Sound and Fury

The defining moment of the first New Times Music Awards Showcase came, for me, almost two weeks before the actual event. It was a Tuesday night and New Times was hosting a logistics summit meeting upstairs at Minder Binder's in Tempe. Representatives from all 36 bands in 11 showcase categories were invited to the meeting to pick up stage diagrams and schedules, ask questions about sound systems, drink beer and eat bar food. So, all told, the room was populated with around 50 Valley musicians from nine different genres.

The place looked like an outtake from a Benetton ad--dreadlocked Rastafarians munching on carrot sticks with spike-Mohawked punk rockers; heavy-metal longhairs sitting at a table across from country twangers in cowboy hats; gangsta rappers hanging in the back with the tribal-tattooed industrial warriors of N17. Jazz cats and alterna-rockers. Salsa players and old-school bluesmen. Chico Chism, sporting that ever-present black hat, just gettin' down with his bad self and holding court at a side table near the front.

I was chillin' in the back with members of Polliwog and Kongo Shock--ambassadors from the Etc. category at this pop-music U.N.--and smiling to myself at the array of hair styles and headgear. There it is, I thought, the Valley music scene in all its weird glory.

That was April 9. Twelve days later, 34 of those 36 bands did shows at nine stages scattered around downtown Tempe. Police estimated 7,000 people attended the five-hour series of staggered concerts. I call 7,000 people turning out for local music on a Sunday evening for a first-time event a success--but not an unqualified one.

First off, Glass Heroes, a nominee in the Punk category, simply never showed up. Evidently, one of the band's members had a sick kid and had to go out of town (not front man Keith Jackson, who made his showcase gig as guitarist for the Beat Angels later in the day). The second, much uglier pockmark on the day, however, was the inconsistency of the sound systems.

Sound at several venues, including Gibson's, Hayden Square and outside Valley Art Theatre, was solid throughout the event. But elsewhere, problems were straight from This Is Spinal Tap. Here's a partial list:

A monitor at Seven Storey Mountain's show at Mill Cue Club started smoking during the band's first-slot performance, and shorted in and out like a Radio Free America broadcast during Serene Dominic and the Semi-Detached's set (the Semi-Detached went on directly after SSM); the Weirdoz had poltergeists in the soundboard for most of their hard-core hip-hop set outside Trails, randomly losing power to their mikes; the punk band Since I Was 6 had similar troubles at its abbreviated show inside Valley Art, and the sound man cut off the band's power three songs into the set when members cursed him out over the dead mikes.

Finally, it took the sound man for Know Qwestion at Balboa Cafe far too long to get a good mix between the prerecorded beats and the vocal levels. This was the same guy who played Little Richard as warm-up music before a hip-hop show, casting a bit of doubt on his familiarity with rap music.

The low point of the event, however, was a highly pissed Patti Williams walking out of Valley Art after patiently waiting two hours past her scheduled start for a sound system--any sound system--to be set up so she and her band Delirious could do a show. There are reasons she got jacked out of performing, but there are no excuses.

So, in short, we had a few fuck-ups. Or, rather, the people we hired to do sound did, which really amounts to the same thing. We're endeavoring to make amends with Williams by sponsoring a rain-check show, and we'll up our game on the sound tip next year.

And there should be a next year because, by and large, the event in question went over big. If I hadn't had a hand in organizing the event, I wouldn't be so hard on it, because 7,000 people is no joke, kid. That's significant exposure for local music. Granted, the sound problems were a bummer for the artists--especially in a competitive scenario--but, realistically, most of the members in the crowd were so mobile that they just moved on to their second choice if their top pick for a time slot had a shitty mix.

So out with the bad, in with the good--here are a few highlights: watching a conservatively dressed couple in their 40s dance through a thrasher of a set by Mandingo at Hayden Square; I practically guarantee you by the "I can't believe we're actually doing this" smiles on their faces that these people had never been to a punk show before. More power to them for sticking it out. Another high point later in the day was the "fingers of fury" technique displayed by DJ Fade onstage with Know Qwestion. Behind the back, crossover scratching, this guy was a blur on the tables. Across the way at Gibson's, Suite No. 3 laid down a series of funky, complex instrumental grooves--good mind candy to pick apart, layer by layer. The Beat Angels were sloppy, but still the purest essence of rock 'n' roll, before a capacity crowd at the Owl's Nest (it was the band's first hometown gig with new bass player Tommy Caradonna, who held his own on the low end). Bands and venues were matched at random, and putting the Beat Angels up in the Nest was one of chance's less fortunate turns, as more than 100 Angels fans were turned away at the door.

Final props go to the smooth flow and live rhythm section of Brothers Grimm at Gibson's, the crowd-pleasing finale set in Hayden Square by Barrio Latino (I don't know about those America covers, though) and the power-chord sledgehammering by Crushed outside Valley Art.--David Holthouse


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