Afro-Cuban All-Stars @ MAC

The Afro-Cuban All-Stars: jazz meets polyrhythms...and has a beautiful child.

The Afro-Cuban All-Stars: jazz meets polyrhythms...and has a beautiful child.

The Afro-Cuban All-Stars, an amazing afro-jazz band led by the Juan de Marcos, vocalist and member of the Buena Vista Social Club, are playing at Mesa Arts Center TONIGHT!!!

I can’t make it out, but anyone with $27 burning a hole in their pocket would be well served to spend it now. If you’re into anything jazzy, funky, or ethnic-y, go for it.

Also, if anyone grabs photos or would like to contribute with a review/story, e-mail me and we’ll post it!

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Jimmy Carter @ Changing Hands and Obama in Mesa — talk about Presidents’ Day week

As part of his promotional book tour, former President Jimmy Carter came to Changing Hands Bookstore Friday. Carter’s newest book, “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land,” expounds on his push for peace and draws from his experience being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Former President Jimmy Carter addresses the audience.

Former President Jimmy Carter addresses the audience.

Carter has visited Changing Hands before. In fact, when he dropped by two years ago to promote “Peace Not Apartheid,” his presence drew quite the crowd — not all of whom were parsimonious with the president. Many protesters assembled to send a message to the president and the myriad press members assembled to cover the event.

This time around, the signings went smoothly — almost too smoothly as the president offered little time to those who came out to see him.  From behind black, queuing tape, the president delivered a short address promoting his book and praising President Obama’s efforts at negotiations. He noted that the first printed copy of his book was presented to Obama, drawing a look-at-the-kitten-esque “aww” from the crowd. ‘How can the most powerful men in the world talking about the most entrenched conflict in human history be cute?’ I jotted in my notes. Carter then turned to the truly gigantic line of people waiting for a appropriately placed book signature.

While Carter signed book after book in an assembly line manner, occasionally glancing up and smiling at people as the passed by to follow their book to the end of the line, I wandered off.

I approached a sign-toting group assembled in along McClintock Drive, in front of the store. There, I met Na’im Robinson. Robinson and his group weren’t traditional protesters; they were more like (pro)testers, assembled to show their support for Carter and his message.

Few people heard the president before he commenced signing.

Few people heard the president before he commenced signing.

As a member of the Muslim community in Gilbert, Robinson took pains to explain the importance of mutual peace. During his explanation, a nearby man holding another sign turned and said, “Hey, I’m Jewish.”

“See!” Robinson exclaimed, firmly shaking the man’s hand and patting him on the back. “We can come together.”

Current President Obama also landed in the Valley Tuesday afternoon. He plans to promote the stimulus he just signed, speaking at Dobson High School in Mesa.  Mesa has been hit particularly hard by the housing crisis by relying on contruction for the majority of its economy.

February’s First Friday

Last night marked the February edition of First Fridays, Phoenix’s monthly art walk. I never pegged Phoenix for an artsy place myself, but First Fridays is the largest art walk in the nation, attracting thousands of people every month.

People crowd the street.

People crowd the street.

I found this month’s offerings among the best yet. For frequent attendees like myself, several activities and participants have become staples of the night — break dancing, violin-loop-pedal guy, ghost busters, Irish drum corps, et al. They return month after month and provide some continuity, but the night’s magnetism always comes from new vendors, who continue to add variety and uniqueness to the mix.

A couple perform across from busy booths.

A couple perform across from busy booths.

This month, a group of Capoeira dancers raised the bar for ethnic eccentricity. Capoeria, a Afro-Brazilian dance closely resembling fighting, involves a circle of participants and two or more dancers in the center. The music accompanying Capoeria is played primarily on a berimbau, a bow-like percussion instrument.

A performer plays the berimbau for Capoeira dancers.

A performer plays the berimbau for Capoeira dancers.

Friday’s Capoeria group had all these traditional flairs. They set up their dance circle at the intersection of Garfield and 5th streets, drawing a huge crowd that just intensified the dancers’ spirit and bravado.

The galleries along Roosevelt also come alive on First Friday. Their cramped rooms have difficulty handling the masses of people at the art walk and things get quite crowded. The night serves artists well, however; giving them enviable exposure — even if the majority of people are poor college students unable to splurge on art.

Personally, I’ll never get over the charged atmosphere of First Friday. So much creative youth out in the warm night air yields incredible energy — creative energy. More than once, I’ve stumbled upon groups of guerrilla artist; painting, spraying and fabricating amazing works from anything handy. This time, I was impressed to see a group weaving moccasins from rubber bike tires. This spontaneous urge to create and share tops my list of reasons to love First Fridays; there’s nothing like it.

Tera Melos and The Wizards of Time — the goldilocks effect

Last night, Tera Melos, a band arguably on the bleeding edge of experimental rock music, played a show at Modified Arts in Phoenix.  I was there to experience the proto-melody madness, but found myself preferring a local opening band more.

I always enjoy Modified Arts as a venue—intimate, urban and distinctly artsy (this is an art gallery after all).  I’ve had good luck with band here too.  Two years ago, I was part of a crowd of about 15 people who came to Modified for Vampire Weekend.  They even invited a member of the crowd, which turned out to be me, to come up on stage and play the congas with them.  Not more than six months later, Vampire Weekend became overnight hit.  They appeared on every prominent blog and music chart, topping out with the release of their first, critically acclaimed album last year.

Now whenever I go for a under-ten-bucks show, I expect something big.  Tera Melos was definitely big with experimental elements—maybe too big.  While they set up, the three band members hauled out wooden boards filled with 10 or more loop peddles and effects boxes on each—impressive but excessive.

I don’t doubt the skill involved in managing so many peddles, but Tera Melos’s no-holds-barred style was too much.  They alternated between random, hard-to-hear samples and oppressive walls of noise.  Just when you thought you’d found the rhythm, they would take it away with a blast of screeching sound.

how many peddles are too many?

how many peddles are too many?

As for the crowd, a small group used the chaotic chorus to demonstrate a new type of moshing I’ve seen at a few shows lately.  It involves simply flailing around.  I’ll call it spaz-moshing.

I’ve been to experimental concerts before and I find the trick to a well executed set is control.  Deerhoof, for example, was an awesome show.  They came to the Clubhouse last semester.  They balance their technical and experimental themes with tight coordination and control.  Perhaps this comes with being a more established and longer-lived.

more peddles?

more peddles?

In retrospect, the band before Tera Melos saved the show for me.  The Wizards of Time, a local band that sounded nothing like Tera Melos, excited me from the start.  During their setup, they brought a homely lamp out on the stage.  Questions abounded.  Would they use it as an instrument?  Was it some kind of gimmick?  Could this be the pioneer group for lamp-rock?!

lamp-rock?!

lamp-rock?!

As it turned out, the lamp was simply aethetic, but The Wizards of Time held their own musically, blending folky themes and eccentric elements like kazoo interludes.  It was as much fun to watch as listen.

rallies: they’re not just for your parents anymore

Community is a lot like an abstract painting—all the parts work together, even if you’re not sure how or why.

While the Phoenix art scene and the university system exist as two independent brush strokes, the two both come from the same painting and the link between artists and academia can’t be ignored.

Many Phoenix artists contribute to or in some way associate with Arizona State University. I know first hand the impact ASU faculty have on the burgeoning arts scene. For instance, the Kitchenette Gallery in Phoenix—well known for the controversy following ASU Professor Betsy Schneider’s photography—features monthly photographers, who for the most part, come from the pool of ASU graduates and students.

The art community also connects predominately with ASU. College-aged students make up the majority of the art community as well as the major audience that attends the more offbeat scenes. The experimental years of college can provide the most introspective, edgy and controversial movements.

students protest with signs and slogans

students protest with signs and slogans

With that, I hope I’ve established how crucial ASU’s community has become to Phoenix’s cultural growth. A threat to ASU mushrooms into a threat for the community.

Yesterday, about 1,800 protesters from all three Arizona universities assembled outside the state capitol to oppose sharp budget cuts that university officials say could cripple education. The protest atmosphere — slogan chanting, picket signs, uniform color and moving oration — resembled the idiosyncrasies of the 70s, a foreign experience for members of my generation.

students march on the state capitol

students march on the state capitol

ASU President Michael Crow instituted furloughs last night for all faculty, marking the first decent of the rollercoaster.

“Through this furlough the university will save approximately $24 million to help toward meeting its FY09 state budget reduction which could total more than $60 million,” Crow said.

This comes as a surprise considering the catastrophic numbers originally released in other e-mails from the president. The budget proposal working in the Arizona legislature calls for a 20% cut this year and another 20% next year, totaling 40%. Needless to say, a budget cut of this magnitude would greatly harm the school and art/culture programs are historically the first to go.

However, this issue goes beyond the university. All of Phoenix faces money problems in this bum economy. I fear Phoenix’s unique people and places will be the first to suffer.

http://www.houndbite.com/?houndbite=7517

the birth of a blog: less messy and more fun than real birth

SO HERE IT IS!!!  Scenesterist, the blog, up and running…sort of.  I’ve got a lot of work to do so just hang in there.  If all goes according to plan, check back on Scenesterist for updates on Phoenix culture, news, eccentricities, opinions, writing, and perhaps even guest posts from notables.

Here’s the plan guys: My name is Channing, your quasi-editor-in-chief and master of ceremonies.  I’m trying to run this circus, but it’s going to take a lot of work.  I’m currently in college, which eats up time, and do two other journalism jobs on the side—but really, that’s nothing unusual for journalists these days.  All this means it’s going to be hard to get this project off the ground, but fear not.  I have great plans.

First I need to learn about WordPress.  I’m currently in an online media class, learning about HTML and all that good stuff, but WordPress already does a lot of that for you.  I just need to mess around with this thing enough to know the in’s and out’s.

Because I’m ultra-busy, I’m not above asking for help.  After all, one person can’t run an entire e-zine, no matter how free he/she is.  So.  While I try to work all this out, I’ll also be recruiting a team of crack journalists—that is, not on crack but skilled, masterful or generally a bang-up group.

And the beauty of this arrangement?  Good, solid writing that, hopefully, you can really get into.  There will be a level of quality control but no limit on admissible material.  If I can post it, it’s golden.  I already have a few souls picked out to start contributing.  MORE SOON!