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Surf's up! Mission Creeps' deliciously dark ocean of sound

It's fitting that the story of The Mission Creeps would begin with Hotel Congress. That a band steeped in ghoulish style, horror movie camp and macabre imagery would be dreamed up in Tucson's most famously haunted hotel is a fact that seems absurdly perfect.

Back in 2005, Club Congress celebrated its 20th anniversary with a giant three-day public party, commemorating 20 years of Tucson rock roll history. As part of the festivities, future Mission Creeps bassist Miss Frankie Stein was working with local music writer Annie Holub to create the Tucson Band Map, a visual centerpiece for the festival which aimed to chart the musical lineages of the various bands collaborating and reuniting for the event. Soon into the project, Stein realized she was going to need specialized software to visualize the nodes and history and put the word out that she was looking for help. That's where James Arr came in.

"I had studied social network analysis in grad school so I had a line on the software she could use." says Arr. "We basically became friends after that and as we talked we realized we had a lot in common, especially musically. It all kind of grew from there."

After seeing Stein play bass in another band, Arr says "I immediately knew I wanted to be in a band with her."

That band would become The Mission Creeps, which has been haunting the Tucson music scene ever since with their deliciously dark brand of surf and punk-tinged rock and roll with a heavy dose of "voodoobilly."

The band owes a definite tip of the hat to Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps, the legendary glam punk/rockabilly outfit that brought '60s fuzz and '50s B-movie imagery to the late '70s and early '80s punk scene.

But while The Mission Creeps definitely celebrate the same sci-fi and horror movie landscape that once inspired Poison Ivy, Lux Interior and company, their sound is much more complex, a laid-back, haunted desert-garage sound that is equally laced with classic rockabilly, fuzzy surf punk and the dark, rich tones of post-punk influences like Joy Division, Bauhaus and murder-ballad era Nick Cave.

The band quickly became a fixture of Downtown bars like Fourth Avenue's legendary "pirate bar" the Surly Wench and soon hit the road, becoming regulars on the Southwest and West Coast festival scene and making frequent stops in nearby cities such as Bisbee and Phoenix. Musicians from other places, especially on the West Coast and Pacific Northwest, have remarked on the amount of "space" in the Creeps' playing compared to other bands, Stein said. That's a common trait among Tucson bands, as compared to groups from other cities: the ability to stop, be polite, make room and listen to the others you are playing with instead of just filling the silence or drowning each other out, she said.

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In The Mission Creeps, that space serves a function, with Stein's spare but solid bassline weaving skillfully in and out of Arr's haunted guitar fuzz and and teasing baritone vocals, leaving room for quiet tension or inspired bits of noise as the moment dictates.

The wild, but steady backbone of drummer George Palenzuela sets the stage for the almost intuitive rapport between Arr and Stein, who after six albums, 12 years and a dozen previous drummers, seem to have hit upon a winning formula with their current drummer, maturing into a fully formed, nuanced sound still drenched in highway ghost-story appeal.

The Mission Creeps may have grown and flourished as musicians, but they will never lose the campy, B-movie humor and Alice Cooper meets Rocky Horror Picture Show theatrics that make their shows one of the most fun outings in town. With song titles like "Cannibals In Love," "Igor's Mind," and "Killer Gnome," this is not a band that feels the need to take themselves too seriously. Even so, the band plays with a focused energy and sophisticated swagger that marks them as veteran musicians, especially in their live performances.

The band will be recording their seventh album in the near future before returning to the road for more upcoming out of town dates. In the meantime, you can catch them this Friday at 191 Toole in Downtown Tucson, opening up for hardcore punk legends Agent Orange. Doors open at 8 p.m.

It started with The Great Gig In The Sky

When Tucson's Pink Floyd tribute "supergroup" Atom Heart Mother played their final show earlier this year at 191 Toole, one of the highlights of the night was backup vocalist Olivia Reardon's showstopping rendition of "Great Gig In The Sky." Fans of that performance should be thrilled to know that the willowy singer with the impossibly gymnastic vocal chords is now at the helm of a new project, along with fellow Atom Heart members David Hostetler, Mike Sydlowski, Daniel Thomas and Samuel Hess. Miss Olivia and the Interlopers sounds like Pink Floyd as fronted by Dusty Springfield, with soul, jazz and R&B vocal finesse layered over classic rock and roll edge. Check them out this Friday night at South Tucson's favorite neighborhood bar, Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S 4th Ave. The show starts at 8 p.m.

Do two Half-Broke Towns make a whole?

In a town full of jangly guitar bands, the baroque "indie folk blues rock" of Tucson band Half-Broke Town stands out in the best of ways. The brainchild of "classical violinist gone rogue" Samantha Bounkeua, Half-Broke Town has more than a little folk and blues in their DNA, but pleasant, boring cocktail music they are not.

Erin Henderson's vocals float in a lovely Southern gospel howl across the funk and rock laden beat of bassist Clarissa Sarabia and drummer Hillary Engel, meanwhile the improvised live fiddle/guitar duels between Bounkeua and guitarist Randy Lopez are pure, unhinged rock and roll. This weekend, Tucson is lucky enough to have two chances to see them live, Friday night at The Hut in Downtown Tucson and at Saturday's early bird show at Mr. Head's.

The Traveling Fools, Half-Broke Town and Diluvio Az play Mr. Head's Art Gallery and Bar 513 N. 4th Ave, on Saturday afternoon. The show will run from 4-7 p.m.

An indie Independence Day

We usually focus on weekend events in this column, but it's that time of year again. You know, the annual commemoration of American independence (and accidentally setting "A" Mountain on fire.) What better way to spend Independence Day than seeing live, independent bands on the Congress stage? Join Boston band American Indie along with local stalwarts Architecture, Wallpaper Prison and La Cerca for a very indie rock Fourth Of July.

Fourth Of July Party. Tuesday July 4, with The American Indie, Wallpaper Prison, Architecture and La Cerca at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress. Free 21 and over show starts at 7:30 p.m.

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Also happening this weekend

Friday, June 30

  • Carbon Canyon with Kevin Dowling Fitness Hour and Krab Legz 9 p.m. at Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
  • Betty Jones, Bryan Thomas Parker, Bo Scurvy & The Hounds 9 p.m. at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress (Downtown)
  • The Gunrunners, The Minds, Beggar's Velvet, Cicada 8 p.m. The Loudhouse Rock & Roll Bar, 915 W. Prince Rd. (NW Tucson)
  • Phillip Grimes, The Robins, Half-Broke Town at 10 p.m. at The Hut, 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • The Districts with Spirit Of The Beehive at 7:30 p.m. at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress. (Downtown)

Saturday, July 1

  • Shooda Shook It, Marching Powder, 3rd World Bank at 9 p.m. at Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • Nancy McCallion and The Scarlet Lettermen 6 p.m. at Flycatcher Lounge, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
  • Whole Lotta Zep 7 p.m. at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress. (Downtown)
  • Santa Pachita at Playground Bar and Lounge, 278 E. Congress (Downtown)
  • Freddy Parish 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave. (Just south of Downtown)
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The Mission Creeps

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