The Rifle's sound spirals into onstage grooves
Tucson band The Rifle is bigger on the inside.
The epic soundscape of the band's first full-length release, "Anabasis," suggests a much larger band, something on the scale of The Arcade Fire. The album is a sparkly baroque pop dream of jangly, elastic "rubber band" guitar, complex subliminal bass lines and brightly melodic percussion, layered generously with Nelene DeGuzman's honey-sweet vocals and deliciously cryptic lyrics.
In person, this grand indie rock orchestra turns out to be a mild-mannered trio. In fact, if you were to meet the band before hearing them, you'd expect a far more stripped-down DIY punk sound. Something in the neighborhood of Sonic Youth or Nirvana.
Consisting of drummer Randy Rowland, bass player Kevin Conklin and singer-guitarist-frontwoman DeGuzman, The Rifle began as such projects often do in this town, with a handful of promising musical compositions and a trip to Midtown Island Studio. Debut E.P. "Spill" was crafted with the help of Midtown's Matt Rendon (an early fan) and a cast of talented session players. DeGuzman is a soft-spoken introvert with no particular love of the spotlight. But her songs are a different story entirely, ambitious musical offspring in need of an audience.
Early in the recording process, it was clear that this was more than a one-off project. This music needed to be played live and The Rifle needed permanent players.
First to join the lineup was Rowland on drums. Growing up in Vancouver, Wash., Rowland first saw a full set of drums as part of his neighborhood church band, immediately wondering what all the different pieces sounded like. He finally got his own first kit in middle school, giving it a place of worshipful reverence in the garage and taking another two years or so to finally get up the nerve to play. Rowland eventually got over that shyness, playing in several bands in the Vancouver and Portland area before making his way to Tucson. Playing in The Rifle is a perfect fit for a careful percussionist who rarely loses a drumstick and takes a childlike glee in using every single part of the kit, including his newly added fifth tom.
Rowland's unusually melodic drumming is a perfect foil for bassist Conklin. Conklin is, if anything, the most unassuming of the three. But his playing is a key element of The Rifle's sound, less traditional bass and more of a deep, rich extension of DeGuzman's dreamy guitar riffs, with more than a few nods to Conklin's favorite bassist of all time, The Who's John Entwistle. A self described "hobby" guitarist, but one with more than a little talent, Conklin was drafted into service by DeGuzman as The Rifle's bassist in the fine tradition of rock and roll partners and "friends of the band" throughout pop music history.
At first, The Rifle was a traditional four-piece rock band, with two guitars and Conklin and Rowland forming the rhythmic backbone. But soon into their existence, it was clear that they gelled best as a more fluid three piece with no clear separation between rhythm and melody. DeGuzman writes and composes the skeletons of the songs and Conklin and Rowland flesh them out, with no true "lead" instrument and no fixed genre.
With a newfound confidence boosted by two successful West Coast mini tours and a handful of well received local performances, this band of wallflowers has grown into a force to be reckoned with. The current incarnation of the band defies genre, combining the modern indie art rock of bands like Built To Spill, Arcade Fire and Of Montreal with elements of '60s jangle pop, garage and surf rock. They've attracted a legion of local fans and out of state admirers alike, including a few independent radio DJs who have added the band to regular rotations.
No longer a shrinking violet on stage, Deguzman pours her soul into impressionistic but cathartic performances, feeding off her own inner demons and the reactions of the crowd. Her bandmates in turn feed off this energy and emotion, building the simple rhythms in to lush, ambitious swells of sound.
But for all their on-stage pageantry and musical glitter, don't forget for a second that these three "musketeers" are laid back goofballs at heart. Noting Rowland's more than passing resemblance to Dana Carvey's portrayal of "Garth," DeGuzman gleefully imagines a Halloween performance with the band in full Wayne's World drag.
"I'll be Cassandra! Let's make it happen!" she laughed. Tucson music fans would be lucky if it did. Odds are The Rifle would do a pretty awesome cover of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The Rifle, Good Times Great Oldies and Treasure Mammal will play the Tiny Town Times Release Party at Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S, 4th Ave, on Friday at 7 p.m. Free.
The Sinners at Saint Charles Saturday Night
If you've been to a tribute to a fallen rock icon in the past year or two, Najima Rainey has likely knocked your socks off. The local singer and activist with the larger than life voice has been responsible for showstopping performances at tributes to David Bowie, Prince and more. Najima and musical partner Ned Gittings are hitting the stage with a darker, richer, more traditional sound, but no less impressive to behold. The Sinners combine blues, country and haunting desert twang. It's the perfect soundtrack for a night spent praying for the monsoon rains to come at last.
The Sinners will play at Saint Charles Tavern on Saturday at 9 p.m. Free.
Second Saturdays Downtown
Summer was made for festivals and every second Saturday, Downtown Tucson has a new one. Second Saturdays are Downtown's monthly local mini street fair, with food trucks, glow sticks, ice cream, gourmet donuts, local artists, specialty vendors and all manner of family and pet-friendly outdoor hijinks. Second Saturdays are also a great chance to check out live performances for free from some of Tucson's best local bands.
This month's lineup begins with the progressive indie noise rock of Rival Shapes at 6:30 p.m. At 8 p.m., prep yourself for smart, catchy power pop hooks and lyrical wit courtesy of The Freezing Hands. Then stick around for The Flight 13, a psych garage mindwarp with outbursts of sax laden '70s glam at 9:20 p.m. Second Saturday takes over Downtown Tucson on Saturday from Congress Street to Broadway. Bands start at 6 p.m. Free.
Also happening this weekend…
Friday, July 7
- Independence Day (Hiphop Showcase) 9 p.m. at Flycatcher Lounge, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
- decker. with Upsahl and Carlose Arzate and The Kind Souls 8 p.m. at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress. (Downtown)
- Call The Cops, Bleach Party, USA, O.P.U. and The Sindicate 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse Rock & Roll Bar, 915 W. Prince Rd. (NW Tucson)
- Tyler Edwards 10:30 p.m. at La Cocina, 201 N. Court Ave. (Downtown)
- The Muffalettas 8 p.m. Fini's Landing, 5689 N. Swan Rd. (NE Tucson)
Saturday, July 8
- Santa Pachita and NicoMaleon, 9 p.m. at Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- Tortolita Gutpluckers, 7 p.m. Borderlands Brewery 119 E. Toole Ave. (Downtown)
- Lord Silverplume, 6:30 p.m. at La Cocina
- S.G.R., Olden, Shadows of Algol, Bloodtrail, Xiuhcoatl 9 p.m. at Flycatcher Lounge, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
- Freddy Parish's Country Club, 10 p.m. at Bar Passe 417 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)