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Ocean of noise: Surfbroads and Return of the Mermaids

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Weekend music

Ocean of noise: Surfbroads and Return of the Mermaids

  • The Surfbroads - Velvet Hammer, Pixi Axe, Amy Mendoza and Serena Rose.
    The Surfbroads - Velvet Hammer, Pixi Axe, Amy Mendoza and Serena Rose.
  • The Surfbroads - Velvet Hammer, Pixi Axe, Amy Mendoza and Serena Rose.
    The Surfbroads - Velvet Hammer, Pixi Axe, Amy Mendoza and Serena Rose.
  • Dani Demec of Lucifer The Cat
    Dani Demec of Lucifer The Cat

Ms. Uma Theremin is, to say the least, not that outspoken. But you can’t really blame Uma for being tight-lipped. It’s kind of hard to have a lot to say when you have no head. 

Luckily, her bandmates have her back. Rather literally, in the case of Gigi Owens, who plays “Uma” - a custom engineered theremin “dressed” in a rather unearthly sleek, white mannequin torso. Uma and Gigi are members of The Surfbroads, probably Tucson’s hardest gigging, most authentic instrumental surf rock band. 

The Surfbroads play loud, fast, furious California surf rock with a liberal dose of Motor City edge, owing as much of their musical DNA to bands like the Stooges, the MC5 and the Runaways as Dick Dale or the Trashmen. The group also has a pretty solid heavy metal pedigree, with much of their live show consisting of surf-fueled jams based on rock and heavy metal classics like a reverb-laden take on Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and a wonderfully trippy, theremin-infused version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” 

The Surfbroads were the brainchild of drummer Maggie “Velvet Hammer” Rickard, born out of a love of retro, surf and tiki culture and a lifelong affinity for punk, metal and all-female rock. Her nickname is an apt description for her drumming style, smooth and precise in its timing but shattering in its attack.

Rickard has played in a number of Tucson bands and currently also serves as drummer for Tucson punk band the Sugar Stains, along with equally prolific musician Amy Mendoza, singer/guitarist for that band, front woman of Amy Mendoza and the Strange Vacation, and a veteran of so many local bands we’d run out of screen space if we named them all.

As Surfbroads bandmate Jillian Bessett once quipped “it isn’t that hard to get Amy Mendoza in a band.” The qualification presumably being that said band is fun, plays aggressive rock and roll and is a really good idea. This idea fit all those criteria and Mendoza enthusiastically signed on. Mendoza is a seasoned pro and it shows in all her projects, but in this band, she seems to have a bit more wildness in her playing and a mischievous glint in her eye. 

Maybe it’s the chance to remake classic rock mantras the band’s own image, or the freeform instrumental nature of the music or simply the assembled talent of her fellow travelers, but Mendoza makes playing guitar in the Surfbroads look like the coolest gig in Tucson rock and roll. 

Bessett, another accomplished local musician and band leader of Jillian and the Giants, was next to join. This project gave her a chance to learn bass, an instrument she’d never attempted before, and she quickly found her groove playing with Mendoza and Rickard. A talented guitarist and keyboardist, her low end duties in the Surfbroads added a deep, rich, steady rhythm to the mix, almost like a Hammond organ translated to strings. 

The group played as a three-piece for a while, composed of bass, drums and guitar. That was until Rickard and her artist husband Mark Bloom created Uma Theremin. Friend of the band Gigi Bloom aka “Pixi Axe,” bassist for local metal band Scareater, was already showing up at gigs, so it made sense to entrust Uma to her hands. She quickly mastered the new and unusual instrument, swaying in time with the band’s waves of noise to summon ghostly swells of electronic melody from Uma’s shapely form. 

With Bessett due to have a baby late this summer, bass duties have been assumed by Serena Rose, bassist for the Sugar Stains and Tucson metal band Ensphere. Rose brings a similar precision to the band’s rhythm section, but plays with a style all her own — assertive and raw, with a definitively punk edge. 

Rose’s band “initiation” was the subject of a recent Surfbroads photo shoot, one of many such vintage pictorials featuring the band. The professional black and white spreads echo the band’s semi-official motto,“hot broads playing cool surf,” projecting an air of sophisticated retro cool with sly, winking visual nods to Bond films, biker chic and '60s lounge style. As a tribute to to their hard rock and metal roots, the Surfbroads always dress in black for these occasions. Unless you count Uma, the perpetual, mysterious lady in white. 

Nearly two years since the band’s inception, the Surfbroads have headlined many a show in their own right, but their talent, ferocious energy and the universal appeal of good surf rock have made them a favorite choice on festival bills and as the rock solid “local opener” for national touring acts as well. This weekend they will make their second appearance at Fourth Avenue’s annual Return of the Mermaids event.

The Surfbroads play Haggerty Plaza on N. 4th Avenue at 5 p.m., part of The Return of the Mermaids 2017 celebration.

Cat on a Hot Tin Avenue

There’s nothing more exciting than a band’s first major public gig. Except maybe for that gig to be part of a huge community celebration like Return of the Mermaids. Lucifer The Cat, however, is ready to take it on.

The relatively new act featuring Deo Clure III, Daniel Castle and Dani Damec rose from the ashes of a more traditional classic rock project, and like many worthy musical experiments of its kind, the band formed and gelled out of a desire to push boundaries and forge new musical frontiers. 

Clure, a well-known guitarist in local hard rock acts, had long dreamed of assuming the role of drummer, and fills the role with righteous blues rock vigor and a jazz rhythm attack. Castle is excited to showcase his songwriting prowess and handles the bulk of the "noise" factor as blues-rock lead guitarist for the band. Relative newcomer Damec joined the project in order to experiment as a singer and learn to push the boundaries of her considerable vocal range. She does so with haunting loveliness and raw grace, evoking both Janises (Ian and Joplin) and just a hint of Fiona Apple. 

New project Lucifer The Cat tests the waters of public perception on Saturday night as part of Mermaids festivities, joining Tucson-based world music/alternative/electronica act Spirtihouse and a bevy of outstanding local performance art, dance and reveries by the likes of Flam Chen, Tucson Circus Arts, Lykiska Dancem Brenna Bean, PoiZen, Ghost Bike and much more. 

Lucifer The Cat takes the Haggerty stage on N. 4th Avenue Saturday at 7 p.m.

Chick Magnet!

Tucson has never been a one festival at a time kind of down, and once again our benevolent Downtown corridor is giving us the chance to meander from one art/dance/performance/live music space to the other while only having to park once. Take a break from the mermaid festivities to check out Chick Magnet’s second annual “female-fueled” music and arts festival  at 191 Toole on Saturday.

The encore edition of this local music and arts festival, features an insane number of Tucson’s premier live bands, including  kolezanka, Karima Walker, The Rifle, Hormone, WestOasis, Lano, Bruja and the Coyote, Girl Garden, Malta and DJ Entyce. In addition to an incredible music lineup, this year’s event includes performances by local dance studio Floor Polish and Olivia Avanzanto, live poetry/spoken word performances and some incredible art installations by some of the most fabulous women and trans/femme identified artists  in town.

 Check out the Second Annual Chick Magnet Art & Music Yin Festival Saturday night beginning at 5 p.m. at 191 E. Toole Ave. in Downtown Tucson.

This time they really mean it. Last chance to see the Resonars for a while?

With a number of summer shows and a mini tour of California under their belts, Tucson music lovers were coming to rely on regular performances of usually elusive local legends The Resonars. Rumor has it, however, that this Saturday’s show at St. Charles will be the band’s last hurrah of the summer. 

So after you’ve paraded in your mermaid finery and rocked out at Chick Magnet, consider dragging your tired fins to St. Charles Tavern to rave it up with the band that made Tucson a Burger Records town. Stick around to watch Resonars founder Matt Rendon do double duty as the drummer in Freezing Hands - one of the catchiest powerhouse pop punk bands in Old Pueblo history. 

The Resonars and The Freezing Hands play St. Charles Tavern at 9.m. Saturday,

Sure, Saturday is an epic day in local music this week, but this whole weekend is nothing to sneeze at either. After what seems like a bit of a dry spell, Tucson is experiencing something of a Renaissance in local live music and local music lovers can reap the benefits all weekend long. Here’s just a little taste of the other stuff going on this week...

Nothing’s gonna touch us in these golden years

Local indie folk/Americana “Golden Boy” Casey Golden joins indie darling Lucy Dacus and Austin, Texas, chanteuse Molly Burch at 7 p.m. on Friday at Club Congress (Downtown).

Calculated rock

Progressive alternative math rockers Still Life Telescope perform songs from their recent release Geometry Wins over trippy cult movie backgrounds, along with their sister band, psych-instrumental rockers Peppermint Hippo,. The show starts this Friday night at 9:30 p.m. at The Screening Room (Downtown).

That lonesome desert sound

Describing his tunes as “broken, ugly music that sounds pretty,” Tucson icon Hank Topless will break your heart and win your ear in the tradition of Merle, Waylon, Willie, George Jones and that OTHER Hank. Loser’s Lounge returns with Hank Topless returns this Sunday night at 7 p.m. at The Flycatcher (Downtown)

More music this week...

Friday August 11

Still Life Telescope w/Pepppermint Hippo, 9:30 p.m. at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St. (Downtown)

Lucy Dacus with Casey Golden and Molly Burch, 7 p.m. at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (Downtown)

Illout w/ DJ Bonus, DJ Hashke, and DJ Alias, 10 p.m. at The Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)

Doll Skin, Bleach Party and Next To None, 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse, 915 W. Prince Rd  (NW Tucson)

Brothers Gow, 9 p.m. at The Hut, 305 N. 4th Ave (Downtown)

Woke Up Dead w/ Eliot Rauch, 8 p.m. at House Of Bards, 4915 E. Speedway (Central Tucson)

Saturday August 12

Return Of The Mermaids 2017!, noon-midnight on 4th Avenue (Downtown)

Chick Magnet, 5 p.m. to midnight at 191 E. Toole (Downtown)

The Resonars and The Freezing Hands, 9 p.m. St. Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave (Just S. Of Downtown)

Eb Eberlein, 7 p.m. St. Charles Tavern

Metal Fest X, 6 p.m. at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. (Downtown)

Santa Pachita, 6 p.m. at Martin Drug Co. (Downtown)

The Minds, The Gunrunners, Ben Millburn & Sunglass Moustache, 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse, 915 W. Prince Rd  (NW Tucson)

Black Cat Bones, 8:30 p.m. at House Of Bards, 4915 E Speedway (Central Tucson)

Sunday August 13

Loser’s Lounge with Hank Topless, 7 p.m. at Flycatcher Lounge (Downtown)

Wynonna and The Big Noise, 7 p.m. at the Fox Theater, 17 W. Congress (Downtown)

Tuesday August 15

Family Mansions, The Wanda Junes, Ex-Cowboy , Storming The Beaches With Logos In Hand, 8 p.m. at Club Congress

Wednesday August 16

Miss Olivia & the Interlopers, 10 p.m. at Tough Luck Club (Downtown)

Thursday August 17

Tres Rojas Showcase with Bryan Thomas Parker, The Gunrunners, Betty Jones, Bo Scurvy and The Hounds, 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse


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