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Weekend music

Tucson sounds: The Gem Show, Alien Jacket, & Juliana Warkentin

Plus: Tucson Jazz Festival swings into town & more local music news

'Tis your friendly neighborhood music columnist's sworn mission to turn you on to the incredible diversity of the Tucson music scene.

Case in point, this week's trio of interviews, in which we meet punk-inspired local music vets the Gem Show, fresh-faced teen punk/funk band Alien Jacket and soft-spoken, smoky-voiced pop songstress Juliana Warkentin.

The Gem Show

First off this week, it's time to get acquainted with a group that includes Whispering Wires frontman, the ever-talented John Polle.

TucsonSentinel.com: Who's who in The Gem Show and how did the whole thing get started? What music, influences or similarities in style make up your shared musical DNA?

John Polle: "Johnny Scheir plays drums, Bobby 'On Time' Carlson plays bass and I play guitar and sing."

"I started playing some solo show with a drum machine under the name Monsignor Wednesday's Guitar Mass. I played maybe three shows, and Johnny contacted me and asked if I was interested in a human drummer. I had heard his drumming before and liked it. So we got together and worked on some songs and it was fun so we decided to keep doing it and that we needed a bass player. Bobby had mentioned to me at one of my drum machine shows that he'd be into playing bass, so I called him on his bluff a few months later and he said yes. After a few times getting together we realized it clicked and kept doing it."

"We've been together for a year as of this month. Johnny and I are the same age so we have a similar rock/punk trajectory as far as formative musical experiences.Though Johnny lived in the LA area so he got to see every hardcore/punk band I just read about. A few of them played in the little town I grew up in, but those kind of shows were few and far between. I really love early '70s pre-punk and '80s post-post punk and pre-war blues. But I'm all over the place. I love the Ohio Express, the Ramones and John Fahey equally."

"I can't really speak for the other dudes, but Johnny probably knows a lot more about jazz and metal than I do and Bobby is an encyclopedia of rock (and all of its variants) and country. I think there are a bunch of bands all three of us love, like for instance, the Minutemen, Television, etc."

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TS: The Gem Show has a pretty solid reputation in our little music community, at least in certain circles. Does this surprise you at all? Was that the intent when you formed the band is was it more of a gigging for fun and profit kinda thing?

JP: "Well that's nice to hear. The only intent was to do something I enjoy and hopefully is interesting. I love playing live and rehearsing. And having a song come together is always really fun and extremely rewarding."

"Also, it's the only time I really go out, so I get to see friends and their bands. Music has never been profit-driven for me and that's probably why it's still enjoyable!"

TS: What about now? Any future plans?

JP: "Just to play a show a month and maybe do a like weekender tour or two in the summer."

TS: I hear tell of a forthcoming album. Care to elaborate?

JP: "It was recorded and mixed by our buddy Jim Waters, who has recorded anything I've done over the last 20 years. We did the basic tracks, vocals and a couple of overdubs in two days."

"It's coming out on cassette and CD at the end of the month on Compact Disc Records.They released the Whispering Wires tape too.It's nice, they do extremely small runs of tapes and CDs and is run by the guys from Tropical Snow Bail Bonds. From what I understand their next release is a compilation of bands covering Winchester Cathedral.

TS: Favorite venues?

JP: "Well I liked Cans, so that's a bummer. I like St. Charles, District Tavern Eatz, Ervice and Johnny's storage space."

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TS: Favorite local bands?

JP: "A bunch of bands that mainly consist of the same 10 or 12 people."

TS: By that I'm going to assume you mean your band Whispering Wires, TWGS and the various crazily talented bands who make up the so called Midtown Island "Garage Mafia." Anyway, tell us about the next gig!

JP: "We're playing on Saturday, Jan. 19, at Ervice."

The Gem Show , TWGS and Phoenix punk band JJCnV take over The Ervice this Saturday night at 8 p.m.

Alien Jacket

Next in our roundup, we meet the latest offshoot of late, lamented local teen punk band the Frecks. Meet Alien Jacket.

TucsonSentinel.com: Tell us a bit about the band and how it formed. How is it different from your last project?

Alien Jacket: "We are Alien Jacket! Basically, we jammed a lot and decided to make it into a whole separate music project. We were both members of The Frecks, but after the break up we both wanted to keep making music and loved the connection we have. Our music is less punk and more funk for sure. We also experiment with other genres more in our songs."

TS: Who's who in the band?What instrument(s) do you each play? Where'd the name come from?

AJ: "We are Erica Rose Brooks on bass and vocals and Juliet Blue on drums/vocals. There are only two of us right now. We are a bass and drum duo, but sometimes we have friends who play other instruments feature in songs. We switch off instruments sometimes but stick to our main ones. We also experiment with some synth, bass, and drums, but we have not performed with a full band lineup yet."

Erica Rose Brooks: "The name Alien Jacket came from one of my dreams. In the dream, I was practicing a cover with Juliet and asked her who the band was because I really liked their music. I told Juliet about the dream and since that moment we decided on Alien Jacket."

TS: Describe what you sound like?

AJ: "Each of our songs is different. Some are satire punk, some are art rock, some are experimental hip hop, even some pop punk in there too. "

TS: Fave local bands and local venues?

AJ: "Definitely BYOM, Slow Descent, Spider Cider, Rough Draft, Somniac, the Trees, Ray Coalfaxx and JT Rivers. There are so many great artists - it's hard to pick only a few!"

"The Roach Ranch, a local house venue, is really great. It's where we played our first show. Club Congress is cool too when we get to play it. Spark Project does a great job with hosting shows too."

TS: Thoughts on the music scene overall and the teen band scene locally?

AJ: "The music scene is really rich. There are all sorts of genres and people aren't bounded to just one type of concert. It's not just about music. The scene focuses on community issues and allowing a safe place for all. It's great."

"The teen scene specifically is so impressive. There are so many talented, mature young artists who continue to allow the scene to flourish. Thanks to the youth, our Tucson scene can continue."

TS: Favorite gigs so far as a band?

AJ: "We have only had two as Alien Jacket so far! Our first one was pretty good. It was nice to see everyone still support us now that we've moved on from the Frecks. "

TS: Future band plans?

AJ: "We want to record some songs and make music videos for them. Right now we're still experimenting with our sound and trying new things. We're both in multiple musical projects, so right now we are just having fun with Alien Jacket."

TS: Next gigs?

AJ: "We have more shows coming up. A house show on the 22nd (in midtown Tucson) at 7:30 p.m., and another show next month at the Roach Ranch. We also plan to play the next Rare Intentions show in late May."

Alien Jacket joins local bands Vasectomy, Suaced Up! and Planet What this Tuesday, Jan 22, at 7:30 p.m. at a midtown house show venue known to many. Contact the bands via social media for details and to score an invite.

Julianna Warkentin

Our last featured artist this week has been well known around Tucson's solo dives and rock clubs alike, both as a solo artist under her former nom de plume Juliana Bright and with her bands Rotary Speed Dial, Switch Affect and Royal Agaves.

Recently returned to town, Juliana Warkentin is focused on facing her fears, beefing up her musical chops and raising her gorgeous, powerful voice.

TucsonSentinel.com: Tell us about your background in the local music scene.

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Julianna Warkentin: "I grew up in a musical family. five siblings, very much like the Von Trapps from 'Sound Of Music.' Actually I was named after Julie Andrews so you could say it was my destiny."

"For a long time I was a busker, playing my guitar, living on the streets or couch surfing and surviving in doing so in Tucson and San Francisco in my teens and early 20s. I eventually realized that I could actually make money doing this, and there was no better feeling than performing."

"Once I got some stability and my own place, I saved up for gear, and started taking it seriously in about 2013. I got a band together and started performing professionally in Tucson."

TS: After moving to West Virgina with your band Switch Affect, you were away from Tucson for a long while. Welcome back, by the way! How has readjusting to the local music scene gone so far and what are you currently up to?

JW: "It is really good to be back. Tucson has got such a great community of creatives and I think I didn't realize that until I moved to the East Coast. I learned that Tucson is all about an original scene which I love. It is weird though coming back and only seeing like two bands that I recognize. It has changed quite a bit. I am looking forward to checking out all of these new bands for sure."

TS: Any new music or plans to record?

JW: "I have been writing, no plans to record at the moment I have really been focusing on learning how to play the keys, music theory, etc. I have never been at a place where I could just jump in on a jam, so I am learning what I can so I can do that."

"Also, randomly at an open mic, I did a collab with three other musicians and there was just this amazing bond with us. Immediately we agreed to form a band, so I am super excited about what could evolve."

TS: Favorite or most meaningful moments as a performer?

JW: "My favorite moment as a performer was once, when my band was doing a show of our original tunes and our fans were singing my lyrics. That felt amazing."

"Last year in NY I got to play on the same stage as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in Woodstock and I saw a friend that I knew there from Tucson, so that was pretty sweet tpp. Also when I did a cover up show at Flycatcher of Pink Floyd with the guys from M. Crane and Baptista as well as the sax player from my band at the time. That was just badass and the house was packed. I really fed off the energy. I was levitating!"

TS: Favorite musicians and bands if all time?

JW: "There is so much music out there and and I am constantly being turned on to new artists. Currently though, I always love Bjork and FKJ. I'm really into funk too, like James Brown, Earth Wind and Fire, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Bowie, and Sly and the Family Stone. Also Amy Winehouse, Coldplay, Fiona Apple, Portishead, Radiohead, Elliot Smith and Nine Inch Nails. It's really across the board. I don't know too much about the current mainstream stuff, but I'm sure some of it is good too. It's still hard for me to enjoy country though."

TS: Fave local musicians?

JW: " My favorite local musicians currently? I don't really know too much about that since it has changed so much! I loved Pipelights. I also love Mesquite, Katie Haverly, Jillian and the Giants, Night Weather, and M.Crane."

TS: Fave venues new and old?

JW: " My favorite Tucson Venue of course was Plush/Flycatcher. Currently I'd say La Cocina, Unplugged, Sand Reckoner, Crooked Tooth, Metal Arts Village, and the Hut. Cans was really great too though I never played there."

TS: Thoughts on the local music scene now and in the past?

JW: "I feel like Tucson venues are very supportive as far as getting a gig, but with that being said, I also feel like the musicians in this town need to set the precedent when it comes to being appreciated through monetary compensation for all the hours of rehearsal, hauling, setting up tearing down gear, travel costs and such.We aren't doing this for exposure or just tips. We are professionals, entertainers, and should be treated as such. As far as the current scene, I really can't speak to it that much yet."

TS: Advice to other solo musicians just starting out?

JW: "My advice to other solo musicians is be authentic, be raw, never compromise your values to appease a crowd."

"I have been trying to play without looking at the keys so I can really connect with my audience and not worry about the notes I am hitting. But really, just feel every song and every moment.The true artist is not someone who plays technically perfect, but can evoke an emotional response from a stranger."

"Also support each other. Go to each other's shows, bring friends! It's not a competition - it took me years to learn that. There is so much beauty in weaving together a community of artists."

TS: Tell us about your next gigs!

JW: "So the next gigs I have are this week, January 22, at the Royal Sun.Then later this month on January 27, I'm celebrating my birthday with a show at El Saguarito. And in February, I'll be playing with Lady Loveland on Valentine's Day at Tap and Bottle and at a solo gig at Sand Reckoner Wine Bar on February 23, 6-9 p.m.. Hope to see you all and meet you if I haven't already!"

Juliana Warkentin plays the Royal Sun this Tuesday, Jan. 22. The show starts at 7 p.m.

Psych Circus

This Friday night, prepare to have your mind blown by four very different, but very cool psych and rock bands at the Psych Circus at 191 Toole, a night of psych inspired rock and roll and surreal imagery designed "to bend your mind and free your soul," according to organizers.

The show features Tucson by way of Indiana alt-psych rockers Grand Voodoo Band, Phoenix-based purveyors of fuzzy desert garage the Desert Beats, edgy, energetic indie psych-rock from Silver Cloud Express, and what's likely to be yet another dynamic live performance from one of this writer's favorite lo-cal rock bands of the moment, Birds and Arrows, whose set at last week's Ladytowne Live was nothing short of stunning.

The Psych Circus takes place at 191 Toole on Friday night, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m.

Jillian and Dylan Charles

Former Bisbee denizen Dylan Charles is well-known around these parts, both in his own right as the frontman for the Border Crossers as well as his long list of collaborations with other Southern Arizona bands including Nowhere Man & Whiskey Girl, Buzz and the Soul Senders, and the Dusty Buskers.

Now relocated to New York City, Charles returns to our neck of the woods next Thursday night with his new band On The Sun. Good friends Jillian Bessett and Keli Carpenter will lend some support at the show.

On The Sun's Tucson tour stop takes place Thursday, Jan. 24, at Sky Bar. Jillian Bessett and Keli Carpenter will open the show, which starts at 9 p.m.

Laughter knows no furlough

Local improv comedy troupe and venue Unscrewed Theater wants to bring a little joy to those affected by the government shutdown.

"People being affected [by the uncertainty of the shutdown] can begin to feel very isolated, frustrated and depressed. They need some sort of an outlet, and they need to know people in their community care about them." says Unscrewed volunteer Gayla Gongwer, a federal employee herself.

The crew at Unscrewed Theater want to counter the pain of the shutdown with a little laughter, beginning this Friday, Jan. 18. All federal employees showing their work ID at the door will gain free admission to the current round of Unscrewed performances.

Unscrewed Theater's family friendly improv shows with Not Burnt Out, Just Unscrewed take place Friday, Jan. 18, and Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. The Saturday show features a second adults-only improv show at 9 p.m. as part of a House Team Double Feature. Unscrewed Theater is located in Midtown at 3244 E. Speedway, just west of Swan.

All that jazz...

Tucson music is more than just a rock and roll world, as evidenced by the stellar Tucson Jazz Festival, which continues through this weekend at multiple venues throughout Tucson this weekend. The festival culminates in a fiesta at 5th and Congress in Downtown, followed by an afterparty at Club Congress.

For more info, and event listings for the Tucson Jazz Festival, visit tucsonjazzfestival.org

Check your local listings...

Friday, Jan. 18

  • Moontrax w DJ Blue Dream - 9 p.m. District Eatz
  • The Muffulettas - 5 p.m. Geronimo Plaza
  • Psych Circus: Silver Cloud Express, Birds and Arrows, Desert Beats, Grand Voodoo Band - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Moontrax - District Eatz
  • Hatpin Duo - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk
  • Zero Miles to Empty, M.Crane, Black Medicine - 9 p.m. Sky Bar

Saturday, Jan. 19

  • Paper Foxes, Double Deputy, Liquid Summer - 8 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Chrome Sparks - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Nadine, Brent Penny, Chelsey Le Trejo - 8 p.m. Bar Passe
  • Greyhound Soul - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge

Sunday, Jan. 20

  • The Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
  • Stavros Halkias - 7 p.m. Owls Club
  • Billy Sedlmayr - 6 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Club Sanctuary 10 Year Anniversary - 9 p.m. Surly Wench

Monday, Jan. 21

  • Tommy Castro and the Painkillers - 7:30 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Lucky Devils - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Jazz Fest Afterparty - 5 p.m. Hotel Congress

Tuesday, Jan. 22

  • Juliana Warkentin - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • Alien Jacket, Vasectomy, Sauced Up! - House Party Show (Contact bands for info.)
  • Dash, Juju Fontaine, Miss Olivia and the Interlopers - 7:30 p.m. Club Congress
  • OMD w/ Birds and Arrows - 7 p.m. Rialto

Wednesday, Jan. 23

  • Flor de Toloache - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Corb Lund - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Sweat, Warmonger, Dayak - 8 p.m. Club Congress

Thursday, Jan. 24

  • On The Sun, Jillian Bessett, Keli Carpenter - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Reveal Burlesque - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Tom Russell - 7 p.m. Copper Hall, Hotel Congress

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

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Christopher Riggs

The Gem Show

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