This summer's Musicmaker.com-sponsored twin tour -- by a Jimmy Page-led Black Crowes and modfathers The Who (hitting Blockbuster Desert Sky on August 13 and 14, respectively) -- is for most observers an uneasy mix of nostalgia and commerce. Certainly neither effort can be regarded as much more than a kind of traveling novelty show -- going on the road and trundling out their old acts one more time (or in the case of the Crowes, trundling out someone else's act, namely Led Zep's). Which, when you get right down to it, is really quite all right. There's no holy tablet dictating that artists (and especially artists of rock 'n' roll, historically a young man's game) have to remain forever prescient or relevant. In fact, sometimes there's a surprisingly twisted appeal in watching a band hold together way past its prime (Ramones, AC/DC). So with that in mind, it's probably time for all those wringing their hands (including yours truly) to stop rationalizing and simply enjoy what is certain to be a pair of great shows.
Still, if the air of artistic bankruptcy irks you beyond redemption, there is hope. While most of the attention will, understandably, be focused on the main stage, there will be some truly vital new music happening on both nights; it's just that it will be occurring out of the spotlight at a preconcert setup known as the Levi's "First Stage." Performing will be Marah, a Philadelphia-based outfit that has been winning the sort of praise usually reserved for rock hall of famers like the aforementioned Zep and Who.
Led by brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko, Marah works a rare milieu in this day and age -- unironic, big tableau rock 'n' roll (most reminiscent thematically to a pre-Hollywood Bruce Springsteen). However, the band infuses its sound with a scruffy post-punk sensibility (think the Replacements) that makes it a perfect stylistic two-fer in an era wallowing in its own sense of postmodern hipness.
The group's triumphant sophomore effort, Kids in Philly -- recently released on Steve Earle's E-Squared label -- comes on the heels of its equally brilliant (and brilliantly titled) independent debut Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight (Black Dog), records that find comfort and inspiration in the romance of big cities and small bars.
Especially worth seeking out is Kids' "Point Breeze" maxi-single featuring a country cover of the Boss' "Streets of Philadelphia" and a B-side called "Why Independent Record Stores Fail," a two-and-a-half-minute ballad to romance and vinyl that's the ultimate distillation of Nick Hornby's lovelorn music-geek masterwork High Fidelity.
While Marah is confirmed for the side platform at both the Page/Crowes and Who bills, an even more exciting prospect has the group playing an August 12 club date at Long Wong's on Mill Avenue. There's been no official confirmation on the show, but sources say the gig is a sure bet. Look for New Times to go further in depth with details on the Wong's appearance and a profile of the band in the coming weeks.
Sugar, Sugar: Local power-pop practitioners Sugar High have nearly completed work on their full-length debut. The group spent most of June recording the disc at Mesa's Flying Blanket Studios with the Pollen production duo Bob Hoag and Kevin Scanlon.
Expanding on this year's Ice Cream Anti-Social EP, the members of Sugar High have laid down 11 new songs. The completed 15-song disc will also include four EP cuts that the band plans to remix and add guitar tracks to. No release date has been set for the currently untitled effort, but info on the band can be found at its new Web site (www.sugar-high.com). Word is Florida-based Fueled by Ramen records (home to Pollen and The Stereo) is among a handful of indie labels that have expressed interest in the band.
Meanwhile, after a three-month national nonstop tour, Pollen recently got back to work. The band played a pair of shows as part of the Vans Warped Tour with side-stage gigs in Phoenix and Fresno, California. On the heels of its latest full-length, Chip, the group has put out a new split CD in Japan with Red Sun popsters Husking Bee. Pollen has played a smattering of local shows in recent weeks and also plans several regional dates with Pez-obsessed punks Less Than Jake later this summer.
Et Wu?: With this week's announcement of an upcoming Wu-Tang Clan show at the Celebrity Theatre, several questions spring to mind. What are the odds that all or any of the notoriously, ahem, unreliable multi-pseudonymed group members will actually show for the gig?
What are the chances that any of the hard-core rap collective can be pinned down for an interview? (Last time we had five scheduled times and five cancellations.) And, if we do write a feature, what are the odds that they might take offense to some innocuous remark contained therein and duly cap our asses?
But of paramount importance, one wonders what moniker Russell Jones (a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard) will be using at the time of the Clan's Valley appearance. Will it be the standard ODB appellation? His other more secular nickname, Big Baby Jesus? Or yet another nom de guerre (Unique Ason, Joe Bannanas, Dirt McGirt)?
Like the rest of you, Bash & Pop has spent many hours contemplating exactly what my Wu-Tang name would be were I a full-fledged member of the Clan. (That is, of course, ignoring the reality that I'm a white country-music fan from Tucson, and not an angry black gangsta rapper from Staten Island.)
If you've stayed up long nights pondering the same, you needn't lose any further sleep, thanks to the folks behind The Wu Name Web site (located at www.recordstore.com/wuname). Using a mysterious process (which we suspect involves random scrambling of strange words), you simply type in your real name in the appropriate fields, click the mouse, and before you can say "shimmy shimmy ya," your true Wu identity is revealed.
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Although it sounds ridiculously juvenile (and frankly, it is), playing on the site is hours and hours of endless fun. While my own Wu name is the relatively staid, World-Class Programmah, several of my fellow New Times colleagues have much more colorful designations, such as 100 Watt Warlock (Brian Smith), Grand Moff Puppeteer (Bill Blake), and my personal favorite, Serene Dominic's Wu alter ego, Ol' Filthy, Sweaty Bastard.
But the site is more than just a goof for your friends and co-workers; Wu names can offer penetrating insights into the true nature of people, especially when applied to celebrities. For example, 1950s crooner and Christian man of faith Pat Boone comes up as the Homicidal Terrahawk, while Love Boat captain Gavin MacLeod funks things up as the Flailing Fanatical Killer. Country legend Willie Nelson gets tagged with the somehow appropriate Budget Nudist, and soon-to-be Saint Mother Teresa comes up as the Cheeky Delinquent.
More to the point, tickets for the Wu-Tang Clan's August 15 show go on sale this Saturday and are available at the Celebrity Theatre box office or by calling 602-267-1600.