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September 25, 2007
Before finding my way to the Arizonan desert enclave known as The Old Pueblo, I had been a decade-long denizen of California's revered City by the Bay. Needless to say, in San Francisco I had been able to soak up the best music the Nineties had to offer, in one of the most musical cities in the world. Radiohead at Boz Skaggs' esteemed club Slims, with a smattering of early followers? Been there. Primus unplugged at DNA Lounge? Done that. Neutral Milk Hotel at Bottom of the Hill, a joint the size of a spacious living room? Crap, missed that one - what was I thinking?

To state the obvious, Tucson ain't no Frisco (don't call it that, though). Regardless, there is a vibrant local music scene out here in the Sonoran desert, anchored by a growing number of solid homegrown acts. Plus there are several excellent venues - namely Club Congress, Solar Culture, and Plush - that consistently attract top tier national touring bands traveling the indie rock road. Yet even for thirsty Tucsonans, the trifecta that took place on successive dates at the Rialto Theater last week was unusually high in its hipster quotient, not to say anything of the talent itself. Animal Collective, New Pornographers and Arctic Monkeys all blew into town right in a row, and each band blew away the hungry hordes of music seekers, who came out in force after a quiet summer. This dutiful reporter nightly jumped on his Langster fixie, downed a respectable number of the Pabst brewery's Blue Ribbon beer at the Tap Room, and headed out to the front lines (if not rows) of each concert.


Animal Collective

Aside from the sheer cache of each band, what really sticks is how different each performance was. Animal Collective kicked off the action on Thursday night, minus fellow freak-folker Dan Deacon, who sat this one out. Thankfully his presence was not a detriment, as his cohorts Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Geologist adequately covered all the musical bases. This was made simpler by the effusive use of samples, computers and keyboards, part and parcel of the Collective going widescreen on their latest album, Strawberry Jam. The heavy beats and loud phonics offered plenty of hook; at times Avey Tare's free-forming lyrics over electro throbs reminded me of another NYC threesome of merry pranksters, The Beastie Boys. The performance was so intoxicating it actually came across as a novel new genre: folk-trance. The three skeletons hanging on the stage only added to the vibe, and was a nice homage to Tucson, which every October hosts the traditional Mexican All Souls Procession parade in celebration of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Or, perhaps it was a shout-out to the town in which they recorded Strawberry Jam, right here at Wavelab Studio.


New Pornographers

The following night saw The Old Pueblo's Rialto playing host to Vancouver's finest, the New Pornographers, who retain their Pacific Northwestern image even though main man A.C. Newman now inhabits The Big Apple (a fact evidenced by the NYC odes on the New Pornos' excellent new album, Challengers). The indie supergroup played an extremely vibrant set centered around the heartfelt pop gems on that record, and its wonderful predecessor, Twin Cinema. As always, what proves most arresting about seeing this motley crew play live is the off-kilter, yet natural, synergy they radiate. Newman, the red-haired wonder, leading the charge; the equally red-headed and far more sultry vocal marvel Neko Case right by his side, perhaps the most perfect vocal wing-woman for Newman; be-bopping and beautiful keyboardist Kathryn Calder, who slyly commented something about "wondering if I look cute today." This trio of performers, who harness the main live energy of the band, are backed up by an ensemble of superb musicians: the reserved Blaine Thurier keeping the samples in check; the shaggy John Collins, steady-as-she-comes on the bass; Todd Fancey and his fancy fret work on guitar and banjo; and the vigorous Kurt Dahle thumping away on the skins. And of course, the indispensable accoutrement of Destroyer's Danny Bejar, who strolls onto stage every fourth or fifth song, bottle of beer in hand, to lend his whiney vocals and wily energy to the mix. (My friend Caroline remarked that he was unwittingly channeling Heavy-Metal-Grammy-winning Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, sans flute). The only thing more refreshing than seeing Bejar wander on stage was when Neko Case's big ol' doggie rambled on from stage right and sat down at her feet. I posit that the Rialto needs better security, lest in the future crowds and artists fall prey to unruly gangs of canines bum rushing the stage, yo.


Arctic Monkeys

After sampling some of the finest music that the United States and Canada have to offer, the final shot of Tucson's late September triptych came in the form of England's hottest export since the Spice Girls and its biggest thing since those Beatles. No, not Robbie Williams (who couldn't get arrested in the US, let alone draw a crowd), but rather the smoking young guns called Arctic Monkeys. After Austin's Voxtrot played a breezy opening set, the very young crowd was antsy for the fictitious pole-dwelling primates, and the boys from Sheffield obliged by delivering the punch. Known for their dance-ready mixture of post-punk (thanks, Franz Ferdinand), the British foursome displayed all of the swagger that comes with such an amazingly quick ride from obscurity to the top of the charts. The band turned the volume way up, kept the lighting flashy yet simple, and let the rock and roll elements dominate their set. Appearing well beyond their years, the quartet played with determination, vocalist Alex Turner egging on the teens, the tweens, and those bursting at the seams to make some noise. In defense of those on the floor, Turner might not have heard them if they had been making a ruckus; the set was indeed a bit on the earsplitting side of things, perhaps more so than when the notoriously metallic Queens of the Stone Age graced the Rialto stage a few years prior. Admittedly, after a while every song started to sound similar, but I have to give it up to the Arctic Monkeys: they lived up to most of their hype, including A.C. Newman's hilarious props the night before, in which he claimed that "those Arctic Monkeys are like a God to me."

Three wildly different shows, all kicking up plenty of desert dirt in Tucson, and on successive nights. To their credit the bands all drew substantial audiences, somewhere between 700-1200 for each night, which was a sight to see in itself. (Reference point: on the Wednesday night prior, I saw my fourth show of the week, the excellent Besnard Lakes, at Club Congress, and was one of eighteen people in attendance). It would be a tough call to say which performance ruled the roost, but in the spirit of the upcoming Olympiad, let's go to the podium: New Pornos take home the gold, Animal Collective seize the silver, and those crazy Arctic Monkeys each get a bronze medal. Tucson thanks all of these celebrity music athletes for bringing the goods, and this respectful reporter waits for another winning deluge of music to hit town.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/animalcollectivetheband
SEE ALSO: www.thenewpornographers.com
SEE ALSO: www.arcticmonkeys.com
SEE ALSO: www.rialtotheatre.com
SEE ALSO: www.visittucson.org

--
Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other articles by Ari Shapiro.

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