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Weekend music

Concept rock with Tucson's Lowlife

Once upon a time, in a long past era we pop music historians refer to as "the 1970s," rock and roll storytelling began to get somewhat epic. From Bowie's "Spiders From Mars" to Genesis, to the high priests of the format, Pink Floyd, rock bands wove elaborate tales against loud and lavish soundscapes and so, for a while, the concept album was king.

These days, the album itself is an endangered species in some quarters and rock lyricism is often vague and simplistic in comparison to some of the intricate sagas of the past. But thanks to bands like Tucson's own self-described "concept band" Lowlife, the spirit of the concept album, rare as it is, is still alive and well.

Lowlife began in the fall of 2016 and released their first E.P. "remembrancer" in March of 2017. Band founder and primary songwriter Jonathan Malfabon describes the meaning of the band's name as a way of stating that no one person is really all that important in the big picture, though all of us together matter. It's a sort of pun - each of us is a "lowlife" in the greater scheme of things, but below everything there is life.

According to Malfoban, each of the band's recordings focuses on a different theme, in the style of the great concept albums of yore. The band's forthcoming album, due out this February, will focus on the story of "seagrave," a character who feels very disconnected and out of place in both space and time. The majority of the album will be told from the perspective of seagrave's inner voice, an approach very much in keeping with the tradition of great concept albums of the past - case in point the character of Rael in the Genesis album "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. "Also true to grand rock concept album form, Lowlife's musical soundscapes are well matched to the band's lyrics, with dynamics and themes ebbing and flowing in sync with each album's mood and story.

In addition to Malfabon on lead vocals and guitar, Lowlife consists of Nirantha Balagopal on bass and backing vocals, Daniel Ramirez on guitar, and Sean Terry on drums.

"Nirantha is very present in the music scene here," said Malfabon. "She plays in a number of projects in town and performs in various styles with different instruments. She’s a professional musician in my mind. Dan also plays in a number of projects and is very talented in adjusting the tone of his guitar to match whatever setting he’s in. He's our main aesthetic musician, setting the tone in a dynamic way to match themes and give life to certain portions of a song. Sean is a jack of all trades when it comes to music, we primarily use him on drums, but he has all sorts of input for anything me thinks could be better. He really seems to like more Latin-style rhythms. We all look up to some projects, but have very eclectic taste when it comes to music. I  think some of it may bleed through, but feel that it's more of a driving force, pushing us to write different and interesting stuff." 

As for Malfabon himself? "I write the beginnings of the songs, apply the theme, and then we typically write everything else together. It's important to have feedback constantly when constructing a song/album."

The band played a ton of local gigs and toured briefly in 2017 before going on a brief hiatus to write and record the upcoming album. 

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The band first toured in January of 2017, with a limited run of just five shows. By tour number two in May of last year, the band's schedule spanned cities in five different states, Balagopal said.

"It was a completely DIY tour and overall positive. We met so many kind people who let us into their homes and venues and space and let us perform for them. I feel really lucky to say we did that." said Balagopal. "Although I absolutely love playing for our hometown audience of Tucson, my two favorite shows are tied for two on our May tour: Denver at the Lion's Lair, a dive bar, and a house show Albuquerque. Both of these had flawlessly talented local bands on the lineup, both had encouraging, active, wonderful crowds who were basically complete strangers to us (that's to say.. they didn't have to be that nice to us)."

The bassist's favorite local gig was last March at the band's E.P. release party at Flycatcher, which "was incredible, because so many people from our community showed up to support our first real official release." She is looking forward to being back onstage with her bandmates."We took a break through the end of 2017 to finish writing and arranging an album. This album is our first full length, and it is going to be a long and heavy one."

"The possibility of another tour is there, but we are primarily trying to get back into the swing of playing consistent shows here in Tucson," added Malfabon. "We love performing  for anyone who wants to listen, right now we don't have a target market or anything, we just want to present our  art and hope people like it. We really want to see what the reception looks like for this album."

While songwriter Malfabon is the main force behind Lowlife, according to his bandmates, the band is still very much a family, and like all families they have their in jokes. "Sometimes Dan, Sean, and I make jokes during practice that we're quitting Lowlife to start our own rival band called Highlife," joked Balagopal.

In all seriousness, though, it's obvious that this is a band that likes each other, a closeness that shines through in its live and recorded performances.

"We love writing music and performing," said Malfabon. "[and] we all get along very well, which isn’t always the case for bands. Because of this, writing music comes somewhat naturally, and we can be honest about if we like or dislike each other’s parts or ideas. That honesty is really important for a band."

Lowlife plays the lounge at Flycatcher this Tuesday evening, January 23rd at 7 p.m. For more information, head to www.flycatchertucson.com.

Saturday shenanigans

If you've got teenagers - or if you haven't quite abandoned your own lingering sense of teenage angst - Saturday afternoons can be interminably boring. Except for this week.

This Saturday, Tucson's greater music industrial complex has the cure for your weekend doldrums in the form of a three part rock and roll field trip!

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First up, help your favorite youthful vinyl collector build up their stash at the Wooden Tooth $2 Record Sale. Downtown Tucson's favorite purveyor of vintage, indie and local vinyl is purging their excess stock at $2 a record, with additional discounts on other merchandise. 

Got a cassette player? Don't have one...but love pinball and punk music anyway? At 2 p.m. Saturday, at D&D Pinball, just a short hop across the street from Wooden Tooth, Bisbee's finest father-daughter punk duo The Exbats are hosting a tape release party at the only place that really makes sense for such an event - a pinball arcade! 

And then, to wrap it all up, well...what's more rock and roll than roller derby? Absolutely nothing. Except for roller derby with a live punk/funk rock and roll soundtrack. 

Tucson's own VICE Squad and Furious Truck Stop Waitresses face off in a battle on wheels to the tunes of local faves Shooda Shook It. Can you think of a better way to kick off a Saturday night? 

Wooden Tooth Records $2 Record Sale begins at 10 a.m. at 416 E 7th St (Just east of Fourth Avenue.)

The Exbats Tape Release Party takes place from 2-5 p.m. at D&D Pinball  331 E 7th St (Just west of Fourth Avenue.)

Shooda Shook It plays Tucson Roller Derby 6 p.m. Saturday night at Tucson Indoor Sports Center, 1065 W Grant Rd (Central Tucson.)

School music funding is SO metal!

While the indie rock scene in Tucson and Phoenix might get more attention, Arizona's heavy metal fans are legion...and most of them love a good festival show! Luckily for our local headbanger types, Dead of Winter Festival is right around the corner. The festival began in Mesa in early 2015 with a joint mission of raising money for underfunded school music programs and spreading awareness of local music on the heavier end of the spectrum. 

This year's festival will reach three cities over three days, beginning with Friday night's Tucson stop at House of Bards and continuing on to Mesa on Saturday night and Flagstaff on Sunday night. The Tucson show features Phoenix bands A Lapse of Ethos, Deadspawn, Scattered Guts and Unholy Monarch and Tucson based acts Blacklidge, Blueprints For Destruction, Pain Patterns, Pyrotechnica Shadows of Algol and Tribunus. Proceeds benefit Keep Children Rockin, a charity that raises much needed funds and equipment for local school music programs.

Dead of Winter Fest 2018 begins at 5 p.m. Friday night January 19 at House Of Bards, 4915 E Speedway Blvd in Central Tucson. For more information check out www.deadofwinterfest.com.

Check your local listings...

Friday, Jan. 19

  • Dead of Winter Fest 2018 - 5 p.m. at House Of Bards (Central)
  • (Tres Rojas Showcase) Dirty Magic, Sucker For The Sour,The Demons, Bruja & The Coyote - 9 p.m. at Surly Wench Pub (Downtown)
  • SayMyName - 9 p.m. at 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Shrimp Chaperone - 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern (S. of Downtown)
  • Lil Peep Night w/ Positive Satan - 9:30 p.m. at Flycactcher (Downtown)
  • Phil Free Band, Half Full - 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)

Saturday, Jan. 20

  • The Exbats (Tape Release Party) - 2 p.m. at D&D Pinball (Downtown)
  • Shooda Shook It at Tucson Roller Derby (FTW vs. VICE Squad)- 6 p.m. at Tucson Indoor Sports Center
  • Stubborn Old Bastard, Twingiant, Blueprints For Destruction, Blacklidge - 7 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)
  • Diluvio - 10 p.m. at The Neighborhood (South)
  • Half-Broke Town & Keli Carpenter  - 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern (S. of Downtown)
  • Cold Revive, Waysted Youth, Ocula, Diamondbaxx Shake, 21 Dreams - 7 p.m. at House Of Bards
  • Sugar Stains, Juju Fontaine, DJ Entyce - 9 p.m. at Sky Bar (Downtown)

Sunday Jan. 21

  • Miss Olivia & the Interlopers -  6:30pm at Che's Lounge (Downtown)
  • The Toasters at The Flycatcher - 7 p.m. at Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • General Tchefary Reggae Roots Night - 7 p.m. at Royal Sun (Central)
  • The Toasters at The Flycatcher - 7 p.m. at Flycatcher (Downtown)General Tchefary Reggae Roots Night - 7 p.m. at Royal Sun (Central)

Tuesday,  Jan. 23

  • For Love Or Absinthe - 7 p.m. at Royal Sun (Central)
  • Lowlife: Live in the Lounge -7 p.m. Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Amped Up! Open Mic - 9 p.m. at Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Haunted Summer, Casey Golden, June West - 9 p.m. at Sky Bar (Downtown)

Wednesday, Jan. 24

  • Little Cloud - 7 p.m. at Public Brewhouse (Downtown)

Thursday,  Jan. 25

  • Bonfire Benefit w/ Michael P. and Mighty Joel Ford - 6 p.m. at Felicia's Farm, 3761 E River Rd (Central)
  • Skincage, Wayward Sun, Team Freelance, Zachary Reid - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher(Downtown)
  • Radio Moscow - 8 p.m. at 191 Toole (Downtown)
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