Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Rhythm and Views

MARCH 15, 1999: 


'98 -'99 Road Map
(Our Soil, Our Strength)

FRENCH PHILOSOPHER JEAN Baudrillard declared the desert as "this country without hope" in his analysis of our fair land of America. He also marveled at Americans' propensity for nostalgia culminating in an achievable utopia of sorts.

Odds are, though, that he never heard of Tucson's own Calexico. They would change his mind. On their latest release--a tour only, limited edition EP--the duo composed of John Convertino and Joey Burns creates a perfect aural picture of a place that you've never been to--but can still miss, just the same. Their ability to pull this off without sounding hackneyed or trite is what frees them from the constrictions of "desert rock." Calexico's sound is something different; it's familiar music by the way of Latin, psych, jazz, folk, and garage, and ultimately, an organic resonance.

Baudrillard claimed the desert was without seduction, that without any identifiable aesthetic, everything strips away to neutrality. Burns and Convertino have done their best at calling him on that remark. Calexico's songs compliment where we live, they give a voice and a shape to neighbors and land; in doing so, they contribute to a culture that's had too much of its soul reduced to pink adobe and plastic wolves. (Available at Toxic Ranch and live shows only.)

--Michael Brooks


(Dry River Bed)

IF IT'S GENERALLY considered risky for a band to simultaneously stake out traditional turf and forge new ground (makes A&R and radio folks nervous), well, we are talkin' ROCK 'N' ROLL, right? Go work for Parks & Rec if you want a risk-free work environment; Tucson's own James Dead says, "Feh!" to that, putting its four-headed noggin on the line with this spankingly potent debut. On the one hand, you can trace the lineage of a song like "Red Line Baby" directly back to early Stooges or Dictators thanks to its unabashed punk verve: no-nonsense backbeat, economical guitar breaks (that is a Ron Asheton-inspired wah-wah riff I detect, no?) and Tex Caliber's estranged vocal gulp.

And no one will argue the merits of covering snot-punks The Dead Boys' classic "Sonic Reducer"; J.D. revs the tempo to just short of thrash level, and you can easily imagine the tune bringing down the house in a live setting. (In fact, the whole disc burns with a crucial immediacy, one of those rare 'uns that sacrifices neither live ambiance nor studio fidelity. A lot of punk recs just sound shitty.) But what makes Revenge a new local classic, and by implication James Dead one of the burg's powerhouse acts, is the overriding aura of confidence; this quartet knows it has a great sound, and a unique one. It even titles one number, the brutal, whomp-ass "Modern Rock-A-Billy," as if to say, "Hey pal, here's our genre, and we own it." (The song sounds like Social Distortion covering Dick Dale covering The Clash covering "Brand New Cadillac.")

The record ultimately goes over the top on "The Thing" --now there's a title Arizonans can relate to!--which fuses gearhead/dragstrip garage to psychedelic-tinged hard rock in an orgy of fuse-popping guitars and desperado vocals. Yes, ma, this is the stuff you warned me about as a teen. Sorry I turned out bad. (Bonus note: there's a hidden track at the end, a hot-wired cover of Al Perry's "Little By Little.")

--Fred Mills

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