March 11th, 2012 | Live reviews

Tucson’s gain was our pain today as we rolled in frantically from Los Angeles to find that this sleepy little burg has become a boomtown! The area around the Hotel Congress (which was booked up for the first time in my experience) has grown from busted to bustling within just a few short years. There were gigantic new parking structures and people rambling around what seemed like a hundred new bars and venues, all set up with street fair art and outdoor heat lamps. There was even a band underneath an awning playing a fiddle-heavy version of “Punk Rock Girl” as we oozed down a congested Congress Street looking for La Cocina.

This sprawling outdoor restaurant was only slightly less bustling, and after a refreshing meal of steamed veggies and quinoa, we checked out some of the bands on the Burger Records “Burger’s Big Tour to SXSW” tour. In fact, Burger has two tours going on, and we’d missed Audacity and Pangaea the day before in order to catch the King Tuff/Feeding People leg of the tour.

Sam Flax might have been the most impressive new band on the bill, a post-Hawkwind synthy Numan-wave band with two keyboards, a drum machine, and a couple guitars—and they looked as good as they sounded, with a poncho-clad bassist looking like Ariel Pink’s taller brother, and a blond male guitarist/singer wearing a multi-colored windbreaker and Kim Fowley’s cheek makeup. His female co-singer on keys looked pretty bad-assed too, with a futuristic funnel of hair on top of her head: I couldn’t get a proper photo of her, so I’ll just post this similar photo of Sean Young from Blade Runner.

It’s also the first time I’ve seen Feeding People since they got a new lineup and new sound. In the months since I interviewed them, they’ve jettisoned singer Nic Rachman after the inevitable breakup of he and fellow teen singer Jessie Jones, a breakup I totally foresaw yet was too chicken-shit to openly predict in my review of their album last year. I’m looking so forward to their new album, because tonight’s performance shows they can rock even harder now that they’ve moved Louis Filliger from bass to guitar. Yet they’re changing and morphing into something even stranger, something loud and psychedelic in the manner of the Butthole Surfers but still carrying that evil Billie Holiday vocal style into their classics like “Night Owl,” which made me want to push knitting needles into my eyes with joy. My favorite tune was a new song that sounded like a Richie Valens ballad. And I wonder what Jessie was getting up to by saying “Thank you, Jesus” as she exited the stage.

After a spirited set by Cosmonauts, King Tuff got on the stage and rocked out. No surprises here necessarily, but you have to love this man’s “aw shucks” approach to how versatile his voice is—maybe he’s the Lon Chaney of Burger Bands, and yet somehow he doesn’t seem to brag about it, which I would totally do. This time out, he sounded a bit like Gavin May of the Fevers, which was a pretty great way to end a weary road trip’s first day. Looking forward to the showcases coming up and SXSW in a few days.

– D. M. Collins