Nobody ever said you'll get Tempe fans handed to you on a silver platter.
That's what Emily Haines, the keyboard-playing front woman for the indie pop band Metric, found out when her group headlined the annual New Times Music Showcase on Sunday, April 18.
Metric's catchy CD came out last year, but it still hasn't hit the mainstream. Certainly not the metro Phoenix mainstream, including the airwaves. So who could blame local music fans if they didn't treat these newcomers like the second coming?
Apparently dismayed that hundreds of people in the crowd at Hayden Square's main stage were standing and bobbing their heads instead of jumping and screaming in adoration, Haines taunted the crowd between songs -- "Do you know the Yeah Yeah Yeahs?" "Have you even heard our album?" -- before finally busting out the real vitriol.
"The fact is, this shit is so fucking depressing that we can't even play our song," Haines, a shaggy-haired, pale-skinned gal wearing a black tee shirt and miniskirt, called out to the crowd.
At that moment, Rachel Taylor from the local synth group XOXOXO bounced onto the stage, pouffy black pigtails flying, and gave Haines a hug as she grabbed the mike. "I know exactly what you mean, sister," she said, before skipping back to the sidelines.
Haines continued her rant. "Everything that you people think is punk rock, isn't," she said, telling the puzzled audience that she couldn't care less what they think of her, because she's getting kicked off in a few minutes anyway. "Besides, if I'm lucky, I'll be a big star."
Two college-age women sitting in the grass behind the crowd stared in disbelief. "I hate her," said one as the other nodded in agreement. But both stayed for Metric's last song.
At the end of the set, Haines curtly said, "Sorry for the attitude. We're Metric. We have a lotta love."
Haines may as well have said, "Fuck you, Tempe!"
Metric's insincerity was an anomaly at the Showcase, which really was all about the love. The event attracted an estimated 13,000 music fans to a dozen venues on or near Mill Avenue. By most accounts (and drop-ins at acts throughout the night), what did seem clear before Metric took the stage is that, unlike national performers -- who might be shocked to discover that they're relative unknowns outside of New York or San Francisco -- local bands really do have a connection with their fans. And from the response of the audiences, the feeling's mutual.
The Showcase got off to a gleefully chaotic start just after 6 p.m., when Grave Danger started playing to a small group at Margarita Rocks that grew to around 50 tattooed, black-clad people. Front man Kevin Daly was already tipsy, but he still managed to rock out a surf-inspired guitar solo. During the song "Here Kitty, Kitty," bassist Rich Merriman looked seriously concerned when Daly randomly started blurting out "Satan!" instead of the lyrics. But members of the audience laughed and made devil horn gestures toward the band.
Just outside the club, you could still hear Grave Danger blaring along with the loud emo guitars of Greeley Estates, who were playing at Hayden Square. Since the venue had to accommodate all ages, there was a double barricade separating a dense crowd of teenagers on one side from a sparser population of drinkers on the other. Wearing tight blue jeans and a sleeveless black tee, lead singer Ryan Zimmerman screamed his heart out to the eager girls by the edge of the stage, who seemed to know all the words. Boys with spiky hair or ball caps stood farther back, arms crossed, nodding their heads to the steady beat.
Finishing up the first time slot next door at Balboa, Pooh Baby led five other MCs, both male and female, in a booty-shakin' finale that had a couple dozen heads bobbing in the room. The petite rapper, wearing mirrored shades and a sporty jacket, looked larger than life -- and happy -- amid her talented crew, even if the audience was small.
On the street just outside Balboa at 6:45, about 100 people were standing in front of the Zia Records tent to watch a four-piece punk band called Coldsnap 9. Although the band's look was what caught the attention of passers-by -- all the members appeared to have neck tattoos and eye makeup, and their hair styles ranged from dyed or Mohawked to completely bald -- its tight, fast performance impressed onlookers enough to keep most from walking away.
Back on Mill Avenue, outside of Fatburger, Jimmy Eat World's fresh-faced singer/guitarist Jim Adkins was pushing a baby stroller up the street. Ten minutes later, at the outdoor stage at Trails, Smoky Mountain Skullbusters singer Mike Roberts dedicated the song "Get Off My Mom" to a friend who wasn't at the show because she was in labor at that very moment. Simultaneously, Roberts' wife, Rochelle, walked through the gate wearing dark lipstick and a bright green SMS tee shirt, and carrying her two-week-old infant Natalie on her chest. Her friend, wearing an identical tee shirt, walked in with 2-year-old Elijah, another member of the Roberts brood. Rochelle told New Times that Dakota, her 10-year-old, was somewhere up in front of the stage. "This is his second show," she said proudly.
When XOXOXO started 15 minutes late at Ziggy's, it still didn't quite seem like the show was happening, because the sound guy really needed to turn up the volume. As Ben and Zack Funke rocked out on their synthesizers, singer Rachel Taylor jumped around in the strobe lights. Her vocals were barely audible, and the large audience was standing a good 10 feet away from the band. Watching the performance felt like watching TV.
After 7:30, Atllas was still onstage at the Library, rapping to an incredible bluesy funk backdrop of live drums, bass and guitar. At least 80 onlookers filled the small room, drinking beers and watching the dapper MC move through a swirl of smoke, colored lights and disco-ball sparkle. Atllas even worked up the crowd for a hearty call-and-response.
Upstairs at the Owl's Nest, the Dames started performing a little after 8. The trio was dressed in orange prison-style jumpsuits that they made into minidresses, and they sounded like a sassy, female version of the Misfits, "whoa-ohs" and all. By the end of the first song, there were so many hipsters in the crowd that you could hardly see the band; it was just occasional glimpses of orange fabric or guitarist Heather Shope's platinum locks.
Back downstairs at the Library, it was just as crowded at the Hell on Heels show. The band was still tuning up and the room was already full, while a long line of people waited outside to show their IDs.
A few doors down at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, a thick throng of young and old drank beer and swayed to the psychedelic grooves of Lymbyc Systym. Since Jared Bell was sitting at the organ and his brother Michael was at the drums, no one except the people right in front could see the band. But you could hear the swinging melodies even out on the street. When Jared finished a wild, Doors-style keyboard solo, the whole place cheered.
Around 8:30, two neighboring Mill Avenue venues were like a musical yin and yang. On one side, at the Mill Cue Club, Soloman was spinning loud, thumping hip-hop to a sparsely filled room. Most of the people were in the back, hanging around the pool tables. On the other side of the wall, at Rio Salado Salt River Saloon, a dark, cramped roomful of mostly male fans pumped its fists to Greenhaven's guitar barrage.
Senbad was spinning exotic house grooves over on the patio at Ra, and the clusters of people dancing or lounging around tables looked like they were content to stay there all night long. Outside, a giant cloud of pot smoke lingered in the cool spring air.
At 9:20, when Jed's a Millionaire finally started performing at McDuffy's, every seat in the house was filled. Many of those left standing shook their hips to singer Shawn Harrington's melodic rock choruses, while some people just wobbled in place like they'd had a few too many drinks. People continued to pour through the door and headed to any nook or cranny where they could get a good view of the spotlit band. Every song got loud applause and whistles.
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By the end of the night, the definition of "punk rock" was still debatable. And it was up in the air as to whether any of the Showcase bands -- Metric included -- will become big stars. What was evident is that local bands are definitely not getting any fans handed to them on a silver platter. Instead, they're figuring out how to earn them the hard way -- one song at a time.
Sorry for the attitude.
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