Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bookends

Two incredible indie acts, two album of the year candidates, two personal favorites, two tremendous nights of music. And in between, a working “vacation” in Flagstaff. NTB, NTB.

When a five-day span includes Mike Doughty, the New Pornographers and an escape from the desert to the Northlands, it’s hard to formulate much of an argument. Flagstaff is beautiful, Doughty has a new band and is making some of the best music he ever has, and the New Pornographers are fun incarnate.

Doughty has assembled an upright bassist, a drummer who can handle the funk and even leans a bit hip-hop and a funky keyboard dude. This isn’t the subtle “small rock” of the last tour that brought him through Tucson, this is a crack group that actually starts to resemble a stripped-down, restrained Soul Coughing. Doughty’s music is all the better for it. He doesn’t need to toe the line on his old band, but his guitar style and vocal rhythms fit right into a loose funky band.

He stuck mainly to Haughty Melodic tunes, which was fine by me. He dipped a couple of times into Rockity Roll and Skittish tunes and played just two Soul Coughing ones – True Dreams and St. Louise, both personal favorites.

Not only was Soul Coughing one of my first concerts, it was probably the first new, hip, underground band I ever got into. The neo beat funky jazz or whatever they could be called really hit home when I was 15 and the sound has never left my soul since. Sure, I was big into Dylan and Springsteen and embraced both folk and punk, but Soul Coughing was pretty much the first band that I could listen to with knowledge that it made me intrinsically cooler than most people.

And from that first show in 1996 I haven’t turned away. Doughty’s solo re-emergence assured that. And two live shows the last two years have cemented my fandom.

Doughty is a tricky artist, and a tricky performer. Even with the band, I’m tempted to think of his solo stuff as mostly the folk-derived songs of Skittish. But he’s far beyond that and even though there’s a similar sound, solo he’s far divergent from Soul Coughing. Anyway, a hell of a Tuesday night.

Wednesday night was the drive to Flagstaff – my most profound home away from home. Flagstaff is a treat, a recharge and as prophetic as a nice high. Previously unknown nuggets of the self emerge, for some reason, in the mountain air. New ideas spring from my mind when I’m in tune with Flagstaff. I want to live there, someday, to see whether an extended exposure will enhance the magic or simply render it mundane.

The friends are few there now, but hospitable and warm. I’ll go again soon, and pay better attention next time to the whisperings and the frequencies of the place and the land.

As if to prove that diversity can have a decidedly ugly side, I left Flagstaff Friday for Phoenix. Arizona has a good deal of this planet’s most beautiful places, and one of Earth’s cruelest jokes, an ugly hole devoid of redemption unless you are one of the soul-less who thinks they find it at a car dealership or mega strip mall. Phoenix shouldn’t be necessary, but it is. Republicans have to live somewhere.

The rural reservation farmlands of Coolidge and the high deserts from Florence to Oracle guided me home, a re-energized thinker of fresh thoughts on a pilgrimage back to where he started.

And with hardly enough time to fire up a load of laundry I had to jet, destination Downtown and indie rock heaven. I stopped by Congress for a patio beer and alt-weekly reading before heading over to the Vaudeville-era Rialto, host to perhaps as many of my happiest moments as any other building on Earth. It’s the perfect “small” theater for “big” bands. Live music in Tucson is a unique thing for national acts. Sure the city doesn’t get the biggest acts, but for the most part Tucson fans can see touring bands in the smallest venues they’ll play, likely paying less than any other fans anywhere.

In my mind, the New Pornographers are honorary locals, thanks to Neko Case. This was the second time I’ve seen them at the Rialto and it was top-to-bottom great, a fast and intense show designed to get you moving. I’m no NewPorno expert, but I was glad to hear my two favorite pre-Twin Cinema songs: “Gradual Descent into Alcoholism” and “All for Spinning You Around,” if that’s what they’re named. Highlights from the new album included “Jackie Dressed in Cobras,” “Use it” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” but every song was captivating.

If only every week could bookend Flagstaff with two great shows… I’d quickly fall into a pit of exhaustion, but man, I’d be enjoying it.

1 comment:

Eats With Face said...

My favorite Twin Cinema songs are: The Bleeding Heart Show and Star Bodies. Star Bodies is just fun and I think that if I listened to it for a day straight, it would be a fun day and I would be happy and might have an adventure. The Bleeding Heart Show is simply beautiful. The N.P. do longing and sadness in a quirky way. But when it bleeds through the hopped-up rhythms its that much sweeter. "It looked as if I picked your name out of a hat..." I am jealous beyond words that Catfish got to see them and everyother cool band in what...a two month period. Bite me Catfish, although I must brag that I will be spending Halloween with Okkervil River. That's right, we're going trick-or-treating. I'm going to dress up like the depressed, worthless, bitchy girl he rights all of his songs about.