Music News

Casing the Show

Some things only get better with age.

Looking back at the 10th annual New Times Music Showcase, which shook up Tempe's Mill Avenue last Sunday, April 17, it's clear that local music fans have not only made the event a tradition, but stepped up their support more than ever. With a record-breaking attendance of nearly 17,000 (more than double the number that came to the first Showcase), bands played to healthy crowds in venues large and small, even for the earliest time slot. And a lot of revelers caught acts they had never seen before, but definitely want to see again. Both sides got something out of it.

Thirty-five bands and five DJs competed to be voted the best in their categories, making it pretty much impossible to catch even half of the performances. But it was worth a shot. Starting off at The Library, Magnum P.I.e's five o'clock gig wasn't just a solo performance; it ended up being the second show for the reunited Cousins of the Wize, who are now going by The Cousins but still playing a mix of crunchy guitar, deep bass, sax, scratching, and jazzy flow. Early into the show, Pie waved his beer in the air while Jah Sonora showed the audience a glimpse of his bare ass-cheek, heartily smacking it a few times for emphasis during a song. Most people in the crowd were still sipping the foam off their first beers of the night, but the moment helped loosen things up for the evening ahead.

The crowd came out in force to see the Last Action Zeros at the Tavern on Mill, and rightly so -- guitarist Bryan Sandell is one of the original instigators behind the popular local Web site. Singer/guitarist Mike Crews deserved the Best Mohawk award for his six perfect black spikes, which complemented the band's fast, furious, old-school sound. "Red White and Bruised" -- with its upbeat bass melody and plenty of "hey"s -- really got the tattooed bodies moving.

Over at Hayden Square, the four guys in Stereotyperider cranked out hard, chaotic rhythms with a big guitar sound and strong melodic vocals from Mike Upsahl. They made another big fashion statement: no shirts, winter-pale skin, and shaggy hair waving in the hot breeze.

Underage fans didn't have any options beyond the stage at Trails, but it was a solid lineup all night, with Greeley Estates packing them in at six o'clock for an intense, scream-heavy post-hardcore set. The band whipped the kids into a round of handclapping, and even a little spontaneous moshing. All in all, it should've been good practice for Greeley, who'll play for thousands of fans all summer long on the Warped Tour.

McDuffy's DJ stage had talent on the turntables the whole night, including Sean Morley, who mixed eclectic vintage sounds -- from Led Zeppelin to Steve Miller -- with danceable hip-hop beats.

Seven o'clock crept up fast, as Sweet Bleeders took the back patio stage at Rúla Búla. It was the perfect place to be at twilight: a relaxed but thick crowd appreciating the grooves, a warm breeze, and a warm melding of bass, subtle guitar, minimalist drums, and Robin Vining's heartfelt voice hovering over spooky keyboard.

Just up the street on the patio at Ra, the three gals of Bella played their very last show (they had already pretty much disbanded, but held out for a finale at the Showcase), planted onstage underneath leafy tree branches and a string of light bulbs. Over the din of the crowd's happy hour conversation, Natalie Espinosa's rich voice sounded as strong as any of the other instruments.

Army of Robots gave a sweaty, full-on rock show at the Tavern on Mill, and the band's ballistic guitar sounds overshadowed their synth to the point of hilarity. (They were competing in the "Electronic" category, which meshed with their synth-drenched Secret to Everybody, but made no sense with their heavy live set.) "You wanna hear some speed metal? You gotta go to another bar for that, 'cause we're an 'electronic' band," said lead singer Daggrr, gesturing exaggerated quotation marks before making some robot moves for the laughing audience.

Heather Rae and Her Moonshine Boys -- playing with a new guitarist -- got one of the best crowd responses of the Showcase when they tore it up at McDuffy's. Dancing, dazzled fans loved the set so much that they managed to cheer the group back for a one-song encore, a cover of Johnny Cash's "Cry Cry Cry."

Joined by his crew The League, Pokafase put on a star performance at Hayden Square, where the whole scene had the look of a music video: hundreds of heads bobbing in the crowd, lights flashing, and an iconic, black-and-white Pokafase spade logo dominating the stage. When this expert MC finally blows up, we'll all say we saw it coming.

Back at McDuffy's, Back Ted N Ted (a.k.a. Ryan Breen, guitarist for Chronic Future) was joined by Send Sor and Orie percussionist Corey Fogel, Abelardo Gil from Treasure Mammal, and keyboardist Jacob Koller, who performed on Copp's latest album. All four stood in a row onstage, wearing heavy white lipstick and clad in white boxer briefs and socks that were lit different colors by the flashing lights. The audience mainly sat at tables, staring intently at four skinny dudes stoically jerking to weird glitches and swoony beats, and fiddling with three iBooks and a web of electronic equipment.

All the showcase bands finished by about quarter to nine, and by then, headliners The Samples had started playing at Hayden Square. Hundreds steadily filtered in to drink beers and dance to some timeless rock jams, including the crowd-pleasing "Lollipop." By the time The Samples finished, the grassy expanse was full from front to back.

Going on 10 o'clock, Z-Trip finally walked onstage, and the audience screamed in appreciation. Looking overwhelmed and happy to be back in his old stomping grounds, Z-Trip pulled some classic vinyl to start his set off with a mellow vibe. The first time he started scratching, people cheered and hoisted their beer bottles, dancing along. From there, it was one crowd-pleaser (the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby") seamlessly flowing into the next (Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls"). Z-Trip worked new hip-hop (Atmosphere's "Trying to Find a Balance") with old country sounds (Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz"), and even got fans to sing along at the top of their lungs. Then he interrupted Billy Squier's "The Stroke" to introduce guest MC Luke Sick for "Bury Me Standing" off Z-Trip's new album, Shifting Gears. After that, he told the crowd, "Coming from Arizona, I'm the first DJ to get four stars in Rolling Stone!" Further into the set, he made an anti-war statement that got hundreds of hands waving peace signs in the air.

At 11, the cutoff time, members of the audience started chanting "Z-Trip! Z-Trip!" before finally conceding that the show was really over. The superstar turntablist had ended his performance with his new radio hit, "Walking Dead," but in the heat of the moment, this crowd was truly alive.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig