Local Wire

Oh Mercy

While last week's Bash & Pop took great pains to mention the impending concert arrivals of music legends Lee Hazlewood (July 9 at the Rhythm Room) and Joe Strummer (October 18 at the Cajun House) we neglected to note perhaps the most anticipated upcoming Valley gig, that of an August 23 ASU Sundome show from Bob Dylan.

Now, music industry journal ICE reports that a tentative date has been set by Columbia records for a new Dylan album -- his first since 1997's Grammy award-winning Time Out of Mind -- the release of which would coincide with the Bobster's Valley appearance in August.

That Dylan is already poised to put out another disc is a bit of a surprise, considering he's only recorded one album of new material since 1990. As ICE notes, the album was recorded quickly -- in just over two weeks -- at a New York City recording studio, with members of Dylan's touring band and keyboardist Augie Myers (Sir Douglas Quintet, Texas Tornados) providing the backing. Even if the record doesn't hit streets that week -- and the August release is being touted as very tentative -- fans can still expect a healthy dose of the new material to be previewed during the Sun Dome gig.

Tickets for Dylan's Phoenix date are already on sale, and can be purchased from Ticketmaster or directly at the Sun Dome box-office.

Taking Out The Trash: Although it derives its name from a Kiss song -- never a good sign -- this week's second annual Hotter Than Hell night does boast a cast of the Valley's most fervent practitioners of trash and retro rock. Headlining the concert event are power-pop punks the Beat Angels and Emerald Lounge house band the Hypnotwists. The Stumble Bums, rockabilly merchants Exit 56 and punk DJ Vil Vodka round out the lineup. Hotter Than Hell II is set for Friday, June 29, at the Bash on Ash in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Spinning Off Into the Sunset: No litany of flowery adjectives or profuse streams of glowing praise would do better to describe DJ Z-Trip than to state the obvious: The man is a damn phenom. He's one of the most amazing turntablists working today. Period. Toasted by Spin for his work in the famed Bombshelter crew, and profiled recently in the full-length, DJ-culture documentary Scratch (which turned heads at this year's Sundance festival), the longtime Valley resident is about to pull up stakes for California, for which he really can't be blamed; his growing notoriety rightfully deserves a wider home audience, and requires a somewhat more strategically located base of operations.

Z-Trip ends his run this week with a pre-Independence Day farewell gig at Nita's Hideaway. The show will no doubt be -- at least by local standards -- a star-studded affair. To wit, the lineup includes opening bows from gypsy jazz collective the Hammertoes, up-and comer (and Z-Trip protégé) DJ Example, as well as a special appearance by local music archivist and Arizona rock-jock legend Johnny D., who'll be spinning a set of classic R&B and old, old school jams. While word is that he may toss in a scratch or two, audiences shouldn't expect any body tricks or spontaneous break-dancing from the 55-year-old custodian of Valley vinyl. Also listed on the bill are a handful of unannounced "special guests"; while we could hazard a pretty good guess as to whom this may include, we'll elect not to give away the surprise.

As a final thank-you to the audiences who've come out to the shows during his Phoenix tenure, Z-Trip has also delivered two breathtaking discs (one a collaboration with DJ P.) of his patented turntable-ism, nearly 150 minutes of the spinbacks, beat juggling, phasing and scratching -- the kind that made Z-Trip and his Bombshelter cronies a constant and worthwhile draw wherever they played. The bad news: These are very limited editions. Roughly 1,000 of each were pressed initially, but extra copies have been made available to local merchants. (Check Z-Trip's Web site, djztrip.com, for advice on how and where to scope a copy.)

The first of these, Urban Revolutions: The DJ Z-Trip Megamix, boasts a sound that'll be familiar to anyone who had the good fortune to hear the Bombshelter crew live. As the title suggests, it's the Future Primitive Sound label's comp album Urban Revolutions, as "mixed, scratched, tweaked, and just generally abused" by Z-Trip (according to the liner notes). It's a genuine thrill to hear Z-Trip rework tracks originally conceived and executed by some of the genre's most forward-thinking artists -- Mammal, DJ Design, Stellar Trax Soundsystem, Rob Swift, etc.

This isn't an example of pop eating itself, either. At its best, DJ culture makes explicit the interconnectedness of musical styles and genres, and that's precisely what's happening on the Megamix. As he recently stated in an interview associated with Scratch, Z-Trip's goal is to be a Renaissance DJ -- MC, party rocker, scratcher, selector -- but what pierces the surface of the Megamix most consistently is his commanding breakdown instinct. Z-Trip's skill and precision on the turntables reminds one of the Public Enemy line, "Slice and dice, super-mix so nice/So bad, you won't dispute the price." Particularly witty is Z-Trip's own flaying and restructuring of two tracks he himself contributed to Urban Revolution in its original form, "Downtime" and "Further Explorations Into the Black Hole."

And at its very best, DJing can even be a kind of folkloric project, which brings us to the astonishing collaboration between Z-Trip and DJ P., Uneasy Listening Volume 1.

It's hard to decide how best to describe Uneasy Listening. Z-Trip once overlaid an a cappella version of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" with AC/DC's "Back in Black," and the result was even funnier than it looks on paper. Was it smartass? Yup. Was it technically accomplished? Uh-huh. Was it satire of a high order? In its entirety, yes it was. Did the obvious incongruity make you laugh? You bet. Did it make something new of both tracks? Boy howdy.

This, in a nutshell, is the idea behind Uneasy Listening, which eviscerates and then rebuilds a grab bag of songs from the collective memory of pop and rock from the 1960s forward, over about 75 minutes. Everything from "Rhinestone Cowboy" (which kicks off the disc; right away, you know this ain't your momma's remix) and "Sweet Dreams" to "Run Like Hell" and "Like a Prayer" goes into that heady stew. What results is an utterly seamless flow, a mélange of snips and verses from Top 40 radio, carefully and ingeniously layered, and propped up by a steady framework of always-morphing beats and breaks.

Uneasy Listening, after its own tweaked fashion, may be the most creative DJ/remix album in recent memory. It's hands-down the most ambitious, and undoubtedly the most eclectic. Case in point: Track 6 (all tracks are untitled and all songs are unlisted, so happy hunting) begins with the bass synth line from Newcleus' "Jam On It," which is soon overlaid with Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is," and then topped off with thin slices from Run-DMC's "It's Like That." Other highlights? A smooth-as-silk merging of Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning" with Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; a riotous beats-and-scratch heavy version of "Dust in the Wind," which cries out to be played to your smartest friends; and a bass-laden spin of the Who's late-period nugget "Eminence Front" that out-funks the original. Hyperbole be damned; this is no less than the history of popular music over the last 30 years, laced with about 80 pounds of C4, and detonated.

And this is the key: DJs Z-Trip and P. bring us all along on the ride. This isn't any in-joke, esoteric diggin' in the crates, this is your record collection . . . and yours, and yours, and mine . . . taken from us and vivisected and handed back. It's funny, it's erudite, it's technically superb, and it's undeniably Art of a high order.

There are precedents for Uneasy Listening, of course, but the most relevant ones surprisingly don't emerge from DJ culture. In form and function, the collaboration between Z-Trip and P. displays a sensibility similar to Andy Warhol's pop art of the mid-1960s; the nearest musical comparisons aren't other DJ compilations but the pastiche artistry of Negativland's Helter Stupid and the Residents' Third Reich & Roll. As with those records, the end result of Uneasy Listening isn't simply the tweaking of familiar songs; it's a significantly altered perception of contemporary pop history, and the recognition that no song, no artist, no album, composes in a vacuum.

That the disc ends with "Yesterday" only makes the listening more poignant. If Z-Trip wants to leave behind a real gift to Valley audiences, this "limited-edition" pressing will soon be followed by a larger one. This is a CD that begs to be heard by any popular music fan with a working knowledge of the art form's history. -- Eric Waggoner

DJ Z-Trip is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, July 3 at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe,with Johnny D., the Hammertoes, DJ Example and special guests. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr