It's 10 o'clock, the television is on Channel 3 and the NewShow is on, but something is wrong, very wrong. There's no dancing letters, no familiar theme song, and -- gasp! -- co-anchor Liz Habib is sitting down.
Welcome to the new NewShow. KTVK-TV Channel 3's nightly broadcast -- which had become an unlikely force in the local music scene during its run -- has evidently decided to ditch the popular, infotainment approach that helped it carve out a unique identity among Valley newscasts.
"What I was beginning to be concerned about was that people were equating the 'Show' part of it as being bigger than the 'News' part of it," says KTVK executive news director Phil Alvidrez of the decision to tweak the show's format.
To that end, the program has undergone a none-too-subtle makeover during the past week which includes a stylistic overhaul -- different opening graphics and music, seated news anchors (translation: no more full body shots of Habib) -- to a more substantive shift in content away from entertainment and toward a renewed focus on hard news.
Although Alvidrez insists that NewShow gal-about-town Claudia DiFolco will continue to handle nightlife coverage, it seems -- with the new changes -- you're less likely to find her chatting up Snoop Dogg than, say, a Scottsdale restaurateur.
Still, the NewShow face-lift, which comes a year and a half into its run, is not exactly a shocker. The bigger surprise -- especially in terms of its music quotient -- was that it lasted so long. ("We're pretty stubborn people," jokes Alvidrez.) The program, which at its peak was airing two to three (and sometimes four) nights' worth of music coverage -- from live concert and club remotes to in-studio performances and interviews -- had clearly been stagnating for the past few months. Much of that had to do with the kinds of acts that were appearing (in many cases, repeatedly), and it's easy to argue that a more judicious and progressive booking policy might've yielded better results. Regardless, toward the end it seemed that the band segments had become just so much filler.
"We had gotten into a situation with the music groups that it became -- and because we're creatures of habit like everybody else -- it became real easy to say, 'It's Thursday. Let's go do a group tonight,' without applying the same kind of criteria as we would to a news story -- why are we here, what is this band's story?" says Alvidrez. "I think we have to be a little more discriminating in our choices about why we're putting somebody on. Will we still do local bands? Sure. Will we do them with the same frequency? No."
Also ditched as part of the NewShow makeover is a regular bit featuring DiFolco and Zia Record Exchange COO Jim Kelly. Although ostensibly a run-down of new national record releases, the weekly taped piece focused heavily on local discs as well (and boasted a charmingly goofy interplay between the two).
Again, Alvidrez insists that the program has not completely turned its back on those elements. "If somebody comes and says, 'Hey, here's a new release we oughta do,' then we'll consider doing it. If somebody comes to us with a hot local band that says, 'Hey, these guys have a story,' we'll do it, but they're not going to be regular features."
In hindsight, NewShow's coverage of Valley music was in many ways a remarkable development. Few would argue that local bands have ever received as much and as frequent attention from a broadcast outlet as TV-3 has afforded during the past 18 months (this includes featuring bands on it's a.m. talk fest Good Morning Arizona, as well).
Still, there were several particular concerns that made it seemingly impossible for the show's coverage to develop and grow. Chief among these reasons was the sterile, overly lighted atmosphere of Sound Vision studio (where the bulk of the performances emanated from), which tended to make even the best bands look and sound rather, well, dorky.
Beyond the logistics, NewShow quickly found itself saddled with an identity that made it far too safe (almost kitschy, some would say) for any cutting-edge artists and audiences to take part. Certainly, it's hard to imagine Stinkweeds patrons setting aside their Yo La Tengo records to tune in to NewShow; even harder perhaps to picture prominent Valley indie bands -- a Jimmy Eat World or a Reuben's Accomplice, for example -- trading pleasantries with the glib DiFolco. That alone meant that the choice of performers was essentially limited to a handful of more mainstream Phoenix acts; witness the multiple appearances by bands like Satellite and Gas Giants.
Still, Alvidrez says that the sudden and dramatic NewShow overhaul notwithstanding, the program may eventually return to a more familiar and friendly balance for local bands. "You have to realize we're different from the other [nightly newscasts] in that we have an hour every night. So I still think, ultimately, there will be plenty of room for us to do some of the things that the old NewShow came to be known for."
Drinkin' Time: Local blues king Big Pete Pearson is set to celebrate the release of his latest CD, One More Drink, with a pair of weekend concerts.
The 10-song Drink, produced and mixed by noted Valley knob turner Clarke Rigsby, features seven Big Pete originals plus a trio of covers, including B.B. King's "You Know I Love You" and a bluesed-up reading of "Like a Rooster on a Hen" -- a George Bernard Shaw/John Mills Ward show tune which guitarist Little Milton has also recorded.
Supporting Big Pete on the disc are longtime collaborators -- guitarist Tom Grills, bassist Jack Tutt and drummer Alvieo Robinson -- plus local luminaries like Hammond B-3 ace Dr. Fish, harpman Bob Corritore and saxophonist Jerry Donato.
Big Pete Pearson is scheduled to perform this Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, at the Rhythm Room. Shows begin at 9 p.m.
Warlock 'n' Roll: This week the Blue Ox hosts a retro-rock invasion as Bomp!/Alive recording artists the Warlocks and Nikki Sudden come to town on Wednesday, April 18. The Warlocks -- who released their self-titled debut in February -- create a psychedelic sound that immediately calls to mind fellow tripped-out and turned-on explorers like Spacemen 3, Jesus and Mary Chain and Brian Jonestown Massacre (not coincidentally, Warlock guitarist Bobby Hecksher is a former BJM member).
Meanwhile, Sudden, former leader of British post-punk legends the Swell Maps, works a less lysergic and more Stones-inspired noise. Sudden's latest effort, titled The Last Bandit, is a double-disc anthology compiling his solo sides from the past 20 years, plus a previously unreleased acoustic album.
The Warlocks/Sudden bill also marks the official return of the Valley's own Beat Angels. The group -- which has essentially been in mothballs since a car accident sidelined bassist Scott Moore last fall -- is returning to active duty with original rhythm man Kevin Pate and noted local sessionist (and mysteriously monikered) drummer A.D. filling the seat held by Jeff Bourne since 1998. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Flatlanders: Tucson's Fourkiller Flats -- singer/songwriter Jim Cox, multi-instrumentalist Jim Peekin, bassist James Stanley, lead guitarist Neal Bonser and drummer Bill Green -- have quickly generated a buzz as one of the finest roots/alt-country combos to come out of the Old Pueblo in a decade or more. High praise indeed, considering Tucson's storied legacy in that respect.
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Admittedly, the band's muse is more inspired by No Depression beacons like Uncle Tupelo and Alejandro Escovedo than iconic desert dwellers like the Sand Rubies or Naked Prey. Still, on the Flats' self-titled five-song debut (a CD-R with professional packaging), the band slots firmly into said legacy.
Commencing with the wonderfully melodic mandolin workout "So Far," FkF then proceeds to essay straight-up, twangin' country-folk (the Burrito Brothers-esque, one-beer-too-many "Cat Song"); gentle autumnal balladry with a bluegrass undercurrent, courtesy of some bottleneck guitar ("Tip Me Over"); and even low-key, subtly anthemic garage rock ("Way I Went From You," which, with its bristling lead guitar, recalls Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).
Throughout, the group's keen attention to dynamics and arrangements reveals the presence of seasoned pros in the lineup. Additionally, in Cox, a gruff-throated but tuneful and emotive lead vocalist, the Flats have the requisite front-person charisma that helps elevate any group's chances in today's confusingly crowded marketplace. The group, which first joined up in the fall of '99 after Peekin and Cox (a former member of Tucson stalwarts 35 Summers) began playing acoustic gigs, is currently working with producer Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Richard Buckner) on a full-length follow-up to the EP.
The band will open for Truckers on Speed this Saturday, April 14, at Long Wongs in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m.