Music News

THE HEAT IS ON, AVANT FAKERY

THE HEAT IS ON
This was the summer of the lethal outdoor concert, the summer when the old adage, "Once you live here, you don't notice the heat," was put to the test. The adage lost. Standing in the broiling sun listening to music has its own kind of charm. Dry mouth. Sweat running out of every pore. A troubling inability to urinate for hours, sometimes days, afterward. Lollapalooza was the boot camp. Those who went learned the hard way. Drink water. Don't drink beer. Wear the least clothing possible. Lie, cheat or steal for shade. The parched veterans who survived that ordeal took those lessons to heart last Sunday when they plunked down five bucks for a good cause and trooped in the back gate at Silver Dollar Club.

This flesh fry was "Babblelooza," an oh-so-cleverly named benefit for the avant-experimental-arts/music magazine Baby & Betsy, the latest sign of the growing "underground" art community in the Valley. Focused on painters, writers, musicians and genuine eccentrics of all stripes, Baby & Betsy is worth seeking out. Although its publishers need to increase the type size in their pages--squinting is no fun--the magazine is the sort of thing this Valley needs.

Only one issue old, Baby & Betsy is the creation of Nan Pritchard. The inaugural issue featured a story on Tempe street singer and personality Elvis Martinez; a review of poet Jorie Graham's latest book; and a treatise on why architecture is "our last, best hope." Not all the pieces were essential, well-reasoned or even well-written, but the more voices stirring the Valley's art community the better. To help it out in the cash-flow department, the magazine convinced a diverse and talented group of local musicians to come down, get charbroiled and play for free. Former KUKQ deejay Mary McCann served as emcee.

Representatives of nearly every genre of music in town showed up. Hans Olson and Sarge Lintecum played blues. Sarge also read poetry and hawked his tee shirts. Solo guitarist Joe Myers did his own brand of folk. The Fake McCoys played Caterwaul-style alternative music, while one of the Valley's best young bands, 8 Circuit Model, put its own spin on the alternative orb. As you might expect at a benefit for an alternative arts rag, some musical acts were harder to label. Mansaray Blue Pony played blues, but with a punked-out female lead singer. Tucson's Slo Deluxe performed experimental music with machines that grumbled and moaned to an insistent beat. Saliva Tree and Dirge Meister Trio accounted for other experimental offerings. Least describable of all was Sili Puti, a trio of bass, drums and sitar. (Babblelooza's most intriguing title laurels, though, go to a group of rappers called the Royal Soul Kings.)

Between musical acts, local poets/performers Peter Petrisko Jr., Sean Bolton, Steven Mayberry, Mary McCann and William De Los Santos read their works. Lines like "I am God/I am sex/I am television" tended to jump out of these acts, which were one-third performance art and the rest spoken-word. Most striking was the De Los Santos poem "The Bowl of my Food," read over a tape of coyotes howling.

The setting for this spectacle was the back lot of Silver Dollar Club, downtown at 417 East Madison. A large courtyard with warehouses on all sides and two huge, freestanding metal overhangs in the center, the space has a postindustrial, Planet of the Apes feel to it. It's exactly the kind of environment this sort of event needs. (One word to the Silver Dollar, however: Please do something about the Porta-johns. When the breeze shifted, a stench wafted over the crowd.)

While the musicians were playing, artists displayed their wares around the courtyard. Tee shirts and leather work as well as food and drink were on sale at booths at one end of the space. On one floodlit wall, a painting in progress was being completed throughout the evening. Inside the club, ten or so artists had works exhibited. Even the stage was used to mount visual art--one corner held a large, metal hoop-sculpture of a horse by local artist Jennifer Tristan.

Unfortunately for Baby & Betsy's finances, Babblelooza took place on a Sunday night, on the eve of ASU's first day of classes, in what is widely perceived as a scary downtown neighborhood. Consequently, the crowd was not large. If you subtracted the performers and the performers' boyfriends/girlfriends, the number of paying customers was very small. That's too bad. The magazine deserves the support, and the music and art were worth the price of admission. Like all benefits at which money is tight and planning is haphazard, Babblelooza was not without warts. Because of the 106-degree afternoon heat--the event was supposed to kick off at the infernal hour of 3 p.m.--everyone was late getting onstage. And at times the sound was either too low or poorly mixed. But these things are part of the charm of a benefit. Few people noticed, let alone cared. Who wants to go to Farm Aid II, anyway?

Not to sound like George Bush, but more important than the music or the art was the sense of community among all these different kinds of artists--local artists--who were working together for a worthy cause. All the people who gave their time and energy to this event deserve praise and thanks. At the risk of sounding kinder and gentler, Babblelooza and the people behind it are what will bring more culture and fewer monster mud trucks to the Valley. --

AVANT FAKERY Past a creepy stretch of empty train yard and into a neighborhood of boarded-up stores and alleys where shadowy figures make even shadier transactions, the trip to downtown Phoenix's Gallery X is bizarre in itself. Going inside the building is no sudden refuge from the weird, either. From the nightmare paintings to the dolls spinning on a turntable beneath a stack of Bibles, the artwork screams, "The farther out the better." Needless to say, the gallery's four-act presentation, gloomily entitled "Experioddica Discord," threatens to be a pretty heavy dose of strangeness--probably a real lesson in the meaning of avant-garde.

Maybe. The first act to appear in the sweltering auto garage-turned-performance hall is a young male-female duo called Water. The two members wear matching Native American shawls and fringe boots, and both appear to equally adore Mr. Water's poetry. Miss Water mostly watches while her companion passes quirky verse on how he nearly committed suicide on the roller coaster at Magic Mountain and how he finds microwave hamburgers disgusting.

Hardly the oddity expected. In fact, the latter poem is more whiny than weird, considering that outside the wall, a few feet to his left, five homeless people sleep within earshot of the gallery's open garage door.

Peter Ragan has advertised himself as an "industrial accordionist" who will present an homage to Ethel Merman and guitar-rocker Ronnie Montrose. The accordion never appears. Ragan instead thumps and scrapes what seems to be either an electrified metal accordion case or the radiator of a Rambler. Holding a length of pipe in guitar-neck position, the silver-jacketed performance artist whacks his way through a mostly unintelligible set of heavy-metal suitcase. The forced merging of Merman and Montrose in song is lost in the barrage of screams and hammering. "Experioddica Silly," yes, but far too contrived to be either bizarre or avant-garde.

In a Mr. Hyde top hat and black coat, Sun City Girl Alan Bishop leers his way through an endless routine comprised of his listening to a tape of odd telephone messages and returning the calls. The procuring of blood and skeletons appears to be the theme of his shtick, and that much is evident only by straining to decipher the booming recorded messages and Bishop's cackling whispers. Whatever the point might be, Bishop's Hyde is keeping it well hidden.

Looking more like a golfer than a guitar pro, Philadelphian Rick Iannacone quietly unpacks a half-circle of guitar pedals and meekly announces that he and keyboardist Manfred Fischbeck will improvise for the audience of 40. The unassuming guitarist, who has played outside-jazz behind both drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, is in town following a weeklong music workshop at Arcosanti.

Plugging in, Iannacone soon stirs up an outburst of crazed calliope tones, fingernails-on-chalkboard squeaks and cartoon whistles--grade-A strange from the first note. Building on the hollow thudding of the keyboards, Iannacone and Fischbeck leapfrog through a snarling example of weird-jazz. Their single tune is schizo, but not so hell-bent on being strange that the audience feels it is left watching a carnival sideshow. The young artmongers in the audience join in, adding percussion by pounding on the dusty, Salvation Army couches they occupy.

Far more shy than flashy, Iannacone's fifth-dimension playing leaves no doubt that his music would be as carnivorous as it is crazed if he opted for a full band and more amp volume. But the guitarist is not straining to wave any flags for freakiness. Instead, by including several snippets from the ballad "Fly Me to the Moon," Iannacone makes an important point: He learned how to play straight before knowing how to best steer his ax toward space. No beating on the guitar case for this king of strange; no dressing or acting the part. Iannacone and his blue guitar aren't trying to be bizarre, but they're getting there anyway by seriously and intelligently reaching for the outer limits.

That's a heavy lesson in avant-garde art, weighing more than, say, an accordion case full of microwave hamburgers.--

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Robert Baird
Dave McElfresh