer the following recap of the day's events.
Punk provocateurs Balls kicked off the proceedings to a packed house at the Bash on Ash. Looking resplendent in a ravishing red ensemble, frontwoman Tricie Soulos led her bandmates through a furiously paced 40 minutes, hitting the highpoint midway with a crowd-pleasing cover of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law."
Indie entrants Fightshy were not so extroverted, as the combo had to be coaxed into continuing its splendid set of jangling, plaintive tunes at the Mill Cue Club. Elsewhere, Fat Tuesday audiences got a double shot of popsters the Royal Normans as hard/modern rock candidate Nine Volt had to cancel after frontman Andy Mitchell was sidelined with the flu.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated wrinkle to this year's event was the return of the Valley Art Theater to the showcase fold. The recently renovated cinema house proved a perfect backdrop for the gypsy jazz of the Hammertoes, the roots muse of Sistah Blue and pretty much everything in between. Unfortunately, technical troubles marred an otherwise admirable early appearance at the venue by the Loud Americans, who literally blew the power out in the theater during their final song.
Down the street at Beeloe's, blues category competitors the James Matthews Band showed why they belong among the Valley elite as the up-and-coming crew cajoled the audience and generally worked the crowd with a solid bag of good-timey shuffles and rave-ups.
The seven o'clock hour began with a bit of old school rawk 'n' punk courtesy of the Vox Poppers, as the band's Brit-fueled sound spilled out of the Cue Club and onto the busy sidewalk, turning the heads of curious passers-by.
Yolanda Bejarano's The Slowdown did just that, as a packed and hushed Beeloe's audience -- including indie rock peers Jimmy Eat World and its comely entourage -- watched the group wind through a haltingly beautiful, if understated, set of acoustica.
Meanwhile, the ladies of Uber Alice took a totally different tack as the black-clad quartet powered through a strong outdoor appearance at Trails, exhorting the all-ages crowd to pogo toward the stage.
Across the alley in Hayden Square, there was no pogoing, but plenty of dancing as Latin big-band Chicano Power Revival got the masses shaking their collective asses. Band leader Raul Yanez prodded the crowd to lose itself in the group's multi-genre mix; the audience responded in kind, with many partaking in lambada, the forbidden dance of love.
Back at the Bash, a bittersweet air hung over Sugar High's performance, reportedly its last with guitarist Jason Garcia. The group closed a strident set of rockers with a feedback-laden version of "Personality Pills." Sugar High's appearance also included the first of several showcase tributes to the recently departed and sorely missed Joey Ramone, as the band pulled off a stellar take of "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker."
At about the same time at the Owl's Nest, DJ Tricky T deviated from his standard set of beats to scratch his way through "Rock 'n' Roll High School" in homage to the late, great Ramone. (A correction: We mistakenly ran a photo of DJ Tige next to a caption about Tricky T in last week's showcase insert. We're well-intentioned here, but also kind of dumb. Our apologies.)
Native act Clan/destine came and got its love in the heritage category, as the group proved to be one of the evening's biggest surprises with a scintillating and highly polished merger of traditional indigenous sound and modern rock.
Outside at Hayden Square, local hip-hop supergroup the Ten Commandments unleashed an impressive and unrelenting lyrical assault that seemed to go over the heads of most of the crowd, save for a contingent of hardcore rap aficionados. The group ended its set by causing a small furor, as the all-star collective slammed its microphones for dramatic effect and stalked offstage. This sent the Hayden Square sound crew and New Times ad reps doubling as showcase volunteers into a tizzy before we were forced to calm the situation, assuring everyone that they were just rappers playing the part and everything would be fine. (It should be noted for the record that most New Times ad reps are so white they make Andy Williams look like Rudy Ray Moore.)
Speaking of obscure '70s references, DJ Smite's Owl's Nest turn was filled with plenty of cuts from the era, as the turntablist spun through a horn- and groove-heavy mix of old school jams.
Old school is certainly the best term to describe the Glass Heroes' Bash on Ash gig. The Heroes, appearing with original drummer Bob Stubbs -- who is set to return to the Valley next month and join the group full time -- reached deep into their catalog for rarely heard nuggets like "Liars, Cheats and Thieves" plus covers of the Ruts and the Professionals.
Down the block, the Hypnotwists' highly atmospheric Beeloe's bow showed why they have quickly become a local sensation. Alternating between moody top-string twang and Latin-flecked trumpeteering, the group made for an interesting audio and visual show -- especially organist Tula Storm, decked out like Jackie Onassis as Vegas cocktail waitress.
Returning frequently to the Valley Art, we were fortunate to find two of our favorite acts of the day. First, we encountered the strange saga of the Dead Brains. The absurdly coiffured combo managed to plow through nearly two dozen numbers, including "Shitfaced" and "Redneckin," each prefaced by guitarist Dick Duck's odd narratives. "We originally wrote this for the Bird's Eye people, but they wouldn't touch it because they said it was filled with too much sexual innuendo," said Duck, introducing a downright suggestive number called "Cool Whip."
The band's showstopper came when singer Igor Love broke out the brass for another dirty romp titled "Tromboner." The Dead Brains' appearance also boasted the best post-show comment, as we overheard one confused middle-aged onlooker ask his equally perplexed wife: "What in theeeee fuck was that?"
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Next up was the Sonic Thrills. As usual, the garage/trash rockers came dressed to the nines, but this year the combo also came with a new member, guitarist Neil Impossible, former frontman for Valley pop-punks the Impossibles. Still led by singer Jim Monarch ("Daaaamn Kids!!!" ) and lead guitarist Michael Johnny Walker, the Thrills' electric performance solidified their reputation as the Valley's premier exponent of the Dead Boys/Heartbreakers school of music.
Racing up to the Owl's Nest, we found that things were in full swing, as multi-DJ, multi-MC crew Morse Code was quizzing the audience ("We are now having a party, correct?") before running back down to the Cue Club, this time for Less Pain Forever. The group, whose full billing read "A Tribute to the Music of Lush Budget Presents Les Payne Product," is something of a local mystery. We were thoroughly convinced that this "tribute" band was actually a sham, a ruse perpetrated by Les Payne's Chris Pomerenke and James Karnes. But the duo -- who came clad in face-obscuring masks and wigs -- disappeared before we had a chance to determine if we'd been had.
Time was winding down as we ran over to Fat Tuesday to glimpse college rockers Reuben's Accomplice. The group's set came off well, though it was clear many in the crowd were disappointed that Jeff "Buff Daddy" Bufano was not nearly as ripped in person as he appeared to be in the group's showcase self-portrait (also, we got wind of a hot rumor that has the "Buff Daddy" officially changing his name to "B-Diddy" in the near future).
We ended our marathon music fest with a final return to the Bash for a nightcapping turn from the Trophy Husbands. As expected, wherever there is Kevin Daly, there is chaos. The psychobilly vet and fellow Husband Dave Insley (along with a guest walk-on from brother Mark Insley) climaxed with an anarchic and disturbing version of Donna Fargo's "Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." before Daly dove headlong into the crowd for a bit of spontaneous ass-whipping. All in all, a fitting -- if radical -- ending to another showcase.