Why Bands Play Tucson Instead of Phoenix

It's possibly the oldest, loudest gripe in Phoenix's music scene: Why Tucson?

By that they mean, "Why is this cool band that I really love playing that bumblefuck shithole down South when they could play our sprawling metropolis of interconnected stripmalls?"

Electric Mustache's photographer/hatchetman Shawn Anderson weighed in after Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti booked not one, but two, shows in Ye Olde Pueblo this fall while spurning Our Nation's Fifth Largest City.

"So either Phoenix has become the sole embodiment of SB1070 and our smaller cities get a pass for being 'progressive college towns' or something else more (or even less) sinister is going on. If only someone that had any idea of what is going on would leave a comment letting us know," he writes.

Consider this the comment.

Sorry, Shawn but it's nothing sinister. It also has nothing to do with SB 1070. This has been happening for years and years and after talking to most people involved I've identified five factors behind The Tucson Problem.

1. Superior Venues. Even if Phoenix had average-quality venues for a city its size it'd be outgunned by Tucson, which has several ridiculously great places to see live music. Anyone who has been blessed with the chance to see a show at Rialto or Club Congress (which are across the street from each other, making Congress the perfect place for the sort of after-show drinking/hanging sessions that forge a close-knit scene) can vouch for their greatness. Rialto is a fantastic theater and Congress is a really, really great club with a historic hotel attached to it. Plush is stellar, too. Phoenix has nothing on that level. Few cities do, actually. Tucson is a special place in that regard. Whatever the numerical population difference, these venues draw well enough to not make it worth it to come up here.

2. College Town Culture. Tempe is not a college town. Yes, it's home to Arizona's largest (and third-most prestigious) public university but there's very little about it that reminds me of, say, an Athens, Charlottesville or Ann Arbor. But, hey, it reflects the school pretty well. In contrast, U of A is sometimes considered a Public Ivy. There are tons of indie-rock types -- smart, cool and geeky -- down there, whereas Mill Avenue can remind me of the Jersey Shore on a bad night. Want a better music scene in Tempe? Force "State" to adopt stricter acceptance standards.

3. Small-Potatoes Media. Why does Phoenix not have a high-power indie rock radio station? Because there are much more lucrative uses for that bandwidth! Sorry, but until Obama socializes everything (fingers crossed!) the free market is going to dictate that any extra bandwidth go to the people who can afford to pay big bucks for it. And those people -- who buy the space and have the money to buy all the towers necessary to cover the vast Valley -- are going to broadcast something other than indie rock. Tucson is a smaller city isolated in the middle of the desert that nevertheless has a huge intelligentsia, so, yes, you can hear Pitchfork bands on the radio there. Believe it or not, promoters and managers still really care about being able to get some pre-show airplay, which means that's a better market. I'm not even going to get into the differences in print, but it often seems to me that Tucson journalists are held to a small-town standard by readers and advertisers, whereas we are not. They're easier to get to and easier to impress, which helps promotion quite a bit.

4. General Travelability. OK, let's say you had a roadtripping friend from Vermont who wanted to spend one night in the Sonoran desert, experiencing the culture before driving to Vegas or LA. Would you send him to Phoenix or Tucson? One bad traffic jam on the I-10, and his night is over. Instead, go to Tucson. Eat a Sonoran hotdog. Hang out at Congress. Maybe stop by Poca Cosa. Remember: Bands are, for all intents and purposes, dudes on roadtrips and a city as sprawled out as this one takes a lot longer to get around. Instead, they can park at Congress and walk everywhere they need to go. Not a bad deal.

5. Ability to avoid Shawn Anderson. Seriously, this guy is a tough critic. I wouldn't want to have an off night in front of him.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar