Monday, October 30, 2006

ShowGoer: Rock for a Few


Sometimes a poorly attended rock show emerges as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What can be the bane of a traveling musician’s existence can also be the lifeblood of an enthusiastic concert-goer. A rock show featuring west-coast rockers The Purrs, The Village Green, and The Ettes on Wednesday October 18 offered that rare live confluence in rock music, where virtually undiscovered, high-quality rock music fleshes-out on stage in the most intimate of settings.

Indeed, Tucson’s Vaudeville Cabaret, a resource usually tapped by the local scene, housed a special night of rock. Though, if you brought a friend to the Vaudeville that night, you’d be hard pressed to convince that someone you’d brought them to a rock show. No more than 30 people came to rock that night, about half of which included the actual musicians performing and their retinue. In fact, a small merchandise cache, setup on a covered billiards table, served as the only evidence that a national rock tour stopped in this Tucson bar.

Astonishingly, the lack of a rock scene did nothing to deter these fine groups. The Purrs, clearly the tour’s most inexperienced act, opened the show with a delightful set of pop-rock music. The Seattle-based quintet combined their drearily beautiful rock tunes with satirical (small) crowd interactions. After uncovering their somewhat self-deprecating, sarcastic veil, the makings of a reasonably successful indie rock group seemed intact.

The Village Green, the second of the night’s fabulous rockers to take the stage, possesses an even greater potential. On the heels of releasing their first LP, Feeling the Fall, The Green performed an incredible set of music somewhat similar to The Purrs, fusing psychedelic, pastoral, and power-pop musical textures. The Purrs, however, possessed little of the fresh originality and sincere artistry The Village Green brought to the Vaudeville that night. As their dated, formal stage attire suggested, The Village Green offer a dignified and historical approach to producing energetic, pop-rock sounds.

The Ettes, headlining their first national tour, closed out the show with amazing energy. Recently signed to Detroit-based Sympathy for the Record Industry, The Ettes demonstrated a clear affinity for the intense garage-rock which often characterizes the Motor-City sound. The Ettes ripped the stage, two-and-a-half minutes at time, with smashing drums, fuzzy bass, and the Nancy Sinatra vocal stylings of lead-singer Coco Motion. The ever-ripe garage rock scene just adopted a new glamorous Los Angeles trio in The Ettes.

Always as important as the fabulous live music these three groups possessed, however, remained the concert environment. Due to the abnormally small rock crowd, the musicians made themselves completely accessible to their patrons. During and after each set, rock fans socialized with the bands. So rare is this experience now that rock music functions as a billion-dollar industry. The musicians intimately connected with the listeners, exchanging names, revealing genealogies of their groups, sharing tour stories, discussing label relations, and rapping about their new releases. The Village Green even came into KXCI studios for a “Live @ 5” performance earlier that day and impressed several DJs.

Nights like the one at Vaudeville on October 18, 2006 reenergize the modern rocker. Sometimes lost in a world of corporate-sponsored festivals, arena-rock shows, and even adequately attended theatre and bar shows, touching live rock music up-close remains an essential experience, like the pilgrimage to Mecca. Just as essential as availability, regional proximity often arises as an issue at a show when the musician-listener barrier blurs. Sadly, intimate environments such as these often work only for local acts, if only because the small payoff scares away a traveling band. Surely, the small crowd failed to satisfy any financial hopes The Purrs, The Village Green, or The Ettes brought to Tucson. However, the crowd truly benefited; or at least those who didn’t fret about scene and savored the close gleam.

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