Thursday, October 14, 2004

Southwestern post-punk in a Guilded Cage

By Douglas McDaniel

The modern dancer girls had evacuated. The socialites had, too. But that wasn't so bad. It was a Tuesday night at the Herberger Theatre in downtown Phoenix and there was plenty of food, reasonably priced alcohol. And the Herberger, now the grandest of all performance venues in all of Arizona, was certainly a sweet setting for a helluva party. But the modern dancer girls, who had melted in a sensual orgasm of death as it embraces life during a piece set to the music of Dead Can Dance, had already performed and so, they left, pretty much punched the clock and flew. That pretty much sucked the marrow out of this pre-Halloween event, and so the female socialites left, and so did the rich guy in the tie and the suit. After all, he clearly wasn't getting any action here.
So by the time the Tombstoners, a local punky rockabilly began its second set in this big round entry room at the Herberger, they were playing to a food server from Alice Cooper's Restaurant, myself, and a woman named Dorine, who was actually a friend of the band. It was kind of like watching a DVD of a band performance, then, like me on the couch watching them on TV, but recollecting on it now, I feel like a lucky bastard having such soulful punk-a-billy thrown at me in such relative comfort.
The Tombstoners, even missing their regular bassist for reasons typically obscure (homework needed to be done, or maybe just the DTs, take your pick), played hard and fast for what became, for them, a kind of rehearsal. The four-piece is led by this 40-ish muscular vet of the local music scene, a much younger guitarist (he is maybe 25), a stand-in bassist who is also up in years (for rocknroll), and then, Nikita.
Now, you could easily dismiss Nikita. You could say that all she does is wave her arms during most of the songs, doing a Pulp Fiction-style surfer wave. You could say she has no talent. But is would be incorrect. When she does sing, she does this creaky little girl style chirp that makes you think of a young Exene Cervenka of the seminal L.A. punk pioneers, X. That works, in small doses. What really is working for this group, though, is her busty, short-skirted apparition bouncing to the music. Apparently, during regular gigs in and around Phoenix, she wears less.
Now, of course she is a bombshell. But I mean a bombshell that should be written with more than just a capital B. Also, it should be written with a capital S, and at least one of the Ls should be capitalized, too. Anyway, I look forward catching this act again in a natural setting. Her image resides in me now, the image of lusty southwestern post-punk in a guilded cage. And that is just wrong!

CD Reviews

Silence is Easy
Expectations are a bitch. It took awhile to forget about Starsailor's introduction to the post 1970s rock traditional sound it so liltingly displayed in its first release, "Love is Here." That production was stark in comparison, with raggedy Neil Young-style vocal wavering by singer James Walsh, and less-is-more arrangements of piano, organ, acoustic guitar, occasional bursts of chiming riffs. But if you can remove yourself from the gawdawful anticipation of more of the same, and what you then find is band growing toward a bigger sound. Also outta the closet with the born again stuff, it is at least more world-weary than messianic, and certainly the mournful, anguished esthetic, and of course, the roots in classic rock, are far hipper than anything you will find on those pale CC&R holy roller stations.

Tramps & Thieves
Mill Avenue Cowboys
Jayhawks aficionados from Tempe, Arizona, are a dime a dozen these days, but these guys make the duet-style Americana better than most. And road songs, too. They do it well. I saw them play at the Spirit Room in Jerome, Arizona, a ghost town turned into a hippie escape, and the effect was completely unforgettable. "Jesus, shake my shoulder if I should fall asleep," is as visceral a comment of a little band touring around in a van as has ever been heard. This acoustic release, if you enter it in a brood, will give you hope for more. Can`t wait to hear the next CD, no doubt full of those creosote pile-driving riffs.

A Ghost Is Born
We might have thought the previous album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was the masterpiece. Now I wonder. In fact, I am so stunned by the brilliance of the follow-up, I can hardly think of anything to say.

Douglas McDaniel is the publisher of and a long-time music journalist in Northern California, Arizona and New England. And, oh yeah, Colorado. Except not so much there. His blogger is and his e-mail address is for as long as that portal can keep the lights on. OM.

It appeared as if he'd never leave Phoenix earlier that afternoon. He'd packed haphazardly but determinedly, like a Saigon diplomat, circa 1973, heading for a rooftop-to-helicopter escape. He drove north, alone, the "Rescue Guy" in his shiny red Nissan truck, so loaded with boxes of belongings that he couldn't see out his passenger's side window. All of his utilitarian tools and pop-cultural fuels were on hand: an immaculately organized collection of Southwestern post-punk rock bands on tape, a Swiss Army compass, a wooden pen with the end carved into a miniature eagle, and enough cigarettes to reach Nevada -- either Tonopah or Area 51 or Telluride, Colorado -- or for an emergency bonfire to signal airliners crossing the Great Divide (whichever came first). Also overloaded was the meat and metaspace of McDaniel's brain, an eclectic rag-and-bone shop of regrets, lies and sacred music. All in all, the balance of his cache was capable of either regenerating him, or quite the opposite. He had enough angst as energy stored to keep pushing the pedal over 75 mph in a general northeasterly direction.

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