Pure,eels, Poe tear up KFMA bash

By Michael Eilers
Photos by Keith Diehl
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 24, 1996

Local radio station KFMA 92.1 decided to throw a little birthday bash Sunday in honor of their one-year anniversary by bringing to town three of the hottest up-and-coming acts in alternative music: Pure, The eels, and Poe. The resulting barrage of noise, light, and bodies was a revealing event. It proved that Tucson and Club Congress can still attract big-name bands; that KFMA has a deep and powerful hold on Tucson's youth; and that Poe is far cooler live than she is in the studio.

This was an 18-and-over show at Club Congress, a strange anomaly for a place that has (at times) four bars. There was no alcohol allowed on the dance floor or on stage (much to the dismay of Pure band members) and bouncers circled warily, perhaps looking for undercover cops as much as for violators.

If any parent out there has worries about their "Generation X" progeny, this show would have put those to rest forever. This crowd wasn't just alcohol free, it was smoke-free, mostly pierce-free, and mosh-pit-free. Between songs there was just quiet conve rsation. The dance floor crowd could have put a busload of monks to shame. I was standing near the lighting technician, and watched him flip on lights and lasers with abandon, only to turn them off in disgust a few minutes later after realizing that they were practically invisible in the crystal-clear air.

Pure came on promptly at 10 o'clock, and they were loud. When I say loud, I don't mean Congress loud, I mean Concorde jet loud. They blew the heads off the beers of the barstool-sitters. After mumbling something about "leaving our livers in Las Vegas" the y played a 5-song set that was a continuous wall of noise, filling the space between songs with howling feedback. As if we needed further proof of how young the crowd was, they covered "Teenage Wasteland" by The Who, and did it brilliantly-but no one got the joke. A few weak cheers and some applause from the stunned and battered crowd, and Pure was history.

The lights came up between acts, revealing a little more about the crowd. If you've talked to anyone who was at the show, they probably told you that it was packed, and it most certainly was-like oranges in a crate. That scene would have given a fire mars hall a heart attack. People were packed in so tight that everyone knew the brand of shampoo the person in front of them was using. There was little dancing and no moshing, just a lot of head bobbing and arm-waving going on. While I can appreciate Club Con gress and KFMA's desire to make a buck or two, they did so at the expense of our personal comfort.

The eels stimulate an entirely different part of the brain than the visceral Pure. With just three band members and a curious mixture of instruments, they played a wide variety of styles, from tunes so quiet you could hear the Doom players in the CyberCaf e to ones loud enough to make the Pure guys take notes. Suffice it to say they are tough to describe. Derivative of the geek chic of acts such as Elvis Costello and J. Mascis, they had no problem playing shameless pop melodies, with a cerebral twist. "E," the lead singer and songwriter, often switched from guitar to an extremely weather-beaten Rhodes electric piano. During one song the whole band broke into a free-improvisation percussion session, with the bassist playing what seemed to be a giant fire be ll hung by leather straps and decorated with Christmas ornaments.

E was his wisecracking self, and at one point threatened to play the "Macarena" if the crowd didn't quiet down while the band played the acoustic song "Beautiful Freak." True to his word, E did just that, playing the infamous pop dirge in double-time with distortion. Not a single person in the house either knew The Macarena or was drunk enough to do the dance in public.

The eels were brilliant. Funny, diverse, and seeming to enjoy themselves, the worked their way through many of their album's best songs, with a little more fire and a few less studio tricks. Even though they are fairly new on the scene, practically the en tire crowd knew every word to "Novocaine," their current radio single, and sang along with glee.

This is of course due to the influence of KFMA DJ Chuck Roast and music/program irector Suzie Dunn, who took the stage along with DJ Chad of Chad's Pad fame during the break before Poe. KFMA has been playing all three bands nearly continuously for the las t month, so being able to bring them here must have been marketing nirvana. A label representative from Atlantic records was standing next to me, and she had to keep wiping the drool off her chin as she surveyed the clean-cut twenty something-with-parent' s-credit-card crowd. The KFMA crew chucked a few T-shirts into the audience after a huge ovation from the crowd, and then got the hell out of there: Poe was next.

If you have heard Poe's album you know it has a dance feel, full of swirling samples and electronic percussion, mostly studio tricks. This was a very different Poe strutting around in her miniskirt on Congress' stage. Backed up by a four-piece combo featu ring guitars, drums and an electric cellist, they actually rocked.

I have to admit I wasn't much of a Poe fan going in, and I still don't like the album very much, but as a live act she really kicked ass. Backed by a cello player who seemed to be channeling Jimi Hendrix through his extremely distorted wah-wah pedal sound and a bassist who obviously went to Johnny Rotten's barber, they tore the place up. Their current radio songs, "Hello" and "Angry Johnny," were hardly recognizable, and much better for it. Poe also believed heavily in audience participation, squirting Ev ian bottles all over the crowd, stage-diving, and at one point pulling women from the crowd up on stage. With a voice loud enough to get by without a microphone, she belted out tunes from the album, plus a new one which shows some promise.

Overall it was one hell of a birthday bash. KFMA was directly responsible for the size of the crowd, having indoctrinated them with alternative music broadcast seemingly straight into their brains, and their wallets. It proved Tucson still has some pull, and we can still get the MTV darlings when we want to. Now if only Poe sounded like that on her album. . .

You can also see a special cybercast of the Poe concert posted live from Club Congress the day of the show.