On The Fly: The Weekend In Review

Clearly, for a relatively light weekend in Phoenix/Tempe/Mesa/WhateverElse it was still jam packed with enough choices to  blow your mind. I almost didn’t go out this weekend. I thought a lot about letting my entire being decompress and just stay at home, get my drink on and watch cartoons. This didn’t happen. It never does. I start thinking about things, music starts to play in my head, I start pacing the room and the next thing I know I’m showered and dressed and ready to go. Each night this weekend I literally stalled to the last minute, vacillating between going out and staying in–each time going out won, because I couldn’t justify relaxation or simply lounging around when I knew something amazing was happening somewhere, everywhere and in the end I know I missed out on some amazing stuff (Playboy Manbaby’s super packed CD release at Cartel Coffee in Tempe for instance). Nevertheless, what I got to see was pretty mindblowing enough and I’m not sure I would have wanted much more fuel added to the fire.

Friday night I gladly, graciously and am forever thankful that I took the road less travelled. Though really, this weekend got deep indie around town and I loved it. I went to Hollywood Alley, which is walking distance away  from  my digs, because it had been  impressed upon me, from multiple angles, on too many occasions to name, in the last couple weeks that I simply have to see the newest version of The Rolling Blackouts. And everyone that said what they had to say about that was absolutely correct–I did have to see that. The lineup changed quite a bit from the poster above, but the event lost no momentum, though some might consider it ill-attended, it felt more like a private party for the aurally blessed. One of the big questions of the evening was, simply, who could replace Kevin Redlich. Well, I think D. L. Harrison put it best, “Turns out it takes two guitarists to replace a Redlich.” Turns out, if one of  those guitarists is Page The Village Idiot, you have nothing to worry about. I’ve watched Page for years and laughed until my sides ached at his music-is-comedy routine, bu then I  saw him Friday night with both Cock Posse and Chocolate Fountain and that dude simply slays on guitar. Seriously. No really, it’s unbelievable. It also turns out that I will have Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting” in my head for several days after every Cock Posse show I catch–I’ve seen Concrete Blonde do that live and they don’t have anything on what Roni Helinski and company are doing. This is not hyperbole. Chocolate Fountain was nearly the same band as Cock Posse this evening but, of course, with D.L. taking the frontman role and it was brilliant every step of the way.

That being said, I could not have been prepared–despite all the warnings–for what I was about to witness with The Rolling Blackouts. Let’s face it, it had been ages since I had seen them and I loved them then, but now they are a whole different beast and as more than one person commented,  including a member of the band, it’s like they “Are a real band now.” First of all, one must understand that The Rolling Blackouts are like a supergroup of Tempe–literally, with members of Field Tripp, Darkness Dear Boy, Danger Paul and more on tap–seriously, Calin Gross on guitar, Ari Leopold beating strings with a drumstick, Aaron Ranschaert on drums, Danger Paul on keys and finally Staton. This is Staton’s first band, which is surprising if you watch them perform, because she has a great voice first of all, but also because she is clearly a born entertainer–her stage presence and  delivery is stunning as she stomps about like a goddamned disco ball come to life, it appears she was born for the stage. It’s not all talent and presence though, it’s that the music is jaw dropping good. I mean that literally,  I re-discovered what the term “jaw dropping” meant the other night, as I  regularly found myself in that very state watching The Rolling Blackouts. Sure, the covers of The Walkmen “The Rat” and Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” were pretty astounding, but their originals are what grabbed me by the ears and made me pay attention. My advice? Catcht them as soon as you can and enjoy the hell out of it. The Woodworks, to my surprise finished the show, and that too was a mind blowing experience unto itself. I had made the right choice and the scarce lot of us got to enjoy one of the best shows that could be found last Friday night, like our own little secret surprise.

Saturday night I was certain that I was not going to go out. Positive of the fact, in fact. Still, it loomed in the back of my mind that iamwe, who I had not seen live since Apache Lake, and Zero Zero, who I had not seen live in  nearly a week or two would be playing at my favorite new  venue in town, Last Exit Live. My ears could not resist. The idea of both iamwe and Zero Zero on that magnificent sound system was too much to bear, honestly, I tried to convince myself to stay in, but soon found myself at the door of Last Exit Live thirsty for a Cherry Bomb and eagerly anticipating what was about to happen.

Needless, to say, I was not in the least disappointed about my choice. iamwe was absolutely stellar in that venue and their songs never sounded better. One of the highlights of the evening had to be when  they unveiled their first ever cover, which was none other than Bruce Hornsby and The Range’s “That’s Just The Way It Is”, which they turned from  probably one of the most un-hip songs of the last 30 years into something relevant, sentimental and with an arrangement that could have never been imagined before. The performance was flawless and it occurred to me that I’ve never seen anything less than perfection from this group. Also, if you think you’ve heard “So They Say” performed before–I’ve seen it done countless times, but that night there was magic (and  lasers) in the air and it was simply astounding to watch the  band turn into a horn driven percussion machine…Simply Amazing.

Photo by Evan Short

Speaking of perfection, Zero Zero followed in their amazing wake and with the exception of mic problems on the first song (which  incidentally, I didn’t notice because I was at the front of the stage and could hear Nicole singing),  everything  was even better than I imagined concerning the sound of the room, the feel of Zero Zero at Last Exit Live. It really all came to how “Go” sounded, for me, keep in mind that I have been to maybe more Zero Zero shows than anyone else I know and I’ve now heard them on every stage in town. “Go” is the sonic tester of the band and it blew my soul wide open in that room–it carries all aspects of Zero Zero with it, whether it is the pounding drums, Nicole’s complete vocal range and Walker’s blazing guitar, it becomes a complete beautiful maelstrom in the  end and Saturday night was no exception. Except it sounded better than ever before. While it was a bit of a novelty to see Bob Hoag on drums for Zero Zero, the only think really lacking was the presence of Nick Ramirez, but it was still a stellar show and I’m glad I made sure I was there.  If you haven’t yet checked out Last Exit Live, you are sorely,  sorely missing out…you have no idea what sound can be at a venue until you go there and witness  it for yourself.