Posted on August 26th, 2012 No comments
Yes, Tempe Rock & Roll
Tempe, Arizona, probably doesn’t spring into your mind when thinking of the top cities in the USA to see live, local bands perform incredible, original rock and roll music on a regular basis. But perhaps it should.
The fact is, a tightly-knit, growing group of bands, devotes, and fans, and their friends, girlfriends and wives, along with a few folks in the general public who’ve caught on early, are creating a new local music underground scene in Tempe, Arizona.
That may come as a surprise to many, given that most of the best musicians and concert tours in the world rarely stop in Phoenix, AZ, let alone the suburb near Arizona State University known as Tempe. This isn’t about good bands from elsewhere stopping in Tempe. This is about bands from Tempe. Strange as it may sound, Tempe, AZ, may soon become just as synonymous with independent music as Seattle is for grunge.
Long Wong’s At The Firehouse
It’s not clear when the proprietor of Long Wong’s At The Firehouse in Tempe, AZ, first decided to build a stage, install a P.A., and have their first open mic night, but we do know that for the last couple years, the Thursday night open mic sessions have turned into Friday night live rock and roll sessions, and now they’re regularly stocked with fantastic, talented local bands. These aren’t carbon copy acts playing covers, mind you. Oh no, these dozen or so acts weekly take turns setting up and delivering set after set of mind-blowingly refreshing original music. Some of their tracks sound vaguely familiar, but with some hard edged and dissonant, others pop-ish and more melodic, a recent night out at Long Wong’s in Tempe turned out to be uniquely stimulating.
Take Quick Henry, for example. Around 9 pm last Friday, Aug 24, this 4-piece band of drums, bass, guitar, and, get this—trombone—took the stage. Having a trombone in a rock band gives their sound a sweetly intelligent edge not unlike Cake. Their recipe calls for Jameson, Ginger Ale and Ice, but I managed to enjoy them just fine on Long Wong’s ample supply of Blue Moon on tap.
Future Loves Past
Following Quick Henry, Future Loves Past took the stage. This eclectic indie/pop/rock outfit lived up to their “harmonious” claim. The highlight for me watching this 6-piece ensemble jam together while easily handling multiple riffs in various tempos, and several moments during which the band’s four terrific singers hit relatively complex 4-part harmonies, right on the money, without missing a beat.
“I have been [doing] shows in the Valley for over six years, and I see about 15 acts a week, easily,” said Jack Maverik, Long Wong’s General Manager, “and never have I gotten quite the reaction I do when they play.”
Having seen and heard Future Loves Past perform myself in person, I can agree, and suggest that you should experience this band, too, to find out what your reaction might be. You can grab four of their tracks here, and they’re working on more in the studio as you read this. It’s no surprise to me that Future Loves Past was nominated as one of the best local bands in 2012 by Phoenix New Times.
It’s about midnight on Friday, I’ve got a great buzz going, and next up on the docket is Sasquanaught. Yes, Sasquanaut, like Sasquatch is an Astronaut who asks, “Progressive Rock, anyone?” Not to question the irony, but is this band’s name as hard to spell as their sound is to hear? Maybe. They were the most edgy and metallic grungers of the night, scraping and screeching a little more often than the first two acts I was privileged to experience, and a little less pop-ish than Japhy’s Descent, an act I would hear a little later. I found myself being reminded of Rush by this super tight 3-piece ensemble, but not to pigeon-hole their sound, just because the talent and unity these 3 guys demonstrated while pumping out what was, I thought, deceptively complex hard rock, across a wide variety of tempos and time signatures, reminded me of one of the greatest 3-piece rock bands in history. Twice during their set, these super-tight, mostly-instrumental jammers, were augmented by vocalist, Travis, of Japhy’s Descent, a fact I wouldn’t realize until a little later that evening.
Steppchild, a rock trio consisting of Adam Jacobson, Adam Carter, Adam Roach took the stage next. These guys say their influences include Black Sabbath and they’re pure rock and f***king roll headbangers. Rather than tell you more about what I saw last Friday, you can see for yourself with a video originally shared by Japhy’s Descent.
The final band of the night was Japhy’s Descent, a Tempe, AZ-based alternative blues rock quartet that was the best band of the night for me. Mostly because my friend Brian plays bass. But I have to admit, this band’s catchy track, Answer 42, inspired me and stuck with me unlike any other from the whole night. It’s just a fun 3-minute ride that I want to go on again. Achieving fresh and original, while also sounding familiar enough to be considered borderline main stream is no easy feat for an alternative band, but I think Japhy’s Descent has done it with this song. Their sound is tightened up by drummer, James, and Bassist, Brian.
Here’s a YouTube clip of Japhy’s Descent playing Answer 42, one of the most commercial tracks I heard all night.
Although the sound was typical of small venues—more loud than clean, and the mixing was non-existent by Long Wong’s absentee audio engineer, that didn’t spoil the night from being one of the most enjoyable in recent memory, and, like a good drug, left me wanting more… a lot more. From what I can tell, these guys aren’t going anywhere, except maybe up and up.
This growing collection AZ rock and roll bands, their friends and families that gather at the local Long Wong’s At The Firehouse know they’ve got a good thing going. The relationships are clear and the camaraderie was evident. I felt a bit too clean cut, like I need to grow my hair and beard a bit longer before I’ll fit in, but I had a lot of fun just being around these incredible musicians and feeding off their energy as they took turns jamming out. These guys have been playing together in the Tempe, AZ, local music scene for a couple of years now, and all that practice and dedication is really starting to show.
Special Thanks To…
I have to thank Long Wong’s for being the de-facto venue-of-choice for this subculture to be born and start to flourish. It may well be that the mere existence of this venue has spawned these acts. A good time was had by all, but it’s more than that. I felt like an insider, enjoyed multiple kick ass rock bands from the front row in a small venue just before they’re famous, all night long. It’s not every day you get to discover a thriving underground, and it’s not that common to see so much variety of talent on a single stage in a single night, ever, let alone, weekly. Go to Long Wong’s on any Friday night and you’ll see.
But wait, there’s more…
I have to thank one more person. The impetus behind my visit to Long Wong’s in the first place, the one who I should credit the most for writing this post is, my friend, Deon Doughty. He wanted me to experience and enjoy these great bands last week, like he’s been doing for years. And now, I’m hooked in, too. Like him, I get to follow these bands’ careers in music. Deon’s been inviting me to participate and bear witness on these recurring festivities for a long time now. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t take him up on his offer sooner!
A native of Paducah, Kentucky, I first met Deon over 10 years ago where we both found ourselves employed by the East Valley Tribune newspaper in Gilbert. Deon was already an incredible painter. I taught him what I knew of print production, computer aided design, desktop publishing, and eventually, PHP programming, but in the evenings and weekends, Deon was always involved in poetry readings, open mic nights, creating animations and working on his own comedy music videos. But 10 years ago, YouTube didn’t exist, and the Tempe, AZ, local music scene wasn’t quite ready for Doughty’s artistic vision.
Well, Tempe is ready now, and Deon’s been in the thick of it from day one. In fact, in his mind, it’s all by design, all part of his artistic vision. You see, in addition to the auditory amazement and excitement of having these bands tickle and massage my ear drums on just this one night, Deon’s been following these bands for over a year to document them visually, but not with photography, like the days of the masters: with paint on canvas.
So Deon’s been doing more than just following these bands. To be fair, he’s been getting to know them. Intimately. Experiencing their talent. Becoming friends with them and learning who they are. As a local artist, musician and beatnik poet himself, Deon has seen these bands form, having watched their first open mic performances, and he’s watched them grow and become better and tighter. As they’ve formed their sound, he’s developed and honed his own artistic style, in tribute to them just as much as his own love of music and art.
It’s been nearly two years now, and as these bands have formed a new local music subculture, Deon is right there with them, documenting them on canvas. He was there last Friday, as he is nearly every Friday, working on his next portrait, of Sasquanut bassist, Matt Busch. Like all the others, using a duotone color palette of navy blue and gold.
Doughty has painted over 25 original works now, all portraits of various individual band members who play or sing in these awesome local music groups. His style is tight realism bordering on surrealism, with details so intricate they’re not unlike the halftone dots we had created for the Tribune’s presses nearly a decade ago. Working from photographs, he’s gone beyond what most digital artists do today, both in vision and dedication. Seeing his work in person, all at once, is going to be incredible. I can’t wait.
That chance will come in less than a month. The collection of these portraits is going to be on display, along with the bands performing, at The Tempe Rock Star Gold Festival, September 28 & 29, 2012, at the Sail Inn in Tempe. It’s no coincidence that Deon is primarily responsible for putting this event together, and if you like independent, live music, you should save the date and plan to go.
Legends of AZ Rock & Roll
What other rock bands can say they have a personal painter following them around, documenting them in acrylic on canvas? Not even the likes of U2 or The Rolling Stones can say that. But Deon can see immense talent in these bands, and unlike many artists, he has followed through on his vision to document their talent using his own.
“In some small way, I want to try to help these bands succeed,” says Doughty. “I love live music and I love to paint, and I figured out a way to bring the two together.” This sounds crazy until you actually see him at work, in the back of Long Wong’s, next to instrument cases, road crates and the chairs and tables stacked up to make room in front of the stage for dancing fans. There he is, and his canvas is set up on the bar, in front of a stool, using a guitar stand for an easel, while a few of his own fans protect his small art space as partly inebriated onlookers try to figure out why there’s a guy painting a portrait at the back of the bar.
Most patrons either know, “cool, there’s Deon,” or aren’t in the know and aren’t quite sure what to make of him. I can see why, but I know the back story, that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, that this is but one unfinished work, in a long series of amazing portraits of the legends of AZ Rock and Roll, and this is just one weekend in a two year’s worth of weekends. I watch Matt Busch pause before starting his set to check out the progress of his own portrait. He smiles and nods. Then gives Deon a fist bump. Two artists acknowledging each other is a beautiful sight.
To close this commentary, I will invite you to see for yourself. Visit AZ Rock & Roll—AZRockAndRoll.com—a website also painted by “Carpe Deon.” There you will find links to all the bands he’s documenting through his artwork, the same bands performing at The Tempe Rock Star Gold Festival at the Sail Inn, 26 S. Farmer Ave., Tempe, AZ, 85281 on September 28 & 29, 2012, and some of whom I got to see perform last Friday.
Nothing like the The Tempe Rock Star Gold Festival 2-day local music celebration has ever happened before. In Tempe, certainly, but anywhere in the world, either. The uniqueness of this event is assured — Deon’s made certain of that. His art collection will be on display for the very first time for the public, all together, with the bands playing sets right along side. This body of work will guarantee, just as the sound of these original bands will, that it will be an event not to be missed and not soon forgotten. Hopefully when you share this post, neither will Arizona, or the world forget that Tempe, AZ, has staked it’s claim as the new home of independent music.